Wednesday, 24 January 2007

A normal country

Twenty years ago I taught English for a while to the journalist and historian Lucio Caracciolo, or rather we wandered around Villa Borghese in conversation I rarely interrupted by correction. Most of what we talked about is gone but I remember one conversation we had after I'd seen a Taviani brothers' film, Kaos, based on Pirandello's stories.

I loved the film, particularly an episode called The Jar (La Giara). I loved it for what it seemed to say about an Italy that was in danger, I thought, of being lost, a more elemental, earth- and time-bound Italy, a blah blah blah of long white tables under the trees and - though I didn't admit this to Lucio or even to myself - homoerotic visions of ragazzi, prelapsarian, pre-Armani jeans. Ironically, the best way to see that Italy portrayed now is to look at fashion advertising, Dolce and Gabbana probably being the best at it. It's become the Italian way of doing heritage.

But Lucio insisted that all that was nonsense, a millstone round the neck of Italy. Italy would never become a normal country as long as it was in love with the sentimental version of itself the Taviani film represented. What he was saying was that you can't have the myth without the Mafia, its ultimate defence and defender.

Lucio was a Germanist, I thought, he would say that. But I wasn't happy. I thought he was missing something, but I wasn't entirely convinced of the worth of what he was missing either. And now I'm more and more convinced that he was right. All this stuff about the past, and tradition, and the genius loci and the golden age, somehow more genuine and flavourful than now. It's a nonsense and a vast imprisoning hypocrisy, like bureacracy in the supposed name of order, when all it does is stifle. I could start talking about the Vatican again here, but I'll resist.

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