Continued from 29 October....
But there was a difference. Loris’s father and uncles had never driven any kind of motorised vehicle. Ploughs were pulled by oxen and horses were used to pull the carts. So at the age of 12 Loris became the family tractor driver. And not only. Sewing of seeds had been done with manual seed drills. With the tractors came mechanised seed drills. And with the seeds came fertilisers, pesticides and fungicides, all things that Loris’s father and uncles had never used in quantity. So Loris was responsible for mixing-up quantities of chemicals, ignorant of any risks, often with his bare hands. The burgeoning crops brought cash. And the expenditure of that cash was funnelled by Coldiretti, the Catholic Farmers Union, with its roots in each parish, representing and controlling the farmers, effectuating the implementation of Government agricultural policy, the quid pro quo being the growth and financial security of farmers, but particularly smallholders.
From the time that Loris entered into agriculture on his family’s farm all he ever knew was growth, comfort, new tractors and farm implements.
By the time that I arrived in Ravosa in 1997 the unified family farm had been divided amongst the three brothers. Whereas, following the Second World War, they had been obliged to operate collectively to have a single viable farm, by the early 1990’s their farm had reached the size where it effectively could be divided into three viable farms. Each brother took his share of the fields and woods and they continued to share the machinery. Loris remained the principal tractor driver but over time his father and uncles had also become used to tractors and modern agricultural practices.
So it was that when Loris’s father granted him effective ownership of the farm, as any young farmer would, he surveyed his machinery and decided what he needed to change and buy to increase the farm’s productivity. And he was able, in a brief number of years, to buy two large tractors, two trailers, a modern seed drill, plough, grinder of cut maize stalks and various other farm implements; all without going into debt.
And he lived comfortably in a large three-story house, with barn, workshop, and cow stall that his father and uncles had built with help from stonemason relatives, utilising a 100% zero interest lone funded by the Italian State. As those were times of inflation the loan soon dwindled to irrelevance. In one generation - in fact, in the period of 40 years - Loris’s family had moved from the misery of abject poverty to being landholders with significant capital and cash flow!
to be continued....
Continued from 24 October....
While Loris’s father and uncles were in Switzerland working, Italy was receiving Marshall Fund aid from the United States. Italian emigrants from all over the world sent remittances home to their families. And Italy operated an extremely loose monetary policy. Reconstruction, a massive surplus of labour (young men) after the Second World War, industrialisation, increasing productivity on the land (through land reform, mechanisation and the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides), rapidly reducing infant mortality and increases in health, the formation of the first economic ’communities’, forerunners to the European Common Market, all lead Italy into a period of strong growth during the 1950’s and 1960’s.
At the end of the Second World War, Italy was still a predominantly rural society, but with most peasants not owning their own land. As infant mortality dropped and life expectancy rose the economic structure of rural Italy proved unable to support the growing population so young men, principally, but also young women, emigrated either to the large industrial cities of Torino and Milano or overseas. In this world share-cropping for the major landowners ceased to be an option in a democratic society so the Democratic Christian Party undertook far-reaching land reforms which had the effect of placing the land in the ownership of those that worked it. Resistance to these reforms from the major landowners was muted as the demise of share-cropping had already largely rendered their continued ownership of their estates economically untenable.
So it was that when Loris’s father and uncles returned from Switzerland, they brought with them a pile of money; the first real cash that they or ancestors had ever accumulated. The Italian Parliament, at that point reflecting the predominantly rural nature of the society, conservative, catholic and most likely voting for the Democratic Christian Party assisted small-holding farmers to expand, increase the size of their stalls, buy livestock, tractors, even to build houses on zero-interest mortgages. The strong inflation of the time relieved farmers (and not only farmers) of the burden of debt incurred to improve and add to their capital stock.
It was possible to start with nothing, emigrate and accumulate some capital, and return and create an economically viable small farm with latest model Fiat tractor, a new stall paid for by the state, livestock to populate the stall and construct a large house for each individual family until that time living communally in the old farmhouse. And in Friuli following the earthquake of 1976 the state also paid for an inside toilet!
