IS THE INTERNET RENDERING CONCIERGES OBSOLETE?

Even when we’re skiing, our cell phones are never far from our grasp – it’s as if they’ve become an extension of our bodies.

But I’m not surprised. Why?

Because they make our lives easier…

Because they keep us safe…

Humanity reached this stage rapidly. When I became a father, I, like most people, dutifully joined the queue at the post office to fill out an application so that my son would one day be the proud owner of a phone line. That’s because then it took 15 to 20 years to acquire a land line – something that we don’t even think about anymore. There’s a good chance you’re reading this piece on a cell phone, as fixed lines have since become nearly extinct.

Once upon a time, concierges were all the rage. We got a lot errands done thanks to them; whether we were sending flowers to someone special far away, procuring tickets to the theater or making reservations for a hotel or restaurant, concierge companies and concierges themselves rushed to our aid. Getting a ticket from the window for a show on Broadway or the West End was well-nigh impossible. A concierge, however, was able to immediately roll up his sleeves and find a ticket from a broker (the premium you paid over face value of the ticket notwithstanding). Like us, you probably got a chance to see The Phantom of The Opera, Oh Calcutta, Cats, Chicago or The Lion King thanks to the help of a concierge.

Who’s the most successful concierge?

The importance of the concierge began to wane with the emergence of the internet. Anyone who could get onto Google suddenly didn’t need a concierge anymore.

We can send flowers through Interflora.

We can buy tickets to a show online.

Booking.com, TripAdvisor and the rest can all handle everything in terms of our hotel, restaurant and tour reservations.

And if you want to stay in a house instead of a hotel, Airbnb is at your beck and call.

And in the event that you don’t fancy venturing out with your car, there’s no need for a taxi anymore, as Uber can be at your door in the blink of an eye.

We meet all our needs with a small tool we hold in the palm of our hand.

The strongest concierge is now the internet!

To organize my most recent visit to Italy, I contacted the concierge company I had used for years for my hotel, restaurant, theater and travel plans. But long story short: I found hotels in the same hotel and room category cheaper online than the price they gave!

Italians don’t work on Sundays. I, however, wanted to see parmigiano, balsamic and prosciutto factories in Modena and had no other time in my schedule to see any of them. My concierge, though, managed to rustle up something special for me – I say managed to rustle up something, but the price was truly exorbitant. Faced with the price, I headed for the internet, locating a tour organizer. Despite it being a Sunday, they opened the door to where I wanted to go, even providing an English-speaking driver in a tie and a Mercedes to fulfill my every need. And despite it being a day off, they organized people that were able give us a tour in English.

And they did all of this at half the price of my concierge company! Modenatur, which I found online, and one of its employees, Laura Mastri, succeeded in organizing a wonderful, full-day program for my wife, my son and me.

The only thing that is constant is change

Life is all about change, and the speed of change is accelerating. I can’t even fathom what artificial intelligence will do for us next. The only thing I do know is that those that can’t keep up with the pace of change are unlikely to have as easy a time as before.

Bonini, the balsamic factory that Laura sent us to, was quite a bit outside Modena. There to meet us was the factory’s manager, Luca. The hall in which he first welcomed us was full of modern photos

The hall was full of modern photos…
The hall was full of modern photos…

and design products. Luca, meanwhile, was listening to John Coltrane. He explained how balsamic vinegar was produced before taking us upstairs to show the barrels in which the liquid is aged. In short, after the grapes (they absolutely have to be Trebbiano grapes) are squeezed, they are heated. The barrels are subsequently filled, after which the real art of the endeavor begins. Every row of barrels consists of 10 barrels organized from biggest to smallest. The barrels are fashioned from different types of wood, such as acacia, cherry and oak, and range in age from three to 40 years. It takes a grand total or eight or nine years for the balsamic vinegar to make its way from the biggest of the barrels to the smallest. However, when referring to the age of balsamico, one doesn’t go by the age of the vinegar itself but rather that of the barrel in which it was aged! After explaining all of this at length, Luca took us back down to the hall, this time demonstrating all that he explained to us with a tasting. The background soundtrack this time was Miles Davis

Ever tried vinegar chocolate?

…and design products
…and design products

According to Luca, Bonini produces six different types of balsamic vinegar, which we got to taste in succession:

Vivace is a young balsamico aged in three-year-old barrels that is generally used in salads.

Gustoso matures in eight-year-old barrels and can be used in any gastronomical endeavor.

Affinato is aged in 12-year-old barrels, making it ideal for olive-oil dishes, as well as rice and pasta.

Maturo comes from 18-year-old barrels and is recommended for fish, sushi and sashimi.

Stravecchio is produced in 25-year-old barrels, lending it a very refined and special taste. Stravecchio really calls for grilled meat and parmigiano.

Riserva, however, is the star of the show. Matured in 40-year-old barrels, this expensive balsamico can’t be used just anywhere, but needs to be deployed in pairings that wouldn’t normally come to mind, like vanilla and strawberry ice cream. Anything else would be a shame for the balsamico and the money spent on it!

Old barrels
Old barrels

Luca, in turn, offered us some of this vinegar’s chocolate; it wasn’t half-bad!

We returned to Modena, leaving Luca to his jazz music. It had been a tiring day, and because we had consumed an enormous special lunch of cheese, ham and pasta, we didn’t bother with making reservations for dinner. Instead, there was a chic café close to the Francescana and Zelmira: Maison Mon Café. We sat down there to enjoy a wine glass or two before retiring for the evening. Our son had arrived just the previous night from San Francisco and was naturally suffering from jet lag. We, too, were tired. We sat down at Mon Café; everywhere we looked, there were elegant people, eating tapas-like concoctions or salads. I asked for a Moscow mule to drink, to be accompanied by some prosciutto with green olives.

Luca’s brief
Luca gives a rundown of his operations

By the time we got up to go, two hours had passed and we’d finished two bottles of Lambrusco

Maison Mon Café
Maison Mon Café

 

 

 

 

 

But when a mother and father get to see their son only a couple of times a year, those two hours seemed like no more than two seconds!