The BBC, in its wisdom, does the sifting first, to remove their notion of what constitutes the chaff from their notion of what constitutes the wheat. The RAI, in its sublime contempt, removes all the wheat it can find, lets the chaff ferment and thrive until it has a life of its own, then shovels it through the screen and into the homes of the telespectators, as they're still, touchingly, known, less to make things grow than to suffocate them at the moment of conception. What makes the two main news programmes, TG1 and TG2, interesting, though, despite all their directors' efforts, is that news of a sort gets through. Because something is always more than nothing, even the most self-serving and obscurantist something. Umberto Eco once pointed out that conspiracy theorists should read the financial news with more attention because all they need to know is there, and the same might be said of Italian TV journalism. Reading between, above, below and despite the lines, there's little that isn't, in some way, said.
So, everything was fine until a month or so ago, when the process of moving from analogue to digital TV began in Lazio, where I live. The first step involved the shift of two channels - one state, one owned by Berlusconi - to digital, immediately depriving us of TG2, the news programme that, unofficially, 'belonged' to the Northern League. Pazienza, we thought. We can live without Bossi and his green-shirted cronies crusading against minarets and kebab joints. We might not even need a television in the kitchen. We'll wait until the whole shebang goes digital. Which it did, a couple of weeks ago. We stared at the fizzing lines for a while before giving in and deciding that what we really needed wasn't just a decoder, a trifling expense I deeply resented, but a brand-new telly, a much larger expense that, for some reason, I resented far less.
Off we went to our local electrical goods emporium (TRONY - NON CI SONO PARAGONI!) to buy one. Flat screen, the thickness of a Dan Brown, 26 inches. These days TVs programme themselves. All you have to do is sit and watch. Except that it couldn't find the channels, or not very well, and even the ones it did find looked small and sounded tinny. We weren't happy. We needed something bigger, and better. We packed it back in its box and went to exchange it. For something bigger, and better. Trony is the only retail outlet in Fondi that looks as though it might belong somewhere else, in a country where retail rules. The prices are reasonable, the choice wide, the credit facilities all too readily available. Even the people who work there are courteous and informed (I mean this). But even Trony was a little stressed out as the entire populace of Fondi (or its grandmother) queued, decoder in hand, to get their mojos home and working. Romero would have loved it.
We now have a 32 inch Samsung, a thing of great elegance and beauty. We've had it since Saturday. Unfortunately, despite being auto-programmed half a dozen times a day, and sworn at, and coaxed, its gleaming black screen remains unsullied by images of any kind. There was a brief, exhilarating parenthesis when a local channel transmitting highlights from this summer's international folk dancing festival broke through the darkness to reveal some meaty grass-skirted Polynesians air-rowing their way across a creaking stage. Apart from that, nada. So this morning we called the aerial man. And, as is usual when confronted by an expert, I learnt all kinds of thing I hadn't known. I learnt, for example, that my aerial was laughable out of date. I learnt that aerials necessarily have an alimentatore (don't ask) and that I didn't have the faintest idea where ours was, although it's most probably behind a large kitchen dresser filled with glasses. This will have to be moved. I learnt that, even with Sky, the RAI and many commercial channels will be unavailable. I learnt that if I wanted to continue watching cooks vie with each other over pasta-making machines and Daniele Capezzone, currently the vilest of all Berlusconi's mouthpieces, strut his mendacious self-serving stuff (and I do, despite myself, want this), I would have to spend something like 200 euros, on top of the cost of the new TV. I learnt that I could extend my Sky contract to a second TV for a modest monthly sum and a less modest sum up front. I learnt that whatever I decided I wanted I would have to wait some days before I got it. Learning isn't painless.
I'll keep you informed.
PS I've just noticed that I've used the word self-serving to talk about Italian institutions twice. I wonder why.