Jonathan Nossiter was the first to alert me to a rant by winemaker Fulvio Bressan on Facebook on Italian integration minister Cécile Kyenge — Italy’s first African-Italian minister. She has been a target since taking office. In trying to offer Bressan an excuse I can only come up with insanity--or being a drunk. I had heard rumors that this is what Bressan was like, but I never saw it. To me, even though I'm Jewish (did he know?) he was always super sweet, going out of his way to help me find an Italian publisher. But that friend said, "Just consider yourself warned."
For background and a translation of the Facebook debacle, read my friend, Jeremy Parzen's blog, In the wake of people stopping stocking the Bressan wines, from Chambers Street to Bobby Stuckey, Vinography's Alder also wrote a passionate post on whether we drink the wines of people who are objectionable.
The issue goes well beyond that.
Picasso was supposedly an asshole, and according to the dirt, Philip Roth was no picnic with the ladies. Ezra Pound? A complicated anti-semite who was probably insane. I'm not going to stop looking and reading. When I go to Napa, which I sometimes do, do I know not to talk politics? Yes. Are some winemakers anti-semites? Yes. Even though I might be 'their Jew,' yes, anti-semitisim does indeed exist in the wine world. Would I buy their wines? It depends. If they went on a hate rampage? No. I found out one winemaker was a perpetual wife beater. I can't buy his wine anymore. There is hatred and even obsession with verbotten sex, such as with underage children, as abhorrent as that is. But one must, must, must resist the urge to act out on it. That is what separates us from most of the animal kingdom, the choosing what is right and what is wrong.
This issue is not about someone having a different opinion, it is not about someone being 'nice' or not, it is not about political beliefs. The Bressan incident is about a hate mongering road rage that could very well be dangerous, and I can't support that. His is the kind of blame and hatred that starts wars.
The concept of cultural hegemony--the domination of a culturally diverse society by those who rule, who manipulate the culture of the society so that they become the world view--seems appropriate to invoke here. It was Jeremy P. who once told me when it comes to addressing the Italians, invoke the Marxist, Gramsci. So I googled Gramsci, hegemony and racism and came up with Can Gramsci's theory of hegemony help us to understand the representation of ethnic minorities in western television and cinema? It's worth a read, as it in its way, knits Dean with Bressan and even my father who thought nothing of going out for "Chinks."
But there was one Bressan left on my shelf. Last night I opened it up to gauge my friends reaction. They are not wine people and they loved it. It was the Bressan Schoppitino 2006. Full, spicy, long, complex, very boldy Italian. On the eve of the events in Washington, the wine opened the conversation to racism, anti-semitism where's the line when we vote with our pockets. I read them some of Bressan's exerpts on Jeremy's blog.
hey, dirty Black MONKEY, I DON’T PAY TAXES to put your GORILLA friends up at a HOTEL. Please take them to your house where you can be the big shot with all that money of yours. Oops. That money isn’t even yours. Because Italians give you that money. YOU SHITTY NEGRO GOLD DIGGER.
Case closed. The wine was good. Sure. Need it? Everyone has a price, but price for hypocrisy is way higher than that.
So, I thought I had already written my 50th anniversary of the Freedom March a few weeks back. Wrong.
One of the most embarrassing moments of my life was going to the Shop Rite at Stony Brook and picking up a package of 'Coon' cheddar because of the cute racoon on the label and bringing it to my poetry class. When Kofi Awooner, my professor from Ghana asked what I had in my bag, I pulled it out and with a bag said, "Coon Cheddar!" As soon as it was out of my mouth, I searched my memory, did I once hear someone refer to a black man as a coon? This was pre-PC was in the lexicon, and I turned as red as my hair and felt like crawling into a grave. Kofi, knew my innocence, and gave me and A+ and a little love note on my final paper in spite of it all.
I know Paula Deen wasn't as innocent, but I thought of that story when I read her own. Charging her with ignorance, would have been more pertinent than for racism. But when it comes to l'affair Bressan, it's another story.