Enzo Ferrari and His Obsession
Being something of a car guy, I couldn’t visit the Emilia-Reggiano area of Italy without a trip to Modena, the birthplace of Enzo Ferrari and the home of the Ferrari Museum. Ferrari is one of a host of Italian luxury sportscar makers, which also include Lamborghini, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Pagani, and a few lesser-known makes. But it’s Enzo’s story that makes Ferrari stand out from the others. Ferrari (1898-1988) was obsessed with cars and racing from an early age, and that obsession was the basis for much of the company’s innovation and success. He maintained creative control of the company throughout his life, and even cancelled the sale of Ferrari to Ford when the buyer refused to allow him to approve new designs. (This is the backstory for the movie Ford Versus Ferrari. And speaking of movies, apparently there’s a new movie about Enzo in the works. We saw one of the stars, Penelope Cruz, on location in Modena that evening.)
The idea of obsessing over something like automobiles, these days seems at best anachronistic. Cars are a major source of the pollution that is destroying our environment. Ferraris are also a symbol of that vast economic divide in our society—only a very few can afford them. But let’s forget, for a minute, about the negatives associated with autos. Enzo surely had no idea about the problems cars would lead to, and probably almost no one else at the time did either. His vision was to create autos of such style and performance that they became works of art—testaments to human imagination and ingenuity. In that respect his cars are as artistic as any other form of creation.
I mention this because we’ve lost much of that kind of passion in our 21st century world. We are more obsessed these days with our politics, whether their goal is to provide more opportunities for marginalized people, or to create greater segregation among us. We seek, it seems, to win our political wars by stifling individuality and exceptionalism. Our politics demand conformity to one set of beliefs or another. Corporate America is quite happy about that, since it makes it easier for their marketeers to appeal to a limited set of values and experiences. Political leaders, elected or otherwise, like that too. It’s much easier to maintain control over people when differing ideas are excluded. But when creativity is reduced we all lose some of the possibilities and wonder of life.
I have never driven a Ferrari, nor am I ever likely to. But the fact that a handful of people created these fantastic machines, and another handful gets to drive them, doesn’t make me cry injustice—instead it impels me to appreciate the beauty of their design and functionality separate from the idea of ownership. It’s similar, in a way, to owning a Caravaggio. It’ll never happen. Would I deprive the world of that beauty just because I can’t hang one in my house?
What kind of world would it be without the artistic obsession of people like Enzo Ferrari? Probably one in which an exquisite car is a Toyota, and fine art is something you can buy at Target (see Corporate America, above). But it’s not the thing itself that’s really important, it’s the creativity behind it. As Enzo once said, “Passion cannot be defined; it must be lived.” Maybe that’s where we’ve gone off track—people seem more concerned these days about who gets to own passion; we should be more focused on how each of us gets to pursue it.
Yes, by pursuing such goals some people will be left behind… or will they? Kennedy’s investment in reaching the moon before the end of the 1960s took billions in today’s dollars away from social programs, but in the long run, innovations made by the space program found their way into everyday life. (Computers and cell phones, for a start. The same is true of many military advancements, unfortunately. Nothing good comes without a cost.) And achieving that goal made most Americans proud of what their nation could accomplish. What are most Americans proud of today?
Back to more conventional stuff:
Today’s dining experience continued our good luck in finding great cuisine off the beaten path. In Modena we had some time to kill between the museum and our wine tasting at Giacobazzi. We only needed to find our way to the city center, and a restaurant for lunch. Google Maps showed dozens of places, and we chose to head toward Ristorante al Danilo because I liked the name. We actually didn’t expect to find it, but a few turns off the main road, there it was. We knew it was a good choice when they asked if we had a reservation; the tourist places will never expect that you have one. The tortellone with ricotta and spinach in a butter and sage sauce was perfetto. And on leaving I noticed the restaurant had been established in 1934, in keeping with my theory about Italian restaurants.