Hunting for New Esthetic
In Englsih,en frnacais
What a strange country, my American friend keeps saying after years of experience here: I can understand the Serbians, I can understand almost anybody in the world now, but not Italians. Why do Italians say things everyone knows they don’t mean? Why do Italians tolerate things they all claim to despise?
It’ s not easy to be Italian, because you just have to know why certain things happen, over and over again throughout history, although nobody wants them or plans them. But also, very importantly: nobody stops them. One of them is corruption.
Many years ago, when I was a girl living in Italy with my parents, my father worked for the Yugoslav import export firm with a prominent site in Milano Italy. One important expense to run his firm, an expense rather hard to demonstrate to his Yugoslav accountants, was the bribes he paid to high ranked officials in the Italian police and government.
For Italians this activity was merely a public secret.
It goes without saying in Italy that nothing is possible, yet everything is doable. The laws were rigid and hard and byzantine, but in practice, full of properly-oiled junctures that were centuries old. For the connected, for lawyers, masons, rich and potent families, and the mafia, the system worked pretty fine. The unwritten rules were known to everybody: almost every social actor of any consequence was in the game. If nobody is innocent, then nobody is guilty.
Then along came the latest scandal to preoccupy the local and foreign press. It concerns the Lega Nord, the right winged party of blunt Northern honesty, and its long-time party leader, Umberto Bossi. Bossi resigned when it was discovered that the party’s finance funds had been lavishly distributed to his family members and their inner circle of fixers.
Bossi was a major ally of Berlusconi, who resigned some months ago because of sex scandals, corruption scandals and, most of all, the imminent and terrifying collapse of the entire Italian economy. With Berlusconi sidelined, his ally Bossi was the major, if not the only, opposition to the premiere currently in power, Monti.
Sincerely, this news about a politician’s family soaking up party slush funds is no news to all to common-sense citizens in Italy. The only novel aspect is that Bossi resigned so quickly with tears in his eyes, rather than doggedly hanging on and attacking the legal system, as Berlusconi always used to do. The chain of omertà is breaking again; the barrel is leaking.
Italy knows that is in bad shape today: Monti’s reforms have banished the Berlusconi false optimism, and the squandering of an economy deeply in crisis. But it has scarcely touched the roots of the national decay.
Nobody who matters has dared to tackle any structural problem with the way the country is managed. The poorest and most transparent citizens, who lack secret bank accounts and hidden lives, are paying the public price for the alleged “stabilization.” Cases of suicide because of economic stress are daily news in Italy. People end their lives, out of sense of fear, or of honor.
In older times, people wrecked by bankruptcy expected to commit suicide to save their family honor, their all-important social capital. But today, while one percent of the world population commands almost all the world’s treasure, somehow that act does not make any sense. Shamed Italians don’t dutifully die to give someone else a chance to do better, but because they see no escape at all.
A new despair haunts the Italian old order. It’s almost tangible, a look-and-feel, a new public esthetic. It’s not about a recession and the mere lack of cash. It’s about a deep fear of the future and the imminent end of the precarious Italian way of life. It’s visible in Italian streets, shops, windows, restaurants, and galleries.
The crisis is general and cultural, it hits the mass base of consumers who avoid their restaurants, fire their cleaning services, take buses instead of driving their fast cars, dodge their mortgage payments, pull their kids from fancy schools and shut down their old people’s hospitals. It strikes the roots of their existence as prosperous and settled Europeans. Only the most vital members of this waning, elderly society can see this great crisis as the opportunity for a new way of life.
What would that new life be? Home made slow food and wines? Barter-like exchanges of goods and services? Ethical banks of citizens and local associations acting as trade unions? A life of home-spun voluntary simplicity, of old folks scrimping and making-do?
How can Italy live without its Italianity: without the fancy shoes and designer shops, without high society, fake aristocracy and royal gossip, without Formula One cars, yachts and roaring motorcycles, without top models and smiling, crooked politicians? Italians are deeply superficial, their wisdom is in their skin: the looks, the esthetics. The poorest dishes are arranged like English gardens, the dreariest news is sung in operatic voices.
My Italian friend on a pension says: these young people today don’t even remember the days when the people had some rights: they are used to living without any security, without permanent jobs or any housing of their own. The young today live off our pensions and in our flats, and they are not even young anymore: we are the last generation that remembers the better times.
As a Serbian who went through a much bigger and faster fall of a society, from civilization to barbarism, I must say that the Italians suffer losses that the Serbians scarcely bothered to notice. The look and feel of everyday life in Serbia meant Tito-style Communism replaced by warfare, a nakedly criminal power structure and a flourishing black market. In Italy the corruption scandals of the ancient regime, and the failure of the anti corruption policy, leave a painful void in this beautiful part of a decadent world.
Globalization and tourism did not save them; the foreigners gladly took part as accomplices, unconcerned to know how much local injustice was hidden in the delicate leather of a branded pair of shoes.
This crisis in Italy is the opposite of elegance: the daily news are full of small frauds, petty quarrels turned violent, suicides with family homicides, not to speak of the semi-legalized rip-offs of the populace by phone companies, gas companies, and electricity providers and of course the banks. Plus a new-style, Europeanized criminality: babies are bought by rich, old, childless European couples from women on the EU periphery, complete with legal papers and fake identities.
However, the coffee is still good, the spaghetti is toothsome and cheap good wine is available wherever waters are polluted. But “il pranzo del papa” is no longer the custom in Rome, or so I’m told: once you could always get a kindly dish of free pasta, provided you drank only water and ate hidden in the restaurant kitchen. Even the grand and glittering mercy of Popes is not what it used to be!
My Name is Jasmina Tesanovic, i am a serbian/usa/italian author/ feminist. Godd morning.
This is not going to be easy, for me nor for you: it is not meant to be easy, on the contrary: because your ee i am not a designer, i am not even a wanna be no somebody who appreciates your efforts or understands the modern stardom of designers. And as a contemporary activist who lived and survived the biggest war crime in the world after world war two, the genocide in srebrenica,i felt the moral obligation of looking into the past, with the eyes of the present and with the duties of the future.