Thursday, December 5, 2013

Inheritance, Italian Style

What do we leave our children? 

We hear much lately that our children’s generation will be the first whose quality of life will be lower than the previous.  This is increasingly the case in the US and with the struggles now in Italy, that is the trajectory that is underway.

In relative terms, life expectancy in the US is headed down(we sit at 26th overall worldwide), yet we spend more on healthcare than the rest of the world combined.  Unemployment amongst the Italian youth is roughly 40%.  The recent study on education showed that we lag behind much of the world.  So, as a man of certain age, I begin to think about what we have done.

We have borrowed and consumed our way to something that is really not that attractive.  And now, we read about our Millennial generation are the most depressed generation ever.  Our kids have little coping skills to deal with the complexity that we find ourselves in. 

So what does that have to do with our village?  Some may think we are only restoring Veglio so we can wander in the vineyard in our later years like some Corleone on the hideout.  But that is not the case.  We believe there are lessons to be taught, that must be taught if we are to do our job as the generation that is now looking over the horizon. 

Our “curriculum” will take many forms but here are the thoughts that guide us…

Family, community and the table must be at the center of society.   We have found ourselves dispersed away from our traditional communities and families.  We were taught that success meant following your job no matter the cost.  And the fabric that held together families together unraveled especially in the face of divorce and aging parents. 

And while we grasp at online communities and work as replacements, there is no substitute for families around the table sharing stories, challenges and hopes.  

We dream of our village as a place where family can always gather.  To spend time working together, telling stories, sharing sadness and joy but also coming together.  We also home that this “family” extends to our friends who share the appreciation for the simple joy of a good meal, hard work and good conversation.

The connection to the earth is essential to grounding us.  I read once somewhere that you are supposed to stand in bare feet in the dirt at least 12 minutes per day.  Somehow that is somehow reconnecting us to mother earth.  Well, I am not sure about that but I do know that surrounding yourself with trees and rocks and gardens with rich, clean soil is soul and body enriching experience.

We are now acutely aware of the benefits of local agriculture, clean and slow food and its preparation.  We have expanded our original land in Veglio to include new areas of farmland and also forest.  With the help of willing college students, we hope to begin the process of reclaiming the fields that have been overgrown over the past 50 years.

Yes, those are cows on the bridge
The forest will give us the wood that will be used to fuel all of the heat for our home including hot water.  We will have some emergency electric heat and propane, but as designed there are two large fireplaces, three wood stoves, the cooking stove that also provides hot water and then a wood fired hot water heater.

And we hope that time in the Village learning to garden and respect the land will translate back home.  More food on your own patch of land, maybe a few chickens and resisting the urge for the overprocessed.

Our ancestors are with us to teach us.  We don’t like to talk about death in our modern culture.  We worship new, young and fast.  But that completely ignores all of the love, hard work and learnings that have come before us.  In Veglio, we have likely 30 generations of our family history.  Our hope is that we can celebrate and learn from them but also reconsider how we are able to learn from the cultures of all parts of our family tree.  The Yupik Eskimo,  the Portuguese, the Irish, the Arabic. 

We will surround ourselves with pictures and furniture and recipes and crafts of our extended family and the ancestors that are somewhere.   And we hope that the stories and lessons will somehow be preserved.

Chouinard at Work
Learning to work with our hands in resourceful ways gives creative problem solving.   We have forgotten how to think about the practical, physical parts of our lives.  How to measure, fit, draw, lift, twist and cut.  We have deferred much of those things in search for “real work”.  With the loss of those skills inside and outside our houses, we have lost some of our imagination.

One of the most widely recognized business leader is the CEO of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard.  He started his company with his hands in the blacksmith shop and today it is a $600 million firm.  He insists on each of his managers spending time in the shop to think about the physical process.  How to design and improve and not just how to find cheaper, faster ways.

The remoteness of our village and the ancient approach to the construction gives us an incredible opportunity to relearn practical skills.  We envision a summer school where these crafts can be taught, both for people interested in making a career of them but also for our family and other people who may want to incorporate them into everyday life.s
Finally, after 700 years...A SEPTIC TANK

Live simply to thrive in a complex world.  We do live in very difficult, complex times.  The predictable corporate path is no longer predictable and our children’s generation is struggling to make sense of a world where the old rules are broken.  I don’t know the answers but I do know saddling yourself with debt, divorce and jobs that choke the creativity and flexibility set you up for the trap. 

Complex times require agility and the ability to adapt.  Packing a huge burden, both financially and relationally is very difficult.    So once again, we hope that a life of growing some of your own food,  building with your own hands and putting family and friends at the middle not the edge will be our most important inheritance to leave.