So, recapping from yesterday's Blog entry, Italian Fascism was a means to the end of forging a united Italian Nation with one people, a people descended from the ancient Romans and like them prepared to submit their own egoism for good of the fatherland. All Italians were expected to participate in this grand adventure. It wasn't part of the plan to allow opt-outs and so those who didn't fit the Italian stereotype or who weren't prepared to submit their egoism to a Fascist Italian Nation and State were victimised, often cruelly, sometimes mortally.
But Fascism was always work-in-progress an ad hoc make-it-up-as-you-go-along pantomime, big on symbolism and grand gesture while short on substance and often tipping over into buffoonery. But for those happy to conform, especially the poor, ill-educated and down-trodden, Fascism offered a basic education and the chance to participate in a wonderful spectacle that was denied their forebears, subject, beaten-down and humbled as they always had been by local landlords and factory owners, their souls always held hostage by the local Priest.
Communism, however, was a defined ideology. An ideology that had been defined by the educated middle class in the name of the workers. It was an ideology only capable of meeting the aspirations of the working classes and their intellectual fellow-travellers and its application in the Soviet Union had shown what awaited the rest. It was a foreign ideology and stabbed at the heart of real, as opposed to Fascist-invented, Italian culture based around the Catholic Church.
When Italian Fascism took the road of total war in league with Germany it was no longer such a good game to play. Quickly many Italians including the King and the military leadership decided that maybe it had all been a big mistake. We all know what happened then. They started rooting for another team (the Allies) and the Fascist experiment was effectively over with Mussolini deciding, at the end, that maybe Socialism would have been better all along. He was hung-out to dry.
But Communism suffered no such defeat and the Italian Left were in no way humbled by the knowledge of what Communism had been up to in the Soviet Union. But the United States, the Catholic Church and their allies the Christian Democrats kept the Italian Communists out of power until communism ceased to count. Communism may have ceased to exist but in Italy the communists didn't and in 2006 Romani Prodi formed a government of the Left including unreconstructed Communists, left-wing Catholic reactionaries, and people who called themselves Greens.
Romani Prodi, an operator from the old Christian Democrats, a good Catholic, a wise and professorial type presented his coalition during the electoral campaign as moderate, pro-business, reformist, even a bit liberal. In power he and a Finance Minister Vincenzo Visco declared war on the small entrepreneur, that tax evader and non-respecter of laws, owing allegiance to the family and not the state. Italy needed less of these hard to control individualists and more big businesses capitalised to compete in global markets.
The State declared war on small businesses. Controls by the Finance Police were ratcheted-up. Compliance was to be by terror and so administrative sanctions were introduced allowing businesses to be closed for three months following failure to issue three till receipts. Humiliation was to be public with closed businesses taped-up with official seals. Fines were introduced that effectively caused a subject business to close. But this wasn't enough. The whole population was to be made to obey the State. Overflights were made of the total Italian territory and the resulting photographs were digitised and compared to the land registry. Inspectors were sent out to ensure the demolition of every unauthorised wood-pile with a roof, car-port, animal stall. And so on it went.
This would have been OK but the Prodi Government immediately reduced the Pensionable age to 58 years from the 60 years that the previous Berlusconi Government had managed to get to after much struggle. Generous wage settlements under the national contracts system were made in excess of inflation and productivity improvements (in fact, productivity was declining). Public spending went up on the back of increased tax receipts (primarily VAT) following the mini-boom of 2006-2007-2008 (until the Boom!). No serious attempt was made to begin to drag down the public debt. Moreover, it emerged that Prodi had used a Berlusconi law that he later repealed to donate, tax-free large sums of money to his children. His justice minister was investigated and then charged with influence peddling. His environment minister was a Green who refused to take any responsibility at all for the disastrous system concerning waste in Naples that had lead to dioxin being found in Mozarella cheese and the city overcome by stinking, foetid waste. The Finance Minister Visco tolerated a private market in the grounds of the economics ministry in Rome where no receipts were given. When tackled about this he simply refused to reply.
Normal people quickly realised that they had been duped. The private sector reeled from the absolute hostility shown them by the Government. Small businesses felt especially vulnerable. Pensioners had been paid-off by Prodi and workers in the public and private sectors also but the behaviour of the Prodi Government was so overbearing and disrespectful and the behaviour of its members at a minimum hypocritical and often worse. The consent of the people for Prodi to govern simply dried-up. After two years, just long enough for its members to qualify for a pension for life, the government folded. In the following election Berlusconi came back, the communists disappeared as did the greens. They have effectively ceased to exist. And Prodi is still hero to a large part of the left which is an indictment of their lack of moral judgement and the vindictiveness they hold towards their fellow co-nationals.
So it is that bad, shocking and terrible as Berlusconi is without any doubt the alternative would be worse! It was worse!
What a country!
Since the move to Summer Time, long light evenings are limiting the time available to Blog. Soon, I will be forced to reduce it to a weekend entry only.
In the meantime there was something that I wanted to write about. Perhaps it has crossed your mind that it should be strange that Silvio Berlusconi is still in power given that he is currently attending four trials and the Italian economy is in constant decline and even his ex-wife called him 'sick'? Maybe you have wondered about the parliamentary opposition?
The largest part of the parliamentary opposition to Silvio Berlusconi is the Partito Democratico. This is a rag-bag that collects various groupings of the historical Italian left, but not all. This grouping, and it can only be called a grouping, because parties of the left come and go, dissolve and reform, split away and rejoin offers no ideas and is not trusted by a large part of the Italian population. This distrust flows from the history of the Italian Left and the class-war that it unleashed the last time it was in power under Romano Prodi from 17 May 2006 until 7 May 2008. In its current form and with its current ideology the Italian left is unlikely to ever be given the chance to govern again.
