I feel as if I am beating this topic to death, but one more extension of the question of foreign food and wine in Italy. Then I’ll get back to the more important matters of complaining about my kids, taking cheap shots at editors and indulging my obsession with motorinos.
Some commenters have made the entirely reasonable point that Italy is more of a monoculture while the US is about as multicultural as a society can be. True. Does this explain why there’s no dill or curry powder or lemongrass or turmeric or cloves or cumin or ginger root at my Ipercoop? To a certain extent, sure.
But, still, why is there so little French wine here in Italy? The French aren’t exactly strangers to the Italians. They aren’t exotic. They’re neighbors. And the French do know a thing or two about wine. And why no American wines at all? Is it that Americans are alien to Italians? Hardly. There’s been quite a bit of cross-pollination between the US and Italy. In fact, a goodly number of California vineyards were founded by Italians. Mondavi is not an English name. Nor is Gallo.
Much of our imported wine in the US come from Australia and New Zealand. Aussies and Kiwis are not major ethnic groups within the US. We don’t import their wines because we have so many of their people, we import their stuff because they make good wines. Same reason we import Italian wines. And French. And Spanish. We don’t feel threatened by a good bottle of Shiraz.
Here’s what’s strange to me: if I go to the DVD section of the Iper, or any of the video stores in Florence, or even to any random Auto Grill, you know what I find? American movies and American TV shows. Go to any bookstore and it’s all American and British authors. (Me included, as of next year.)
So, it’s not that Italians are vehemently protecting their culture from all outside influences. If that were the case they’d have stores filled with Italian movies and Italian books. They wouldn’t line up to see Dark Knight. Italy is full of American TV, movies, books and software, Japanese cars, games and electronics, German cars , Chinese toys . . . It’s the foreign food specifically, that Italians exclude. Italians will gobble up foreign goods and foreign culture except when it comes to food and wine. They’re perfectly open-minded — except when it comes to opening their mouths.
Which brings me right back to my original point. Do Italians love food and wine? No. They love their food and wine. People who really love food find a way to obtain saffron, dill, and lemongrass. People who love wine get their hands on Napa Valley Cabernets, French Pinot Noirs and New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs.
I wonder if for most Italians food and wine are in some way the core of their culture. Maybe they worry that if they open that part of their culture to outside influences this unique part of their lives will be lost. I can understand that. I’m not proposing wanton destruction of local cultures.
But is Italian culinary culture really that insecure? Italian food has conquered the world. So, why so cramped and conservative here in the home office of pizza, pasta, espresso, bruschetta, virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, tiramisu, Chianti, Prosecco, Amarone, Barollo and a dozen other foods and wines instantly familiar to Americans even in remotest Nebraska? If Italians won’t even take a risk with a pizza (seriously, there’s more than one way to make a crust,) how will they create the next thing, the new thing, the culinary breakthrough?
One of the (very few) useful phrases to come out of the Bush administration was, “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” Americans who defend the rights of monocultures to pull up their drawbridges and become defensive are practicing the soft bigotry of low expectations. There’s no reason why Italians can’t fill the world with their art, their film, their technology, their fashion, their literature, their food and wine. There’s no reason Italian’s can’t amaze the world — God knows they’ve done it before.
Americans are perfectly content for Italy to be a sort of open-air museum. Pretty to look at, wonderful to visit, a swell place for us and the Brits and the Germans to come and lie out in the sun and drink wine and condescend to the quaint, ineffectual locals. Works fine for us. But I wonder why it also seems to be enough for Italians.