I hate blogging, I really do. I don’t particularly like writing, and photography bores me. I don’t care if anyone reads my blog, either, because what difference does it make? It’s just communication, and that’s not high on my list of “What’s Important in Life.” Also, how does anyone know if I’m telling the truth? Or if I’m just lying lying lying, my pants burning to cinders, like I’m doing right now?
Yep. Lying. That nasty art that Italians are said to be very adept at. There are (1) big, political lies, (2) little white ones, and (3) that other type that takes the form of creatively working your way around various rules and regulations. (I once heard that a great deal of money was made in Naples selling t-shirts that had life-sized, fastened car seat belts printed on the front).
I’ve not had much first-hand experience with the first variety, though the papers are full of them. Meanwhile, little white lies are a dime a dozen and an integral part of everyday life, not so much because deceit is admired, but because hurting feelings is not. (If you’re ever invited to a party here and you’d rather not go, the American “I’ll try”—usually followed by non-attendance—or “Y’know? I just don’t really feel up to it” will not do. You must create, on the spot, a damn good reason why you cannot be there, even if there isn’t one. The third variety of lie is often so ingenious that it seems to qualify for admiration. Except you have to wonder: what if all that creativity were put into something truly positive and constructive? And besides, wouldn’t it be better to actually wear a seat-belt then just to have one printed on your shirt?
That said, I’m fairly certain there’s a strong link between bureaucracy-laden society and creative rule-breaking. It’s a way of maintaining your sanity and your dignity when every inch of your life has been codified. This axiom is a given in Italian society. It’s why traffic cops turn a blind eye in the face of small infractions, and why Milanese citizens feel free to discuss and negotiate with the very same men or women in uniform when they don’t.
Why bring this up now? Because, with Christmas upon us, one of Italy’s most famous liars is back in vogue, and seeing him has brought all this to mind. If you go to the lovely Antica Cartoleria (paper, office, and school supply store) in Via Ruffini, he stands sentry at the door. He sits on the Christmas wreath. He adorns wrapping paper. And he comes in miniature to hang on your Christmas tree at €2 a pop. His red cap and wooden body are Christmas-y by nature, but he’s a national treasure all year round.
It’s not that dishonesty is well-regarded. It’s that lying is understood, especially in children. It’s also understood, as the story of Pinocchio tells us, that, aside from the little white lies that are invented to save feelings, dishonesty isn’t generally a good trait in the adult of the species. Best to nip it in the bud. All the above, in my opinion, makes Pinocchio an odd and rather complex symbol to hang on the Christmas tree, but I’ll do it nonetheless. Despite his tell-tale nose, he’s undeniably cute.