Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Under the Shadow of the Bell Tower, Part I

The two greatest challenges to the Italian Craft Beer movement are the Italian tax system and the regionalism known in Italian as Campanilismo or bell towerism.

Under the Shadow of the Bell Tower, Part I
by Bryan Jansing

Campanilismo is a term that expresses the intense Italian regionalism. Campanile in Italian means bell tower. Each town had its own church with its bell tower that sounded off not only the hour, but when farmers were to be out in the fields, when it was time to return for lunch, when it was time to end the day. The bell tower also marked when the town was in peril due to fire, or if there was an oncoming invader. The bell tower was in its time what our cell phones are today. You couldn’t imagine leaving your home without having your cell phone. Nor could you imagine in the serfdom times of Italy living without your bell tower.

The entire town and the larger close-knit communities in the area survived by way of their church bell towers. In turn, this came to represent you, your town, your community. Italians are in essence their bell towers. It’s a rare moment for an Italian to pronounce themselves ‘Italian’. In general, Italians introduce themselves as Romani, Vicentini, Milanesi if they’re from anywhere close to these major cities. Otherwise, they will refer to the province, Liguria, Lazio, Campania. Even deeper, an Italian might consider himself brethren not to other Italians so much, rather to the ancient Etruscans, Lombard or Romans before Italian.

This concept is a far cry from our American patriotism. True, we are proud of where we’re from, but even if you’re a Texan, you’re an American and will chant ‘USA, USA’ at any given event. Ever hear Italians chanting “Italia, Italia” at a regional game? Not likely. The only time you will hear an Italian chant Italia is perhaps at the World Cup. But even then, they’ll be rooting for a player from their home town.    

This also gives way to another Italian issue, one of mistrust and the lack of willingness to work together. Where here in the U.S. we have the American Brewer’s Association that is nationally strong, able to promote their members and lobby the government, the Italian brewer’s associations tend to be something more akin to clubs, rather than national associations. Therefore, they struggle to unite and to truly take on any of the larger breweries. But the mega-industrialized breweries of Moretti and Peroni aren’t really their Goliaths. It’s the Italian government that they must take on to survive and doing so regionally isn’t enough.

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