fpb: (Athena of Pireus)
President Obama has made a unilateral decision to place the American Embassy to the Vatican in the same building as that to Italy, excusing that with expenditure and security considerations. This is my comment on it, as a historian who knows a little about diplomacy and its conventions, and an Italian who knows a lot about Italy and Rome.

Right. To begin with, the diplomatic world is a very artificial world, and there are things you do and don't do according to its own code. The do-est of the do things is that any country or organization of importance gets an embassy. They don't have to be huge mansions – several embassies in several capitals occupy little more than a flat – but they have to stand on their own. And states are not the only thing you send ambassadors to. You have embassies to the UN and to various UN bodies, to international organizations such as Organization of American States, to NATO, and so on. You DO NOT have the same embassy in Brussels merely because you have one mission to NATO, one to the EU, and one to Belgium. That's expensive? Sad. If you are not disposed to spend a certain amount of effectively wasted money, you are only proving that you are not a first-rate presence on the international circuit and that you are not able to afford what such presences are. Diplomacy money is in good part display expenditure, but anyone who does not see that display of various kinds is utterly essential to status in foreign eyes (and that in diplomacy it is part of a fixed system that you simply don't have the power to rewrite, since it is shared by every other state and international organization) should not be in politics in the first place.

Now from the point of view of Washington DC, both embassies in Rome (there is a third, to FAO, of which nobody seems to be talking) are first-rate missions, for wholly different reasons. Italy is a major ally, with the third or fourth largest fleet in NATO, two aircraft carriers, over 120,000 men under arms, NATO and UN missions in various places, efficient and wide-reaching security and secret services, one of the world's top ten economies, a crossways of trade and industry, and a strategically dominant position in the Mediterranean. It is also visited and lived in by millions of Americans who need consular services every day of the week.

The Vatican, on the other hand, is by far the single most important trans-national body other than the UN and its various parts. In some ways it is more important. For one thing it has a far better information service than the USA or anyone. They have men in places where the CIA would not dare send a drone, and because of the nature of priestly work and the close relationship of priests with their bishops, they get to hear things fast. Have you noticed recently that a country called the Central African Republic has come to the attention of leading governments? I had been trying to get people to notice the civil war – or rather, the pseudo-civil war – in that country for about a year. Why? Because I follow the missionaries' information agency, Fides, and I knew that the country was being invaded by a bunch of thieving, murderous jihadis under the guise of a local revolt. And that's me, a private citizen. How many more interesting bits of information like that would a friendly government get from all those nice, unworldly celibates in the Vatican? But Obama has a problem with that, obviously. And he does not want the operational and political support that any American presence in any country could get if they were friendly with the local priests. Obama does not want to be in any kind of debt with the Church, because he has long since declared war on the Church over abortion. And from this point of view, it makes sense that the change was an entirely one-sided affair which the Vatican had to swallow, with no consultation, no previous warning, no courtesy of any sort. And courtesy is the soul of diplomacy.

On a purely local and operational grounds, the two embassy complexes have remarkably different aspects, that correspond remarkably well with their two very different missions. The American Embassy to Italy is in a former World War One military hospital on Via Vittorio Veneto, the famous shopping avenue, near Porta Pinciana; a major highway, densely trafficked, within walking distance of the Italian Confederation of Industry and of the Ministry for Defence (if not to the Italian Foreign Ministry, which is located in the eccentric and distant Farnesina), close to a couple of underground stations and comparatively easy of access to any American in need of help or any Italian in need of any of its services. On the other hand, the US Embassy to the Holy See is in Villa Damiana on the Aventine Hill: a super-luxurious residential neighbourhood made for old money and a few of the more discreet institutions, isolated from main roads (although well connected) and served by churches of incredible antiquity. The head office of the Knights of Malta (a theoretically independent state and the last redoubt of Europe's bluest blood) is not far. It is about as likely to be struck by a riot or invaded by terrorists as one of the more exclusive gated communities in the richer towns in America. And it seems to me rather evident that each of the two settings was chosen – by wiser judges than Obama – with their different role and use very much in mind, and that they confer on each a clear atmosphere that means that the workers of each would find themselves terribly ill at ease in the other. The Embassy to the Holy See is, as I said, in the most expensive, quietest and most secure neighbourhood in inner Rome, a place for soft contacts, fine manners, delicate suggestions and careful deliberation. The Embassy to Italy, a former military hospital, is a large building that towers over the bend of Via Vittorio Veneto, one of Rome's busiest and most luxurious highways, surrounded by hotels, businesses and splendid fashion shops, and constantly at work with American citizens and foreign visa seekers. To bring them together in the Via Veneto building is an act of brutality.

