From the department of “why do art students always wear black?”…
When Nadia Zenato reached out to me a few months ago asking me to give her a hand with some translations, little did I know what I was getting myself into.
It’s only natural that leading Italian winemakers like her want to update their brochures in time for Vinitaly, the Italian wine trade’s annual fair in Verona. A slew of wine fact sheets were expected, received, and promptly and aptly rendered into English.
But then I got a call from her.
“Would you mind translating a catalog about an art exhibit I’m organizing in Milan?” she asked.
“Pane per i miei denti!” I told her, using the Italian expression, the [perfect] bread for my teeth, in other words, that’s right up my alley, I said.
The next thing I knew, I found myself awash in essays on contemporary photography and the accompanying and mandatory reflections on critical theory (literally right up my alley from my days as a graduate student between UCLA and Italy).
Nadia had asked the director of the master’s program in photography at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera — the Brera fine arts academy in Milan, one of the country’s most prestigious — to summon five top students for a series of wine-inspired works of photographic art.
The result was the show “Wine: Beyond Objects” hosted at the über-hip Bottega Immagine (not far from Milano’s enormous municipal cemetery, on the north side of the city).
Nadia graciously invited me to the opening of the show on the Friday after the fair had ended. The scene could have been taken straight out of a contemporary Fellini movie: young photographers, artists, and students — nearly all dressed in black — milled around the smartly mounted images, sipping on Nadia’s family’s wine and occasionally congregating outside the gallery’s entrance to chain-smoke.
Even the cloud of tobacco was a breath of fresh air to me.
The gathering brought me back to my days when poetry, art works, music, novels, and essays on critical theory (and too many cigarettes) were the oxygen we breathed. None of us had to make a living back then. We just lived…
I thought the show and the works were brilliant.
But the thing that impressed me the most about the project and the event was that Nadia and her lovely mother Carla hadn’t invited any famous wine or food writers. No celebrity bloggers were in attendance (and believe me, Milan, Italy’s cultural epicenter these days, is full of them).
No, just a handful of professors, a bevy of black-clad chain-smoking students, and a couple of the family’s closest friends huddled before each piece in the show, whispering and murmuring critical thoughts on aesthetics and poetics.
Nadia and her mom (the only ones wearing white) beamed with joy.
We in the wine world get so wrapped up with our work that we often fail to take time out to smell Italy’s roses, as it were, to run our toes through its leaves of grass.
I miss those days when going to an art opening had urgency. Those were times when you felt compelled to be among the first to hear a poem recited or view a painting because a work of art — new or old — was an occasion to reflect on your humanity.
And you always met the coolest people at art openings, too.
Thank you, Nadia, for reminding me why I first became fascinated with Italy and Italian art in the first place. Wine tastes good and it pays the bills. But this is the stuff we should live for.