Yesterday, I wrote of how wonderful the red grapes were this year following the early, warm spring and the long hot summer. We have high hopes for the 2011 vintage red wine.
The very same conditions brought the white grapes to peak maturity in the last week of August. While we were occupied with the Agriturismo, our neighbours were picking their white grapes and making wine. Waiting until the Agriturismo closed to begin making the white wine was not an option; waiting this long would have meant sugar levels so high that any wine made from them would have had about 15% alcohol and acidity so consumed that they would have been flat, like cooked instead of crisp apples!
We have to make a wine that people will buy. Guests at La Faula are free to buy and bring their own prosecco and sparkling wines but are limited to drinking the still wines that we make. As a friend and guest once said to me: 'we are wine prisoners at La Faula so you had better make what we want to drink'. He was, of course, right; this is a rule that we must always respect.
So, in early September, I gave our white grapes to a neighbour so that he could make the wine, keeping most and giving us a portion. It was a difficult decision but at least it will ensure that we have white wines for 2011.
But it is not this that I want to write about. Having one's own business often means making difficult decisions and having to choose between one option and another. No, I want to write about shame and shaming.
On September 23 2011 Tony Barber in the Financial Times posed the question of why Italy is short of statesmen but long on scoundrels. His conclusion was that the political system and leaders can be seen as an autobiography of the Italian nation.
The wrongdoing and corruption by the Italian political class and state employees that are reported in the foreign press is just a little of what gets reported in Italy. And we all believe that what gets reported is just the tip of what goes on. This must be the case; wrongdoing in Italy is uncovered through the efforts of a limited number of investigating magistrates. What they don't investigate never sees the light of day. It is obvious that in a nation of 60 million inhabitants, where the State seeks to control and regulate all economic activity to the smallest detail and where it funds a large clientèlist private sector, most economic activity touching on the State will never pass under any reviewing lens.
I have written previously that many, if not most, Italians are afraid of la fregatura - being ripped-off by one's fellow Italians. Consistently, the most, popular peak-time television programme is Striscia la Notizia which deals with wrong-doing by the public administration and rip-offs between private citizens (in a typically Italian twist, this programme plays on one of Silvio Berlusconi's TV channels).
In sum, public corruption and lack of morals and private dishonesty between citizens are so unconstrained, in so many cases, public and well known, that it is possible to say that these people are shameless, that is they are people without shame. Numerous are the cases in Italy where the dishonest activities of politicians and private tricksters are publicised and well known. In cases where in any other society the people would have slunk off away from the limelight, in Italy they remain in place soaking up, perhaps even enjoying, the notoriety.
So, if Tony Barber is correct and Italian politicians are just the reflection of the Italian people it may be that many in Italy are without shame.
I have argued previously that Italians are not guided by an abstract, personal sense of right and wrong. Rather that their history is one of a largely down-trodden and subject rural people, prone to vendetta and violence, who were controlled and taught how to behave by an ultimately infallible Catholic Church. Personal pride at doing good and shame at doing bad are the corollary to a personal sense of right and wrong. They are private feelings that arise in a person who knows to feel shame at having done wrong, even if that person is the only one who knows of the act and its quality.
Public shaming is not the same. Public shaming is a social behaviour that pressures an individual to conform to social mores. It seeks to ignite a feeling of personal shame in a person through their having transgressed social codes of conduct. But public shaming is wholly coercive: where public shaming works there are very real physical consequences to the individual if he or she doesn't alter their behaviour. Sometimes the individual is beyond redemption and the public shaming precedes expulsion from the family or community, arrest and trial, and in extreme cases 'honour killing'. Public shaming occurs now, amongst us, in some immigrant communities with strict and rigid codes of conduct. It shocks us, but within the lifespan of people alive today in Europe also Jews, and Homosexuals and Roma, and communists and alleged communists, and religious non-conformists suffered public shame. And not only in Germany. We need think only of how Great Britain thanked Alan Turing for his work done during the Second World War.
For as long as it worked, public shaming was an important element of social control in Italy. The Catholic Church knows a thing or too about shame and the village Priest who through confession, and gossip and the reports of the Perpetua (the generally live-in domestic servant in the service of a Priest) was able to wield the stick of public shame as an adjunct to the terrors of eternal damnation.
But once the power of the Catholic Church to control the lives of individual Italians waned public shaming ceased to work. In fact, it was and is seen for what it was: the coercive tyranny visited on a subject people by professedly non sexually active men and woman bound together in their religious orders (Italian nuns were pretty good at public shame as well) and belonging to a religion that could never escape the whiff of hypocrisy.
