Sunday, September 15, 2013

From ‘Italian Neighbours. An Englishman in Verona’ by Tim Parks

….Italians lay great store by the signing of pieces of paper, ‘documenti’ they insist on calling them. There is a certain ritual attached to the practice, a warding off of evil spirits, and an appeal to the notion of honour which, people feel, should take precedence over legal quibbling, if only because it is generally more convenient to keep the government out of things.

In the model anarchic society, to which Italy frequently approximates, there will be rules without end whose value will never be questioned. And under this excellent cover everybody will live as he sees fit.

If an Englishman’s house is his castle, an Italian’s is his bunker. There is this obsession with self-defence: railings, remot-controlled gates, security cameras, bulletproof windows, armoured front doors ….

A woman’s voice announces that it is 10:04 precisely, then the strain of the tune introducing the evening news programme. It is an endearing characteristic of Italian broadcasting that they are not overly concerned about starting programmes on the hour.

…..while people from the Veneto are generally reserved and formal, nevertheless when they get on to the subject of their health there is simply nothing, nothing they will not tell to the most casual acquaintance, from varicose veins to mastectomy, prostatitis to mere constipation.

To… Giampaolo….I remark that the other day the parent of a friend of ours informed us on very first meeting that her husband had only one testicle. Giampaolo neither laughs, nor winces, but with polite interest enquires: ‘Tubervulosis, or war wound?’

There is no one characteristic which makes Montecchio Montecchio, Italy Italy, or the Italians Italian. And yet, as in any place, the slow accumulation of details does gradually form a sort of mesh or matrix. There is this constant entangling, as though in the weaving of a tapestry or net. And the more entangled and connected it all is,  the more inevitable it comes to seem. It takes on the weight, the impenetrability of a dense contingent world. Yes, you tell yourself, it had to be so, because this is what this place is like. The barber believes himself a faith healer, but never gives you a receipt. You open an account at the bank and ask what the interest rates is but, instead of telling you, they say, what interest rate do you want, what do you do, who is your employer? Health is desperately, desperately important, but the air is laden with industrial smells every morning. Everybody likes the Pope, and racism thrives……

How the Italians love their dead! I cari morticelli, the dear deadikins! ….
The English, of course, bury or burn their dead and then largely forget them, at least after a few years. The main thing is to have them out of harm’s way. But the Italians, like othe Catholic nations I presume, behave differently. When I tell Orietta how my own father was cremated and his ashes scattered in the Thames from a plastic box whose colour and design seemed more suitable for the sale of ice cream, she is appalled, as if some awful sacrilege had been committed. But then he was a Protestant clergyman.
The fact is that Italians intend to remain on intimate terms with their dead for quite a while, and not merely by remembering loved ones as they were or placing framed photographs on mantelpiece or dresser. No, they want to sit by a grave and feel that there is a real whole body right there beneath them with whom they can somehow communicate.

Another way of wrapping up your life in Italy is to become a statale, a government employee, a civil servant. Of course, every nation has its own way of dividing itself up. The English have their classes, he Irish their religious denominations, the Americans their racial origins: Wasps, Japs and the like. In Italy, apart from the drastic north-south divide, one of the most deeply felt group distinctions is that of the statali and the non-statali: the government workers and the rest. Basically, as the rest of the population sees it, the statali enjoy a network of privileges so fantastic and far reaching as to establish them as a class apart, something almost approaching ‘party status’ as it was until recently in the Eastern bloc.

….that profound schizophrenia, which is also the charm, of all matters Italian: the Pope adored and ignored, the law admired and flouted, politicians despised and re-elected.

‘The only good thing about elections’ – Bepi deigned to mention the subject over an espresso with grappa at eight in the morning – ‘is that the results are so complicated that for a month and more afterwards there’s no government at all. And so for a while, non possono rompere le palle!’ Which loosely translated means, They cant get on our fannies.
‘If the country’, comments il frate indovino, ear perfectly tuned to the popular mood, ‘could buy politicians for what they’re really worth and then sell them for what they claim they’re worth, it could pay off its deficit in no time at all.’

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