There is no organizational or practical advantage in the transfer, either. Neither location is at all near the Vatican. They are both on the eastern bank of the river, within the circle of the imperial walls, but they could not be much further from each other either. Anyway, physical closeness to the actual territory of the Vatican does not matter. Visit your own capital city; see where the embassies of the main powers are. I shall be very surprised if they are all next door to the White House or to Foggy Bottom. At any rate Roman distances are smaller than American ones, and a healthy man can walk both from Via Vittorio Veneto and from Villa Domiziana to the Vatican in an hour or two (and enjoy some of the world's finest sights along the way). And if we are talking security, the Villa Domiziana, surrounded by high walls and a garden, isolated in quiet residential streets where any intruder would be easy to spot, is considerably safer than the Vittorio Veneto building, open to anything that can come up one of the city's great highways (and there were, in fact, some security scares a few years back). Obama and his accomplices are simply falsifying fact, as is obvious to anyone who knows Rome.

To finish with, it is not just the Vatican that receives a savage and undeserved insult with this crass decision. In case nobody had noticed, Obama has implied that the streets of Rome are no safer than those of Benghazi. Thank you so much, Mr.President. You may not be aware of it, but one of the things that binds Italians together is pride that we have police, carabinieri and security forces loyal, brave and competent enough to have broken the Red Brigades and brushed back the Mafia at the price of many, many courageous dead. This is an insult to them.
fpb: (Default)
I was listening to the Pope's last Angelus, and I found myself smiling when he greeted the Poles in their own language (as he did with the other main languages). I found myself thinking that there would be a special pleasure for citizens of Poland to hear a German addressing them in their own language. The recent history of the two countries has been a crescendo of mutual hatred, ending in the massacre of one-fourth of the Polish population, followed by the expulsion of millions of Germans under circumstances of terrible brutality.

But then I realized that really I could say the same for myself. When I grew in Milan, vicious prejudice against Germans was a living reality. And it's not just a matter of Nazi and torture jokes; it was a matter of real racial prejudice, with Germans being not only oppressive and homicidal, the designated enemy, but idiotic and foul-smelling too. Their Italian was uniformly terrible and expressed a basic stupidity. A German officer reaching an area flooded by its defenders is bewildered - his maps don't show any lakes there. (Germans, you see, are too stupid to understand the concept of wartime flooding.) One gag had a goat (the smelly animal par excellence) escape the company of a German: it couldn't stand the smell.

This is more than the inheritance of one, even two, world wars, and as a matter of fact it is rather better explained by much older events; it is, in fact, likely enough to be typically Milanese, and I might never have encountered it in such a virulent form if I had grown up, like my parents, in Rome. For Milan and Venice, along with surrounding areas, were the only parts of Italy to be under the direct government of the hated, German-speaking Empire of Austria from 1815 to 1859. Now, to call the hygienic twentieth-century German, even in his most murderous guise, evil-smelling, is clearly nonsense: even their mass murders were carried out with great attention to cleanliness - that was the meaning of the immediate mass destruction of murdered bodies in ovens, before they had the time to spread disease. But an evil smell was in fact a feature of the Austrian occupation troops, mostly not even German themselves, in the eighteen hundreds. In spite of their resplendent white uniforms, they had a bad habit of stiffening their martial moustaches with tallow, and apparently the result could be really stifling at close quarters. Milanese jokers seem to have needed no more than a mention of tallow or of smell to get a laugh.