Loris left school when he was 14 years old to work with his father and uncles. As was common, family members pooled their resources and farmed in common. This enabled economies of scale and higher productivity from mechanisation than would have been the case if every nuclear family had farmed alone. It also reflected the communal life lived by rural communities up until that time.
to be continued ....
The photo of the day is of our friend Loris, a cereals farmer who lives in Ravosa. The story of Loris’s new tractor is a story of what happens when a country, over time, becomes poorer.
Within the scope of human memory, Loris’s family have always lived in Ravosa. They believe that for most of that time their ancestors were dirt-poor subsistence farmers. They have good reasons for that belief as Loris’s father and uncles had direct experience of grinding poverty in their youth. Their ancestors might have been serfs - certainly they did not own their own farmland. The end of the Second World War, however, gave them the possibility to emigrate and participate in the rapid economic growth enjoyed by the non-Soviet Block countries of Western Europe in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
Loris’s father and uncles and others from their hamlet emigrated to Switzerland where they worked road-building. The work was manual and hard graft, but they were treated fairly, they saw another world, and, most importantly, what they earned was a small fortune in Italy.
to be continued ....
I called Luca and said that he was required by at La Faula. He sighed. The Italian State is an irresistible force. It pushes one whether one likes it or not. Whether Luca and I were inconvenienced or not was irrelevant. The job was being done, the visit was in motion and we had to bend ourselves to the exigencies and logic of the Carabiniere.
During the wait for Luca’s arrival the questioning began and the answers carefully noted. How many tables are their in the dining room (we counted them together)? What products do you prepare for the guests? Pesto, tomato sauce, jams and marmalades. The kitchen was inspected then the guest rooms.
"That gun there"? I looked to Lucas’ great-grandfather’s shotgun which I had mounted over a door in the lounge. I felt a chill. I wondered if the gun had been declared to the Carabiniere as the law required. Keeping an unregistered weapon at home is a serious offence.
"It is inoperable" I replied "I have removed the hammers"
The Commandant walked underneath the gun. It was true. I had removed the hammers and this was plain to see. Who would want an operable fire-arm in their house?
"Hmm" was the reply. And this lounge here. Is it for the use of all the guests or just for those with the bedroom running off it?"
I asked myself what possible use this information could be of to the Carabiniere.
"No, this lounge forms part of a Family Suite, it is only for the use of those staying in the Family Rooms on the top floor. There is a cord at the bottom of the stairs to limit access." I replied
We went through the rooms from the front to the back eventually exiting from the door at the rear of the house. As we returned to the dining room I heard the van with Luca coming up the drive.
"Where do you stay?" said the Commandant as we stood in front of the Faula entrance door. But he already knew because there was only the part of the house above the dining room that we had not visited.
"Above here" I replied. There is also a guest-room on this side of the house.
"And above there is the Meeting Room" he said.
He had understood the layout of the house and had confirmed to himself that it conformed to the map attached to the licence.
Luca stopped and exited the van. I feared that he might launch an attack at the Carabiniere himself and knowing that we shouldn’t test their patience any more I explained briefly who they were and told Luca that I had complained enough for both him and myself so he just needed to be cooperative!
The Carabiniere introduced themselves again and told Luca what they wanted. We, the Carabiniere and myself then returned to the dining room and Luca soon joined us with a files of plastic sleeves containing numerous papers.
After going through the papers relating to Maritza, the cleaning lady the Commandant removed a stapled sheaf of papers from his pile.
"Here is your request under the Rural Development Plan of 2007 for €423 to pay for Organic Certification of the vineyard." the Commandant said.
"It says here you have 4 milking cows."
"No" I replied. "We never had milking cows. We have only had beef cattle for butchering."
"Well, why did you sign then that you had milking cows?" said the Commandant.
"Look" I said. "You know full well that individual farmers are unable to complete any paperwork as the modules, by law, may only be compiled by the relevant farmers union. The Farmers Union calls you up at the last minute, you rush down with all the other farmers, everyone signs, no-one reads. It’s a typical Italian story" I said
"Look" I continued. "I’m a lawyer. I worked in the City of London for nine years. I speak and read Italian. Do you think I understand anything regarding how things work here. And more to the point: do you?"