How the Italians are can be seen from how they drive. They get their clues from the signs ahead: Stop, Give-Way, Speed Limit 50Km/hr. But they choose whether to obey them or not. When compliance gets too low, and accidents too common and serious, Police cars, speed traps, random alcohol checks, punitive laws and other external mechanisms (like the randomly-changing traffic light on an empty intersection on the way to La Faula!) are arrayed to ensure compliance. But where those things are not; in the back roads of Friuli, the Frascas (wine bars at the winery door) still do a roaring trade and the drivers are as drunk as they ever were!
For a society to be largely safe and stable the people need to have an internal gps, as it were, that leads most individuals to control themselves and their own behaviour before it needs to be controlled by the State. In many cases, in Italy, the control by the State is the only control that there is.
Post Script: If you read Italian you will see that anything I have written about Italy, if anything, downplays the tragedy that is The Country. The link below to the website of Il Fatto Quotidiano (Fact of The Day) provides a daily torrent of disturbing and debilitating facts that show just how low and cynical so many things are in Italy. As The President of the Italian Republic said yesterday: 'One may curse a lot against the Politics, but be careful but politics is all of us.'
Saturday past we finished this year's grape harvest bringing-in the Merlot. The red grapes this year are exceptional and I am taking particular care in the winery hoping that the red wine of 2011 will be as exceptional as the grapes that made it.
It is a funny thing, one talks of wine-making and wine-makers but these, in reality, don't apply to any human. Immediately after harvest, the yeast make the wine by turning the simple sugars in the grape juice into alcohol. The yeast are the real wine-makers. My job is to create an environment that favours the yeast that will give us the type of wine that we like and to control the environment (for example by keeping the must from exceeding a certain temperature during fermentation) to help give us the outcome that we want.
The 'wine-maker' shepherd's the wine through the various biological and physical processes that it will go through to give an agreeable result. Because of this, wine-making can be wholly technical as in the big wineries where chemical analysis and technicians ensure that the best parameters are respected and nothing untoward happens during the creation of wine from must. Or it can be principally artisan, based on chemical analysis, certainly, but also on accumulated experience, trial, error and success.
As many of you who have read this blog will know, lacking technical expertise and experience, Luca and I, for a period, took the advice of a consulting wine-maker. Unfortunately, he knew little more than we did and so we spent a lot of money and didn't get the wine we had been led to expect. It wasn't very enjoyable but it was a learning experience and so the harvest and wine-making have passed from being something scary and fraught with uncertainty for me, to something where the unknown unknowns are always less and the known unknowns always more.
Wine-making like many things is an exercise in managing uncertainty and the more one has done this, the less scary it becomes.
This year I have decided to risk making the red wine completely in stainless steel vats. We always have high before us the French example of truly great wines aged in oaken barrels. Instinctively, one aims for that if one wants also to make good-to-better wines.
But, this year I want to take the risk to see if we can make a fine red wine with super grapes without resorting to oaken barrels. The barrels will become next years flower-planters. Historically, in Friuli red wines were lighter and drunk soon after being made. This was not a region with great oak forests so the barrels in which the wines were made were principally made from cherry-wood. The barrels were used forever and in the absence of sulphite preservatives were a veritable incubator of all sorts of microbial life. The wine never tasted very good after time in these barrels and the old Friulani resented the negative impact the storage vessels had on the wine. To this day, Friulani of a certain age refuse to drink wines that have been aged in wood; even if the impact on the wine is no longer negative the memory is overpowering and they want nothing to do with wines that carry a woody taste.
Until recently, Friuli’s climate was cooler but in the last 20 years the average mean temperature during the summer has edged up. The increase seems little but its impact on the vines has been profound. In Friuli now, the red grapes achieve a significantly greater maturity and complexity than in past times. This is another factor I must consider. In a year like this one where the grapes a fine and mature will they miss something from wood-aging? I don’t know, but this is the time to find-out. And, if it should be the case that it is possible to make a good red wine wholly in stainless steel tanks we will have reduced our costs, lightened the work-load in the winery and, most importantly, arrived at a wine that tastes of itself and not some tree cut down in a French forest!
On 8 September the President of the Italian Republic gave a speech which was reported by Rai News as follows:
'His strongest call was to the Italians to make them understand that the times had changed for all: for the political, social, and cultural and for individual citizens. 'To stay in Europe' - he said - requires a necessary examination of the collective [Italian] conscience. It must regard the individual behaviour of many Italians from every part of the political and social spectrum. Many must now understand that we are no more in the 1980's, let alone the 1970's. The world has changed radically. Also we must change our behaviour and our expectations in the European sense to maintain our European prospects'
On the 16th September during a visit to Romania he called on 'every Italian to demonstrate responsibility'.