This ethnic cliche' might have died out if the break with Austria after 1859 had been clean and swift; alas, it was neither, ended up trapping considerable Italian minorities behind a permanent frontier, and made sure that the hatred between the two countries lasted until the final Italian vengeance of 1918 and the annihilation of the Austrian Empire. Obviously, under such circumstances, the Milanese were not going to forget the evil smell of "German" troops for the mere reason that they were no longer around to be oppressive. Then there was the poisoned alliance of 1940-1943, the nightmarish occupation that followed, the savage partisan revolt of the last two years of war, the German massacres, all centred on Milan; and if ethnic hatred had ever had a chance to go out of style, that must have settled it. In a Milanese folk-song from the immediate post-war period, German soldiers are called "black rats":
...poeu su in muntagna a ciapà i ratt:
negher Todesch de la Wermacht,
mi fan morire domaa a pensagh!

"...then we took to the mountains, to do some rat-catching -
Black German rats from the Wehrmacht,
Makes me feel ill just thinking of them!"

These were the memories I grew up with. To people like me, and I would say to a huge amount of Europeans from all kinds of parts of the Continent, to welcome the German nation back to the world of civilized people must have been at least as much a dislocation as for Americans of the southern States to accept equal rights for their darker skinned fellow citizens; harder, if anything, because American blacks and whites at least spoke the same language, and, when the worst came to the worst, could sing the same songs. I know that, for a long time - even after a German hospital effectively saved my brother's life - I could not relate to Germans or to Germany without a certain sense of doubt and alienness. I speak German, I have been to Germany and Austria, I have German and Austrian friends, I warmly admire at least one German woman as a genius...

...but I think I can say honestly that I have never completely lost that sense of doubt and alienness until I first saw and heard Pope Benedict with my own eyes. One of the things this wonderful man immediately does is disarm ethnic hatred. He is so obviously kindly, so obviously open, so obviously everyone's beloved old uncle or father figure, that you can't help but take him as he is and love him for what he is. I like to think I am speaking for many others when I say that, to me, this gentle, tired old university professor is a living human token of peace and respect between nations.
fpb: (Athena of Pireus)
I was listening to the Pope's last Angelus, and I found myself smiling when he greeted the Poles in their own language (as he did with the other main languages). I found myself thinking that there would be a special pleasure for citizens of Poland to hear a German addressing them in their own language. The recent history of the two countries has been a crescendo of mutual hatred, ending in the massacre of one-fourth of the Polish population, followed by the expulsion of millions of Germans under circumstances of terrible brutality.

But then I realized that really I could say the same for myself. When I grew in Milan, vicious prejudice against Germans was a living reality. And it's not just a matter of Nazi and torture jokes; it was a matter of real racial prejudice, with Germans being not only oppressive and homicidal, the designated enemy, but idiotic and foul-smelling too. Their Italian was uniformly terrible and expressed a basic stupidity. A German officer reaching an area flooded by its defenders is bewildered - his maps don't show any lakes there. (Germans, you see, are too stupid to understand the concept of wartime flooding.) One gag had a goat (the smelly animal par excellence) escape the company of a German: it couldn't stand the smell.