We stared at each other. I turned to Luca. "Fine" I said. "Fine. That’s it. From now on we don’t sign anything unless we have read and understood it. Let’s see how this is taken when we hold-up the line at the farmers union!"
The Commandant continued compiling his forms. When he had finished it was time to visit the outside of the farm and view the Agricultural structures, machinery and, of course, the beef cattle. The morning was sunny and warm and it was intrinsically pleasurable walking around the farm-yard. We pointed out the barn, the machinery, the vineyards. Everything was noted but the tension dissolved in the morning sun and we chatted as we walked. When we got to the hay-bale feeder of course the cows weren’t there. Having already eaten, they were sunning themselves at the end of the field.
"Get some maize flour and call the cows" I said to Luca
The Carabiniere walked towards the hay-bale feeder not seeing the electric fence wire transparent in the sun. The electric fence controller is right there, next to the hay-bale feeder. It is the very best place to get the best electric shock. I suddenly had the image of him getting shocked and his pistol discharging.
"Be careful!" I ordered. There is an electric fence right in front of you!"
He stopped and suddenly focussed on the thin stands of aluminium wire that were only centimetres from his body.
I guessed that where he came from there were no electric fences and I had a feeling that something rather unpleasant had only just been averted.
Luca entered the cow paddock with a bucket of maize flour. He disappeared from view by we heard in the distance his "chow, chow, chow" as he called the cows to feed. Eventually he returned with the cows behind him. But when they saw the Carabiniere watching them they stopped warily. "Chow, chow, chow" went Luca but something about the routine was strange and disquietening to the cows and they came very slowly to the feeder.
"Three cows" I said. "There they are."
The Commandant had taken a call on his telephone and had turned away from us as he spoke.
"Commandante" said the other Carabiniere. "The cows are here".
The Commandant turned, finished his conversation, counted the cows and we carried on to the vegetable garden.
"So what do you grow here" said the Commandant.
"Well, in spring and early summer we have rocket and lettuce. Then the zucchini start producing. We have basil for the pesto, gherkins and cucumbers, potatoes, Swiss-Chard and of course you can see the egg-plants and tomatoes.
"Of course the tomatoes and eggplants don’t grow as in the South of Italy, but this summer was hot so we had a good crop of vegetables. It was just that bit too dry so we had to water every evening"
We then turned to discussing the various merits of vegetables grown in the South of Italy compared to the North which has a cooler climate and shorter growing season. This inexorably lead to wine and the developments in wine producing in Calabria and Puglia. And I realised that the census was over.
Now, I could finish this diary entry, as I had intended by linking to some videos - very disturbing videos - that have appeared in the websites of National Newspapers where the police and Carabiniere have been photographed and filmed exercising their power in a disturbing way. But that would give the wrong impression because the two Carabiniere who undertook the census at La Faula were courteous and correct. They did their job properly without officiousness.
The real problem is that after the visit we felt invaded and the idea that all those aspects of La Faula that are ours, that we have created, those things that make La Faula special to us should be recorded, classified and catalogued on a national police database left us feeling violated.
The purpose of the visit was to give the police authorities a picture of every business that has received EU subsidies at one time or another. That much we know because the creation of the new Carabiniere Command with this responsibility is well known. But there are already other Military Commands with the same role such as that of the Guardia di Finanza. And the receipt of EU funds by farms in Friuli is controlled and regulated by the Friuli Regional Body Responsible for the Development of Agriculture.
It is correct that those who receive EU monies should be held to account for them. But in a typical Italian way - the way of incompetence and waste - instead of streamlining the process the State responds by layering another level of bureaucracy above those existing. And every additional layer requires more intrinsic powers so the Regional Inspectors are deemed to be inadequate,and the Guardia di Finanza is not enough so a new command of the Carabiniere is created and in this way Mario Monti, dissembler and manipulator, can convince the Germans that their money, the money they work for, will be well spent in Italy!
PostScript: Fully one-half of the Italian Regional Governmental administrations are under investigation for corruption and misuse of public money and one-half of Regional Governments are under investigation for instances of buying votes from organised crime.
