Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Italian Affliction

I got a note from a friend in Italy. Small talk about the holidays, the wine harvest, comings and goings about a couple of mutual friends. Then my friend dropped a bomb.

“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


Gianpaolo Paglia said...

I'm not sure to fully understand what you want to say in your post, but I can tell you that there is something wrong here.
People here are afraid of this new world and this new age. We, in Italy, have been caught in a time warp for hal a century, where our little world was far from being perfect but at least was fully understandable by most of the people. You knew that in the end someone, i.e. the State, wouldn't let you drawn.
The Church, your family, your local politician, would eventually find out something for you, maybe a small job in a public office, badly paid, yes, but not much to do for the money. Not that anyone would care about that anyway.
Alitalia was in trouble? Should downsize? Never, just put more public money in the pit. FIAT? Same thing, more or less.
Italian, small, family-owned and low tech companies weren't competitive enough outside of Italy? Let's devaluate the currency and give them some more oxigen.

All of that and much more is now gone, forever, and people feel that. But they don't what to expect next. They are not used to it, they have never been faced with the outside world, with this new world where economies that once were considered third world countries are now running at a speed that we don't understand.
Our schools, our politicians, our people are not prepared to that, hence the feeling of dis-ease.
I do believe that Italy is a rich country. Rich of extraordinary people that gave the world so much in the course of the history. Our entrepreneurs, the true ones, are among the best and often are able to compete and win at the highest levels in the world. We still have an enviable life style and our material culture can produce incredible products expecially when it comes to food and wine, but not only.
The only thing we really need is to reset the country. Have a new start with a new and more realistic vision of the world. We have to grow up and abandon our nest, which is falling down the tree anyway. I do believe that we have the strenght, the culture and history to re-adjust and be good again.
It wont' be easy and it'll be occasionally painful, but there isn't another option.

Unknown said...

I'm typeless!

Anonymous said...

"Of all God's creatures, there is only one that cannot be made slave of the leash. That one is the cat. If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve the man, but it would deteriorate the cat." - Mark Twain

Alfonso Cevola said...

Aldous Huxley and Mark Twain, together at last

thanks fellas....Gianpaolo...tomorrow we go live with our Reset Italy post.
thanks everyone, even BK's zenlike-cryptogram;)

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