This is more than the inheritance of one, even two, world wars, and as a matter of fact it is rather better explained by much older events; it is, in fact, likely enough to be typically Milanese, and I might never have encountered it in such a virulent form if I had grown up, like my parents, in Rome. For Milan and Venice, along with surrounding areas, were the only parts of Italy to be under the direct government of the hated, German-speaking Empire of Austria from 1815 to 1859. Now, to call the hygienic twentieth-century German, even in his most murderous guise, evil-smelling, is clearly nonsense: even their mass murders were carried out with great attention to cleanliness - that was the meaning of the immediate mass destruction of murdered bodies in ovens, before they had the time to spread disease. But an evil smell was in fact a feature of the Austrian occupation troops, mostly not even German themselves, in the eighteen hundreds. In spite of their resplendent white uniforms, they had a bad habit of stiffening their martial moustaches with tallow, and apparently the result could be really stifling at close quarters. Milanese jokers seem to have needed no more than a mention of tallow or of smell to get a laugh.

This ethnic cliche' might have died out if the break with Austria after 1859 had been clean and swift; alas, it was neither, ended up trapping considerable Italian minorities behind a permanent frontier, and made sure that the hatred between the two countries lasted until the final Italian vengeance of 1918 and the annihilation of the Austrian Empire. Obviously, under such circumstances, the Milanese were not going to forget the evil smell of "German" troops for the mere reason that they were no longer around to be oppressive. Then there was the poisoned alliance of 1940-1943, the nightmarish occupation that followed, the savage partisan revolt of the last two years of war, the German massacres, all centred on Milan; and if ethnic hatred had ever had a chance to go out of style, that must have settled it. In a Milanese folk-song from the immediate post-war period, German soldiers are called "black rats":
...poeu su in muntagna a ciapà i ratt:
negher Todesch de la Wermacht,
mi fan morire domaa a pensagh!

"...then we took to the mountains, to do some rat-catching -
Black German rats from the Wehrmacht,
Makes me feel ill just thinking of them!"

These were the memories I grew up with. To people like me, and I would say to a huge amount of Europeans from all kinds of parts of the Continent, to welcome the German nation back to the world of civilized people must have been at least as much a dislocation as for Americans of the southern States to accept equal rights for their darker skinned fellow citizens; harder, if anything, because American blacks and whites at least spoke the same language, and, when the worst came to the worst, could sing the same songs. I know that, for a long time - even after a German hospital effectively saved my brother's life - I could not relate to Germans or to Germany without a certain sense of doubt and alienness. I speak German, I have been to Germany and Austria, I have German and Austrian friends, I warmly admire at least one German woman as a genius...

...but I think I can say honestly that I have never completely lost that sense of doubt and alienness until I first saw and heard Pope Benedict with my own eyes. One of the things this wonderful man immediately does is disarm ethnic hatred. He is so obviously kindly, so obviously open, so obviously everyone's beloved old uncle or father figure, that you can't help but take him as he is and love him for what he is. I like to think I am speaking for many others when I say that, to me, this gentle, tired old university professor is a living human token of peace and respect between nations.
fpb: (Athena of Pireus)
Before World War One was won, there was a long and grim period during which Germans and Austrians, having destroyed Russia, threw everything they had against Italy, France and Britain, hoping to destroy them in turn. After a catastrophic defeat on the river Isonzo, called the battle of Caporetto, the remains of the Italian Army retreated to the river Piave and the huge mountain Monte Grappa, and stopped there, resolute to hold that line or die trying. A Neapolitan popular musician, E.A.Mario, wrote the song that spoke for those men, "The Legend of the Piave," which immediately became a kind of second national anthem:


(The singer is Mario himself.)