After perusing my identity card, making sure that it was me and that it had not expired the Commandant removed a pile of papers from his satchel. From the papers he removed the latest declaration itemizing our activities and assets submitted by the Farmer’s Union but signed by Luca. From his satchel he then removed a sheaf of preprinted pages that were clearly identifiable as a facsimile of a computer screen, the page broken down into many fields under different headings. It was to be a census and the information would then be loaded onto a national database and the State would know all about us because it had been to La Faula to see and verify for itself!
’Could I have all your licences’ asked the Commandant.
’Well there you have it’ I replied. ’Berlusconi, the elected Prime Minister was turfed out on the pretext that it would take the un-elected Monti to liberalize Italy. But now the first thing that you are going to check is that we have all the correct licenses and that they are up-to-date’
’That’s right’ replied the Commandant. ’And I also need your Certificate of Registration with the Chamber of Commerce’.
I stared at the two Carabiniere. ’But you know, I don’t know where all this stuff is. It’s my partner Luca who deals with the Bureaucracy and he is away from La Faula right now.’
The Commandant expressed his displeasure at this news.
I could feel my indignation rising. ’What do you expect, that someone who knows where all the myriad and numerous forms and papers are filed should always be present at La Faula to ensure that every organ of the State that turns up doesn’t have to lose time?
’See if you can contact him and find out where the information is’ said the Commandant. ’Lets finish this in one go. It’s better!’
Of course the Commandant was right. It was better to get the whole thing over and done with straight away so I called Luca, explained the situation and he told me to go into the filing cabinet and open the middle drawer - or was that the draw two-thirds of the way up - and there, probably in the first set of hanging folders - or maybe towards the middle - I should find some plastic sleeves with the information the Carabiniere needed.
I loaded up with the plastic file-sleeves thinking that Luca would probably kill me if I had got the wrong one’s and had put everything out of order. But the Commandant had done this before and he knew what he was looking for so I pushed the pile towards him and let it to him to leaf through and find what he wanted. While he was doing this the possibility of a wonderful photo presented itself: the Commandant resplendent in his uniform sitting before piles of files, the other Carabiniere to the Commandant’s side, back to the wall, black pistol much in evidence. It would be a compact picture that would say it all.
’Look’ I said pleasantly. I wonder if I could take a photo of you for my diary. You know, something for the blog’
This was the only point that the Carabiniere turned nasty. ’No photos and remember that if I want to I can go through this place with a fine-tooth comb and fine you for every infraction I find’
The point was taken. Pity though, a great photo was missed and I had to content myself by slipping out later and photographing the Carabiniere car outside the house.
Having satisfied himself with the paperwork the Commandant started the questioning. What are your activities here, what is your principle agricultural activity, how many sleeping places have you in the Agriturismo, what services do you offer, what food products do you make and serve? The questions went on and on. And, of course, he already knew the answers because he had read them in the declarations that we had made over time and which he had a copy of. Just a little test!
’So who works for you?’ said the Commandant. ’Well’, I said ’we only have one employee and she is the cleaning lady. But she doesn’t work now because the Agriturismo is closed for the winter. We only have a seasonal licence’ I emphasised. ’Please bring me her contract and the latest copy of her pay-slip’ requested the Commandant and my heart sank as I knew this would require another call to Luca.
’I’ll have to call Luca again’ I said to the Commandant.
’You might as well suggest that he returns’ replied the Commandant. He is the Legal Representative of La Faula so it is better if he is here’
to be continued ......
Before continuing with the story of the visit of the Carabiniere to La Faula I wanted to note that today is a very important day for Italy. The link below is to a video interview posted in the FT website today where the Unicredit Bank Chief Economist explains that Italy’s fate looks brighter than Spain’s.
