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Can Snobs Save Italy?

Have you ever had a limoncello? If you are a lover of all things Italian and you come to the boot often and haven't had a limoncello, then you haven't made the effort to eat to excess and be nice to your waiter afterwords. If you had, they would have made you feel like you were at the top of the world; with a flourish (after you have paid the bill) your waiter might ask if you desire un limoncello.

"A limoncello? A sweet, zippy, boozy drink that nobody hates? Free?! Good gosh, I am in heaven." your brain babels to you, seeking the dimness the alcohol promises.

"Yum," your Facebook persona repeats vacuously.

What a way to end a meal. We aren't in Kansas anymore!

But let me tell you, there is trouble in paradise. Limoncello is easily produced. Even corporations can do it. While once, years ago, you salivated for this Amalfi Coast specialty so much you felt compelled to go there and have one or two. Now you can get the stuff all over. And it is often served on the brink of freezing in hopes of landing upon a slushy, taste-deadened tongue.

The special aromas of the sfusato lemon, once used on the Amalfi Coast to produce this exclusive and seductive elixir, are no longer needed. Because you don't care. Because you are an equal opportunity quaffer of pale yellow liquids. Because the waiter has winked at you perhaps...

You see, the folks who nurture these special lemons planted in terraces along the Amalfi Coast are in big trouble economically, just like all of Italy Itself. The perfumed gardens, alive with zagare--the orange and lemon blossoms scent--were once part of a romantic Italian landscape. Alas--

"But the landscape – feted by the likes of DH Lawrence, John Steinbeck and Gore Vidal – is now under threat, with competition from cheaper, less aromatic lemons from abroad driving prices down and forcing Amalfi’s farmers to abandon terraces that their families have cultivated for generations." ~ 'Flying' lemon farmers face land erosion on Italy's Amalfi Coast

What Can a Poor Tourist Do?

Ok, here's the thing. There are millions of destination snobs. What's a destination snob? Someone who writes me, wanting me to spill the beans on the BEST DESTINATION IN ITALY because that's where they want to go.

Think about this. If there was one of these destinations, and if I wanted to get famous like Rick Steves, I would tell you about it. Ok, perhaps you'd have to give me money first--but we're being rhetorical for the moment.

Once the cat was out of the bag, you and the million or so other destination snobs would go to this secret location, probably all at once. There's no holding you back, is there? Of course you wouldn't be able to walk because the sidewalks would be clogged with people clueless as to why they have been sent to this frightened city. The natives, you see, would be hiding behind stone walls, afraid to mix with the hordes. Waiters, seeing the masses pour into their little dining rooms, would scurry into walk-ins, to spend the hereafter with frozen mammal carcasses and cases of Chinese limoncello.

You see, the best destination in Italy is also the worst. There is a kind of Zen to it.

But now let's test the idea of taste snobbery. Let's say I can convince you and all other tourists to stare down the waiter who offers you a free drink and ask him if the lemons in the limoncello come from the Amalfi coast as everyone knows they should. If he hesitates, y'all beat a path out the door.

Then, in a perfect world, they start serving the rare and beautiful limoncello to their customers as requested.

The free market cranks. The lemon-runners put on their Nikes. The gardens regain their scents. Famous writers coax leggy muses to lie in the shade of these smelly trees so the inspiration to write great poetry might flow like a scented river.

Let's say we keep doing it. We go for the best buffala, the mozzarella so creamy and good you have to think it must be bad for you.

My Italian neighbor Angelo, from Naples, painted me a fine picture. He took his wife down to the best place to get a big bulging bag of the best mozzarella balls, little ones, he could find. Then he put the bag in a box and put the box in between the seats in his car and zoomed towards home.

"We ate them like people snack on potato chips," he said. At the end of the trip they were gone.

So instead of turning perfectly good destinations into cities overcrowded with tourists, tourist are disseminated throughout Italy to grease the economic skids by buying romantic, handmade goods, the stuff Italy is known for. They discover all sorts of things, all manner of cities and towns and villages, true artisans, blistered pizzas, bitter honey, wines made with love, lace and lacy things, zoomy scooters, hand painted pottery and always--ALWAYS--they would demand the very best, the very thing the machines can't produce.

Eventually we make a paradise of happy people making happy things and milking happy buffalo--a land where waiters offer you the most aromatic lemon drink served at exactly the right temperature so that you think you are floating in heaven with cherubs who read poetry grown from the tendrils of Nebbiolo and the sweet scent of lemon flowers wafting over your naked, perfect body...

Well, ok, let's start on the lemons first. Who's with me?


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