Excuse me while I go a little deep into the Italian heart of darkness with this one. I’m sure most of you all are tired of the panoply of apparel, Pecorino and pasta porn these past few days.
The further south I go, the deeper a sense of crisis has been surfacing. Last night, during a stopover in Ortona, I started noticing some tribal rumblings. Youth hanging out on the streets, nothing to do but have foreplay and fiddle with drugs. I saw it in Genova 20 years ago and in Sicily 40 years ago. This is like being stuck in an Antonioni movie written by Pasolini.
Even a business encounter seemed edgy and clipped. I am not new to this area. But once again, I am the outsider. Now, what is going on in Italy?
Maybe it’s the earthquake. Maybe it’s the volcano. Maybe it’s Greece. Maybe it’s Berlusconi. But something is stirring. The Lega Nord signs in Ortona seem ominously similar to the movement that spawned a Mussolini. Except this time the object isn’t to unite but to divide. And after that for whom to conquer?
It felt like someone was waiting for the hammer to fall or the bomb to drop. And the youth, i vitelloni, in the countryside, hanging out amidst the wild thrushes as we zipped past them on dark little provincial roads. I swear I stepped back into the 1970’s. Something strange has gripped this area.
In a restaurant by the sea, nearly empty. It was a Monday, ok, alright. But the young server, her method so deliberate, such a high level of care for the food and the wine. She was veiled behind a wall of shyness, or was there a sprinkle of fear in there as well.
Walking on a beach in the darkness waiting for the sun, the sea, the summer breeze. But in this moment it was the scene of a potential transgression. Odd, how there seemed to be this vein of apprehension.
“When America was America, anything, everything was possible.” A European and an American sitting at a table talking about the world that is supplanting their dominance with the rising sun from The East. We are being reduced to serving Asia and simultaneously being slaves to their cheap products because we have trained ourselves that the cheapest is the best.
Meanwhile the server pours us a sparkling Pecorino, then a Cococciolo, an indigenous white, while the bounty of the sea below us is being served up on little plates under incandescent lights. People my age, who have lived under this regimen, this “Italianita”, seem reticent to change. “America is the change place.” Still they look to America to send their Nina’s their Pinta’s and their Santa Maria’s loaded up with the bounty of the lands, no?
Back on the beach at midnight, walking slowly, I came across a bottle that had washed up on shore. It was a wine bottle that had been scrubbed soft by the sand over the years. What promise did that bottle have for the people involved with the making of it and the wine inside? What dreams did the people have? Did they work to spend a holiday on this beach in August? Did they labor to buy a little home on the cliff, only to leave it as an entitlement to some thankless niece or son?
Three young boys running towards me, the sea slapping to my side, a dog barking at a passing train and above a fighter jet races by, patrolling the coast. Antonioni would love this.