As Italy awaits its first post-fascist leader, Umberto Eco’s 1995 essay on “fuzzy totalitarianism” comes once again into focus.

Above: “Chi non è pronto a morire per la sua fede non è degno di professarla — Mussolini” (“those not ready to die for their faith are not worthy of professing it”). No one has ever bothered to erase a Mussolinian aphorism from the main square in Gaiole in Chianti. Photo taken by me earlier this month.

Italian politician Giorgia Meloni, whose party won the lion’s share of votes in elections on Sunday and who is expected to be elected as prime minister in coming weeks, is widely being called “Italy’s first post-fascist leader” and “Italy’s first hard-right leader.”

The epithet is owed in part to her anti-immigrant, anti-liberal (read anti-woke), and protectionist polices — spiked with a dash of conspiracy theory, Euroscepticism, and anti-globalism (sound familiar?).

The moniker is also owed to a symbol — an avatar if you will — that appears in iconography for her political party, Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy, a lyric borrowed from Italy’s 1847 national anthem): the Fiamma Tricolore or Tricolor flame that was adopted by the Movimento Sociale Italiano (Itaian Socialist Movement), the post-World War II incarnation of the fascist party. For all intents and purposes, her party is the current-day expression of that political platform, worldview, and aesthetic.

Never before today — almost 100 years to the day that Mussolini marched on Rome and seized power from the monarchy — has MSI fielded a prime minister.

For Italians born during the fascist era, the thought of a seated post-fascist government is practically, well, unthinkable. It’s as if Italy is finally having its Trump moment (many of my Italian university-era friends have called it that): the unthinkable has come to pass.

In the light of Italy’s election on Sunday, I’m not the only one who was reminded of Umberto Eco’s famous 1995 lecture at Columbia University, later published by the New York Review of Books, “Ur-Fascism” (and later translated into Italian as “Fascismo eterno” or “Eternal Fascism”). That essay is where he coined not only the term “Ur-Fascism” but also “fuzzy totalitarianism,” an expression that has taken on new and urgent meaning with Italy’s shift toward the hard right.

Here’s a link to read it in its entirety.

In the first part, he describes what it was like to grow up during fascism in Italy (he was born in 1932). It reads like the opening sequence of a Fellini movie, replete with comedy, redemption, and salvation.

In the second part, he offers “a list of features [14 of them] that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.”

Those bullet points have been frequently cited in the Trump era. But to read them in context, prefaced by his memories of growing up under fascism, gives the essay renewed meaning and relevance. I highly recommend it to you.

Shanah tovah (שנה טובה). Parzen family New Year letter.

Let us turn our heads heavenward and, while thanking Him for sparing so much human life, beseech G-d to restore health and well-being to those who are suffering!

Shanah tovah (שנה טובה). Happy new year, everyone.

The last year has been a good one for our family — poo, poo, poo!

Georgia is enjoying fifth grade, her last at our elementary school. She has really begun to excel in the music program there. She plays violin and takes private lessons at the school, a music magnet, and she continues to take piano lessons with a private teacher outside of school. Yesterday, after I met her for lunch at school, she gave an impromptu piano concert for the entire fifth grade in the cafeteria! It was really magical. She’s also started taking tennis lessons, which she really enjoys (especially because tennis was Tracie’s sport in high school).

Lila Jane continues to take cello at school and piano privately. She’s also in the advanced choir at school. Next month, her school choir will sing the national anthem at the Houston Texans’ football game! (The choir teacher is a Grammy-winning children’s choir maestra and so the group gets some cool gigs like this. They are insanely good.) She also continues to write elaborate comic strips (pages and pages long, with illustrations, dialog and narrative). And she’s also become a writer for the school’s nascent paper. Last night, she was so eager to write a report that she insisted on bringing her laptop to the dinner table.

Both girls are starting to speak a little Italian and they are begging me to take them to Venice next summer (we’ll see!).

Tracie’s new career as a realtor also continues to flourish. Even though the market isn’t as “hot” as when she first began, her hard work and devotion have really paid off. We are a dual-income family now and that’s helped us accelerate our path to our financial goals.

Now that she is more steady and confident in her professional life, I’ve begun to travel for my work a bit more. I still do all the caretaking when I’m in town and I do nearly all of the cooking, which has reignited my culinary skills (that has been really fun).

