Malaise or Meltdown?
The pasta is still uniformly good; and the wines keep improving. But, though ten days in Rome do not an expert make, they allow certain impressions to take hold. And they are disquieting.
I had already posted on this site, a few weeks back, the Times’ Ian Fisher’s front-page report on the Italian “malaise” — a report that resonated widely in Italy itself, prompting a Presidential rejoinder in his annual “New Year’s Address” to the nation.
Throughout my stay in Rome the lead topic in the newspapers was the breakdown of sanitation removal in Naples, eliciting protests and confrontations in the city and surrounding towns, and drawing a rebuke from the European Union’s Environmental Agency. A piece in Tuesday’s Times expresses one inhabitant’s portentous reflection:
In Naples the mountains of garbage seem the symbol of a cosmic rot. Here the rot is not only visible; it has the power of portent.
If you know how to look, it’s easy to understand that this stinking, polluted filth, generator of profits both legal and illegal, is not some ancient relic but very modern, and that it underlines the precariousness of every sort of order, in every part of the planet.
Naples has been replaced in the headlines now by the conflict over the Pope’s visit to Rome’s oldest University, La Sapienza, founded over 700 hundred years ago by Boniface VIII, who also proclaimed the first Jubilee Year. Both Dante and the King of France couldn’t stomach Boniface: the former consigned him to Hell, the latter had him roughed up on earth. So it was probably sapient of Benedict to decline to run the leftist gauntlet and to send his address by parcel post. (It arrived in time because it was sent via the Vatican mail.)
The most recent contretemps (at least on last check) is the resignation of the Minister of Justice who discovered through the media that his wife had been confined to house arrest by zealous prosecutors in Campania. Given the garbage debacle it is probably a wise precaution to stay indoors in any event.
So it goes and one might be inclined to shrug it off as Italian melodrama, needing only a Verdi to set it to overwrought music — somewhere in between “Un Ballo in Maschera” and “La Forza del Destino.” But I think it may all be reaching a boiling point, and like the still looming Vesuvius, there may yet be an eruption.
Years ago, I wrote a short reflection for Commonweal. I commented on how one of the most frequently found words in Italian newspapers was “contestazione.” We, of course, have an English variant in “contestation” — but it is rare enough in English that my spell check refuses to recognize its legitimacy.
In Italian, “contestazione” seems the only nationally recognized way of proceeding. It can make for some comical episodes. But, of course, it has a never-far-removed dark side. The Red Brigades took contestazione into the streets with tragic results. And there are some ominous signs le Brigate Rosse may be staging a come back.
Where is that Justice Minister now that we need him?