Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Odio et Amo - I hate and I love

Is this what is left of my country?
Odi et amo quare id faciam fortasse requiris, wrote Catullo in one of his poems, which, in English, translates into: I hate and I love it. Why I do this you may ask.

The Italian elections are over. The results are not promising. The PD, strongly advertised to the Italians living abroad, has yet to decide whether to form a "government" with Beppe Grillo, mmm, yes, the dorky comedian/accountant who used to make the housewives laugh in the 80s. When I last saw his face shouting in my hotel room in Turin, I imagined the audience he was talking to - people sitting with blankets on their legs in old people's houses. Yeah, not the kind of candidate you would expect to lead a country... The alternative for the PD is to govern with, ahem, I know it is embarrassing, but the Italians voted him again. Yes, him, the man who forced Italy to become a whore and who is now proposing to come back to take care of her. I will not write his name.

So the Italians I know on Facebook either want to emigrate or to have their country taken over by zombies. I know what you are thinking, dear English friend: "not having a government is better than having one - funny, thanks" And I know what you are thinking, dear American friend, "but why is Italy in such bad situation?"

Why? Because I think optimism, care for others, sense of respect, duty and responsibility, things which are essential to keep a country together, have been steadily going downhill in my country ever since I left it, in 1996.

So there is a country on the other side of the Atlantic which I obsessively love, belong to and miss with all my heart. No other country in the world can make me so feel so at home, laugh, chat, dream, shout, scream and bring tears of joy to my face when I visit it. And I can't think of a different country where I would like to retire and die. Yet I have a strong feeling of hate and resentment towards it.

When I was living in England, my choice was to forget that I was Italian and to have nothing to do with Italy, except for when I had to choose where to spend my holidays.

One day, I had to go to the Italian Consulate in London to get my passport stamped (and to pay for it, I'll better specify). I remember the shock when I saw a bunch of sad Italians, sat in a waiting room, with a number in their hands. Many of them had been waiting to see a clerk who could stamp their passport all morning. Others were engaged in a loud verbal fight with the social services woman, who was not able to get simple points across to them. Then there was a girl who was trying to persuade a clerk, with melodramatic tone, to give her money to travel back to Italy. That place was in London, yet it was so out of place, so messy and so back-worth. At some point, I remember thinking that I would rather remain unemployed than go back to look for work in Italy.

A few years later, after that rainy day in 1996 when I packed my two suitcases and left Italy, I went back home to visit my family. I remember thinking, aha, here they are. These are the same creepy old men I used to watch on TV. They are still there, having the same disrespectful conversations about politics while they are making racist comments and jokes with sexual innuendo to the partially dressed prost..., let's call them "women", smiling at them. Over the course of the 12 years I lived in England, these are the only changes I spotted: the increased number of swear words and disrespectful remarks uttered in a ten minute discussion by highly educated people, the louder shouting across classes and regional dialects and, finally, an increase in the number of intimate female parts shown on the screen. Sadly, the Italians sitting next to me, who were watching such a degrading image of their country, were not at all annoyed. On the contrary, they were adding swear words and disrespectful remarks (guarda che bella mignotta), while laughing, and they were calling me "puritan". I  was feeling like the tourist who is visiting a country that has been left behind and who is looking forward to going home (at the time, home for me was England, not Italy).

Yet, on the other hand, I could not fail to appreciate, with a bit of pride, the many things that the British always celebrated, at times with envy, at times with sarcasm, about my dear country. First of all, the culture, together with the class, the sense of beauty and the passion that characterize all things Italian, starting from the art, to then go to the architecture, the design, the craftsmanship, the fashion, not to mention the food.

And I grew tired (not to say resentful) of hearing that we, Italians, are known for being emotional, in particular for the melodrama that characterize our way of expressing ourselves; our way of over emphasizing everything and of acting out of irrationality in every situation. Well, the truth is that, whether we like it or not, we do have these weaknesses and we have others as well.

We are saccenti and bacchettoni (we are people who think they know it all, preach others and seek recognition for the smallest thing we say or do), we preach using quotes from the Latins and from the Ancient Greeks and then practice the opposite. We set complicated rules for others to follow, which we hardly ever follow ourselves. We are litigious, contentious, we make vague but grandiose promises of loyalty and commitment but are only able to be loyal to our family and sometimes to our friends. We defend our family with passion even when they are wrong and it doesn't make sense. We are able to create alliances with few people only - we don't trust anybody else. We give the least we can possibly give to others as we believe we will not receive anything in return. I see this in the Italian community here in Boston. Most Italians who live here stick to small groups - usually, their friends - and they are only worried about defending their interests and need of competing against others for power. Just like Italian teenagers in high-school. The ex President of one of the most prestigious Italian-American organizations told me to stay away from the Italians because of these reasons. Sad.

It is not by chance that this year we celebrate Italy, here in Boston, with three types of events: literature symposiums for fine educated minds (you don't speak Latin? Your problem!), art exhibitions with a bunch of our treasures (you know, we like to show off) and performances of a Pinocchio play, the story about bad behavior and deception that has made us famous.

I cannot help thinking that the results of every single Italian election since I left Italy in 1994 has been the logical consequence of all this.

There is a joke about Sicily worth mentioning here as I think it can be easily extended to Italy as a whole. That's how it goes. While God was making Italy, he decided to put loads of nice things in it: a beautiful sunshine, mountains, lakes, rivers, the greatest monuments, the most exquisite collection of art pieces, the most amazing cuisine and wine, WAIT, WAIT, BUT THAT CANNOT BE ON THE EARTH, somebody must have said. "Don't worry", God replied with confidence: "I'll put the Italians". And I know there are Italians who would laugh at this, almost as to enjoy the sinister role they have in history.

So, dear countrymen, our problem is not the politicians, it is not your Facebook friends who want to emigrate, it is not the people like me, who left the country long time ago. You can blame whoever you want, but at the end, I am afraid you'll have to come to terms with this fact: the problem is us: the Italians. Full stop.


  1. Ciao Enrica

    Here is an other Italian mama in Boston and here is my blog!

    We should connect I am in West Newton, I tried to become a follower of your blog but I do not seem to find an option.



  2. Yes, let's get in touch. My son goes to preschool in Newton. Can you come to Arlington on either tuesdays or thursdays morning or for lunch? For the entire month of April there is a get together of all the Italian moms.
    A presto!

  3. Volevo finire questo post con una nota di speranza ma poi ho iniziato ad immaginare il giorno in cui mio figlio William andra' a visitare la mia citta', quando sara' un uomo. Che cosa trovera'? Non facevo altro che pensare ad un deserto: Chiese vuote, palazzi antichi senza scale e senza porte con ornamenti, perche' qualcuno le ha portate via e le ha vendute a poco prezzo. E pensare che qui a Boston mettono in vendita oggetti di vario tipo nel prato accanto alla casa, insieme ad un barattolo per le donazioni. Nessuno prende un oggetto senza pagare. Una rabbia!