To understand why Silvio Berlusconi can still claim to be persecuted by Communists, and be believed by a lot of Italians, it is necessary to understand Fascism. Fascism never had a coherent ideology. But it was a virulent form of nationalism that strove to channel the energies and mould the characters of the Italians into a coherent whole sufficient to sustain a modern nation state with martial and imperialistic ambitions. It gave Italians a sense of belonging to a greater whole that, in their unity, would enable them to approach if not rival the achievements of their forebears of ancient Rome. Being conformist in design and implementation, obviously, it was intolerant of pluralism but this intolerance required that it offer something to all the elements of ethnic-Italian society. It was populistic by nature. These elements result in it still being fondly remembered by many Italians who were alive during the times of fascism.
Fascism did not have a particular economic ideology nor was it a participant in class warfare. It required the support of the industrialists and landowners, these were its pillars, but it also breathed the oxygen of support of the very workers who were going to create the modern militaristic Italian state. Everyone had to participate in Italy's great new adventure for it to work!
Socialism and Communism, however, were natural well-springs of the atrocious exploitation and subjugation of the working classes on the land and in the factories. Feudal landholdings continued in Italy into the 20th century. Share-croppers were the lucky agricultural workers. Unending and unbearable misery was the lot of Day-labourers. Workers were maimed and exhausted in the factories. It was natural that they embraced the example of the Soviet Union and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. But the aim of many was revolution and overthrow of the capitalist, political and religious classes. Here I must mention that many early socialists and communists were also Italian Nationalists and capable of compromise but the perceived threat to the existing power structures in Italy, including, of course, the Catholic Church, fed and sustained the development and growth of Fascism. Mussolini found fertile ground for his black-shirted groups of strike-breaking thugs.
As Fascism grew and found power many Italian Communists were forced to flee and many went to the Soviet Union where the found a warm welcome in Stalin's government. After the Second World War the Soviet Union and the United States waged a proxy battle for control of Italy. With the assistance of the Catholic Church and the United States the Democratic Christians retained a rightward grip on Italy until the weakening of the empire of the Soviet Union rendered Italy less important in any future world order. Notwithstanding that many of those returning to Italy from the Soviet Union after the Second World War renounced violent struggle to achieve proletariatarian ends, their vicinity to Stalin's regime and their continued close links to the Soviet Union led to their being seen by many Italians as essentially covert revolutionaries aiming to impose a dictatorship on the country which would be based on a monopolistic aggregation of all political power plus the means of production in an unrepresentative body of men.
When contrasted with Italian Communism Fascism seems almost pluralistic. But they key truth is that Facism grew out of the structure of Italian society: hierarchical, uniform, conformist, clerical, conservative and closed. In this sense it was the society's evolved response to the great political and economic upheavals happening at the time. Communism, however, was an imported ideology which aimed to give power over to a part, albeit a large part (workers), of society to the obvious disadvantage of the rest. But it was an ideology of a people who were equally hierarchical, uniform, conformist, conservative and closed.
Once, it became clear that Communism was dead the Italian left had nothing left. All that was left was a group of hierarchical, uniform, conformist, conservative and closed people clinging to (and often changing) old and defunct symbols and slogans while trying to convince the rest of the Italians that they were in some way progressive. As the Italian left has historically been staunchly opposed to individualism and libertarianism (if it knows what it is), it has been unable to make the move of other parties of the left internationally who have focussed on the means by which a society may work to the benefit of its individual members. The Italian left is still thinking in groups. Class struggle only happens to the masses. The individual is only an atom and cannot, by definition, count. One person’s struggle is but nowt compared to the great tides of history.
So that is that, you might think. But it wasn’t. On 17 May 2006 the Italians, thoroughly tired of Berlusconi, elected a Government headed by Romano Prodi. Prodi had presented his coalition during the run-up to the elections as market friendly, understanding of business and its needs, even reforming and liberalizing. Many had high hopes for the Prodi government. It came to power in the era of loose money when growth took off, liquidity was high, exports up. Of course, this all ended in the crash of late 2008 but that was still in the future and in 2006 many hoped that the Prodi government would begin the liberalisation that Italy so badly needs and which Berlusconi had so patently not implemented.
Instead, Prodi and his Finance Minister Vincenzo Visco declared war on Italian business and, in particular, small Italian businesses which were defined as being a problem for Italy and not a part of the motor that kept the country going.
To Be Continued!
A few days ago I recounted the story of the incident that occurred in our winery. A tank of very cold white wine saturated with carbon dioxide heated-up, albeit by a small amount. I didn't vent-off the CO2 and happily went to bed only to confront a fountain of wine spraying out of the tank door in the morning. The pressure had built-up to the point where the door seal failed. The tank had originally held 1000 litres of wine. We lost 200 litres before we got the situation under control. I guessed that the wine that had remained in the tank was probably not adversely affected as the inside of the tank was charged with CO2, a gas that is extremely protective of wine (think of Prosecco or Champagne!), but until I had had the wine analysed and tasted by an expert there remained an element of doubt.
I awoke at first light this morning trying to decide whether I should have the wine analysed today or later. Expert tasting is done on Mondays. Like all uncertainties that can present problematic outcomes I was tempted to put the testing off at least for another week. In the full light of day, however, I decided that it was pointless to wait any longer and so I took the wine to the laboratory. Before leaving La Faula, however, I had Luca try the wine. Now this winter past Luca took a wine-tasting course plus he had tried this particular white before the incident so I thought that he could be the 'pit-canary' immediately signalling if something was wrong. Luckily, he found the wine fine. The lab analysis and expert tasting confirmed this so apart from the 200 litres lost (I'm not crying over that!) everything was back as before. Phew!!
Coming back from the laboratory I turned-off into an industrial estate where there is a chemicals wholesaler. Now, La Faula has a septic tank so we are very careful what chemicals we use in the house. In addition, being an 'organic' Agriturismo, over time we have reverted to using simpler and older cleaning products often based on simple chemicals that were once commonly found in old drugstores. For years I have purchased the chemicals from this wholesaler, a small, rather ramshackle outfit, which is convenient as in one place I could get all the ingredients that we use and in concentrations stronger than you can find at the local ironmongers. When I arrived I noticed that the place was completely different. Physically, it was just the same, but there was no hustle and bustle and I was keenly, if quietly, watched as I walked into the warehouse.
