Given that my last post (oh dear, bad choice of words) wasn’t especially jolly – though I think I did put in at least an element of hope – I have written a more upbeat one here. It’s a couple of weeks further down the road from when I scared myself by reading all the doom and gloom stories so let’s have a look at the situation in Italy now:
We have had over a week of the number of fatalities slowing. Over the past 9 days it has been at an average of 10.25% increase day-on-day. This is in contrast to around 19% between March 6th and 21st. The 5 lowest proportional increases since 6th March in Italy have come in the last 6 days. So the lockdown and social distancing measures appear to be having an effect. The government here is predicting that the peak will be around another week in terms of the spread of cases.
This has come after 3 weeks of national lockdown, which gives us great hope that continuing for another month after Easter should yield very significant results. Naturally, circumstances – demographically, physically and socially – differ wherever you are, but the measures taken here, which have been introduced elsewhere, seem to be bearing fruit. If it feels to you that they are not working where you are, hang in there: the curtain will lift. If you are behind Italy – and most places seem to be – then bear this in mind; and the more you adhere to social distancing and keeping Netflix and the like in business, the quicker you will be able to see the results and be allowed out again.
Of course, this is bad news for the misanthropic couch-potato demographic, for which the last month must have felt less like the end times, than the beginning of the age of whatever zodiac sign covers misanthropic couch-potatoes. Into each life, however, some rain must fall…
Which leads me onto what is going on in the vineyards here (seamlessly done…)
We had a warm winter, with little precipitation, though we had quite a lot of rain in the autumn after harvest in 2019, and we have had some rain on and off during the past couple of weeks. Cherry blossoms were starting to appear in February this year, so things are early. The vineyards don’t seem to have caught Corona virus and bud break has already happened, so the producers need to keep going, as ever. At the moment they are more concerned about catching the caterpillars that feed nocturnally on the buds: especially for Nebbiolo, these can be devastating, as the bud will not regrow on Nebbiolo vines. The world keeps spinning, the sun keeps rising and shining – though we have had a few overcast days recently, and parts of the area even had snow on 26th March. That’s like the good old days (when we 3 good years every 10 or so…) but without a preceding winter. Even with the lockdown, so far vineyard work has not been affected too much, because everyone can stay 2 to 3 metres apart easily: it’s the rain that has hindered vineyard work more.
Since early March, of course, the situation has changed for producers as for everyone else. Here where we are – in fact in most of Italy, and certainly in most of Piemonte – there is very little in the way of corporate ownership of wineries. The largest producer of Barbaresco, for example, is a co-operative as is the largest producer of Barolo. The rest are overwhelmingly family-owned and run producers. In Barbaresco, the production each year is around 4.5 million bottles (depending on the weather conditions). The largest 2 producers – the Produttori del Barbaresco co-operative and their near-neighbour Gaja (owned and run by the family) make about 800,000 between them. This leaves around 3.7 million bottles produced by around 180-200 other producers. This is an average of about 18,500-20,500 bottles each, so most are small, family affairs. Pretty much all of them are working less than before, of course: half-days, rotating staff, 3 or 4 day weeks.
For a lot of the employed workers (as opposed to the mum and dad owners, who naturally also work there) times are tough right now as some are at home, while others have little to do even if they are at work – remarkably, winemaking is not considered an essential industry here…! Some are working remotely, others will not be working at all: it depends on their role. For example, anyone working in the tasting room will not be showing many people around. Other employees, such as tractor drivers, will still be doing some vineyard work as necessary, and doing things in the winery – reorganising the stock area, cleaning every single corner of the cellar, repainting or whatever. The owners have been trying to find things for everyone to do, but they are starting to run out now! Office workers have often taken to working remotely, so many are still working.
As the year goes on, of course, there will be other work, such as bottling. And preparing for the return of visitors from all over the world that we all hope will happen soon. When this happens, tasting rooms will have no excuses for glasses that are anything other than spotless…!
Restaurants in the area have started to offer home-delivery, as in many other parts of the world. With people confined to their homes – I’ve been out to shop 3 times since the 10th March – and restaurants legally required to close, it seems like a good idea. Some wine shops will also deliver – which would seem to be vital.
Everyone is trying to make the best of the situation: we will not let it defeat us! As we’ve seen already, Italians are resourceful people. Indeed, an Italian I worked with a number of years ago here had worked in Germany for about 5 years and she had the following to say about the change in mentality as you cross the Alps: ‘In Germany, they plan in advance, so that things work. But if anything goes wrong, they are not used to working around it and thinking quickly of a workable solution, so they don’t know what to do. In Italy, it drives me mad that we don’t plan more, but are chaotic, but on the other hand, we spend all our time thinking of solutions as the problems arise, so we are very good at it.’ I paraphrase of course, as it was years ago, but that was the gist.
