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:
“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.”
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.