Do you remember a famous painting, where an Italian knight with a feather in his cap passionately kisses a girl dressed in blue? It is “Il Bacio” ( The Kiss, 1859) by Francesco Hayez, the Italian painter and patriot. We don’t see the faces of the lovers, we only see his cap and her hair and the amazing twist of their bodies.
Well, to judge by his cap, that soldier was from an Alpine regiment. A battalion, a division, currently celebrating in Torino their annual anniversary — 150 years of Italian unity.
To put it bluntly, this is an invasion of Alpini of this elegant geometric royal and dignified city. Still a military city, and the first capital of united Italy in 1861. But the 350 000 Alpini who came for the weekend in buses cars bikes trailers trains airplanes with flags tools instruments and a ton of booze and food, visually overwhelmed the normal inhabitants of this multiethnic tourist city.
The locals retreated from them, either shyly or angrily. In a poll by La Stampa, the major daily from Turin, most of them supported the big patriotic feast, but a high percentage also resented it.
Now, first things first. This is a military parade of thousands of uniformed men (women very rarely appear, if, only to play a flute in the military band). It is a voluntary military corps from all over Italy, which was engaged in official state military enterprises such as Afghanistan or Kosovo, or in rescue issues such as earthquakes and floods.
They all sport green caps with a black feather, and they are very loud and boisterous.
Turin was blocked by the police in their honor. They camped by the river Po, they sat 24 hours round the clock in the squares, bars. streets. Most joints had written “Alpini Welcome” but some barred their windows afraid of violence and damage.
It is election campaign time in Italy. On May 15 the local administrations will be elected all over the peninsula. So besides the Alpini, you suffer the local politicians cruising with their own faces on flyers and t shirts, demanding political support. Then you have the usual beggars of all colors and nationalities: Torino has a unique colorful variety of street beggars, keen to prey on tourists. Then the standard street sellers of books, ice creams, gadgets, African voodoo and Torino black magic gear. Finally the two impressive museums full of children and students: the Museum of Cinema and the Egyptian Museum.
Did I forget anybody in this incredible crowd?
Last but not least. It was Festa della Mamma, the Mothers Day in a country where la Mamma is the biggest public institution after spaghetti. So you see Alpini in drunken tears with devices in their hands, speaking to their distant moms. A regiment even sang a classic Italian song Mamma with a lot of trumpets and drums.
These brothers of Italy however forgot the sisters. The women were left at home with children. I was told that’ s how it is done, if you are an Alpino. These volunteer warriors, loud and bold and claiming to fight for a good cause, resembled the Serbian military and paramilitary which conquered the downtown of Belgrade at the beginning of the Balkan wars. I shivered with mixed feelings of fear and memory. Aircraft flew over our heads coloring the sky with the Italian flag pattern. Balloons and helicopters, too.
The parade started at 9 a.m from the monument of the first king of united Italy, and ended in the biggest open square in Italy at 9 p.m. Even the right wing politicians in power in this region (and some separatists) — showed up to salute.
This is one of those semiotic confusions: a right and a left winged militarism actually doesn’t differ at all. Is there another way of showing off your united country and your healthy patriotism except for shouting and invading cities, I wonder?
That young knight passionately kissing the girl, representing a newly united Italy, makes an unlikely part of this group: mostly aging, tipsy men in a rather vulgar regimental get-up, lacking the elegance of a young and idealistic Italy. In particular: where are the Hayez Italian girls in this parade? Only few months ago, Italy’s women were in millions fighting in the same square for their elementary rights and dignity against the macho sexist regime of the premiere Berlusconi.
In Risorgimento struggles for unity, Italian women were extremely active and important. Now they are reduced to escort girls and trademarks for power. Italy without women in power in the streets is not united anymore. With or without the flags and the Alpini.