Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Kingston upon Hull and Est! Est!! Est!!!

You would think that, being in Italy, I might want to write yet again about Italian food. You might think that the time has come to stop skating around culinary delights here and just come right out and describe a sumptuous feast. I could, perhaps, talk about my time at the lovely Le Naiadi Hotel, Teresa and her lovely daughters at the front desk, or its superb restaurant located on Lake Bolsena; and I could describe the gentle and warm Giustino and his tireless restaurant staff, the superb pastas they prepare and serve, the tasty secondi, accompanied each night by the superlative local vintage Est! Est!! Est!!! That white wine, Montefiascone, is truly remarkable. Somewhat full-bodied (for an Italian white) local production, it preserves just a hint of sweetness amidst a dry background.

Fugger tomb
Tomb of Bishop Fugger

The story goes that a twelfth-century German bishop by the name of Johann Fugger, a wine aficionado, en route to Rome in A.D. 1110 for the coronation of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry V, had instructed his attendant, Martin by name,[1] to go ahead of him to identify the finest wines for the cleric to enjoy. The servant would, according to the legend, write on the door of an establishment with good vintage the Latin word for “it is (good wine).” When the servant found Montefiascone he knew he had found an excellent vintage, and rightly (according to my taste, as well) wrote “est” thrice.[2] Of course, the idea that exclamation points were added to emphasize the wine’s goodness is an anachronism, as exclamation points had barely begun to evolve beyond the Latin evocation “io” (a cry of joy recorded in ancient Latin texts that eventually would be transformed into an exclamation point by shifting the ‘I’ above the ‘o’—but was not found widely in manuscripts as such until after the twelfth century). So taken with, even sidetracked by their fine discovery of the wine, were they that Father Fugger and minion Martin never made it to the coronation.

Lake Bolsena
Lago di Bolsena, Italy

But I should get back to the reason I am not going to write about the delicate taste of Montefiascone or the truly fantastic food here in Italy or even the loveliness of Lake Bolsena, a place that it is my first time to visit. That reason is, of course, Brexit, England’s rebellion and unexpected break with the European Union. No, I am not going to get into the politics of that exit—I have my own opinion, and it is as farraginous as it is tiered. Nay, rather I would speak about the courage behind the vote rather than the vote itself.

A recent poll of the denizens of the city of Kingston upon Hull (aka Hull), a town located on the east coast of central England that serves as the gateway for European trade,[3] showed that they, among all Brits, were especially in favor of the UK’s break with the Europeans. The reasons for it are multifarious, but not to put too fine a point on it, I think the people of Kingston upon Hull are at bottom hoping to keep England British. That may indeed be too fine a point; it may be too monolithic an explanation. But it may also be right. The open border policy that the UK has had now for many years and its cred busoncomitant trade agreements have essentially promulgated the dissolution of the British way of life. When’s the last time you heard a “Cheerio!” or a “Pip pip!” or even a “Chin up, then!”? When I am in England I very much miss hearing these things, expressions that once characterized British parlance. At least the occasional “Cheers!” survives.

Now someone might say that such an argument is merely reductionist and that I and all the folks of Hull need to face the fact that the world is changing. Now while that person would surely be right about the world changing, the people of Hull have bravely decided that it can simply change a little more slowly. They cast a vote meant to put the breaks on the rapidity of global change; they voted, nearly three to one for an attempt to preserve the remnant of English culture. And whether you think it’s realistic or not, whether you agree with the risk of doing or not, well that’s another matter, and not the point of this blog. Rather, the point of this blog is that at least one important aspect of Hull’s vote and the vote of the rest of the UK was an attempt to preserve cultural identity.

9781480814738_COVER.inddAnd that is one of the major themes of the Curious Autobiography: that the peculiar ways, the timeless values, the enduring faith that we inherited from our forebears (in my case Welsh forebears) are worthy of being preserved, that they do in fact have meaning, and that hastily and heedlessly tossing them out—particularly for the hope of mere financial gain, even if that is only part of the motivation—is, well, for lack of a better word, heedless. Heedless, yes, and dreadful, too. And yet though it has resisted losing its Britishness, Kingston upon Hull remains, according to The Guardian, ungentrified.[4]

But I say, “Bully for Hull!” and “Bully for Hull’s bravery!” As for whether it will prove to be wise or not[5] and what indeed Brexit will mean for the world, time will tell. But the courage it takes for a single town located at the cross of the Humber and Hull to resist democratically a world telling you that its cultural identity is no longer relevant and that money and the global economy is the only thing worth pursuing, well that is a courage worth commending.[6] Until next time then, I offer you a warm “pip pip” and in the face of the terror that has ruined lives of innocent folks in Istanbul in the last few days, a sincere “chin up!” And to my friends in Hull, I shall close with a “cheers,” one set to the clink of a class of, if you can find it, Montefiascone’s best, Est! Est!! Est!!!Est.est.est wineVino di Montefiascone, Est! Est!! Est!!!


[1] “Curious Legend Surrounds Naming Italian Wine,” NYT (1980), rpt. Bangor Daily News, Apr. 15, 1980 [https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=CHg-AAAAIBAJ&sjid=tVkMAAAAIBAJ&pg=2888,6318448&dq=est+est+est+di+montefiascone+wine&hl=en].

[2] Tom Stevenson, The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia (2005) 286. Wine encyclopedia

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/oct/30/hull-the-city-that-gentrification-forgot

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/oct/30/hull-the-city-that-gentrification-forgot

[5] Some are certain that it is national suicide: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/is-brexit-national-suicide/ and likely to lead to a recession: http://money.cnn.com/2016/06/28/news/economy/uk-economy-brexit-taxes-spending-austerity/index.html. Yet others see benefits: http://time.com/4381865/brexit-trump-global-economy/

[6] I realize that there will be some who will make the opposite argument, namely that it is greed in fact that drove the Brexit vote. I simply answer them in this way: even a less-than-well-informed voter knows that dissolving trade agreements is not likely to promulgate further trade. Nay, the real motivation behind this vote was cultural, not monetary. You’re welcome to disagree, of course. Though I have never been to Hull and I can’t speak from firsthand knowledge of that town, I have a strong hunch that I am right about this. I would love to hear from my British readers on this matter. See also https://uk.finance.yahoo.com/news/the-sunny-side-of-brexit-staycations-set-to-rise-133358961.html

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