'Si' said the woman that I had dealt with many times before but this time in a perfunctory almost challenging way. I replied telling her what I was wanting to buy. 'We can't do that' she replied. 'We can't do that at all'
'But I've come here often' I said. 'I've been coming here for years. I've bought with an invoice. We're a local Agriturismo'
'You had better talk to the owner' replied the woman who I had always taken to be the daughter but now nothing seemed clear.
Living in Italy, one gets to recognise a business that has had problems with the authorities. The immediate response to a 'control' gone wrong is a closed defensiveness and an evinced inchoate but general hostility. We know, because we have had these feelings ourselves! The woman who I knew to be the owner was working at a tall bench. An old woman, in her late 60's or early 70's, slightly stooped, she was wearing elbow-high thick protective gloves, oversize goggly protective glasses and a mask over her mouth and nose. Beside her was a large sack of some white chemical that she was measuring out into smaller tub-like containers. When she saw me she turned and removed the glasses and mask. She had obviously heard the previous exchange.
'I'm really sorry' she said. But we've had a 'control' from the Guardia di Finanza. We are licensed as a wholesaler and we cannot sell at retail.
'But it's not retail' I said. 'Look we're an Agriturismo and have a VAT number. I've bought with an invoice here in the past'.
'That's not the problem' the woman replied. 'Invoice or not, doesn't change anything. You are using the products yourself and not selling them on so we can't sell them to you. I'm sorry'
There was nothing to be done. I thanked them for their time and left. And then I remembered that last summer the wholesaler where we buy pasta, milk and other staples, the Metro, had closed off the food and related items section and required businesses to apply for a new access card if they wanted to enter this section. The card was only available to those businesses involved in preparing food for the public. We applied for a card and it was only issued to us after a manager from the Metro had come to the Agriturismo and looked at our kitchen and dining room to ensure that we really do prepare and serve food to the public.
Everything was clear. In Italy all businesses (including La Faula) operate under a licence that specifies in great and restrictive detail just what that business may do. It is prohibited for a business to do anything outside the scope of the licence. The Minister of Finance, Tremonti, is extremely hostile to free-market systems as practised in what he has called the 'anglo-saxon' world and he has expressed himself not to be particularly impressed by the German model either. For Tremonti, a colbertist and statist, allied to the reactionary Northern League, the Italian State should shape and control the economy. Obviously, there has been an official push to restrict businesses to acting within the terms of their licence. Perhaps in these free-market times businesses got it into their heads that they could develop so as to serve the markets that presented themselves rather than those defined by the terms of their licence. Be that as it may, they were wrong and the Government of Silvio Berlusconi that since 1994 has systematically wrecked the Italian economy, is putting them back in their box.
This morning Silvio Berlusconi presented himself in court in Milan in a pre-trial hearing regarding fraud charges that have been levelled against him. In the next weeks he will be tried on three other counts including paying for sex with a minor.
His Finance Minister, the very same Tremonti, has promised the vast army of Italian Pensioners who are holding a big chunk of the Italian public debt in Treasury Bills that should [the government] want to raise taxes this would mean raising them on those who evade, not those who pay or have Italian Treasury Bills in the bank or who have inherited a house'. When I read this and read about Berlusconi appearing in Court I thought of the little chemical wholesalers, and the old lady spooning white powder into little tubs, and how degraded human beings are when they unleash the power of the State against those who want to do nothing more than to earn a legal living.
Yesterday, I recounted the story of the birth of the calf at Gino's Ranch. I have always felt hesitant to chronicle with my camera the lives of our neighbours, at least in as much as they intersect with ours, because it seemed intrusive and, being from outside, I have always to remember not to tax too much the hospitality of those who come from here. However, this morning Gino (of the ranch) came here after Mass and said that Nicola, who is captured in yesterday's photos rather saving the day (not to mention the lives of mother and calf), had expressed satisfaction with the photos having found them on the web and had suggested that they were worth viewing! This was good news as I would like to use the camera more outside La Faula and happiness with the results will make this considerably easier.
Continuing the story of Gino's Ranch and the calves conceived by our bull during a raunchy night last summer with Gino's cows, I have mentioned that I made a claim to have at least one of the offspring of our bull given that this is our right not to mention the fact that in their desire for a bit of masculine company, the cows trampled down our electric fence! I felt that I was probably whistling in the wind.
Belen. Gino's favourite heifer, was brought to us because her younger sister, born of the illicit tryst between Gino's Ranch and La Faula bovine livestock, was losing out to Belen in the competition for their mother's milk. Belen who was well over the time to be weaned came to us to resolve this problem. Then, on Friday, Gino came around again and said that he wanted to give us the second calf, just born, as her mother was refusing to let her feed. We have a ’good-old-cow’ whose daughter should wean now so we all thought to put the unlucky calf under our cow to see if she would suckle.
Yesterday, we went and picked-up the little calf, loaded her in our van, and brought her to La Faula. Much to the chagrin of the biological daughter of our 'good-old-cow' we introduced the poor little calf. To our great pleasure they bonded and now the little calf has a much milk as she wants to drink! The real daughter is separated from the other two but she looks over them through the bars of the fence and bellows in frustration at being deprived of her mother's milk! All night she kept the yelling up! It’s not easy being an adolescent, even an adolescent cow!
Previously, I wrote about Gino’s ranch on the other side of the Malina River to us. I wrote that last summer in a night of passion three of his cows were made pregnant by our bull. His cows are a mixture but based predominantly on Aberdeen Angus cattle so they are wholly black or black and white. Our bull, being a limousine, was reddish brown.