The new focus in my work is my translations of ancient Italian texts on wine. A University of Toronto imprint has already agreed to publish my first one (a 14th-century work) and we already have a second and third book lined up in the series. It’s immensely rewarding for me to combine my skills and experience as an academic with my knowledge of viticulture.

As the old folks used to say (and I’m getting to be one of them), poo, poo, poo!

We have too many blessings to count.

The world beyond our home often seems perilous and precarious these days. But our home life and our community is an oasis where the girls are growing up healthy and safe — the greatest blessing in our lives.

On this Rosh Hashanah (new year), we pray for our sisters and brothers in Ukraine and Puerto Rico, we pray for the Venezuelan migrants, we pray that our leaders may rise to the occasion with grace and wisdom as our country and the world face seemingly unsurmountable challenges. We pray that our children and all children may be safe.

Shanah tovah. Happy new year.

Let us all simply shower one another with blessings!

Taste Medieval grapes with me in New York, an event hosted by Robert Simon, gallerist who discovered Da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi.”

Above: “Fruit, Flowers, a Ceramic Dish and a Vase on a Stone Ledge Beneath a Grape Arbor, with Two Women Gathering the Bounty” (oil on canvas) by Giovanni Battista Ruoppolo (Naples, 1629 – 1693) and Luca Giordano (Naples, 1634 – 1705), currently on display at the Robert Simon gallery in New York.

Please join me on Thursday, October 13 in New York where I’ll be presenting readings from Italy’s oldest book on viticulture and Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron at the Robert Simon gallery on the Upper East Side.

Some beyond the New York art scene will remember Robert: he was the researcher who proved that the painting “Salvator Mundi” was indeed by Leonardo da Vinci. That canvas later sold for a record $450 million, a work that some have called the “world’s most expensive painting.”

The event is being organized by my friend and dissertation advisor, Italian poet and scholar Luigi Ballerini, and his wife Paola Mieli, a practicing Lacanian psychoanalyst and writer.

The readings, mostly from my translation of Pietro de’ Crescenzi’s Ruralia commoda and related passages in Boccaccio, will be accompanied by a guided tasting of three grape varieties that appear in the 14th-century works.

I am super geeked about this, in part because I haven’t been back to the city (aside for a quick business lunch) since 2019 — for reasons all too familiar.

Here are the details. It’s a benefit so it’s not a cheap date. But I promise not to disappoint. How could I when I have Robert’s gallery as the setting? I hope to see you there. And thanks for checking it out.

And btw, I’m also preparing notes on the above painting, currently on display on East 80th St. Isn’t it grand?

A Wine for the Worst Kind of Thieves

Wine Tasting and Medieval Readings with celebrated Wine Historian and Sommelier Jeremy Parzen.

Thursday, Oct 13, 2022 at 6:30 PM

Robert Simon Fine Art
22 East 80th Street • Fourth Floor
New York NY 10075

Tickets: $150

Taste three wines as Jeremy shares three colorful readings from Italy’s oldest book on wine and Boccaccio’s Decameron. The event includes a guided tasting of three native Italian grape varieties that were popular during Boccaccio’s time and are still widely enjoyed today.

Additionally, enjoy a special preview of the exhibition: “Beyond Boundaries: Historical Art By and Of People of Color.”

All proceeds from the event will be donated to Animal Zone International, a Greek-based non-profit devoted to the sustainability of the environment through the protection and control of animals.

Click here to reserve.

Are irrigation and artificial ponds the key to mitigating climate change in Italian viticulture? Rhabdomancers wanted.

Above: Colline Teramane (Abruzzo) grower Bruno Nicodemi built an artificial pond on his family’s property in the 1970s. At the time, it was intended to foster biodiversity. Today, it’s a lifeline.

As Italian grape growers faced extreme heat and prolonged drought in what could have been an existential threat for many of them in the 2022 vintage, there was ample talk across the peninsula about the need to build artificial ponds and loosen restrictions on so-called “emergency irrigation.”

In fact, emergency irrigation has become the norm, not the exception, in central and northern Italy as the wine industry comes to terms with the impact of climate change.

In the second half of the 1990s, a string of warmer and less rainy than usual vintages seemed to herald a time of more regularity and increased prosperity for Italian winemakers.

But today, the unrelenting heat of recent summers, drought that persists through the growing season, late spring frosts, and intense weather events that can wreak havoc on ripening fruit have created a “new normal” in terms of the challenges that growers face.

