Unified, sort of

Today marks the 150th anniversary of Italian unification. To me who continually experiences Italy as an ancient place (I thought America was the spring chicken), this all feels very odd. But history is a mysterious and continually turning worm. And the fact is that Italy hasn’t been Italy-as-the-rest-of-us-know-it for very long. A fellow blogger explains it in user-friendly terms here, but if you are interested in a more in-depth, editorialized, psycho-historic, insider’s view, please read The Italians, specifically “Conclusion,” by Luigi Barzini. In the midst of his depressing final analysis that nothing has really changed in Italy, he writes:

Milanese for "The Oldest Ortolano in Milan"

“It took three generations of patriots, thinkers, dreamers, soldiers, poets, musicians, statesmen, revolutionaries, and adventurers to achieve unity in 1861. And yet, in spite of the great number of people who contributed to it, it was not won by the Italians as a whole. No rising tide of popular indignation animated the movement. The people believing in the Risorgimento, or the rebirth of their country, were the liberal and progressive minorities of the aristocracy and the enlightened bourgeoisie. The great masses, the majority of the élite and the peasants, watched the events with scepticism and diffidence.”

Fruits and vegetables—only for the true MIlanese? Of course not.

I would say the scepticism remains. People still relate to a descriptor of themselves that is more rooted in the local and the tribal. The vestiges of the kingdoms are still there on the surface of the cities, and maybe still in the hearts of the people. The elderly hang on to their dialects. They make exchanges in front of my dumb, curious glances and regard me with a mixture of sorrow, secrecy, humor and pity. “You don’t understand,” they seem to say making no effort to translate themselves into modern Italian. They refer to the words themselves but also to the whole history behind them. They are right. I don’t understand, and one book and thirteen years living here aren’t going to solve that problem. But I will keep trying. And meanwhile, history continues to turn, and for the moment, we are all in the churn together.

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7 Responses to Unified, sort of

  1. bagnidilucca says:

    The Italians by Luigi Barzini is THE best book about Italians and why they are the way they are. I love the description of “campanilismo”. It is time I read this book again, thanks for the reminder. Italy is very complicated. I am always amused when people say to me, when they know I have a house in Italy, that I must just love sitting around having long lunches every day. They don’t believe me when I tell them that Italians go to work in offices, just like in Australia. They call me a cynic. As a foreigner, I can come here and enjoy the best the country has to offer, and there are so many wonderful things, and try to overlook the things that don’t please me. I do realise this is selfish, but I can’t change anything here.

    • Yes! You’ve stated that very well. In fact, Barzini talks about that…about how foreigners come to Italy and find it so charming and, in fact, are treated like a sort of royalty so that it is easy for them to overlook all the problems. I am aware that this happens, and that all that I find so “curative” about Italy exists alongside other realities that, for natives, may actually be the source of real difficulty. Professionally, I have NOT found Italy an easy place to live, so in that I can relate to Italians…but that is another story.

  2. bagnidilucca says:

    Thanks for the reference to my blog. I know I just skimmed the surface, but I hope it will inspire people to look further.

  3. Anna Harrison says:

    Cool info! Char, hope you don’t mind my asking but who is bagnidilucca? I always love her comments (I gather she is Australian, living in Italy?) and just checked out the link to her blog. Bagni di Lucca, the place, looks incredibly beautiful… would love to know more.
    xo,Anna

  4. I ran into her, or she ran into me, in the blogosphere…don’t really remember in what order it happened. But, yes, she lives here I think 4 months out of the year. If you go to the “about” section of her blog, she explains it all. Very, very interesting. And lots of good information about living in Italy, her day-to-day experiences, etc. Debra Kolkka is her name.

  5. Pingback: Closed/Week in review | The Daily Cure

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