Broken fences don’t speak and so we would have been ignorant of this bovine assignation except that when the first calf was born it was reddish-brown. Gino realised that we would sooner or later put all the pieces together and so he came clean about the fact that three of his cows had been serviced by our bull. I put in a claim for one of the offspring but had little hope that my claim would bring fruit. But it has, and with interest!
These three births have all been successful but with difficulty. The last birth was to a cow who could not deliver without assistance. This is obviously serious as without intervention mother and calf will be lost. We have the equipment and know-how, at a pinch, if desperate measures are called for to birth a calf. However, our friend and neighbour, Nicola, has a herd of milking cows so delivering caught calves is second nature to him. As befits a busy and expert farmer Nicola only comes in at the last minute to birth the cow and then he leaves again. So I helped Gino and his brother-in-law prepare the cow and when all was ready we called Nicola who came, successfully delivered the calf and then with a cheery wave was off!
I was lucky that everyone consented to my photographing the events. We all live in this little corner of Italy and our friends and neighbours do find it a bit strange to be pictured and then put on the internet. That kind of thing just doesn’t go on at Ravosa. I push, heavily, the fact that Gino and others have relatives outside Italy who can share in the life here as never before. But I feel the reticence and am grateful that they consent to my proceeding to record all the same!
NOTE: This blog comprises two entries, each prepared within a day of the other. The first entry is on top and the later entry follows it.
In these early days of spring we prepare and bottle the white wines from last autumn's harvest. As I have previously written, the last grape harvest was the first time that we embarked on making fresh and fruity whites using refrigeration to cool the must and decant sediments prior to fermentation and then to keep the fermentation at a constant, relatively, cool temperature. Apart from the fact that a wine-maker needs specialised refrigeration equipment, this is a job that relies heavily on technique and know-how.
Luca had, from the beginning, wanted to make wines in this way. Our consulting wine maker in previous years was wholly against making wine using the technique of cooling to clarify (although he was more accepting of cooling to control fermentation temperatures). His stated philosophy was to return to making wines as they had once been made, spurning machinery wherever possible and using wooden containers at all stages as until quite recently wood was the only material available for containing musts and wine.
I have a feeling that behind the consulting winemaker's stated philosophy was also an ignorance in the actual techniques of using refrigeration in white wine making. I was also very reluctant. It seemed to me that refrigeration equipment would be expensive to acquire and operate and would introduce further possibilities for things to go wrong. Plus, not having ever seen the equipment in action it seemed like a real personal challenge to start making wine this way so I happily fell-in behind the 'superior' wisdom of the consulting winemaker!
In the last couple of years we realised that we had no option but to make fresh and fruity whites as this is what the market looks for. We had the luck to obtain a 20-year old refrigeration plant in good working condition and the guys at the lab where we take our wines for analysis gave me a run-down on what I had to do. I got a good boost of confidence from the technician who came to set the plant up and who was very enthusiastic about it. Old but good, it seems!
The problem with advice is that it always seems so clear and obvious when given (good advice, that is!) but when one is alone, facing unforeseen situations, it all seems so inadequate. Unfortunately, when you are a 50 year-old winemaker there is no-one to hold your hand so real reserves of native intelligence have to be trawled-up!
As I have previously written, I made a fair few mistakes, none of them serious, but I recognised them only after I had made them so I was always just that bit uncertain as to whether having done differently I would have got a better wine at the end. Something quite unforeseen was that I had trouble getting the wine to ferment. This was caused by the composition of the juice following the climatic conditions of the growing season and was a problem also experienced by our neighbours. Cooling the must to clarify it added to the problem. I had some unsettled nights knowing that the next morning if the wine hadn't started to ferment I would have to think of what to do to get it to!
Sometimes getting fermentation going is a bit like trying to get a camp fire going in the rain. It seems impossible as it stutters and sputters until, finally, after many attempts some flame starts licking around the wood, feeding on itself until the blaze catches. So it was that once started, the fermentation went well and right through to its natural end which is very important. Then we put the wines outside to allow sediments to settle naturally during the cold of winter.
So it was that Saturday week we returned the wines to the inside of the winery and allowed them to naturally warm up to room temperature. The chemical analysis was fine (they were a little acidic but the rest of the parameters were fine) but the real test was going to be whether they were the 'fresh and fruity' white wines that Luca had had in mind right from the beginning of our time at La Faula!
ONE DAY LATER
I finished the previous blog with the open question as to whether the 2010 Faula white wines would be the fresh and fruity types that Luca had wanted us to make from the beginning. You might have thought that by now it would have been possible to answer this question as the wines are sitting in tanks in the winery on their road to being bottled. But there's many a slip twixt cup and lip and knowing this prevented me from giving an answer. Wine is a chemical complexity and keeping all that complexity in balance is the task of the good winemaker. Effectively, it's not over 'till it's over, so until the wine has been bottled, laid-down (for more or less time) and enjoyed prudence and modesty keep the winemaker from giving a definitive adjudication!
For the winemaker risks, difficulties and problems can be known unknowns. Worse, though, are the unknown unknowns that wait, unrecognised, for that moment to bite and the winemaker fears these most of all as they strike without warning with consequences that can be dire. Education and experience push unknown unknowns always further into the distance and thus they threaten less as time passes. But starting some new technique or process brings the risk of unforeseen problems back in again and this, ironically, was what happened in the hours after I wrote the blog above.
Fresh and fruity white wines have to be protected from oxygen as oxidation strips away the bouquet and freshness and yellows the liquid. The solubility of gases in wine increases as the wine temperature reduces so when we put the white wines outside the winery in the winter to cold stabilise we must be very careful that following fermentation there is little or no possibility for oxygen to come in contact with the liquid. When we put the wines outside to cool they are still fairly saturated with residual carbon dioxide a by-product of the fermentation. Carbon dioxide is extremely soluble in wine and so it protects the wine from absorbing any oxygen that should come its way.