Above: Lake Garda as seen from the vineyards of Ca’ dei Frati in Lugana.

In northern Italy, many farms have already outfitted their vineyards with permanent irrigation systems — where they are allowed — because the authorization for emergency irrigation is no longer an exceptional event. It’s not a question of if anymore. Now, it’s a question of when the call will be made.

In central Italy, one winemaker told me that they would have irrigated if they had the means to do so. They had never irrigated before, they told me, and so they had no infrastructure in place to water their wines once the authorization arrived.

Another grower in central Italy told me that the authorization is something they have come to expect. But this year, something unexpected happened as well: there simply wasn’t enough water to go around. Authorities, they told me, only turned on the taps for a few hours each morning and grape farmers essentially had to compete with their neighbors for their allocation.

In appellations like Lugana in Italy’s Veneto region, water allocation is not an issue thanks to nearby Lake Garda (see above).

But in places like Abruzzo or Tuscany, the ongoing drought conditions are prompting winemakers to build artificial lakes, an approach that has been publicly advocated by prolific Italian winemaker Andrea Lonardi.

Even with the creation of these reservoirs (invasi, as they are called in Italian), there will still be a question of water management: who will get the water and when.

During my recent trip to Italian wine country, a number of growers told me they are planning to build such ponds and some of the country’s top consortia are working with their members to plan and authorize their construction.

Above: Pergola-trained Garganega clusters in the heart of Soave. Note permanently mounted irrigation hose.

One of the most telling moments of my trip came when I asked Roberto Anselmi when the Soave consortium had authorized emergency irrigation this year.

He laughed and reminded me that he had famously left the appellation more than 20 years ago.

Not only are his vineyards equipped with irrigation systems. He also recently hired a rhabdomancer to help him find a water source atop one of most important vineyards, thus ensuring an independent source for challenging vintages like 2022.

Thanks to this foresight, his yield will be in line with normal years and new vines that he planted have ample water to make it through their delicate early years of growth.

“Emergency irrigation is one of the few smart things they actually did in the [Soave] consortium,” he said.

But the problem now, he pointed out, is that some have natural water resources while others don’t.

Irrigation has been a dirty word in Italian viticulture for a generation. Dry farming, it has long been held, was a key element in true “terroir expression” and “sense of place.”

But as wine growers in Italy have come to discover, if they don’t loosen the regulations on irrigation — and abandon the taboo — there might no longer be a terroir to express or a place to taste.

“In spite of drought,” Italian production levels expected to be in line with 2017-2021 averages.

The above figures come via vineyard consultant, publisher, and writer Maurizio Gily’s excellent online and print journal MilleVigne.

“Harvest 2022: +5 percent growth with respect to 2021 in spite of drought?” he writes in the title.

The table below reports official-channel predictions for must and wine production in Italy in thousands of hectoliters.

While the numbers don’t paint a rosy picture for all regions, they reveal that the disastrous scenario that many expected never materialized — a relief to all, no doubt.

I have a lot to report from my recent “harvest 2022” trip to Italy. I’m still working on putting that together. But in the meantime, I wanted to get this info out asap. Thanks for being here and please stay tuned.

“The vintage is safe.” Italian growers breathe a collective sigh of relief after August rains “save” the 2022 harvest.

Above: Turbiana grapes photographed last week (September 14) in the Lugana appellation south of Lake Garda. Note the permanently mounted irrigation hose in the bottom of the image. “Emergency irrigation” was allowed across Italy in efforts to counter a drought that began in winter and persisted throughout the summer. Combined with prolonged, extremely high temperatures, it could have represented an existential threat to this year’s crop.

“The harvest is safe. Now we need to address the market situation.”

That’s the title of an e-blast sent out today by the Corriere Vinicolo, the official voice of the Unione Italiana Vini (UIV, the Italian union of grape growers and winemakers).

The missive, including assessments from Italian wine industry leaders, paints a cautiously optimistic picture for this year’s grape crop. Just a month ago, some trade insiders were predicting catastrophe for Italian growers. But early August rains, like a deus ex machina, changed the mood from despair to relief.

“Once again,” said UIV president Lamberto Frescobaldi, borrowing a metaphor from the world of basketball, “the vine has proved to be our team’s center. It has shown that even with high temperatures and drought, we can make high-quality wines in ample quantities.”

“The harvest currently underway is delivering grapes that range from good to excellent in quality,” said Riccardo Cotarella, president of Assoenologi (Italian enologists association).

