If you’ve ever studied Italian as a second language, you know that you invariably encounter irregular nouns early on in your class.
In nearly every curriculum, the examples the pedagogues use are the same: amico (friend) is pluralized as amici (and not amichi as the velar-paroxytone model would suggest); greco (Greek) becomes greci; and porco (pig) becomes porci.
It’s only natural that amico would come up frequently in Italian 1 class. The word greco is not as common in rudimentary Italian but it also has a place in introductory Italian language instruction since Greek culture pervaded the fabric of ancient Italy.
But porco? Ask any Italian instructor and she or he will answer similarly and without skipping a beat: gli uomini sono porci – men are pigs (a sentence that incorporates not one but two irregular nouns!).
It’s an aphorism that evidently comes up frequently in Italian colloquialism.
I can only wonder how many times the expression has been uttered in Italy as the American and Italian media has devoted ample coverage to widespread allegations of sexual harassment among U.S. politicians and in the U.S. entertainment, news, and restaurant trades.
Any member of the U.S. wine trade would be hard-pressed to deny that sexual harassment is sadly all too common in the industry.
While I was in Italy teaching earlier this month, many Italians — consumed, like their America counterparts, by this watershed cultural moment — asked me about it. When I got home to my wife Tracie in Texas, we spent a lot of time talking about it over the holiday weekend (the allegations began to circulate before I left but they seemed to explode in their scope and reach while I was gone).
We both remembered myriad episodes of highly inappropriate behavior over the course of our careers in wine.
When I first met Tracie nine years ago, she was a sales rep for Glazer’s in Texas (now Southern Glazer’s, a major American wine distributor). I’ll never forget her telling me about having to sell wine at an adult entertainment venue (an account that was assigned to her by her superiors; she had no voice in the matter). The club’s owner regularly harassed her.
Over the course of our conversations this weekend, she also remembered a ride-with with a particularly aggressive supplier rep who was widely known in the Texas wine community to harass young women (a supplier rep[resentative] is a sales agent for a particular brand or portfolio of wines; a ride-with is typically a day of sales work, when a rep for a local distributor hosts a supplier rep and the supplier rep rides with her or him).
I remembered a 2010 trip to northern Italy with a group of leading sommeliers from across the country. There was one woman among us. During one of our daily bus rides, the conversation became so sexually charged that I insisted that it stop. We rode in silence for the rest of that day.
I also remembered a 2007 dinner in lower Manhattan with a Tuscan winemaker. It was clear to everyone at the table that he was harassing his importer’s publicist. I tried as graciously as I could to separate them. But looking back now, I am filled with regret: I should have told him, however discreetly but firmly, that he had to stop. I feel so bad about that now. I can remember the look of terror in her eyes and her inability to reach out for help.
By the time we went to bed on Saturday night, my mind was swirling with memories of similar episodes: a so-called American wine writer who asked a Neapolitan publicist to take a shower with him (sound familiar?); a celebrity wine writer who literally groped a publicist at a popular Manhattan restaurant in front of the whole table (we all hovered like flies waiting for a windshield on a freeway); a respected old-line wine writer who agreed to take a trip to Italy with a publicist and then expected her to have sexual relations with him (she broke away from the trip on the first day).
And who can forget the immensely popular wine blogger who regularly attacks women wine writers with sexually crude language? Sexual harassment also occurs in the virtual realm of the U.S. wine trade.
Following the revelations about rampant sexual harassment in the U.S. restaurant industry, many high-profile restaurant groups are taking steps to address the issue.
It’s time that wine industry leaders do the same. When is the other bottle going to break?