Two Saturdays ago we brought the white wines back into the winery. We were very careful that they weren't aerated and everything went well. The laboratory analysis showed that all the parameters were perfect except that the wines were a little acidic. We reduced the acidity by adding a carbonate much like baking soda. The effect of this is that the acids crystallize and precipitate out but the reaction is accompanied by the production of a large amount of carbon dioxide. I added the carbonate while the wine was still cold reasoning that the CO2 would be absorbed by the wine and would offer protection during the filtration prior to bottling of the wine. This in fact happened and the wines were a little fizzy to the taste.
To filter and bottle the wines they need to be near ambient temperature. If they are too cold they are viscous and filter with difficulty and there is always the risk of aeration at lower temperatures. Wine must go into the bottle more or less at the temperature it will stay at for the rest of its life. So yesterday I put a heating plate into the wine and gently circulated tepid water through the plate bringing the temperature up to 16°C. I had left sufficient headspace in the tank above the wine and before turning in for the night I checked for any leakage from the tank. There was none and so I went to bed content.
This morning I awoke early. As I came downstairs I was hit by a wonderful fresh and fruity smell of wine. I knew instantly that something bad had happened in the winery which is at the back of the house. I ran to the winery and while the sight that met me was not as bad as that of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant after its travails it was still pretty shocking. Wine was spraying up out of a 1000 liter wine tank and the floor was awash with it. Approaching the tank I saw that a rubber seal around the door had been pushed out and the wine was escaping here. I knew that the only solution was to pump the wine out of the leaking tank and into another. Running back into the house I gave Luca a bad start to his morning by telling him we had a big problem in the winery.
Going into the winery we raced against time. Luckily all the equipment, tanks, pumps and hoses were clean and ready so we started pumping the wine out of the compromised tank. In one's rush one has to be careful not to make some error that will cause more damage like trying to pump the wine out of the tank before removing its lid. This is a common error in wineries and it causes the tank to implode so we took a little extra time before every action to make sure that it was the right one. In the pressure of the moment it was amazing how clear and focussed one becomes and how the brain gives its all to the task at hand. While I was working out the best steps to resolve the problem I was already trying to understand what the possible causes could be and what the possible consequences might be for the wine.
Eventually we had emptied the tank, and we saw that the sister-tank was 8/10ths full so we knew that we had lost 200 liters of wine. Shocking and regrettable but not a complete disaster. Plus, it's no use crying over spilt milk as the saying goes. So true! Having stabilised the situation, here I have to admit, I went and had breakfast and coffee. It had all happened so unexpectedly and been so engrossing that now that things were under control I took a little break.
Going back into the winery we transferred the wine into a tank of the right capacity, and sealed it and filled the headspace with nitrogen gas for its protective effects. By now I had a pretty good idea of what had happened. In increasing the temperature of the wine its solubility to CO2 had reduced, the carbon dioxide had left the wine and had pressurised the tank leading eventually to failure of the door seal. One thing led to another. Probably the wine that remained in the tank will have suffered little as this all occurred in an atmosphere charged with carbon dioxide but I will let it settle and next Monday will take it to the laboratory for analysis and expert tasting.
So there it is. Making fresh and fruity wines involves new techniques. Previously, I knew about the risks appurtenant with the physical property that the solubility of wine to a gas increases markedly as the wine temperature drops. Now the risks involved with decreasing the solubility of a wine to dissolved gases by increasing its temperature, are known to me. And those risks will never be forgotten as this was the first time in 15 years that we had a wine loss from a tank and the image of the wine spraying out of the breached seal are rather clearly still in my mind. Unexpected, unforeseen, shocking: unknown unknowns are often like that!
This Friday evening was the second to last for my English conversation class. I donate an hour of my time every Friday evening in winter to hold conversation class for the so-called 'University of the Third-Age' which, in Italy, theoretically begins at 50. The 'University of the Third-Age' is not a university but it is one of the panoply of publicly-funded institutions that keep the early retired occupied. As most retirees in Italy retire early there is a massive infrastructure to keep them stimulated and active. Of course, keeping them working is out of the question! As I have previously written, during the course one of the attendees went into full retirement - aged 51 years! In Italy all pension provision, occupational or basic, is public, it is not possible to opt-out for private, it is based on 80% of final earnings for occupational pensions and it is indexed for inflation.
The OECD has just published a report 'Pensions at a Glance 2011' http://www.oecd.org/document/49/0,3746,en_2649_34757_42992113_1_1_1_1,00.html
This report noted that in 2007, Italy spent the largest proportion of national income on pensions among OECD countries (meaning, effectively, the world) — over 14% of GDP. Average OECD expenditure was 7%. Pension spending in Italy accounts for a large part of public expenditure: 29.4% in 2007. Participation in the labour force for those over 50 year of age is one of the lowest in the OECD. Italy is run by and for old people so this report received little or no coverage here.
But those dry (although shocking) statistics were starkly on display this Friday evening. As we are reaching the end of the English conversation course the task for this evening was to prepare a brief presentation of 'something that is, has been, or will be important to you personally'. Most of the class consists of retirees but there are some students who are still working. As the retirees made their presentations it was, with the exception of only one, about great foreign experiences that these retirees had had. Some of these experiences had happened earlier in the persons life but all were important because exposure to foreign cultures and adventures had had a stimulating and invigorating effect. This is not to be surprised at as these are students who have self-selected to learn to speak English. What was striking, however, was the level of contentment and security that these people evince. They are in the middle of their greatest adventure, that of the their third age. They want for nothing, they have massive capital and savings, a State-guaranteed income for life, a health system tailored for their needs and the Italian State is bleeding all the subsequent generations to ensure that this cohort will lack for nothing until the end of their - extremely long - days. That is where that extra 7% of GDP spent on pensions - every year - in Italy goes!
The other students, however, were something different altogether. Their choice of topics for their presentations were the mirror image of their fellow students. These people are anxious. Anxious about their children not finding work, anxious about a world that seems dangerous and uncertain, anxious about the level of duplicity and dishonesty that seems to be present at every level in Italy. As I sat watching and listening to these people, all but one Italians, I could but marvel that a whole generation - that born around the Second World War - have taken all and left nothing but a public debt of 119% of GDP. When they go the rest will eat ashes!