25 years later, the glory and purpose of the Piave and Mt.Grappa had mutated into an abyss of disgrace, treachery and beggary. Italy was shattered, occupied by enemy armies, and starving. Having entered the war on the wrong side through a mean and disgusting calculation of advantages, it had to break out of one disastrous alliance without being able to expect any sympathy from the other side.
The city of Naples rebelled against occupying German forces on September 28, 1943. After four days of ferocious fighting, the Germans were forced to withdraw, and the Allies walked into Italy's largest city without having to fire a shot. However, Naples, at the centre of a war zone and a devastated economy, soon found itself close to starvation, while full of comparatively well-paid American and allied troops. I’m sure you can see what came next. There was not much violence of any sort – except for a Moroccan unit that made itself notorious across Italy – but plenty of what one might call commercial exchange.
The daughters of middle-class families, clean, elegant, polite and pretty, were very popular with servicemen. Also, they had no colour prejudice – before the war, Italian colonists in Ethiopia had infuriated Mussolini, who was a genuine racist, by associating happily with local girls – and I have the impression that black American servicemen were delighted with the opportunity to buy the “services” of these segnorine. The whole matter was terribly painful to the girls and their families, and as the situation improved they did their best to pretend it never happened; but they were not allowed to. These well-brought-up young ladies did not have the “professional habits” which allow regular prostitutes to avoid pregnancies, and when the inevitable baby boom took place, many of the children turned out to be of an unexpected colour. I don’t think anything much happened – people just wanted to get the whole thing over with, and Naples is a seaport and has always been full of people of every sort anyway – but, this still being Naples, they wrote a song about it.



And what is the punch-line? That the author of the music was the very same E.A.Mario again.
fpb: (Default)
I think you may have some problems finding many matches to this picture:


fpb: (Default)
One thing I just love to bits about my country is our sense of humour. Long ago, I made a list that said something like: America is a principle. Britain is a personality. France is conflict. Germany is tragedy. Russia is a siege, as seen from inside the besieged camp. But though Italy is a struggle against overwhelming odds, it is one that is marked by Homeric bursts of laughter. The stern-faced titans of our long history - Dante, Michelangelo, Tiziano, Verdi - leave a misleading impression: the fact is that the country lives a lot more on our enormous tradition of humour and satire, from Boccaccio to Guareschi and Trilussa. It is typical of us that Italy should have had the only Nobel Prizewinnder for literature who was a comedian, and for that matter probably the only writer in history who ever made Communist beliefs funny - both are the same man, Dario Fo Italians regularly have to struggle against events, conditions and rivals,, but they cope - and make sense of the mess - by making fun of it, and most of all of themselves.

That is what I was afraid the Berlusconi years had lost. They have been bad years in many ways, but the worst would have been if we had been reduced to the splenetic and red-faced exchanges that had become typical of our public life then.Now I am no longer worried. Among universal applause and well-deserved laughter, the comedian Corrado Guzzanti has come up with an idea that belongs in the great tradition: the adventures of a very, very minor pagan river god - Aniene - as he tries to make sense of modern Italy and help it. What is great about this is not just that the idea is original and wonderfully executed, but that it is intended to tackle the whole of the country's plight - a wonderfully ambitious goal, and one I was afraid we had forgotten how to do do. Long may Aniene stay with us!
fpb: (Default)
The centre of the still-smouldering Italian earthquake is just in the area of my ancestral roots. It covers Ferrara, where my grandfather was born; Cento, the native town of Giovanni Francesco "Guercino" Barbieri, the painter; San Giovanni in Persiceto, where St.Clelia Barbieri lived and died; Modena, where Giovanni Maria Barbieri, the founder of Romance philology, was born, worked, and died. They are a distinguished clan, and I am proud of them and of their country; and it breaks my heart to watch it being shaken to pieces.
fpb: (Default)
The Italian partisan resistance against Nazi occupiers and Fascist collaborationists began officially on September 28, 1943, when the great city of Naples rose in unplanned revolt. Nineteen years later, director Nanni Loy celebrated Naples' heroic and victorious insurrection with one of the greatest Italian movies ever made - every one of the actors played anonymously and for free, as a homage to the real heroes, the people of Naples. This is the scene of the start of the revolt:
fpb: (Default)

For the sun we see rises each day for us at [his] command, but it will never reign, neither will its splendor last, but all who worship it will come wretchedly to punishment. We, on the other hand, shall not die, who believe in and worship the true sun, Christ, who will never die, no more shall he die who has done Christ's will, but will abide for ever just as Christ abides for ever, who reigns with God the Father Almighty and with the Holy Spirit before the beginning of time and now and for ever and ever. Amen. - Patrick son of Calpurnius, somewhere in Ireland, about 450

