“Nobody here gives a damn. Everybody is upset. Kids aren’t talking to their parents. Restaurant owners aren’t buying wine from their neighbors. Gasoline is impossible to find. It’s like Italy has become this giant bowl of pissed-off minestrone. I don’t know how much longer before something inside here blows a whistle and says: Time out. Wait a minute. We’re all in this together. Let’s not sink this ship.
“It’s not like were some Third World country.”
That hit me hard, shattered my idealistic view of Italy, so finely honed from 30-plus years of traipsing all over the place. How could this be?
I looked back over many years of impressions. From my notebooks, which I still have, to the scores of photographs taken, some approaching historical value for the era they captured. And then it was like a light went off.
My first trip to Italy, I walked around in jeans and sandals, with long curly hair, looking at “my people.” I really felt that I’d found the tribe I came from. I gazed upon the people as if they weren’t capable of any crime, sadness or malaise. I wandered the streets of Rome with a camera and a canteen, capturing images from every epoch on display.
And then one day I was walking in the hills near a modern art museum. On the street, a man and a woman in a car come to a screeching halt right in the middle of the street. The man pulls the woman out and starts yelling at her and slapping her. He was beating the hell out of her. And while she was screaming, she didn’t call for help or run away. I was maybe 100 feet away. This went on for probably a minute, seemed like hours. And then they get in the car and drive away. The stopped traffic, a municipal bus, continued on its route. Just like that.
I went back to my little room in the pensione and took a shower. It was August. I felt like I had just been beaten up. But that little moment was seminal in breaking the spell of my perfect Italy with something that was probably closer to the real Italy.
These days, the more I go to Italy, the less I understand it. And while I am at it, I can also say the same thing about the country where I was born, the US, the state I moved to, Texas, and the city I live in, Dallas. It’s like an Ingmar Bergman film: There is some meaning here, but it’s pretty hard to get at. So while the Italians are struggling with this new world order in their country, it isn’t foreign to these shores.
The animals make more and more sense to me everyday. They live in balance with our world. They know not of our rules; they answer to a higher source than man. I like the animals more everyday. The pitiful little black cat that waits by my front door for a little food, sometimes in the bitter cold. The baby possums and their mom that come out at night and empty the dish when the cat has gone. The bees in my tree that have set up their business in the owl house. The sparrow hawk couple that comes back every year to nest and mate in the big tree next to my house. The chimney sweeps that come back in the late spring to hang out in my chimney. These creatures aren’t mad, they aren’t angry. They don’t need therapists. They haven’t stopped talking to their mothers. They don’t have these modern problems of civilization. But they do have to live in harmony with people, or at least figure out how to stay out of the way of our oncoming, “Get the hell out of my way” Hummer mentality.
So while the Italians work through their dis-ease and the rest of us figure out how to bleed all we can out of this turnip called Christmas, how will we face ourselves in the mirror of our Self Affliction?
Aldous Huxley had a saying, “Experience is not what happens to you. It is what you do with what happens to you.”
Heaven help us.
Special thanks to Camilla Lopez for permissionto use the last photograph