But as the editors of the Corriere point out, the short-term challenge ahead is market uncertainty.

“Demand [for Italian wines] in foreign markets seems to be holding even though it’s not as strong as 2021” according to Fabio Del Bravo, director of ISMEA (the Institute of Farming and Food Market Services), who is also quoted in the report. “But in the domestic market, there are signs of dropping sales.”

Montalcino subzones, harvest 2022 update: Taste with me Tues. 9/20 in Houston @ Vinology.

Please join me next Tuesday at Vinology in Houston as we open three wines from Montalcino and discuss Montalcino subzones, including the classic and the new, and I share notes from my harvest 2022 trip. Click here to reserve. Thank you for your support.

After I posted a note about how I came to discover Montalcino wines, a lot of people asked me about Bagno Vignoni, a very special Medieval hamlet that lies about 30 minutes south of the hilltop city in Siena province.

That’s a shot of the main square/piazza in Bagno Vignoni — the bath amidst the wines. What piazza, you ask?

Bagno Vignoni is virtually unique among its village peers because instead of a main square, it has a hot springs (thermal) bath in its main public space. It is said that St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) frequently bathed there.

In the photo above, you see the bath as it probably looked during the Renaissance (about 200 years after Catherine). It’s no longer open to the public. But there are public baths as well as an upscale hotel where there is a gorgeous private thermal swimming pool and spa. (That’s where my friend the sommelier in the story used to work — his family owned the hotel.)

I’ll be talking a little about Bagno Vignoni at the Montalcino seminar I’m leading next Tuesday at Vinology here in Houston. And we’ll also be looking carefully at three Montalcino subzones. And lastly, I’ll be sharing harvest notes from my trip through central and northern Italy (just got back last night).

And dulcis in fundo, Tracie will definitely be joining us that night and we will all hang out at the bar afterwards and probably order a few pizzas. It’s going to be a great night.

It’s not a cheap date at $50 per person. But the pricing reflects the caliber of the wines. I hope you can join us. Thank you for your support!

Italian growers cautiously optimistic about 2022 vintage.

Posting on the fly this early Monday morning in Brescia where I’m staying. Two more days and many more meetings and tastings before I head back to Texas on Wednesday.

But I wanted to get a quick post up with an update about the 2022 vintage.

Those are Sangiovese clusters, above, in Panzano in Chianti.

Light rain there late last week was just what the growers need as the red grape begins.

As one winemaker pointed out to me, the biggest challenge they were facing wasn’t just the fact that the summer had been so hot and dry.

There was very little rainfall in the early part of the growing cycle, she pointed out. As a result, the summer heatwave and drought could have been catastrophic.

Luckily, the August rainfall seems to be just what the doctor called for. And despite some scattered hail and some reports of mildew, growers are optimistic that this will be a good and even great vintage in certain spots.

I’ll be writing a more detailed report when I get back to my desk. But let’s just all keep praying for mild weather in the days to come.

In other news…

Anyone who’s ever been a working wine trip like this knows what a slog it can be. I’ve been going non-stop.

But on Sunday I took time out to have lunch with Giovanni and a friend from my Italian university years in downtown Brescia.

Man, it was amazing to see the piazzas and restaurants full of happy people kissed by sunny skies! I couldn’t help but remember the time when we were reading about Brescia every day on the cover of the New York Times. We all talked about how blessed we are to be here today after what happened here and across the world in 2020.

Those are the casoncelli I had for lunch at Trattoria Gasparo in the city’s historical center.

And, of course, who could resist a plate of vitello tonnato? Not me!

In Lombardy, they add a ton of sauce to the dish as you can see below. It’s like the Italian equivalent of a “wet burrito.” It was super delicious paired with Giovanni’s Franciacorta.

Wish me luck, wish me speed. Thanks for being here.

Taste Montalcino with me Sept. 20 in Houston @ Vinology.

Above: a photo of mine from Montalcino, taken seven years ago (nearly to the day). Wine lovers and not, italophiles will tell you that the Orcia River Valley is — how to say this? — irresistibly delicious to the eyes.

Montalcino is where my turn as a wine lover began more than three decades ago. Well, actually, not Montalcino but Bagno Vignoni — the bath amidst the vines — just to the south of Montalcino on the Cassia, the ancient road that leads to Rome. That’s where it all started to come into focus for me.