Let us be united, let us love one another! For unity and love reveal to the nations the paths of the Lord. We swear that we shall set our native soil free: united in God's name, who can defeat us? - Goffredo Mameli, Genoa, 1847
fpb: (Default)
In the city of Ragusa, Sicily, there lives a young couple both of whom work in a local shopping centre. They have a little girl of three, and of course she had been found a place at the local kindergarten. A few days ago, for some reason - probably each one thought the other was going to do it - they both went to work without taking the child to kindergarten. She was left home alone. So she dressed herself, put her shoes on (wrong), and went out of the house, trying to find her way on her own. Of course she got lost, but a street cleaner noticed her and, once he had understood her problem, took her to the carabinieri. The parents risk being charged with child abandonment. Personally I hope they aren't; there is no evidence of any deliberate neglect or anything worse than being rushed off their feet, as young parents often are, and what good would it do the child to have them punished by the courts? But I must say that I am touched by the picture of that patient, thoughtful child, mature enough at three to get dressed and find her road on her own.
fpb: (Default)
The Carabinieri, Italy's military police, are known for strict adherence to regulations and stern notions of duty. Each Carabiniere, it is said, has another Carabiniere watching inside him. Which is why there is nothing surprising about the fact that, once a shop-owner in the lovely hilltop village of Torgiano, near Perugia, called the local force to deal with a shoplifter, they dealt with her strictly according to the rules, arresting her, taking her to their station, and questioning her. The embarrassed prisoner - a respectable OAP aged sixty - freely confessed to stealing twenty euros' worth of meat, because her tiny pension could not stretch to the whole month. The Carabinieri quite properly charged her - then had a whip-round among themselves, paid for her weekly shopping, and took her to dine in a local restaurant. That second inner Carabiniere can be a pretty soft-hearted old fellow at times.
POST SCRIPTUM: You don't get rich on a Carabiniere's wages either.
fpb: (Default)
28 people have been arrested in Palermo, Sicily, for Mafia activities. Apparently they had managed by corrupt means to get several supply contracts for a popular TV series about cops fighting the Mafia.
fpb: (Default)
Meanwhile statistics inform us that Italians are the most long-lived nation in the world, with an average life estimate of 76,1 years for men and 82,2 for women.
fpb: (Default)
In many ways, Italy is different. For one thing, I was taught at school as a child, we have no tradition of racism like in America. For another, the leading schools in Italy - the schools where the rich children go, where the best teachers are found, and which insure a swift passage to the best university courses - are generally state schools. For this there are a lot of historical reasons, including the fact that the oldest schools in each town were, at the time of Unification (1859-1861), taken over by the State, with all their traditions and prestige.

The city of Caserta, where the kings of Naples built one of Europe's most fabulous royal palaces, has one such school, named after the great historian Pietro Giannone, within walking distance of the royal palace. By tradition, catchment area, expectation, the Pietro Giannone Middle School is expected to provide good teaching.

First the bad news. A few days ago, a Class 2 (12-year-old) class got back the results of a Geography test. These are kids who take their results seriously, as you would expect, and they immediately compared results - as you always do in Italian schools, as I well remember doing. And one girl was very disturbed to find that a boy who had given, answer after answer, the very same answers as she had, had been awarded a 9, whereas she had been awarded a 7.

(A note on Italian school marking. In theory, and by immemorial tradition, all schoolwork in junior schools is marked from 0 - minimum - to 10 - maximum. As a matter of fact, however, teachers only ever use the marks from 5 to 9. 4 and below are only awarded in case of work that is not just bad, but culpably bad, and 10 is reserved for rare and absolutely exceptional performances; most children never see either. Of the normally given marks, 5 means a fail, 6 a poor pass, 7 "could do better", 8 is solid achievement, and 9 is excellence. To any Italian child, to award 7 and 9 for the same piece of work is injustice of Snape-esque proportions. Now let us move on.)

