This morning, as most Sunday mornings, I abandoned the guests at the first opportunity, mounted my bike & puffed my way up to Attimis which sits properly at the base of the steep hills that eventually merge into the Julian Alps. I go every possible Sunday for my two cappucini & brios (croisant). This year the weather has remained warm so I have been able to sit outside taking my breakfast in the most civilised way. What I read in the Italian newspapers, however, is anything but civilised. What goes on in Italy is mostly, almost exclusively, unknown by the outside world that revels in images of Tuscany, Liguria & warm, friendly Napolitans, among others. The Italians are saved & damned by the linguistic barrieir that separates them from the rest of the world but what is going on here is anything but pretty & will have dire consequences in the long term for those of us who live here. What I read this morning, apart from reports of Mafia slayings, corruption & economic decline was that the Procurator of Naples (effectively the highest representative of the Italian State) has reported that Naples is sliding out of control & beyond hope. Unemployment is around 25%, gangland slayings are rife, corruption is ever present, the infrastructure is crumbling, run-down or non existent & this coupled with a large population of young people has created a lost city & a lost populace. Now, you might say, what is new. The South of Italy has for ever had the mafia or similar gangs, it has been poor & disfunctional for decades. This is all true but for those of us who live in Italy it means something else. It means that we live in a State where one (& probably more) of the truly major cities is characterised by lawlessness & the inability of the administrative machinery to do anything to help improve the lives of the people over time. Rather like some African countries one is brought to ask whether it is the culture (in this case petty & organised criminality, an absence of trust & hope) that is the cause or whether, perhaps, the State is in some way responsible for the state of affairs. When Silvio Berlusconi was Prime Minister for the first time he was famously served with notice that he was under investigation for corruption at the Heads of Government Meeting in Naples. Naples received a massive infusion of cash to make itself up to the world. Afterwards reports emerged of a vibrant, young mayor of the left who was changing things for the better. So what happened? Italy is a bureaucratic state. It requires that all citizens & those who live legally within its territory have a residence known to the local police. Workers work under national contracts sanctioned, shaped & presided over by the State. Businesses are creations of the State which licences them, sets the terms upon which they operate, taxes them, gives them money & controls them. It is a hand that presses down & constrains & does not help. It is by its very nature negative rather than positive & when corrupt, as it often is, is destructive rather than creative. It leaves the people without hope. It alienates them. It makes the organised crime families seem like a viable alternative. And so money is stolen, the populace won't cooperate, so the State presses harder & the people behave worse & so on. Which brings me to the other interesting item in the news. Yesterday, a march was held in central Rome by a very large number of young - and older -people who it would be fair the say feel alienated by the nature of things in Italy. Ostensibly their gripe was about high prices which, it has to be said, are making life a bit more difficult for a good many Italians. During the march a part of this group invaded a Supermarket & looted it in the name of the "people". They gave what they looted to a crowd of waiting on-lookers outside. This scene was repeated a short while later in a central Rome bookshop. The Police held-back & satisfied themselves with filming & identifying the participants. And why did the police hold back? They held back - by their own admission - by the fear that intervention by them could have led to things getting rapidly & seriously out of control. And they were probably correct. Control in a modern society only works when people consent or, if not, are atomised & subdued or feel that they have something to lose. The people at the march are those who feel that they have nothing to lose, that the state has nothing to offer & who are sufficiently organised to mount a challenge that while it could be defeated by the forces of order would expose the non-consential nature of much of what passes for policing in Italy. So where do these two incidents leave things? It seems to me that Naples is a harbinger of where events such as those in Rome will eventually lead the country. Naples is out of control not because a small number of miscreants are drunk on the pavements, begging or trying to clean car windscreens at traffic lights. No. It is out of control because a large part of the population are hopeless & at the very best they see the state as incompetent and at the very worst as complicit in their predicament or even responsible for it. But can we assume that this small number of looters in Rome can ever be compared to the people of Naples? Here is the interesting point. The left quickly denounced the actions of the looters. But the current climate in Italy is febrile. The economy is deteriorating rapidly & the standard of living of many Italians is declining. Years of economic growth allowed Italians to ignore the maladministration of their country - indeed at all levels many were complicit in it - civil servants who didn't work or who, without shame worked badly, baby-pensioners, corrupt politicians. The left which has lacked a cause since the CIA lost interest in Italy & its problems at the end of the Cold War has found one resisting Berlusconi & the profiteers. They are all negative forces, not to be overestimated, but they exist & have led to the resurgence of home grown political terrorism in Italy. This is the beginning of the State losing the consent of some groups of its own citizens- the state has the forces of order but it has not kept its promise of delivering the goods in perpetuity without much reciprocal effort on the part of the citizens. This was the implicit promise that the Italian state made after the war. It pumped money into the South, it created a bureaucry kleptocracy, it oversaw national contracts which shared the wealth of industry with the workers, it propped-up those industries which couldn't take it & all the while it printed the money to allow it to do it. (to be cntd)
The "News" didn't fare any better than the diary in terms of currency. It seems such a simple and positive thing to write a little summary of events at La Faula, in our lives and in Italy in general - even if only for oneself - but for one reason of another it slips away and is never done. A major theme of these, our first years, taking La Faula in hand and creating a working farm and agriturismo, has been the removal of the nets and barbed-wire that surrounded the place when we arrived. If you live on a farm in Italy all around you there is the detritis of historic farm support policies - the barns painted ocre to show that they were state funded, the identikit over-large stalls, now empty, that hosted the same revolving group of cows when the inspectors came and in the case of the Faula the reinforcing-iron netting enclosing La Faula funded for purposes unfathomable now and foregotten even then shortly after. Now it turns out that steel reinforcing sheet netting is about the worst thing that you can use for fencing. The brambles quickly grow through, bindweed wraps around the trellis structure and with time the net is incorporated into the trees that grow along it. With time the net warps and bends, it breaks open-up where the sheets meet necessitating repairs - in this case the winding and binding of cords of barbed wire designed for military uses. It is this that for years we have been removing. The steel prevents the use of brush cutters and chain saws so first, like a sapper in Iraq you must edge forward through the brush and brambles with your bolt cutters. You don't risk being shot at, of course, but the brambles do their best to tear at your skin and clothes and the prickly acacia can give a good poke in the eye if you are not careful.