But today is not important to Italy for this reason. Rather we are in the moment when Italy has slid into the abyss. This is the moment when Italy’s economy begins to track that of Greece. But nobody feels it. Italy is free-falling. It is no longer a slow-motion train wreck but a plummeting, flailing, kinetic disaster. That Italy has numerous uncovered and unfunded liabilities seems certain given the steady stream of those that come to light at the point at which they become critical. The Monti government, believing that the black economy amounted to 18% of GDP and believing that an international rescue would oblige it to cut existing pensions and reduce the civil service by laying people off, adopted the undeclared strategy of making cosmetic reforms while helping itself to the undeclared income that it thought was there for the taking if just enough force and intimidation was applied.
That the Italian State has not found the 18% of undeclared GDP is not in doubt. That it has mortally wounded the productive (private) sector by applying usurious tax rates is no longer in doubt. The private sector is inexorably shrinking as businesses fail or close. Today, one of the large unions threatened a general strike. But a General Strike, in Italy, is by now an irrelevance. There is nothing to strike against. The Monti government got there first and fatally wounded the capitalists. There is nothing to be gained by private sector employees striking against their private sector bosses. The productive capacity from which workers are paid has been exhausted because the Italian State, using the force at its disposal, previously stole and consumed the fruits of productive labour.
The Monti Government, representing the interests of pensioners and state employees, is the enemy of labour and of capital. Probably never in the history of mankind have the interests of capital and labour been so closely aligned as they are now in Italy!
Returning to the story of the Carabiniere ...
I went ahead of the Carabiniere and into the house. Passing into the dining room I stopped and by my presence blocked them in the doorway to the room. The two Carabiniere eyed me up and I kept my level gaze back. When I was a law student studying Constitutional Law in New Zealand I enjoyed the facts of old cases relating to the power of soldiers of the King (these were old cases) to enter private property. The cases established that an Englishman’s home really is his castle and the fact that these cases arrived before the King’s own judges was testament to the strength of conviction and courage of the plaintiffs and their belief in a right and wrong beyond that created by the justification of raw power and superior force. Now I was as one of these plaintiffs but alone. In Italy the Soldiers of the State (for the Carabiniere are soldiers and the Carabiniere - Carbiners - are a part of the military) have unlimited powers of entry in the exercise of their functions in property which while private is also used for commercial purposes.
But this was my stand. It was a matter of right and wrong. The Italian State is in the wrong in the way that it treats the private sector. The private sector moans and complains but can effectively do nothing. A business owner can hardly go on strike to protest State oppression! But, as a matter of principle a stand had to be made, even if isolated and unwitnessed. And I made it. And the Carabiniere didn’t know what to do.
I wasn’t trying to block them because I had something to hide. I wasn’t denying that they had the right under Italian law to be there. But I claimed against them that it was wrong. Plain wrong. Not that it was unfair or oppressive. But that they were in the wrong and so had no moral justification to be there. That was a tricky one.
So the Commandant of the Carabiniere explained to me that they, themselves, could think of many other things to do other than what they had come for. But he explained to me that the Monti Government had come to an agreement with the military service of the Carabiniere to create a new command responsible for controlling all businesses that receive European Union assistance and so as we had in past years received €423 (that is four hundred and twenty three Euros) he was at La Faula to verify the truth of everything that we had declared in our application. He said to me that he had to do it and if I didn’t like it I could write my letter of complaint to Monti.
At this point I had to back down. My stand had been made but to resist further would have escalated things to another level. ’I suppose you want my identity card’ I said. ’Yes’ was the reply so I invited the officers to come in and sit down and handed over my identity card. After my brief moment of ’Free La Faula’ I was again being managed by the Italian State. Only the Commandant sat down. The other Carabiniere remained on his feet, always with his back to the wall. The concept of civil policing by consent clearly never got to Italy! By now everything was pretty relaxed. The Commandant, rather cunningly, had adopted a kind of resigned-just-doing-my-job-and following-orders persona so it was quite hard to maintain the outrage on my part.
’Look’ I said. The Italian State is destroying this country and, in the final analysis, it’s you that are doing it. You are, in reality, the force of the State’.
’Following orders does not excuse you from moral culpability. You are the force that Monti exercises.’