Come the next Geography lesson, the young girl walked up to the teacher, faced her with the two test papers, and asked why hers was marked so much lower. And the answer of the teacher - a woman in her forties, married and with children of her own - was clearly heard across the whole classroom: "You are different. You are black."

Yes, I forgot to mention it. The child had some African descent. Does it matter?

Crushed, the child made the ten-mile trek back to her desk, as the stunned, silent class looked on. And when she comes home at the end of the day, it doesn't take long for her mother to realize that there is something very wrong with her daughter.

Now the good news. The next day, the mother demands and is given an immediate appointment to see the Headmistress (whose name is reported in the article: Maria Bianco - let us mention it with proper honour). She tells her story and plays an audio tape where her daughter had recorded her experience. It is still morning, between the second and the third period. The Headmistress marches out of her office, goes straight to the little girl's class, shuts the door behind her, and asks the children to recount in their own words exactly what happened. She receives an unanimous account that confirms almost word for word the mother's charge: "She said, you are different, you are black."

That very day, the Headmistress suspends the teacher, and starts a procedure with the Education Ministry with a view to more adequate sanctions. When the other teachers are told, the general view is: "Well, she asked for it." I guess old school traditions can count for something after all.

(According to today's Corriere della Sera website, all these things happened this week.)
fpb: (Default)
A few years back, a man called Cesare Lupo was condemned to a fair few years in jail for Mafia crimes. While in jail, he joined the external law course of the University of Catanzaro (southern Italy) and graduated in 2008 with a respectable 104 out of 110, with a thesis on "Extortion aggravated by facilitation towards Cosa Nostra." One year later he was released. And a few days ago he was arrested as being management level in a major Mafia family.
fpb: (Default)
I haven't been this disgusted at my country since 1982, when we betrayed Britain over the Falklands. (The British won, too, which means that Italy got nothing for its betrayal of an ally except shame and disgrace. But then Italians are like that: they are always at their most stupid when they think they are being crafty.) The Meredith Kercher murder was one of the most squalid and cruel events in recent memory, and the guilt of Knox and Sollecito was obvious to anyone who could read. So that is how you get off with murder: be pretty, have a shameless and prosperous family who sets up a media circus on your behalf among gullible American hacks, and manage to look pathetic every time you are on screen. Then evidence be damned. Well, the need for wide structural reform of Italian justice has been cryingly obvious for decades, but this proves once and for all that a moral reformation is even more desperately needed. Nobody who took their oath to justice seriously for two minutes could ever have released such a sentence. When the Supreme Court hears the inevitable prosecution appeal and finds Knox guilty as they have to, she and her accomplices will be mocking at us from her bolthole across the ocean. And her victim can rest in her grave - abused, forgotten and unavenged.
fpb: (Default)
One doesn't, in general, think of popular music as a vehicle for patriotism. But apart from the USA, where nobody is ashamed of waving the flag, there have been beautiful patriotic songs from Australia -

- and, more surprisingly, from Italy:


I reckon that part of the reason why this is so surprising is the central position of Britain in modern and especially pop culture. British singers have influenced everyone and are visible from everywhere - even the wretched Amy Winehouse's slow suicide has been front-page news across the world, whereas it would at best have got a paragraph on page 13 had she been Dutch or Taiwanese. Now, the position of any British singer you care to mention towards Britain or England is inevitably acidic and oppositional; the closest one gets to patriotism is the very ambiguous claim made for London - and London alone - in the Clash's London Calling. But people like Springsteen in the States and De Gregori among us are not only leading singers, but leading lights of the left. I think there is something specific and local that makes it impossible for an English artist to claim the identity and values of his country as a number of Americans and Italians do.