A Hollywood friend (a composer of note and my Italian student) had lent me the keys to his apartment in Bagno Vignoni where to this day, a Renaissance-era thermal bath still sits in the center of the 14th-century village square.

Not long after arriving in this achingly beautiful Tuscan hamlet, the weary traveler was befriended by the town sommelier. And the latter proceeded to open many, many bottles for his newfound American friend.

At the time, Americans had hardly heard of Sassicaia or Ornellaia — two of the sommelier’s favorites. And only a handful of my compatriots knew the wines of Biondi Santi and Costanti (his top two Brunello) and Casanova dei Neri (he had served his mandatory time in the Italian military together with Giacomo). It was like he was predicting my future.

On Tuesday, September 20, I’ll be opening a flight of Montalcino wines for a small group of wine lovers and friends at Vinology.

You can imagine how geeked I am to get back to the “floor,” as we call it in the trade.

The $50 cost per person reflects the quality of the wines we’ll be tasting. And I can’t imagine we won’t be hanging out at the bar following the event as we catch up and visit over something groovy. Who knows? Tracie P might even make an appearance.

Please join me as we revisit Montalcino together. Click here to reserve. Thank you for the support.

(And for those of you who used to take part in our tastings at the unmentionable restaurant with the asshole chef, won’t it be grand to be reunited again? I hope you can join us.)

The “Swimmer”: Milan’s heroic efforts to save a wild boar trapped in the city’s canal system.

Above: a bas relief at the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio in Milan.

It’s hard to say why a wine scribbler like me would be so obsessed with the tale of a wild boar that was trapped in Milan’s canal system for two weeks despite a heroic attempt to save her. My guess is that the story is an allegory for humankind’s alienation from the natural world. But that’s just me.

It all began earlier this week with a blog post about wild boars — feral hogs — destroying a small farm’s grape harvest in northern Italy. The story reflected a growing problem for humans and hogs in Italy: driven by lack of natural resources, the animals are increasingly turning to commercial farms and even urban centers in their search for food. In Rome, broods of wild boar are commonly seen navigating the streets as they forage through uncollected garbage.

After a university-years friend in Milan saw my post, she shared an anecdotal account of the boar’s tragic arc. But she missed an important detail. Mindless authorities didn’t try to kill the animal, as she told it. In fact, driven by compassion, the city’s civil servants did everything humanly possible to save it.

What started out in my mind as a Kafkaesque yarn about a wild beast cheated of life and liberty by heartless bureaucratic machinery had become a narrative plucked out of a neorealist documentary film all’antonioniana — an achingly poignant tale of humans unable, despite Herculean effort, to spare and revive the emaciated sow.

Here is an excerpted translation from a story in the Milanese edition of Italy’s national daily La Repubblica, dated August 18, shared with me by friend Andrea Gaviglio, a native of the Ambrosian city who owns and runs a legacy wine shop there, Vino Vino dal 1921. The hog was first sighted on August 4.

    Local police, public safety officers, and Metropolitana Milanese city engineers were all involved efforts to save the boar. They had dubbed the animal “the swimmer” because of its “excellent swimming ability,” which made its capture difficult following the first sighting according to firefighters. For nearly 15 days it seemed to have “disappeared” in a canal in Milan connected to the Darsena di Milano.

(The Darsena is a humanmade urban lake that serves as a hub for the city’s vast canal system. The word darsena means dock.)

    Agents from [Milan’s] fire department, together with agents from the city’s departments of fish and wild life and emergency management, had tried nearly everything in their efforts to “capture” the animal. A few days ago, they set two traps and video cameras at the canal entrance and exit (just before the Alexander Langer bridge near Piazza Tripoli. But the ungulate had seemed to have disappeared without a trace and its whereabouts were unknown for days. But then it would reappear as it ate the bait without ever being ensnared in the traps. That was when agents tried using the “trail of breadcrumbs” technique.

When they did finally “capture” the Swimmer, they were unable to resuscitate her.

In my view, the boar is a victim of humans’ wanton exploitation of the natural world. She probably fell into the canal, authorities believe, while drinking or looking for food around one of the city’s humanmade lakes. Her bitter fate proved too challenging for the humans: they were helpless in their struggle to free her from the very urbanity they themselves created.

As a famous Roman poet once wrote, naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret. You can chase nature away with your pitchfork, but it always returns [and reveals you for who you are].