Giulio Alberoni

It was the second half of the 1990s. I was roughly 20 years old when I was instructed by my then girlfriend’s stepfather to buy Sor- rento lemons to make limoncello. He was from Sorrento. Lemons were in his blood. Metaphorically. I think he had cholesterol in his blood at most. The task was certainly not the most onerous, but it was certainly a circle-of-trust affair. I knew which hypermarket to go to, I knew what to buy and how much to buy. It was impossible to go wrong. I take the Turbinosa, my crackling car of the era, and go to the Montebello Hypermarket. I hoard the lemons that were requested, have them weighed, and go to the checkout. I pay and return to Turbinosa to go deliver the Sorrento lemons to the aforementioned stepfather in charming San Sebastiano Curone. It really exists, not some made-up place like Vigata or Neverland. After all, if Monte- bello exists, so can San Sebastiano Curone. I am facetious and cheerful, kissed by an Apennine sun mottled with green, when my eye falls on the bag of lemons on the way. Or rather, on the label affixed to the bag of lemons. It said “organic lemons originated in Argentina.” Oh my God! These were not Sor- rento lemons!!! Some impostor had put Argentine lemons where until a few days before there were Sorrento lemons. I had gotten them in the exact same place. Panic! “Now what do I do!!!? I’ve paid for them by now. I was convinced they were the right ones.” After discarding either faking a car break-in or an armed robbery aimed only at stealing the Sorrento lemons, or faking an accident in which the only victim would always be those lemons, I decided to take them to San Sebastiano Curone pretending nothing had happened. I said to myself, “I’ll pretend I didn’t notice, and with those pedi- gree-free lemons they can still do something else with them.” I arrive in the (fairly) pleasant Piedmontese town where to welcome the lemons-they were not there for me, but for the citrus-there is a pompous reception committee.

The enthusiasm is such that no one reads that label, which, in- deed, immediately ends up in the basket along with the bag. The lemons are placed in a wicker basket, and from then on an endless series of crescendoing praise begins to magnify those citrus fruits. “You see, only in Sorrento do they have this peel and this color. And the shape? Unmistakable. These are the real lemons, not that supermarket junk that you don’t know where it came from. The real lemon is this, the Sorrento lemon.” In fact, I didn’t know exactly where those lemons came from, whether from Tucuman or some other region in northern Argentina, but they certainly never saw Campania or Sorrento–not even on a postcard. And those poor lemons, accustomed to the South American idiom were certainly more bewildered than I was, for they did not under- stand a word of what the man was so lovingly telling them.
I was sure that the food fraud would be revealed at the moment of tasting, at the decisive moment. The moment of truth. Inste- ad, the litany continued in the same tone: “…and taste. They are sweet. No other lemon is so sweet. You can eat these as they are because they are so sweet. It is the land of the Coast that makes the difference. That land and sunshine are only there ….Vide ‘o mare quant’è bello, Spira tanto sentimento… Comme tu, a chi tiene mente, Ca scetato ‘o faje sunnà….”

There, it was exactly at that moment, that I discovered the importance of storytelling understood as history, creativity, art and imagination. Until then I thought that storytelling, especially in the context of commerce and advertising, had relative importance, that it was a somewhat overrated component of our civilization. It is obvious that you sell MacchiaRaus detergent if they run commercials on all the national television networks 24 times in an hour. At that moment, tasting a slice of Sorrento-Tucumam lemon as sour as the radiator of a Fiat Uno, I realized that for us, for Homo Sapiens Sapiens, everything consists of an objective part and a narrative part. The two can be in harmony or one can prevail over the other. If it is the narrative that prevails, as in the case of the le- mons of San Sebastiano Curone, it is the heart, the passion, that is involved. In the opposite case, however, when the objective com- ponent prevails, there is little or little involvement on our part, of our mind. Anything with a high objective component interests us less. It does not provide for the imaginative and imaginative component infused by the narrative, for example, a light bulb or the container of the damp. But get Philippe Starck to design a garbage container, and immediately the balance between the objective component and the narrative shuffle, the narrative takes over, and people go crazy over the container where they throw the potato scraps and fish bones. It is our brain that is predisposed to this movement. We want things somehow to have their own story, their own life, to possess some of the components of our lives: imagination, creativity, history, art — to look like us. That they have a soul. The Argentine lemons brought to the poor man were not from Sorrento, but they still told Sor- rento, its colors, its sea, its millennial civilization. To him, they were more Sorrento lemons than the real Sorrento lemons I had brought him.

It is the narrative that prevails over the objective component. It is certainly not right to prevail in excess. As I said, it is the balance between the two components that creates the perfect mix that is most successful with our demanding neurons. One component may prevail, but if we overdo it on the objective side, the thing has the value of a toothpick for us; if, on the other hand, the narrative component prevails, the risk is that we exceed the level of credible. Often a narrative is a collective creation, taking decades or centuri- es to form, but it is just as common for it to be created by an individual, capable of not overdoing it. Otherwise, one loses credibility, one exceeds precisely the level of credible. The narrative must be true or at least verisimilitude. Since we were staying in lower Piedmont, let us not move so far from San Sebastiano Curone. Not far from there, in fact, a cheese is produced that takes its name from its place of origin: Montebore. Montebore is a very distinctive cheese. It is shaped like a wedding cake. It is made of three different sized wheels of cheese, stacked on top of each other and ripened together and then fused together. Montebore was created with that particular wedding cake shape in 1489 to celebrate the wedding between the Duke of Milan and Isa- bella of Aragon. Since then that wedding cheese survives, although recently it has been in danger of being forgotten and disappearing. I love Montebore, but the accompanying narrative, the official one, would express a real historical miracle. Yes, because the first tiered wedding cake, shaped like Montebore to be precise, was created in 1840, and was prepared in England to be served at the wedding of the future Queen Victoria to her beloved Albert of Saxe-Coburg- Gotha. Here, then, either Montebore was so far-sighted as to anti- cipate the story by 350 years, or those involved in communicating the cheese got carried away with the narrative component.

Fortunately, few people know negligible details of the story, such as the creation of the first tiered wedding cake, but such an error could damage the product being told because then the whole story and the product itself would lose credibility. Montebore was born by accident, someone superimposed cheese wheels and saw that so composed they were beautiful. We are in the country of beauty, of Caravaggio, Botticelli, Leonardo, Giò Ponti and Ettore Sottsass. This is enough. It is already narrative; Montebore is probably one of the first gastronomic products in which an aesthetic, design concept was applied. The narrative component of beauty overriding the objective component of nutrition for survival. Montebore is gastronomic architecture. A design at once ancient and hypermodern. Revolutionary! Isn’t this narrative magic? Its narrative is already embedded in the product, you just need to identify it and show it to the audience. I mentioned food, but the same goes for anything else-a pair of shoes, a handbag, a boat, a car, glasses. The success of each of these things lies in the balance between the objective component and the narrative component. The more luxurious or engaging an object is, the more the balance should swing toward narrative. But without going overboard. Let’s stay true or at least truthful

Artwork by Joe Colosimo