Here I have to say that I was extremely fortunate that both Carabiniere were from the South of Italy. When one comes from the South of Italy one knows the reality of the rot that is Italy and that the way power is exercised can be used to engender respect or fear, cooperation or obstinance. These Carabiniere, through their manners, and calm and patience, and respectful acknowledgement of my position, although neither agreeing or disagreeing with it, were gaining my willing cooperation. Our experience of inspections by Friulani officials has been the opposite. Self-righteous, rigid, martinets revelling in their power and authority. Things would have proceeded rather differently if the officers had been Friulani.
to be continued .....
So, here we were, just a little famous for having put Ravosa on the map, even if just for a few short minutes, on national TV. We had been chosen because within the Friuli region we are well know as producers of organic grapes and the Agriturismo is recognised as being of benefit to the Friuli Region. For this reason, two years ago we won a Gold Enterprise Award from the Chamber of Commerce.
Our activities are regulated by the Friuli Regional Department of Agriculture, ERSA, the Regional body for the development of agriculture, The Province of Udine Health Authority, the Udine Chamber of Commerce (which in Italy is a para-State entity), and the Povoletto Council which is responsible for issuing our licences. We are regularly inspected by the Guardia di Finanza Finance Police, the Nucleo Antisofisticazione of the Carabiniere responsible for Public Health matters, the ERSA Regional Inspectorate of Agriturismi, the Inspectorate for the Repression of Fraud in Agriculture and the local Health Department. On occasion, the local Council has conducted a walk-through just to make sure that we were respecting our licence terms.
Normally, inspections are carried out by officials in plane clothes. In theory this is to avoid disturbing the operation of the business but in practice it makes their activities more discreet and less obvious to the general public. So, you can imagine how surprised I was to see the Carabiniere car pull up outside La Faula. I quickly ran through my mind whether we had any problems or difficulties that could have prompted the visit. No, everything seemed in order, the summer had been a happy one for all. I was perplexed. And then concerned when I saw that the Officer exiting from the drivers side had rank and I was even more concerned when he opened the rear door and removed a briefcase. When the official briefcase appears the visit is not going to be a short one!
Lord Edward Coke (1552-1634) made the famous declaration "A man’s home is his castle – for where shall he be safe if it not be in his house?". This declaration was a direct challenge to the power of the King at the time, Charles I. Edward Coke is taught today in the law schools of common law countries. He is taught because he established, in a clear and unequivocal way, that the power of the ruler is not unlimited and is subject to other’s rights and customary restrictions. The doctrine that an Englishman’s home is his castle found its way into the Fourth Amendment to the American Constitution. In countries all over the world the right of the State, through its agents, to enter on private property is circumscribed and proportionate to the public good to be protected. But not in Italy.
In Italy, seed of 19th Century Nationalism, progenitor, incubator and developer of Fascism, Statism (statalismo), Corporatism (corporatismo), pyramidal-Hierarchy (gararchia) and Gerontocracy, private property must give way to the exigencies of the Italian State. The right of the State to inspect bears no relation to the public good to be protected. When this illiberal and authoritarian mix is leavened with the duplication, incompetence and inefficiency of the Italian public administration, the Italian owner of a private business normally grits his teeth and waits for the experience to be over and hoping to avoid the worst behaves like a lick-spittle.
I can’t do this. We are all human beings and we all have the right to be treated by those in authority in a manner respectful of the fact that we are carrying on our lawful activities. The Italian State, of course, must ensure that the legitimate public interest in private activity is safeguarded but it goes beyond that and demands that Italian businesses conform to the dysfunctional and twisted logic of Italian laws and administration. Business, in the Italian system, is a privilege, not to make a profit but to make a living - the rest is claimed by the State to pay pensioners and the public administration (i.e. the State itself).
So it was that I approached the Carabiniere and asked him what he wanted. He cleared his throat and introduced himself as the Commandant of the local Carabiniere Station. By this time the other Carabiniere had exited the car. I saw that he too held rank. I noted that both were armed.
’We are not here for an inspection’ said the Commandant, in a weary way. ’It’s more of a verification.’
’What do you think we are’ I said. ’Some kind of Railway Station where the Italian State in its many guises is continuously passing through?’ ’Do you think this is normal’?
There was no reply and, there was a heavy silence. I brought them inside.
(to be continued!)