For a couple of years, at least, guests have occasionally suggested to us that it might be nice to have at La Faula some children's outdoor play equipment such as swings and slides. Mentally, it was an idea that we resisted; it seemed aesthetically unpleasing and a La Faula with a kid's play-area seemed just one step-too-far away from the old farmhouse that we remembered from when we started the Agriturismo here.
We changed our mind in the first week of last September. By this date many kids in Germany have returned to school, summer for them being already ended. So frequently in early September we have German families with pre-school children. We are getting ready for the grape harvest and are preparing the winery for the wine-making to come. La Faula slips into an easier gear than the immediately preceding months; it's really rather relaxing and nice. Many families disappear for hours at a time into the swimming pool area and in this moment everything seems perfect in the garden!
Only that behind this perfect facade lurked a horrible secret: parents with two (generally) or more very small children were run ragged keeping them occupied! We would never have known this except for the fact that over breakfast one morning a father confided to me that the kids of another family were so active that the parents had hardly a moment's peace. He suggested that some kids play equipment would provide a place where small children could be kept occupied for hours lightening the load on the parents. Suddenly I saw it all clearly! A swimming pool is of little interest to small children, they can spend hours chasing the dogs and watching the chickens but when mum and dad want to relax in the pool area the kids (and parents) are at a loss and the parents begin dream fondly of the days when they were single!
And so it was that today I signed the contract for a two-seater swing, a 1.5 meter slide coming out of a little tower with climbing rungs and, finally, a mountable little wooden dog bouncing around on a big spring! To get this far I had to enter into the world of kids outdoor play equipment. It's really a place one doesn't want to go: plastic, metal or wood? Metro quality, rustic and simple or bespoke? Mount it yourself or have it mounted? Plop it on the grass or have it concreted in? Grass underneath or special safety mats? Being fundamentally uninterested in kids play equipment, I tackled these issues with a hole where my enthusiasm should have been. Yes it is true that the Metro equipment seemed robust and it was certainly cheap but would it really stand-up to the treatment it would get at La Faula or would it end up being thrown into the pool by some kid with a shockingly destructively bent? Having retrieved the pool ladder from inside the pool when one quiet but particularly determined child decided that was where it belonged I decided that everything would either have to be concreted-in or made of plastic. Plastic equipment we more or less ruled-out straight away although it is cheap, safe and, should it end-up in the pool it probably wouldn't do any damage! Plastic just didn't seem 'La Faula'.
So we were more-or-less left with super rustic wooden play equipment or something a bit more refined. In the end we decided that having got this far in keeping La Faula at some level of elegance it would be a pity to make a departure so we chose a producer from German-speaking Northern Italy. This seemed to be a nice compromise and we guessed that at least the German speaking guests should be happy - nothing too shocking here!
On the practical side we have decided to put the swing, slide and bouncy-spring in a corner of the pool area. This means that parents can close their small children in and the dogs are closed out. Otherwise, being Border Collies there would be a real risk that the dogs would see the equipment as some kind of trial for them to undertake! The play equipment will be in a corner where it can be viewed from under the pergola thereby, we hope, dampening the enthusiasm of any big kids to try the swings and spring to destruction! So that's it. Just when we think that we have really and truly reached the end of the changes and improvements to be made at La Faula we make another!!
P.S. The swings, slide and bouncy dog will be ready to be swung, slid and bounced from 1 May!
It's a good thing that winter is coming to a close. I really can't stand it any more! For me winter is a celebration of eating and drinking well. Short days, living in a wine and salumi producing region, numerous feast days, the desire of a people who work long hours in the summer to share company and dine together on cold days and evenings brings forth an almost unlimited number of possibilities to over-indulge. My particular weakness is that I have eaten well in many countries over the years. Perhaps my memory fails me but I don't believe ever to have eaten as consistently well as I do here in Friuli. Of course, it is also possible to eat badly here but never if invited into someone's home and we know which trattorie we like to eat at.
So last night we went to the trattoria Ai Cons for the traditional herring and flaked dried salt cod. I can only tell you it was wonderful. I thought to myself, 'in London or New York a meal like this would cost hundreds' and yet here I could enjoy it as if in my own kitchen. As in my own kitchen I was able to take seconds and thirds .... and the dining room of the trattoria was warm, even hot, and the wine was liquid even if it didn't cool!
Yesterday our friend Gino delivered to us a two-year old heifer, Bielen ('beautiful' in Friulano). Gino and one of his brothers-in-law have what is in fact, and what they call, a little ranch on the other side of the Malina, the torrent that runs in front of La Faula. The only thing separating our cows from theirs, apart from the river, are the electric fences. When Gino and this brother-in-law decided to set up the ranch we sold them four of our cows, some which were already pregnant. At the time, we were in the process of running down the livestock that we had inherited from Luca's father whereas they were in the process of building theirs up.
Last year they had offered us Bielen who is a fine specimen (we will use her for breeding). Unfortunately, for us, Gino could not bear to be parted from his heifer and so, somehow, they never got around to delivering her, until yesterday, that is. It became a bit of a standing joke but not nearly as much as the joking and leg-pulling as there has been in these last days. Last summer, a neighbour informed us that a complete section of our electric fencing had been broken with all the poles snapped in two. It was all very mysterious and there wasn't an obvious explanation so we just added it to our list of mysteries of La Faula.
But the other day Gino dropped by and mentioned that three of their cows had become pregnant which was nothing short of miraculous as they hadn't had a bull for at least 18 months. He mentioned that one of these cows, the mother of Bielen, had calved and as Bielen was still suckling from her mum it would be better if they brought her to us so the new-born calf could suckle without competition. As he left he rather cryptically mentioned that the calf just born was of a colour of none of their cows. 'Hmmm' I thought remembering the broken electric fence. When Gino had gone I walked over to their ranch and there I found a reddish-brown calf, obviously offspring of our own reddish-brown limousine bull.
