Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Oh, the burden!

Martin has some links on an issue that is crucial to me in a very personal sense - Chile. There used to be a lot of Chilean refugees in Italy post 1973, and they shaped my ethics, and my politics, and my sense of music too. So I'm mirroring his link.

He also sets very high standards for his blogroll - and includes me. Gosh. I'm a bit humbled - I guess I'll have to live up to it. This means I'll have to read George Orwell's Politics and the English Language.

I agree with most of his points, though I have to admit that links from my booklog to Amazon will earn me some pennies. Er. I've got to think about this.

Revamped Anthem

Apparently, I had overlooked the fact that the national Anthem has, in fact, been sort of shook up a little to get the baroque and martial accretions gained over the ages fall off from the score. We have gone back, they assure us earnestly, to the orginal, "be it good or bad", as even our President Ciampi had to admit while talking to the National Socced Team.

Anyway, you can find out more about the hymn here than you probably ever wanted to. Everything is in Italian though - the Presidency did not think foreigners might be interested, obviously. I should scold them, but them they might follow me back here and be duly outraged by my lack of respect for the Symbol, "be it good or bad". In theory there's a "hear the anthem" link, but doesn't seem to work. Pity. Or possibly mercy, dunno.

Oh, well... not too depressing after all...

Monday, May 27, 2002

Election day

Local elections in Italy this past weekend. The results are coming in. 's fucking depressing, is what it is. 'nuff said.

I wasn't expecting anything different, really. But it's fucking depressing anyway. I need a beer.

Sunday, May 26, 2002

Singing the Anthem

While freedom of expression in this country takes unexpected turns (apparently, one of the points is that it's up to the Cavalier Berlusconi and his hench, er, collaborators to decide what is true criticism of him and his ways and what is "aggression", "partiality" and "violence") and if a journalist doesn't contradict the claim that the private TV is freer than the public one the concern is not if this is true but if he smeared the public image of the firm, one of the chief worries of our President of the Republic is if the Italian Soccer Team will finally start singing the National Anthem at the World Championship.

Now there are several problems with this. The first is the National Anthem itself. I guess not many of you can whistle it, eh? Thought so. It's close to a well-kept national secret. And it takes a lot to embarrass Italians.

The Italian Anthem is dreadful. The music is embarrassingly trumpety (it's hard to resist the temptation to go "Pa', parapa', parapappa-pappa-pa" at one point between stanzas). But not even the tune comes close to the horribleness of the lyrics, or as I once referred to it, its "high-falutiness". Anna Mazzoldi was prepared to me more indulgent with it:"Standard 19th century pomposity". The translation gives but a pale idea:

"Brothers of Italy, Italy hath woken up
Of Scipio's helmet it hath surrounded its brow
Where is Victory? Let She offer her tresses
That she is a slave of Rome, God created her!"

Most people are uncertain at what exactly this means. Who is exactly offering her tresses? According to Anna Mazzoldi,

No, no, no: "God made Victory a slave of Rome" is the correct reading.

So, the last 2 lines would be:

Where is Victory? Let her [Italy] present her [Italy's] mane to her [Victory] [so that Victory can crown Italy with laurel, presumably]: God made Victory a slave of Rome.

There are a few more verses too, and they ain't bad either ;-) They don't get sung very often, for some reason... The second verse starts:

The children of Italy are all called Balilla, the blast of every trumpet is a signal for the Vespers...

("The Vespers" were a nationalist insurrection in Sicily a few centuries back. "Balilla" was a local boy who started a nationalist insurrection in Genova by throwing stones at the police ;-). However, "Balilla" was also the name for one of the age-groups of the Fascist Party's youth organization.) (Another age-group was "children of the she-wolf" -- I swear ;-))

There's also a bit about "Stringiamoci a coorte, siamo pronti alla morte" (Let's draw up in a cohort, we're ready to die), that must have a superstitious people like the Italians in a frenzy of anxiety.

So text is difficult, close to nonsensical, alarmingly resonant of Fascist key words... it was chosen in the aftermath of the proclamation of the Republic (when the old Royal March was shipped off with the Royals themselves) as a sort of temporary anthem, but few people are enthusiastic about it. The vast majority of Italian don't know the words past the first stanza, and a lot of them don't know the first stanza either.

But lately there has been a resurgence of patriotic feeling. This has been a pet peeve of the current President of the Republic. He cares for it. He was seriously and publicily annoyed at Abbado (or was it Muti?) for having skipped it on the occasion of an opening at the Scala, and Muti (or Abbado) later made it up to him by producing an arrangement that made it a bit less offensive to the sensitive ears of somebody who cares about music. The President was pleased, an has been recommending the singing of the hymn since then. Being a widely respected figure, people have sort of shuffled their feet and mumbled a half-hearted promise to try to learn the words.

Apart from the soccer team, that is. I'm not sure what their problem is, if they have a deep aesthetic problem with the music or the text, or if they can't remember them from one match to the other - or, this being Italy, both things. Or perhaps they are just contrary souls. This being Italy an all. Home of contrary souls on stupid things. Anyway, at every interview they get asked if they will sing it this time around, and each time they shuffle their feet and mumble. We'll see, I guess.