What we’ve been doing at home
The rain last week prevented us using the terrace much, though with the 20 minute daily limit on screen time having fallen by the wayside quite quickly, Noah has had only occasional interest in it anyway. But we have been building ‘houses’ for Noah: I say ‘we’ – I have done the construction work, while Noah has acted as architect and site foreman, directing operations. I think I might give him a hard hat and clipboard next week…His housewarming parties have consisted of Ringo biscuits and a cartoon or two on the ‘bed’ in his new home, as I knock – I have to knock – before being refused entry.
We have been cops and robbers – mainly I have been the miscreant, as he is somewhat wedded to his policeman’s costume (interestingly for the Evanston Police Department, Wyoming – if it’s my town, surely I can do what I like?). I have now served significant jail time, with my captor informing me, as I am flung into the slammer, that I need to think about what I have done, wagging a forceful finger to emphasise his point. Once it has been established to Noah’s satisfaction that I am good once again, I am able to return to society, a wiser and a humbler man. Personally, I think there need to be some checks and balances on his rampant power, as he not only arrests me but summarily judges, sentences and incarcerates without trial, and furthermore, is my parole board when the time comes. There is very little in the way of free press here, either. This is how dictatorships start…
We have been making waffles. Given that he generally wants pasta, gnocchi, crisps and other healthy stuff, a waffle, full of milk, eggs and some butter, is a good source of protein. And calcium for his bones. Flour is from grain, so it’s all good…I’m pretty sure that’s sound nutritional advice.
Luckily, Noah’s viewing interests are not limited to cartoons, as he loves wildlife, too. Blue Planet 2 has been a great favourite, and has the twin advantages of being an hour per episode and educational. I have to admit that I had not seen it before, so I was very happy when Noah was transfixed as I sat there astonished myself at the abundance and variety of life. We have learned that octopuses can fight back against sharks and outwit them to survive. And that for penguins, crossing the beaches of ‘South Georgia, a island wildess near annartica’, as Noah narrates whenever this scene appears, ‘could be tricky’: this is due to the Elephant Seals fighting, as ‘Eight tons of bludder collide’. I was less happy, though, when, having watched the programme about The Deep, in which we saw a fish with a transparent head filled with jelly, among other funny-looking creatures, Noah told me, as he was going to sleep that night, ‘Daddy, you’re a funny-looking creature’…
First-World Problem Alert!
As for my own viewing habits, I finally succumbed to Netflix over last weekend (28th & 29th). I have an iTunes account, but as my location is Italy, I get ‘Italian’ iTunes. Thankfully, they don’t dub the music, but the default language for all films is Italian – reasonably enough, it has to be said. Now, I do understand it, but it really isn’t the same watching a film dubbed into Italian – quite apart from anything else, the translations are not always that good. The problem is that there are a great many films not available in any other language. I can understand it for an Italian film, but for foreign films, it makes no sense to me: I bought the four Toy Story films for Noah on iTunes, and three of them are available in the original English, and one of them is in Italian only…Given it’s all digital, I would not have thought it would be that difficult to leave the original soundtrack – they did it for 3 of them, why not all of them?
So there are many films I would like to see, but I don’t want to watch them in Italian. Then there are the tv shows I would like to see, but I can’t get any on iTunes.
So, at €11.99 per month for the service that gave me multiple devices and some other options (I didn’t need the deluxe super-HD package, as I don’t have a super-HD television and I’m not planning on buying one soon given the economic outlook!) I thought ‘sod it!’ and went the Netflix route. For that price on iTunes, I would get, at most, three movies a month, probably dubbed.
I’ve not watched much so far, but I would recommend Black Mirror – though it’s definitely uncomfortable and not for everyone – Good Girls, which is much lighter, though it has its moments, and Giri/Haji, which is very good so far: there is a lot of Japanese dialogue in it, but it’s not dubbed, and I can read (!). There’s so much I’ve never seen that I can watch now – Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, comedies, documentaries, films in English or other original languages. Fleabag – I really want to see this. Oh, that’s on Amazon Prime…
I will selflessly try to watch a couple of new shows each week so that I can find some other recommendations for you for each post I write.
For now, I am off to work on a way to get wine to all of you out there…