I popped into the Ai Cons which is opposite Gino's ranch as Alcide, co-owner of the trattoria, is also Gino's brother-in-law. There the story came out. Last summer there had been a breakout from Gino's ranch. The cows had disappeared overnight. According to the official version, the next day they had returned as mysteriously as they had left. My bet is that seeing their cows with ours Gino and company had mounted a little operation to separate them and bring them home. But with the benefit that they came home pregnant! After the cows were safely back we were alerted about the state of our fencing!
This beneficence from nature would have remained undiscovered and unknown by us except for one thing, we are the only people around here with limousine livestock and so once Gino saw the colour of the calf he knew the game was up. I've told the ranchers that the law gives us one-half of the value of all the offspring of our bull but that I will settle for one other calf once it has weaned from its mother. I can see that it is going to be difficult to enforce my claim; having had this gift from nature Gino and his brother in law are going to be loathe to give it, or any part of it, up. Maybe we'll just have to settle for the Bielen!
Correction: My Friday night language class picked me up on the name of the heifer. I wrote above that it was Bielen deriving from the Friulano for beautiful 'biel'. This was completely wrong. The name of the heifer is Belén as in Belén Rodríguez en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belén_Rodríguez
This was a nice weekend. Saturday was really the way a Saturday should be if you have a vineyard! The morning dawned warm and sunny and it was nice just to lay in bed, the room light golden, listening to the occasional click of a golf-ball being hit and the scrummy sounds of the dogs playing in the gravel below.
As I lay there I suddenly remembered that the lab that does our grape and wine analysis and that gives us technical advice concerning the winery had changed location and today there was to be a lab-warming at midday. These guys have helped us greatly so it would have been bad form not to have made an appearance. Plus it was just the right thing to do on a Saturday afternoon - not work but, at least, work related!
Being a farmer, one knows all the backroads locally as when going long distances by tractor, for example to the garage which is not nearby, it is better to avoid the busy roads in favour of lightly trafficked routes. So I took a long winding route. The Alps were to the North, the sky brilliant blue above them. The plane was golden under the sun it not having rained for a fair time. The warm air came through the open window and I realised that no matter how much I like winter it is a relief when it eventually comes to an end!
When I got to the new lab a big barbecue was in progress. In good Friulano style older male relatives had been roped in to do the cooking. There was a big grill, gallons of wine and unlimited meat sizzling away above the flames. I made my way through the throngs of winemakers chatting and drinking looking for a familiar face. Now, I should mention that this lab has as one of its co-owners the owner of one of the top Friuli wineries so it has a pretty top-notch clientèle. I felt very modest coming from La Faula with our 3 hectares of (not very dense vineyard) and our nice but small winery!
Eventually I saw another wine-maker I know who was caterpulted into running a winery when her father, who is an industrialist, decided that he didn't have the time to run the winery he had purchased and so his daughter finished the conservatory where she was a violin student and jumped in to winemaking and vineyard management head-first! This woman is truly amazing. She makes award winning wines, she manages a very large estate with employees, she oversees the wine-making with the help of this lab, she's just had a baby and, luckily, she has a really supportive husband!
This woman gave us a big hand when I dispensed with our consulting wine-maker. At the time of the change we had the winery full of wines aging in oak, white and red. When I decided that I would not only provide the wine-making labour but would also decide the types of wines we would make and how we would make them the first thing that I did was to move the white wines into stainless steel tanks. I could have carefully cleaned the now-empty oak barrels for storage but I decided that we needed to make a clean break and so this lady found buyers in Slovenia for the barrels and also for some of the heavily oaked white wine. At the time we didn't even know her but she was unbelievably helpful, knowing herself what it was like to take over a winery without background in the field.
We both met through the lab, the owners of which, realising that we were facing a challenge, not only assisted us in developing our own style of wine-making but also put us in contact with others who could help us. So when I saw my friend it was, as always, a real pleasure, with a real sense of having a common bond!
After chatting a bit here and there I ran into a Lady called Rosa Bosco who is one of the greats of Friulano wine-making and also happens to be the mum of one of the two owners of the lab. I had recently read a blog written by someone who had visited her winery. I also knew of her by reputation. As we stood together, to kick-off the conversation I mentioned the blog that I had read and had she read it?
'No, not at all' she replied and seemed little interested. I guess if you're a wine great it must happen all the time! But then just as I thought that the conversation was about to flicker out she turned, she is not a tall woman, looked me in the eyes and wanted to know all about me, what was the name of our Azienda (farm), what sort of wines we made, what was the vineyard like. We started talking about wines, and wine-making. Normally, I feel diffident in these kind of gatherings. I'm most comfortable with our little winery making wines now as I think that they should be made but this seems nothing beside the big names in wine-making here that export all over the world. But I lost this feeling of reserve and found such a sense of pleasure as we recounted our experiences and philosophy, the wine styles we are aiming for, how we see the economics of our business. I realised that I was really enjoying being a wine-maker and sharing the knowledge and approach of this woman rich in winemaking history and experience!
Of course, now I don't feel like a real wine-maker again. Just an inter-loper who somehow found himself running a winery with his partner. But for those couple of hours on Saturday afternoon I too was a member of the band of Friulani vintners! It was good!
Speaking of good, this week should be a good one. I think that Ash Wednesday must be this coming Wednesday. On Tuesday, which is the last day of Carnival, we have been invited by friends for a last-day-of-Carnival dinner. When we are invited by these people to dine with them they always insist that it really will just be something simple, a relaxing last minute kind of thing. I don't know if it is that way in the kitchen but the food is wonderful, of the best quality, cooked well and with a light touch. The wine is fine and the conversation enjoyable and relaxing. They are hospitable, kind and generous people so they even put up with my occasional outbreaks of 'Italy is a madhouse, we're all going to die'. I always feel a bit bad afterwards if I've had a criticle outburst during the evening but recently I've realised that most Italians view me as a pleasant enough foreigner prone to these strange outbursts, a bit like having a coughing fit!
On Wednesday we are off to our favourite Trattoria Ai Cons just over the road for Baccalà, reconstituted dried salted cod. It’s divine. At least in Italy if we’re all going to die we’ll die with happy tummies!
At La Faula Luca is our chicken breeder. The hens we breed for their eggs. The roosters for their meat (Pollo alla Cacciatora - http://www.faula.com/viewric.php?id=157 ). Chickens are quite cute and certainly many guests have spent hours with their kids, looking through the wire into the chicken pen. But chicken behaviour is rooted in the most primitive of instincts and so to avoid suffering we must regularly intervene. One of our interventions is to let the hens and roosters out after midday to roam free around the farm and beyond. This ensures that the hens have mostly lain their eggs in the laying boxes and it ensures that the roosters get plenty of space apart one from the other. But sometimes this isn't enough and yesterday I saw something that was quite distressing.
After a certain age the roosters have to be separated from one another and fattened up for their trip to the La Creuset. This date, unbeknownst to them, is determined by the level of aggressiveness that they show to each other. Yesterday was one such date. I came down from the vineyard to discover one rooster, crying in terror, its head submissively buried in the ivy on the side of the little bridge next to the chicken pen while another cockerel, a grand specimen full of plumes and shiny feathers walked around it pecking at the other hapless bird until it drew blood. This in itself can lead to a frenzy of pecking by other roosters until the injured specimen succumbs and dies.
I shooed away the aggressor of these two roosters knowing that its behaviour is so instinctual and free of malice that no moral judgement could be laid upon it, no matter how cruel and bestial its actions may seem. But while the aggressor acts out of motive instinct the victim really suffers. It suffers the aggression of domination, the pain of the damage inflicted by the attack and the terror of its imminent death. An animal suffers, really suffers, because this, the ability to suffer, keeps that individual alive longer by avoiding pain and danger and fighting for survival when annihilation threatens. But, perversely, suffering means that in a cruel world, when the end comes for an individual life in nature it is often a bad, very bad, end.
One would hope that one of the great advantages in being human is that empathy, the ability to put oneself in other's shoes, would mean that our understanding of what it means to suffer would drive us to avoid situations where suffering may be caused. And suffering in the world as we know it is often, but not exclusively, caused by one animal, also the human animal, exercising domination over another. When we look at human suffering we see that when one or a group of people are given unaccountable power over others they, contrary to what we may think, tend to exercise it badly and people die as a consequence. For this reason many countries and groups of countries have abandoned the idea of dictatorships opting instead for democracy, liberalism, accountability and openness in trade and relations with other groups of people that we recognise by the countries that they belong to.
Europe which for the whole of human history has been a human battleground has decided that it's not worth the candle to carry on like this and has abandoned the conflicts of the past for the stability of the gentle present and future. And one would imagine that countries that have suffered horribly when led by those unaccountable to the whole would be particularly keen, as a people, to avoid those things that brought them to grief in the past.
And so Italy. Born in 1861 through bloody conquest. In 1915 bringer of futile bloody war to the Slovenian and Austrian lands of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Invader of North Africa and bringer of death via gas to the tribes of those lands. Inventor and progenitor of fascist militarism. Warmonger. Turn-coat. One would imagine that a country with this history might be especially careful to run a liberal political system with a muscular democracy, and respect for human rights.
Silvio Berlusconi's party has recently introduced steps to try to reduce the appearances on national publicly-funded TV of presenters of shows that have criticised him. He already owns most of the private TV channels. He is introducing a law to bring currently independent public prosecutors under the control of the Interior Ministry. He has complained that the President of the Republic, or his staff, slow laws down by sending them back on the basis that they may be unconstitutional; he has complained that the Constitutional Court (also containing his own appointees) has abrogated laws on the basis that they infringe the constitution. He complains that the Parliament in which he holds a majority in both houses has not voted the laws as designed by the executive but instead tends to amend them. In short this man wants a dictatorship of the executive unconstrained by the constitution or parliament or President of the Republic. And he intends that the executive shall be that elected by a pliant electorate brainwashed in Orwellian style.
It is highly unlikely that Silvio will get his wish. There are too many competing power centres who will do all to block him. But two things stand out in Italy. First, Silvio Berlusconi is trying to move to an Authoritarian Regime based on Dictatorship by the Executive without this having created major outrage in the country. Of course, very many people are very outraged. And they express this extreme outrage, among other ways by marching in the streets. But this doesn't mean that the country is outraged - it isn't. And it isn't outraged because, Silvio Berlusconi has written-off free-thinking and informed young people and those who communicate through the internet who tend to be particularly outraged. No, he is aiming fair and square at the generation born just before, or during or just after the war. These people, the youngest of whom are now in their 50 ' s are conservative, comfortable in hierarchical social constructions, statist, admiring of muscular expression of state authority (just look at how the Carabiniere dress) and many, not all, are ridden with shame at what they saw or experienced in the turmoil of the period around and during the second world war.
And these people, the very one's for whom the public debt was racked-up, the very one's whose comfortable 'third age' was guaranteed from the age of 50 and sometimes before, and the very one's who consumed all and collectively left nothing for their descendants except and ever increasing debt, the very one's who live through tribally-manipulated television and press, these one's, supremely comfortable in their intolerance and xenophobia, be they of the so called 'left' or so called 'right in Italy, feel at ease only with what they know, and what they know is the same as what they knew because they refuse to let go of the 1940 's - they are still there fighting the same battles. So, as it was for the generation before them, what they knew only led to suffering, their own suffering. But they, like their parents, embrace it still and embrace it again. Shame on them for obliging the rest of us to continuously relive their own failed history.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-12618452 - another example of their failed history
http://www.rainews24.rai.it/it/news.php?newsid=150622 (in Italian) - how the Italian left could be, but isn’t!