Having said that, I want to know whether any other countries have seen the same kind of thing: LEADING local singers, mind you, not little-known hacks, writing SUCCESSFUL songs in praise of their country and/or their people? I doubt Germany is up to it yet, but France? Spain? other European countries? India? China? anywhere?
fpb: (Default)
...ours are gorgeous, too.



Above: Novella Calligaris, the tiny sprite who demolished a number of chemically enhanced East German giantesses in Belgrade in 1973 to win an unforgettable world championship gold in the murderous 800 metre freestyle, at the time the toughest speciality in the games.
Below: Federica Pellegrini, the supermodel type who has just done the impossible by winning for the second time world championship golds in both the 400 and the 200 metres in Shanghai. Nobody had ever done that before, and it does not seem likely that anyone will again any time soon, unless of course Federica herself has a go next time.
fpb: (Default)
In the last few weeks, Italy has seen an important set of local elections - including the governments of the largest cities, Milan and Naples - and a set of national referenda. The results seem to have marked the moment when the long-expected collapse of Berlusconi and his party begin. All the referenda were lost, some humiliatingly: the referendum against nuclear energy had a 95% majority. Milan and Naples both fell to the opposition. Losing Milan, Berlusconi's own city, to a dim-witted left-wing Catholic who thinks that what the city needs most is a new giant mosque is beyond belief, and nobody can doubt that they have done it to themselves.

First, there is the leader's behaviour. Berlusconi's finger has been firmly on the self-destruct button for a few years now; I think, since his wife left him. Sex parties and the building of a genuine "stable" of available young women with their own flats are not what Italians expect of each other, let alone of their leaders. It's got to the point where it's not even funny, not even worth leering at. Nobody admires a man in his seventies who dyes his hair and pays teen-age Moroccan prostitutes. The fact that some of them have then proceeded to turn up in Parliament, in the local administrations (including the former jewel in the crown, Milan) and even in Goverment (four or five cabinet ministers of the female persuasion are more than suspect of having been part of Berlusconi's stable) does not help; the definition "mignottocrazia" ("whoreocracy") was swiftly coined and widely accepted. And then there are his endless feuds and insults - never resolved, never allowed to die down, never left alone, everlasting raised to poison the public mood. Who would think, now, that a few decades ago one of the defining characteristics of Italy was the widespread sense of humour, often bursting into the most fantastic and absurd practical jokes, carried out for the pure joy of carriying them out? Now everyone is grim, everyone is angry, everyone nurses a grudge. Berlusconi has managed to infect the whole nation with his own pathology; and his men complain that their opponents have it in for them. Who taught them?

He has forgotten why people voted for him: to have a stable government capable of making decisions and dealing with problems. The rubbish in Naples, cleared away in the early weeks of his government, is back, and nobody seems interested in making it an emergency this time. Promised reforms flop about weakly in Parliament like beached whales. At a time when the whole world is threatened by economic crisis, the main order of bsiness in Italian politics is the endless exchange of insults and accusations between the leader and all is critics.

God help poor Italy, because the scattered and hallucinating left is not fit to govern an ice cream shop, let alone a great city like Milan, and the right is swiftly falling into the same disarray, with poisonous elements from the former Fascist party (e.g. Gasparri) making life toxic for everyone else. It seems clear, for instance, that Milan Mayor Moratti's ruinous strategy of smearing her rival Pisapia with terrorist associations without leaving him room to reply - which backfired badly - must have been the result of some Fascist mind among her handlers; people who don't understand how free people think and act.

A failure

Apr. 27th, 2011 09:13 am
fpb: (Default)
I feel very bad about being unable to post my usual April 25 post commemorating the Italian Partisans of WWII.

Profile

fpb: (Default)
fpb

June 2017

S M T W T F S
    1 23
45678910
1112131415 1617
18192021222324
252627282930 

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Jul. 22nd, 2017 12:43 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios