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Allô, allô, Bonjour!

For decades we thought that there were no limits! But now the party is over. A couple of smart guys have ran off with our collective piggy bank and us poor suckers have been left behind in an empty bargain bin. But no worries, don't panic, this is good news! It gives us a chance to show what we are made of. Fantastic! A tabula rasa, fresh starts and new opportunities. Feel the crisp breeze blow through your mind, and look at the world through virgin eyes.

Allez, à l'attaque!




In this Slurp!

We can always start again!

Working hard

What are we doing for dinner?

We can always start again!

Our economy is collapsing. Any wineboer worth his salt would take this as an opportunity to pursue new organizational frameworks and different management structures. How do we survive in this "New reality"? How do we coordinate authorities and responsibilities? Do we have to departmentalise? Or do we opt for a decomposited model of organization?   In our search for answers to these questions we invested in an educational excursion to the island that is the home of one of the most successful multinationals of Europe.

Thanks to the recession, Group M is running in top gear. Banks are hesitant to lend money at the moment and Group M uses this to their best advantage: everyone is welcome. This is why more and more entrepreneurs choose Group M to represent their interests.
To try and compete with this corporation is pointless. Because of their political power and resolute manner of conducting business, they are more flexible, cheaper and more efficient than most other companies. Group M is involved in wind energy, transport, tourism, textiles, the construction industry, waste recycling, gambling, prostitution, extortion, arms trade and human trafficking.
Their core business however is the international drug trade, grossing €60 billion a year. Business loans bring in an annual €15 billion. Their total turnover comes to €150 billion, more than half of that figure is pure net profit.



That's three times the turnover of FIAT, which has a turnover of €50 billion and is considered the most important company of Italy. This makes Group M the largest business of Italy and one of the biggest in Europe. Okay, right. But Group Mafia is a criminal organization so we surely we put them in jail. Unfortunately, not so straightforward. To round up group M equals rounding up the whole of Italy. With their economic activities worth €150 billion, their demise would mean the demise of Italy. And not only that, probably of the European Union as well.

Allez, on y va


We are on Sicily, island of wine, olive oil and blood. We're in for a treat right away: the two closely connected organizations that dictate Sicilian life present themselves immediately. In this country the best seller list is not dominated by 50 shades of grey but by one shade of holy white.

I ring my friend Niccolo, wine maker in the hamlet of Scomparsa.
'Si, si' he bellows with Mediterranean enthusiasm. 'You are very Benvenuto! Vieni! Vieni!'
We set out in high spirits. It's quiet. The autostrada is ours alone. Ripe oranges wave at us from the trees by the side of the road and the Etna, kept cool by her snowy hat, is very still. So far nothing seems the matter.


But first we need to get some groceries. We halt in a quiet village and park the wineboer wagon. As it turns out the hamlet has only a single shop...


We can enjoy a great bit of bargain hunting here; in unfamiliar cultures you'd better be well prepared.
With renewed confidence we once again set off on our search for Niccolo's village.


In the next village they seem to have anticipated our arrival.


But even here there is not a living soul to be seen. The only one who might be able to give us directions speaks nothing but Siamese.


Our modern phones are useless here. We have no signal and the only phone box is inhabited by a poisonous creeper.   Even a prayer to St. Christopher, patron saint of travellers is to no avail. A prayer to our sat-nav would have been more helpful, but alas it's at home, on the locker in the hall.


In the next settlement we're pretty sure we spot the stable where capo di tutti capi Totò Riina, nicknamed 'The Beast' was holed up for a while.   His getaway scooter is still patiently waiting against the wall.


Finally, as we near yet another charming little town our phones are welcomed by Vodafone.it.
We ring Niccolo.


'No problema, no problema!' Niccolo exclaims. 'You stay there! I come and pick you up subito!'
After about an Italian hour his piccola macchina comes tearing around the corner, horn beeping loudly.


After a heart warming greeting, our little convoy sets out for Scomparsa.


At a decidedly leisurely pace we ramble after the piccolo macchina.
We keep in contact by phone: 'It's not far!' sounds Niccolo's booming voice in my ear.


It's hot in the car. Bend after bend we bobble after that little banana-colored dare-devil. By way of moral support Niccolo frequently reassures us; 'Almost! Almost there! Ancora un piccolo momentino!'


Finally. A little town. But Niccolo shows no sign of stopping. 'We're almost there!' he chants cheerfully 'Ancora un piccolo momentino!'


The temperature in the car has reached the level of a sauna.
'You're unlucky with the weather,' Niccolo exclaims. 'It's a bit nippy for this time of year.'


We pass two employees of Group M disposing of a competitor. Niccolo takes a moment to hand an envelope to a passing Carabiniera.
'Tutti va bene!' he roars over the phone. 'For a hundred quid you can break the lights for an entire year over here!'


'Ha! Vino!' we breathe a sigh of relief. 'We can't be far off now!'
'Precisamente!' Niccolo shouts. 'Floresta! This is where we turn off. Ancora un piccolo momentino!'
Thankfully the snow capped Etna is keeping calm.


'Benevenuto to my wine chateau!' Niccolo beams. We say hello to La Mamma, daughter Giulietta and Bello the dog. 'Come on, I'll show you round the vineyard', says Niccolo.


'Four branches per grapevine? We've got only two!'
Niccolo laughs, 'Why don't you do it like us! You'll have twice as many grapes.'
'But surely you're exhausting the vineyard this way.'
He shakes his head. 'No, not at all. This soil can easily support that.'



He kicks up a little red cloud of dust from between to vines with the nose of his show.
'Lava,' he exclaims proudly. 'The best soil of Italy.' He points to the Etna. 'That crater there is a direct connection between our soil and the centre of the earth. You do taste that in the wine.'
He picks up a handful of earth, brings it up to his nose and sniffs it like a dog scenting a trail. He then proceeds to stick out his tongue and lick it up. Smacking his lips with an air of concentration he tastes the dirt. 'Hmmm, buonissimo, minerali...' Approvingly he reaches out his hand to me with the little pile of ruddy earth on it, 'Here you go, have a taste.'

ilja niccolo

'But Niccolo, you're so close to the Etna, you're courting death! What if it erupts?'.
'Bwoah...that happens about once every month. And we're glad for it, it gives us fresh soil for the grapes.'
'Yes, but what if a serious eruption happened like in 2011 or 2001?'
'Then we have to get the hell out of here.'
'And then what? You'll lose everything...'
He smiles and makes an expansive arm gesture indicating the capriciousness of life in general. 'So what? We can always start again!'
  'Here you go,' he passes me a crate of freshly dug up potatoes. 'Get to work. I'll show you the wine cellar later but these have to be cut up first, for La Mamma.' He pats his impressive stomach. 'La Cena!'


We pass a cactus of fearsome proportions. 'Should you not get rid of that?' I ask. 'Surely it's dry enough as it is around here, without that thing sucking up all your ground water...'
'Not at all,' Niccolo chuckles, 'Isn't it a lovely plant?' He points to the well. 'We have an underground river that runs below here, bringing in all the meltwater from the Etna. That well is never dry.'

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It's nice and cool in the wine cellar.
'Across that board,' Niccolo points out, 'we carry the grapes to the press during the harvest...'
'With a top heavy wheel barrow?! Over that bit of wobbly wood?!'


'Bwoah, it's alright. Look, that's where we chuck it down into the press...'


'When it's full up, we start squeezing and the juice runs through those gullies into the cuve.'
'That concrete tank, that's your cuve?'
'Yes. And...'
Suddenly an enormous uproar breaks loose outside. The door to the wine cellar is thrown open.
'The Etna! The Etna!' Giulietta storms in, gesticulating wildly. 'The Etna! Eruzione!'


We run out. The sky has gone gloomy. The sun is gone, the sky is filled with ominous dark clouds and black smoke.


In spite of Niccolo's comforting words, we decide not to take any risk. We don't wait for the cena. With a kiss from La Mamma and a cracked rib from Niccolo's grizzly bear hug we leave Scomparsa behind.


That evening Rai Uno shows us what we've been lucky enough to escape. Niccolo's domain was gladly unscathed.

Working hard


The next day all is calm again.
We settle down in our modest shelter and, with a strong sense of duty, devote ourselves to the task at hand: pondering the recession.


The Management have adapted the interior decorations for our arrival, and transportation has been arranged.


The life of a wineboer is tough and mostly merciless. However we bear our fate and take our responsibilities seriously: from our Spartan work-station we carefully observe the policy meetings of Group M. In spite of a clear top down structure, the meetings are of a meritocratic nature; there is very little debate, decisions are taken quickly and sessions are accompanied by food and drink galore. Our analysis: this is a firm in the pink of health, not subject to any recession whatsoever.

Fortunately it appears that the abject style of business management of this corporation is not sustainable in the long term. More and more Italians say 'Basta' to the Mafia. From north to south, lines are drawn in the sand. A proud barista told us about the 'Palermitan spring'. There is hope for an 'Italian revolution'.

What are we doing for dinner?


Having dinner in our hotel is not recommended. Every time we sit down, a grand piano and a pianist are wheeled over to our table to taunt us with saccharine serenades.


So we eat elsewhere. And mostly at a restaurant that can only be reached in two ways.
1. By road, via an imperceptible, steeply descending alleyway.
  After the sixth bend you are met by the sparkling sea. One more bend and you're face to face with Il Barcaiolo where Luigi and Chiara, the afternoon team, are waiting to pamper you.


2. Better however is to approach the restaurant via the beach. Over there, at the back, at that yellow sign, you'll find Il Barcaiolo.


Saunter along the beach to the spot where you find Luciano tinkering with his boat and stop for a chat with him.   Walk between the boats and the shrubbery to the end of the beach.


There you'll find a slightly hidden staircase leading up to the terrace of Il Barciolo.


From now on things will run their natural course. Over here you can safely drink up the entire Etna.   The men on the little beach take regular trips out to the bay to catch exactly the fish you fancy eating tonight.


For an evening you'll never forget you pay an amount that would barely get you a starter over in Amsterdam. When it's time to say goodbye cuccinista Paolo himself comes out of the kitchen to thank you in person and wish you all the very best.   Franceso, Milena en Anna-Maria want to have their picture taken with you and insist that you take a bottle of their finest olive oil home with you.


Saturated with warm fuzzy feelings you stroll back through the little boats toward your hotel. Ready for a new start.

Il Barcaiolo, Via Castelluccio 43, Spiaggia Mazzaro, Taormina - Sicilië
Telefono: +39 0942625633 www.barcaiolo.altervista.org


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