It's a good thing I'll probably never stand in front of Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, torn between the desire not to offend him (though he has somewhat disappointed me lately) and the resolution not to mouth what to me is an offensive piece of violent rethoric. Because I would never sing that thing, and the fact that I was brought up to follow healthy internationalist principles is only part of the problem.

I mean - if the Italian Anthem were "Va' pensiero", I'd consent to sing it, despite my little enthusiasm for patriotism. Not only is "Va' pensiero" a wonderful piece of music, it is also much closer to values and emotions I'd feel inclined to share. The longing for a home that is lost and in ruins, for example - it would be difficult to find a more appropriate theme for an Italian Anthem.

Unfortunately, our pet xenophobic party, the Leagues, has pilfered it. They have adopted it as their own anthem - the anthem of the imaginary country they have been swearing alliance these last ten years or so, "Padania". It's very hard to express the outrageousness and sadness of this thing - I can only say that I fully expect a rapid rotatory movement to go on in the vicinity of Giuseppe Verdi's grave.

So, no luck changing the anthem there.

But the fundamental fact is that I think that patriotism is anti-Italian. It's one of our chief virtues: the refreshing lack of any national pride whatsoever, the firm conviction that not only Italy isn't the best country in the world, but practically every other country is much better - as long as one doesn't have to live there forever, that is. The fundamental lack of enthusiasm for all the paraphernalia of nationalism, and military pride. This is a good thing in a nation that has listened to high-falutin' nationalistic rethoric once too often already. And so, basically, I think that singing a pompous anthem that proclaims Italy's greatness is, well... unpatriotic. A betrayal of the best values this country has managed to snatch from its shame.

However Claudio Amendola, a young and presentable Italian actor, has given me an alternative. He's sung it at the concert for the First of May, and it's being re-played over and over with cheerful wickedness by Blob, a subversive program made up of malevolent stitching together of tv clips, so I could jot down the words. It's simply an alternative lyrics and it's just perfect in its self-deprecating grossness - very Italian. It goes like this:

Fratelli d'Italia ben poco ci basta
(Brothers of Italy, we'd settle for little)
la macchina nuova e un piatto di pasta
(the new car and and a plateful of pasta)
il calcio la gnocca, ed uno spinello
(soccer,er... how can I put it? a woman, and a joint)
Ma, attenzione! che non si puo'
(but! be careful! that it's forbidden)
Non si puo'
non si puo' non si puo' non si puo'
(this would be the paraparapara' bit)

The second stanza... But I think you have the picture.

Now this is a real anthem worthy of the particular soul of this country. Crass, stupid, and self-mocking. It's got the cars, the sex, and the tendency to take rules less than seriously. And it's deliberate effort to send up gravity and to thumb one's nose at pomposity. Yes, yes.

Who knows the real measure of their own patriotism? If it ever comes to chose between betraying my country and making a silly ass of myself singing about la gnocca in front of Ciampi, I hope I'll have the courage to sound stupid.

The Berlusconi disease can spread throughout Europe

It's a bit annoying when somebody (Martin Woollacott, in the Guardian) comes along and in one essay sums up pretty much everything you want to say and the reason you want to say it,

"All that part of Italy that was instinctively entrepreneurial and individualistic, modern but vaguely Catholic, which had struggled ... to found the material wellbeing of families upon hard work, self-sacrifice and a cock-a-snook attitude towards the state, recognised itself in the smiling face of the tireless little Milanese businessman," writes the historian Paul Ginsborg. "On the other hand, that Italy which believed in the growth of a civil society, in the need to curb the vertical hierarchies of patron-client relations, in the rule of law and the fight against the Mafia ... was appalled."

and to hop up and down and scream it:

The tendency for politics to be seen in part as a branch of consumption and a form of entertainment is also generally evident. How to explain, otherwise, the prominence in the German election campaign of the issue of Gerhard Schröder's hair or, in the French, of Chirac's grocery bills or Lionel Jospin's squeaky voice? The standard issues that Berlusconi exploited to come to power, including crime, migration, nationalism, regionalism and freedom from state meddling, are available everywhere. The means that he employed, in the shape of greatly concentrated media power, a party strong in organisation but short on debate, and a ready recourse to private wealth, are less available, but there are no guarantees that the situation could not change.

It is worrying that Europe has accepted Berlusconi with so few reservations, an acceptance symbolised by the inclusion of his party in the Christian Democrat group in the European parliament in 1999. It remains to be seen whether Europe will change him or he will change Europe.

I'd like to be able to quote this article in full, but I'll just beseech you to go and read it. Please.

Saturday, May 25, 2002

More on Santoro

Yesterday, since Santoro wanted to tackle the difficulties he and Biagi have been having, he decided it would have been better for somebody else to play host to his talk show. He therefore called Maurizio Costanzo, his long time friend and a pillar of the once rival privately held Canale 5. The RAI management told him no. He had a contract, he was supposed to be the presenter, he couldn't palce anybody else in his place.

Santoro wiggled out of it by telling Costanzo that he must keep sitting, because he was the only one intitled to stand on the studio floor.