Frank Bruni wrote in the New York Times on 17 September this year:
AND Italy has its own education failures. Roberto d'Alimonte, an Italian political scientist from whom I've often sought insight, told me that only about 14 percent of Italians between the ages of 25 and 64 have college degrees or the equivalent. That puts Italy far behind France, the United States, South Korea and many other countries.
"It's one of the phenomena that explains continued support for the Berlusconi government," he said. "Low education."
I think that it is clear - at least to the President of the Italian Republic and to Italian and foreign observers that it is no longer sufficient to make a mental separation between Berlusconi, Italy's dysfunctional social, political, judicial, educational .... systems and it's people. All those things are of and from the people. If they are dysfunctional it is because the people, collectively, are dysfunctional, even though some individual Italians may not be.
We, outside Italy, know that the Italian educational system is weak and poor in educating. Inside Italy, we know that for decades the educational system was a place of patronage and nepotism (and absenteeism by the teachers) with the primary aim of laying down an Italian 'motherboard' so that all Italians could be Italians and the same. This excluded teaching how to reason, question and think independently. There has never been room in Italy for independent thinkers, just as there was no room in the Princely and Clerical City-States that preceded the formation of the country in 1860. The difference between then and now being that those free-thinkers that DNA and individuality throw-up, despite the system, are no longer burnt with faggots of fennel as in past times. But many do emigrate and take their brilliance and creativity with them. Leaving behind them something less.
But I don't think that it is enough to blame Italy's perpetual and self-destructive woes on the ignorance of the people. And ignorant most of them certainly are; if a collectivising and mediocre school system was not enough, Berlusconi has ensured that most Italians are and stay ignorant by obtaining and maintaining an iron grip over the media. A media that has purposefully infantilised Italian society and driven Italians to aspire to the most mediocre values that a people may aspire to.
On September 16 this year the Financial Times carried an article headlined 'Eurozone: A Nightmare scenario:
Under the title 'Latin Lessons' was the following:
'Open strife between France and Germany is putting strain on a newly single currency in western Europe, and Italy is trying to get everyone else to subsidise its chronic fiscal profligacy.
Sound familiar? On this occasion the conflict is the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71, and Italy's monetary sleight of hand involves printing paper notes when it should have been minting silver coins.'
So it seems that Italy hasn't changed much in the last 140 years and that trickiness was a national characteristic then as now.
Last winter I wrote that the Italian language lacked any phrase equivalent to the English phrase 'right and wrong' and that Italians don't weigh behaviour in terms of whether it is right or wrong applying those two words as abstract concepts. Thus there is space in Italian culture for concepts such as 'furbizia' (cunning) which is socially acceptable in Italy even though it covers behaviours that in many countries would be regarded as plain dishonest and wrong. In the absence of internalised concepts of right and wrong many Italians have little difficulty with the fact that Silvio Berlusconi freely lies, is corrupt, breaks the law with impunity and has almost exclusively followed his own interests in the time he has been in power. Very many Italians divide over Silvio Berlusconi only as to whether they feel themselves to be of his tribe or of the other - that of the geriatric Left.
Because, of course, we - the Italians - all know, and see in plain view, that the Italian Left is plagued by corruption, hypocrisy, double-dealing, self-enriching hierarchical political structures, clerical conservatism and social prudery. We know that the Italian Left knows of no other way to run Italy than the Italian right. They are cut from the same Italian cloth. They are statists. Left and Right are two tribes divided only by the historical allegiance they owe to two now long-dead gods - Mussolini and Stalin. And in choosing a foreign god over an Italian one the Left will never be forgiven by the majority of Italians who know that in carving the national spoils the Left would have treated with the Soviet Union and risked that very nationalism that Italians must believe in to be Italian.
On 13 September this year Berlusconi was in Brussels to discuss the Italian 'austerity' package with big-wigs of the EU.
'should Europe decide to give an indication regarding the age at which workers can go into pension, all the governments would be happy to increase the pension age being obliged to do so by Europe.'
Berlusconi doesn't say that it is necessary to increase the pension age because it is right to do so, which in Italy's case it surely is. No, he would like Europe to mandate it which - perhaps - could provide justification for it.
And here, I think is the clue to how Italians think. Not because they are genetically inclined to think differently to anyone else but because their history has taught them to think and see the world in a certain way. And this way is no longer appropriate to the modern world but it is a closed way of thinking which will never let them develop and change as they must. It will not happen.
Later in the Roman Empire Italy, through the intervention of Constantine, embraced Christianity. The Italian peninsular was successively invaded by Christian peoples from the North and the certainty of the pax romana gave way to long periods of chaos, danger and social destruction. There were periods when it was little blessing to occupy such a beautiful promontory pushing out into the Mediterranean when the tourists were there to rape, sack and pillage.
During this time the Roman Catholic church provided a basis for social organisation that transcended the latinate peoples who occupied the peninsular and could extend to the new arrivals from the north. The Catholic Church was a top-down organisation with god at the top and various levels of hierarchy below. And for most of the Christian history of the Italian peninsular the vast, vast majority of its inhabitants were desperately poor, sick, illiterate, with minimum property and received their instructions on how to live and be human from the Catholic Church. In the papal states, and in some non-papal states, for example in areas controlled by Patriarchs, the spiritual and temporal fell within the purview of the Catholic Church. Where temporal rulers held sway, the Catholic Church provided important social control over a poor and desperate people, exploited without shame or pity. This is the true history of the Italians.
So it was that the interceder between the power of the state, aristocracy, and landlords and the peasant was the local Roman Catholic Priest. Until the arrival of semi-representative Mayors, the local Priest organised the spiritual, moral and often working life of his flock. The Priest, however, owed his position to an overarching organisation that had a massive investment in social tranquillity and social control and he, personally, had a collaborative relationship with local land owners who were exploiting the peasants in a most terrible way. Moreover, Italy was a place of Disease, Famine, Earthquake, Volcanoes, Destructive Weather and Cruel Terrain, Banditry and Social Violence and the risk and uncertainty engendered brought the most vulnerable to look for protection and certainty in the only authority that reached out and catered for them - the Church. But the price was acceptance of the Church's authority.
In 1571 Martin Luther refused to accept the sale of Papal Indulgences to raise money for the construction of Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome. He began to question the Catholic theology that put the Church at the centre of an individual's relationship with God and rather saw an individual as having a relationship with Christ mediated by faith. His writings led to him being arraigned before a General Assembly of the Estates of the Holy Roman Empire in the town of Worms.
At the General Assembly (Diet) Luther was asked if he justified the writings that set out his beliefs. After having taken time to reflect he replied:
'Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.'
As we all know, this was a seminal moment in the development of Western Culture. It was the moment when an individual invoked his conscience, informed by the scriptures, against the teaching and power of the Roman Catholic Church. No wonder he said the words 'May God help me. Amen' So, the Reformation began in this way.
In Italy, the Catholic Church responded with the Counter-Reformation one element of which was the creation of the Roman Inquisition designed to combat the spread of Protestantism in Italy and it operated by trying people for crimes related to heresy, including sorcery, immorality, blasphemy, Judaizing and witchcraft. The inquisition system of tribunals lasted until the mid 18th century, when the Italian states began to suppress the local inquisitions, effectively eliminating the power of the church to prosecute heretical crimes.
Thus Italians have never been trained to look to their own conscience to find that which is right and that which is wrong. Instead they have always looked to something outside which told them what one had and had not to do to arrive in heaven instead of burning in hell eternally. And as western culture developed and the ecclesiastical cruelty meted out to the people became less acceptable and justifiable there arose the idea of forgiveness for true repentance. Cruel penances no longer had a part in developing western society.
A modern society with an autonomous and emancipated people requires, for social stability, a high degree of self-regulating organisation. For a modern society to work people must have a fairly common idea of what is right and wrong and they must follow this, generally to a greater extent. Those that don't, in countries such as the UK and US, are controlled through the intervention of the State via the criminal law.
A society that lacks an internalised, self-regulating, morality, however, is going to be a society prone to extensive corruption and trickery. The social fabric will find a big space for organised crime and politicians who are highly corrupt and self-serving. In the absence of a clearly defined and shared morality there will be no common ground upon which tough but necessary changes can be implemented. The society will be one where the Prisoner's Dilemma and Free Riding will exist in the eddies and whirlpools of moral ambiguity. Social Trust will be low and each individual will refuse to surrender anything to the common good knowing that the fruits of his or her labours will be stolen and appropriated for the egoistic pleasures of others. So people will try their hardest to avoid paying tax.
In such a society the State, in preservation of itself, must necessarily be coercive. The apotheosis of this in Italy was the Fascist state created under Benito Mussolini. And the coercive state can instinctively be accepted by its members because it can allow a degree of social organisation and cohesion that would otherwise be impossible. In Italy the Fascist State was dismantled but the idea of fascism as a means of social organisation was never officially degraded following the Second World War so for many, very many, Italians it remains an ideal, albeit unattainable. And for those for whom the fascist state is unpalatable, a state run by the left, would be just the ticket, controlling the excesses of the capitalist and managerial classes and crushing tax evaders under a heavy boot. For the Italians of a certain age, the State must always be punitive.
to be continued
p.s. for those of you who understand Italian, there is a link below to a YouTube video in which one of the prostitutes used by Berlusconi talks about her role and philosophy in an unfolding prostitutes-for-favours corruption scandal involving Berlusconi. It seems that anything that I wrote above is mild compared to what really goes on in Italy at the highest levels!
The photo of the day for 1 September reflects a tradition. Since the 'Photo of The Day' began I have photographed the departure of this family, always the last guests to leave at the end of the Agriturismo season. This year's photo captures something else; the changes in the family. The eldest son is not in the photo because he came separately with his girlfriend and they are staying-on some more days. And the younger daughter is not in it because being an adult now sometimes she is not always around for the family photo!
So it was that Regine said good-bye to Nellie, an old friend, and we pondered upon the fact that next year they will only need the one-bedroom bungalow instead of the two bedroom bungalow that they have taken at the same time every year for the last 8 years.
Change is often disquieting, especially when there are changes to warm, familiar and cosy things that we have in our lives. This year at La Faula we have said goodbye to quite a few children - now grown up - who will probably not be coming on the family holiday next year. But change is thrust upon us and being the irresistible force of time we must accept it and even perhaps embrace it. But accept it we must and we must understand what it means for us and how we must best respond to go forward well and perhaps even better than before.
The irresistible force of change is being thrust down upon Italy at this moment. But Italy doesn't want to change. The present, for most, is supremely comfortable. Their problems are not at home but in the national debt that the Italian government holds and protects them from. The government has not only taken the problem of an indebted society off their hands but has paid many a supremely generous state-guaranteed occupational pension for life. The state has guaranteed their income and enabled them to keep their assets. Of course they are rich by other Western Country standards. And not only, they, looking at the wonderful situation they have created for themselves, tell themselves how special they are and how much better than others; for so little effort they were able to achieve so much.
The problem for the Italian government is that it cannot take away what these Italians already have - they are too self-interested to stand-by idly and let that happen. So they will keep their pensions and their houses and flats and other assets. And the State cannot cut those who work for it. There is no work for them and, even were they to be lucky enough to find work in the private sector they would have great difficulty understanding what it meant to work for a living. So all that the state can do, as it scrabbles around blindly trying to find ways to reduce the deficit and eventually the public debt, is look to the productive sector. The very same productive sector that is has tortured by application of labyrinthine bureaucracy and hamstrung by the application of suffocating labour laws.
But the government cannot help the productive sector by easing the labour laws. Italian workers were prepared to accept lower wages than the rest of Europe in return for less productivity, good holidays, 13 and 14 months pay, a generous payout on retirement (or upon buying a house), a job for life (it is in the Italian Constitution) and the security of being assisted by the government if the factory got into trouble. Freeing-up labour laws may well result rather quickly in an increase in wages but only if there is an increase in productivity and a decrease in the perks workers enjoyed up until now. The older workers won't stand for it. And the younger workers almost certainly are on temporary contracts so it won't mean anything to them [see the link to the FT article below noting the poor turn-out of young people to today's national strike].
We too at La Faula are using these days to think about useful and helpful changes that we can make. A slowing world economy, uncertainty in Italy, the fact that time moves on mean that we are thinking constantly about La Faula and how it operates. As our little business goes on we have always greater experience as to what works best. And what works best is that when what guests are looking for from us and what we are looking for from the guests are perfectly aligned. When those two things are in perfect alignment the Agriturismo flies and is infused with a unity that is wholly enjoyable.
So it is that we have decided to focus wholly on what it means for us to be an Agriturismo. An Agriturismo is not a Bed & Breakfast. It is a farm stay where people go to enjoy staying on a farm and sampling some of the produce of the farm. It is also a way of sustaining the rural economy. We are fulfilled when people enjoy being on the farm and enjoy the fruits of our labours. That's why we are here. Historically we have also accepted that some people looking to stay at La Faula are searching for nothing more than a bed & breakfast. Of course, there is the pool, the kids' play-area and other amenities that make it a nice place to pass the day. But La Faula has many more facets and having provided them it is those that we offer for others to enjoy!