I’m in Moscow. I can’t cross Mokhovaya Street because there aren’t any crosswalks and the Russians drive like madmen. This happened to me before. I’m walking on the freeway and I have to continue until I reach a traffic light for pedestrians or an underpass and then go back to the point where Google Maps actually told me to cross. I go down into the Borovitskaya subway station and, voila, I come out on the other side of the road. It’s sunday and I’m on my way to the Pushkin Museum. I like Gauguin’s paintings. There are many, even the famous ones. They’re small but colourful. They put me in a good mood, even though it feels like I’m in an oratory by the way they’re hung in there. In another room there are paintings by Italians. There’s one by Renato Guttuso that’s called Sunday of a worker from Calabria in Rome. It’s of a man with an annoyed face, sitting by a window sill and smoking. On a table in front of him a record player spins. Outside, buildings are stacked one on top of another. The painting isn’t as beautiful as Gauguin’s, but I’m impressed anyway. I think, how did a poor guy from Southern Italy end up in Moscow? My father came to Moscow on vacation whe he was nineteen. A photo of him standing straight like a pole in the middle of a snowy Red Square hangs on the wall at home, with the other family portraits. I’ve come to Moscow and I’m twenty-five. It’s summer and thirty degrees. I’m on vacation. Last year flights to Moscow were too expensive so I went somewhere else but this year I organized myself in advance. I’ve always been crazy about Russia. As a child, at a country fair, I played one of those scrolls that tell you about the history of your family name. They said that mine has Russian origins. I believe it a little, because I feel a little Russian, and even see myself as one. You could say then that I came to visit my “other” homeland…
I’ve been a farmer for about a year. My grandfather died last year. He was sick, but no one thought that the disease would take him away so suddenly. He left me a gold Rolex and several acres of land: vineyards, olive groves, orchards. They still don’t belong to me, and maybe they never will – we’re a big family – but I’ve stepped up to take care of them. In grandfather’s last years I began to help him in the country. I learnt the exact location of each plots, which gate or door matches which key, the names of the farmers and so on – information that my father and his brothers mostly ignored. I learned to use agricultural equipment, chemical fertilisers, to sow and harvest; to juggle all of that and the paperwork involved in conducting the farm; to keep pace with the countryside. I also learned to give orders. I don’t think that my grandfather was planning on “abdicating” and I certinaly wasn’t ready to deal with the whole mess. But what happened happened.
My best friend works in a bar that also serves grilled meat. I go to dinner just in case he’s there: a bruschetta, a steak, a quarter-litre of red wine diluted with lemonade and three glasses of amaro – two passed under the table. The bar’s owner is a guy who worked in advertising in Milan – or so they say – and went back to manage the family business. I also lived in Milan and begun to study economics at the Statale University. In the first year I only took one exam. In the second, I paid tuition fees but I was down in the south more often than I was there. I helped my parents, I helped my grandfather in the countryside. In the third year I didn’t pay the tuition fees and decided I was finished with university and with Milan. We bought a house for my brother, a hole in a council house, and now I go to Milan twice a year for the seasonal sales. When I decided to move back home I wanted my “stage exit” to feel like The Great Beauty, to get the chance to face one of those Milanese yuppies and say “I’m out of here, I’m going back to the countryside. Milan really disappointed me…” The truth is that everyone who lived there seemed like fags – including my brother.
The bar is on a main road. When it was run by the father of the guy in adversing, mainly employees and workers from a winery cooperative opposite it came to eat and drink. Now everyone comes: families, boys, the rich and poor. The advertising guy rearranged all the bars, and now it looks like a postcard, with checkered paper tablecolths and trattoria-style glasses and plates. “Bar with small kitchen” is written under the name on the front window, a faggy thing like “brasserie,” “grocery,” “dairy” that they have in Milan. It’s only open in summer. And, you can really see that it rakes it in. He is nice and always treats me well. But he’s an asshole with his employees. He gives my friend fourty euros for more than eight hours of work a day, from five in the afternoon to well after midnight. When I pay I like to leave a five euro tip, but when I ask him to give it to my friend, the asshole tells me that tips are divided equally among all the waiters.
My brother asked me to bring him and his friend to see the “property,” what he calls the land... His friend is a fag, for sure. He’s an American, and since arriving, everything he sees anything – a country house, a house in town, a pasta dish, a plate of vegetables – he says, “This is so Elena Ferrante!” Who the fuck is Elena Ferrante? I have no idea, but I don’t ask. People like him who get to study at Harvard can be pedantic…
We have some land between the highway and the coast, near the industrial zone. It’s my brother’s preferred property, because as a child grandfather always brought him to see the peacocks he kept there. When I was born, only one peakcock was still alive. Grandfather killed him, stuffed him and gave him to us. (Our mother keeps it in the garage, because she says it’s kitsch.) The house on the grounds is, indeed, beautiful. It has two stories, with stairs on the side leading to the first floor. My brother goes up there; from the windows of the rooms you can see the sea. He says we should turn it into a B&B, four rooms upstairs and four we should build in the stables where the peacocks were once kept. At the centre, a swimming pool where the vegetable garden was. Buy mountain bikes so guests can go to the beach by bike, he says – you know that they’ll enjoy it...One hundred and fifty euros per day to eat dust off country roads. But even if we want to do this, who’s going to give us the money to set up a B&B? The region?
There are vineyards behind the house. This year the grapes are stunted and wild boars keep on eating entire rows. A friend tells me that last year he went to the region with a lawyer and he got back five hundred euro per acre. The wild boars are a disgrace. At night, they suddenly appear on the road, the mother, weighing 300 kilos, followed by ten, fifteen children. If you hit one, you have to get rid of your car. And if you don’t, you’re screwed, and the insurance won’t pay for it either because you have to bring them the “corpus delicti.” I bet that it was the boars who made the well outside the house collapse. It was pretty dangerous, but now it’s just a dark hole. The fag friend almost fell into it.
My mother tells me: “It seems like it’s torture every time you go to countryside…” It has become chorus. Since my brother spilled it, she always uses that word: torture, as if she really understood that word. I was upstairs, we had just finished lunch. I heard what he said: “But why is he always pissed off when he has to go to the countryside? It seems like it’s torture to him…” And then, the sentence: “We all choose what we do, he has to choose too.” Like hell we've all chosen what to do! If he chose, but we... My father has the same job as his mother, my mother has the same job as my father and I have the job of my father's father. But you see, I wasn’t meant to be like this. Nowadays one chooses what to do, but with so many choices, I get lost. In front of the buffet I had a panic attack. I wanted everything, and I wanted it right away. But where to start? From right to left, from the centre?
Once the vine reaches thirty, you have to shake it off and start a new one. When it came time for us to get down and break our backs and strip those roots, I felt like I couldn’t remove myself from all that. In fact, I could say that I didn’t choose, I decided to be a farmer. Now the question is not whether I like my job or not. It’s work and must be done. If I want to do it, good, if I don’t, amen, I must do it anyway. That’s why I’m always pissed off, because obviously I don’t feel like it.