This is part 2 of my existential piece on snoring in Europe and how it enlightened me on Friendship, duty, and following my passion. Keep in mind I was living in Tuscany at the time this was written. Some fine work by my colleagues Alfonso Cevola and Jeremy Parzen have brought the subject of DOCG wines from the Montecucco appellation in Tuscany to light this week, and as I was embarking on a job in this area at the time I penned this, I thought it an appropriate piece for the week.
I had a nice long talk with an old friend last night and was awakened to the possibility that the challenges I am facing in this endeavor overseas mirror in many ways the challenges I have tried my best to avoid for much of my life. I can shirk responsibility at times and justify my actions with a belief that I am better at other things. It became apparent to me while traveling this weekend(2006) with the legendary Billy Jack that it is most certainly important to know one's strengths, and it is equally important not to become dependent upon them to the point of not choosing to investigate those things which one is not so adept at accomplishing. While the existential argument could be raised that focusing on what one does well only makes one better and more accomplished, I tend to believe it will atrophy one's ability to see the world in the contexts of new ideas and new methods of expression.
The big question begged in all of this is; what is the difference between what is real and what is perceived? By whom and how are we judged on personal growth? By personal growth I mean, not only how we view ourselves, but how are we viewed? Where is the fine line drawn between living "our own lives" and detaching from reality and the community of man? These are the questions I am struggling with as I prepare my next trip this weekend on the Tuscan Coast and the Maremma district where the Italian cowboys live and the amazing Chianina beef is raised for the ultimate Bistecca all Fiorentina (IKG steak 2.2 pounds, grilled and roasted bone down on the flames). I am open as always to dialogue and certainly willing to engage in a more thorough pondering of my whimsical sojourn into the world of metaphysics. In the meantime, sit back, crack open something cheap and ferociously alcoholic and enjoy debauchery with Brunello di Montalcino, Billy Jack, and myself!
I picked up Billy Jack at his airport hotel in Florence on June 1. As always, Billy was curious and playful, already loaded up with coffee that I am not so certain he ever realized was so superior to anything in the USA (at that time), that coffee drinking at home is almost like choosing to drink varnish, and at temperatures that scrape every possible taste bud from the surface of the tongue upon impact.
Many American coffee drinkers (like my Dad's friends) drink over a pot of coffee a day and leave the fecal remnants in the freshly brushed restroom of some everyone knows your name establishment, or the back corner bathroom of a cooler than need be office building, in a place one is happy to pour over the sports editorials while making multi-flushed mockeries of morning assuring the job security of janitors round the country.
Coffee in Italy is so superior to coffee in the US that every Starbucks employee should be given at least a month in Italy to train with the real deal. I always hear that Starbucks really takes care of its employees. Well, they need to take care of their clients as the coffee movement (pun absolutely intended) is really starting to kick into high gear and soon Starbucks could go the way of KMART.
Billy was all jazzed up, yet he had absolutely n0 interest in going the tourist route. No Uffizi, no Rome, no nothing where I could actually wander off on my own and leave him to be culturally enriched by someone way more qualified than I. Nope! Billy was here to ride, eat, drink, and deride all things where I was not up to his standards. I did find ways to enjoy myself immensely during Billy's visit and am very grateful for the chance to show around a close friend; however, it makes for a far better read to discuss how close to wit's end I remained throughout the course of the journey. My mental fatigue was due in large part to the fact that I was living 5000 miles from home, working in a language I was far from mastering, and was continually forced to drink copious amounts of really amazing wine, gorge down pounds of fat and carb-laden cuisine, while performing my duties as trip guide and bike riding buddy. I managed all of this in a vehicle and on bikes that belonged to my employer so I was 100% responsible for. Nevertheless, Billy was there and I was damn well going to make it fun.
We started with a rain-soaked ride the wrong way out of Panzano towards Greve and we had to climb back up a monster hill to return to the hotel in Panzano (the very lovely Villa le Barone). Due to my wrong turn Billy assumed the role of navigator for the duration of the trip. Of course, when Billy takes a job he takes it seriously, and from that point forward if I needed to return a key to the front desk, or drop a log in the European toilets (which I continue to loathe after all these years of using them), Billy had a route laid out and was on top of keeping me going in the right direction. To poor BJs credit, he was on vacation, had never been to Italy, and was the financial sponsor of the journey, so I can see why he had big expectations and in many ways I think he got to see some great stuff, and rode some amazing rides.
However, the story of the journey could have been considerably more fun had I not been exhausted. While outwardly, I appeared tired and somewhat cranky during much of the trip. I attributed this tiredness to lack of sleep because of worry, lack of shape on the bike, and too much wine. While these hardships had some detrimental effect, it was definitely the the nighttime sounds of Billy Jack that left me sleep deprived and praying for death on several occasions. Since Billy was paying he chose to share a room with me and forgo any chance of scoring a hot Tuscan surprise.
Now, Claude had set the precedent, but our beloved Billy snored decibels that small screaming children on airplanes could only aspire to achieve. The sudden grunts from deep within Billy were like some ghost of the Cinghiale(wild boar) Billy had voraciously ingested that day which was desperately trying to free itself from Billy's wine soaked gullet. I was sad at times, and at times I found myself close to smothering poor Billy to death with the mountain of pillows he had built around him like a fortress of protection. The snorts, the grunts, and other sounds of digestion left me close to clearing my paltry little bank account and setting up my own room in each hotel we stayed over the course of 5 days.
As the trip grew into the final stages it was clear I was going to snap. One afternoon while Billy napped I disappeared into the respite of Montalcino and had an ice cream and pondered the amazing quality of the local wines and how much I adored them. This moment of solace allowed me to put the trip into perspective.
Billy and I had some really great talks, as we always do. We discovered many ways we are alike, and some ways perhaps we both wished we were different. One of my colleagues whom Billy met thought Billy and I shared enough style similarity to be related. I think overall he is a lifetime overachiever and he will continue to be. As for me I will continue to be the best friend I can, and know in all truth that sharing a room can be one of the quickest ways even good friends can falter.
When our final morning arrived I left Billy to a cab driver in Florence where I hope he got some rest, some Vivoli gelato, and maybe even an elusive Bistecca alla Fiorentina. As for me I drove the next day to southern Tuscany and braved the land of Italian cowboys who ate 4 course meals out on the range and were amazing horsemen even in pink shirts.
So, what is perception, what is reality, and according to Billy, what is earned? When one plays in the constructs of the world that are agreed to, I believe it is all about what one makes it. I am comforted in my journey of discovery; at least until someone tells me I shouldn't be, then it is back to the drawing board of the 4 Agreements and my chance once again to decide what I am going to let drive my life.