A Puritanical Italy: has it come to this?

Above: On our last trip to Italy, this image — a winemaker’s daughter chasing a cat through a field — fascinated me. The cat, hoping to receive a treat, wouldn’t let the girl pick it up. But it never strayed farther than arm’s reach. She was a Pasolinian allegory of purity and innocence, the cat her serpent leading her to edge of the field where she would ultimately move beyond the farm’s borders toward the impurity of urban living and the pressures of modern society.

When we travel to Italy, Tracie P and I are very fortunate to find a host of characters gladful to share the flavors and aromas of the garden of Europe, the fair country, ancient Enotria and Esperya — the land of the setting sun, as the Greeks called it, the “Evening Land.” Blessed with a mastery of the language and endowed with years of experience there, we move seamlessly from the quartermaster of Marco Polo to the trinciante — the carver — of the osteria whom we bribe with veteran smiles and harmless guile, blank verse and syncopated song.

Don’t get me wrong: although we thoroughly enjoy every moment of it, those of you who follow (and have followed recently) along here on the blog know that we are keenly and acutely aware of how food and wine as text — as discourse — are just one red thread interwoven into the fabric of this ancient and fascinating nation.

Above: Most middle-class families by their daily wine at supermarkets or at dispensaries like this one in Favaro Veneto in the terra firma of Venice.

However joy-filled and wondrous our trips seem, we never lose touch with the challenges and ills that Italians and Europeans face every day, particularly in a world where the Italian state provides less and less for the middle-class Italian, while placing more and more pressures on her/him in finding and practicing civic and national pride and ownership.

I’m deeply saddened to report (for those of you who haven’t followed the meager coverage by The New York Times) that Italian society is on the cusp of a startlingly profound peripeteia. In bizarre twist of cultural roles, Italian prosecutors are on the verge of taking down Dr. Evil himself, Silvio Berlusconi… but not by means of legal action addressing his self-serving mediatic tyranny and corruption… He will be taken out, instead, through the application of a puritanical denouement.

In early April (it was announced while I was still there last week), he will be tried for paying a minor for sex.

Above: My last night in Italy, this time around, I shared a pizza and a beer with a colleague and friend (who happens to be a Berlusconi supporter). The pizza was decent but forgettable. Sometimes a pizza is just pizza.

Prostitution is legal in Italy, although organized prostitution is not. And even though the legal age of consent there is 14 years of age, it is illegal to pay for sex with a minor (under 18 years of age).

Believe me: although I am not Italian and have no civic stake in Italian society other than my personal interest in Italy and the many friends I have there, I am thrilled to see Berlusconi go (and I sincerely hope this is the final nail in his political coffin). His racist remarks about Obama or his belief that “Mussolini didn’t send anyone to concentration camps… he just sent them on vacation” provide ample reason to despise him. But the manufactured consent he has generated through his control of television and newspapers, orchestrated solely in the view of his open desire to become richer through the manipulation of Italian legislation (he stated so very clearly in a now infamous interview with historian Enzo Biagi, Italy’s Walter Cronkite), offer us indisputable evidence of what a menace he is to Italian, European, and Western Civilization. Good riddance, I say.

Above: Tracie P and I use all kind of electronic media to communicate when we’re in Italy but we still love postcards.

“Since when did the Italians become puritanical?” That’s what my bandmate Verena asked rhetorically in an email thread the other day. In fact, as Verena knows well, the Italians haven’t become puritanical. Indeed, one of the things I love and cherish about Italy is the fact one is not constrained by the yoke of bourgeois and Victorian attitudes there.

But it has come to this: short of taking to the streets and squares the way the Egyptians have done, Italy must resort to a Republican-inspired puritanical Bill Clinton-era tactic to oust the country richest and most despicable man from its most powerful office.

Above: If you look carefully at the wrought-iron adornment of this well (near Buttrio in Friuli), you’ll see that it is made of grape bunches, leaves, and tendrils.

I hope and pray that gourmets and gourmands of English-language literature will appreciate the allusion with which I have chosen as congedo of this post, a few lines culled from D.H. Lawrence’s poem, “Grapes.”

Buona lettura, everyone, and buona domenica. Thanks for reading…

But long ago, oh, long ago
Before the rose began to simper supreme,
Before the rose of all roses, rose of the all the world, was even in bud,
Before the glaciers were gathered up in a bunch out of the unsettled seas and winds
Or else before they had been let down again, in Noah’s flood,
There was another world, a dusky, flowerless, tendrilled world
And creatures webbed and marshy,
And on the margin, men soft-footed and pristine,
Still, and sensitive, and active,
Audile, tactile sensitiveness as of a tendril which orientates and reaches out,
Reaching out and grasping by an instinct more delicate than the moon’s as she feels for the tides.

Of which world, the vine was the invisible rose,
Before petals spread before colour made its disturbance, before eyes saw too much.

Dusky are the avenues of wine,
And we must cross the frontiers, though we will not,
Of the lost, fern-scented world:
Take the fern-seed on our lips,
Close the eyes, and go
Down the tendrilled avenues of wine and the other world.