Among other things, Costanzo ended up saying that it appeared to him the journalists working for the networks owned by Berlusconi could enjoy more freedom than those working for RAI. Santoro did not argue.

This morning, the RAI management said they had involved three or four lawyers, to check wether this intolerable smear on RAI's image did not constitute a breach of Santoro's contract.

Let me sum this up: A guest in a programme in the public TV said that people are actually less free to speak their minds there than in the private channels. The host does not contradict him. He gets sued for breach of contract. Is it me or does this reaches almost kafkian heights of irreality?

I think the word in this case is "embattled". I'm wondering if somebody somewhere is wagering on how long Santoro is going to hold on before they kick him out.

Department of Pet Peeves: Dulce et Decorum

This was the received wisdom of the ancients, according to sites I just googled in search of the right quote, and it was the Old Lie, according to Wilfred Owen. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori: It is sweet and decorous to die for one's country.

No, I'm not going to talk about war. It's not forgotten but I have to confess that I'm using Owen's bitterness for my own, far less tragic, purposes. The fact is, decorum bothers me. I think there's something wrong about it - or maybe the way it's used.

Perhaps it is because I'm a slob, and a very happy one at that. I care about beauty and appearances - hell, I'm Italian, after all - but I don't share the obsessive preoccupation of my mother for neatness and cleanliness and order. And my mother is not even a serious case: compared to what my grandmother was, my mother is a slob herself. Granted, my grandmother had a full-time maid, and my mother an astounding (an incredible) part-time one, and neither of them worked full-time as I do. But still, I don't care as much as they do.

I'm still bothered by squalor and muck and neglect. My love for Sicily is a tormented affair on this issue - squalor in the South of Italy is something that you have to learn to sublimate out of in order to see the appalling beauty it conceals and shrouds, and sometimes makes possible.

But. There is something disquieting, something chilling, in valuing decorum above all else. Life is messy, it's movement, noise and dirt. This planet would be perfectly neat and clean without life - but subjectively, I wouldn't consider it much of an improvement.

This town I live in is run by a major obsessed with decorum. She is, I think, a good and decent woman, but I have to say that I'm not much impressed by her record as a mayor. And I'm frankly bothered by her insistence on decorum. It seems to get in the way of so much else.

Part of the problem, of course, is how do you define decorum. The mayor seems to think, for example, that inflatable huge publicity balloons or structures painted in primary colors and taking up most of public squares are all right on the decorum side. A substantial amount of one of the key pedestrian passages in Padua, right in front of the historical Pedrocchi Cafe' and a few paces from Belzoni's Egyptian cats (who gazed on stonily, not commenting) was occupied last year for months on end by a miniature golf course, with sand hole and miniature olive tree and real grass.

Conversely, people standing around drinking spritz (a cocktail made up, from what I could see, by mixing in whatever the barman has on hand and a bit of white wine) in the town's central squares are not decorous, and neither are the graduates' carnival-like celebrations, and neither are, come to think of it, the markets.

The people (mostly young, mostly students, mostly definitely not the mayor's electors) have been dealt with after three years of struggles, of fining patrons and bars for occupying public space, issuing ordinances closing down the bars earlier, and generally hassling people so much that the bars finally gave in and closed shop at seven pm - the spritz hours.

The graduates are holding on, among a flowering of barriers and the stuffing of the city center with town police during graduation sessions, and ruthless fining for misbehavior.

Of the markets, one is to relocate in ten day's time, to be moved to a peripheral square - for the time being, pending restoration of the square it's held on, but nobody knows if they'll be allowed back once it's done... it's such an attractive square and the market is starting to look not too decorous...

Friday, May 24, 2002

Biagi, Santoro, Luttazzi

This is long, boring, and political, but I must tell it because it is a key story, in many senses. It's significant, and it's important, and it's, well, impressive. It's part of why I'm keeping this blog.

First a bit of background.

Italy is one of the least literate countries in Europe. The vast majority of the population is made up of non-readers, and this means that the papers are read by a minority and the vast majority of citizens gets its news and its view of the world from the TV exclusively.

There are six major TV channels in Italy. Three are public, broadcasted from RAI - Radio Televisione Italiana. The board of directors of the RAI is chosen by the Parliament, so as to reflect a wider representation than the Government. The board of directors chooses the directors of the three channels - Rai1, Rai2, Rai3.

The other three are privately held. In the beginning, one of them, Rete4, was property of a great publishing concern, but soon enough all three - Italia1, Rete4, Canale5 - ended up being owned by an up and coming entrepreneur who had made his fortune in construction - Silvio Berlusconi.

Exactly how Berlusconi ended up as virtually the only private TV broadcaster in Italy is an interesting story, and introduces the new concept of ad personam laws passed for the good friends of the Prime Minister (at that time, Bettino Craxi), but it'll keep for another time.

The fact that the owner of half Italian TV could end up controlling the other half has created a lot of alarm and disapproval around the world, of course, but as I noted, the RAI is on paper controlled by the Parliament.

The board the Parliament finally elected, though, is suspiciously close to the Prime Minister, because, after all, he enjoys a large majority in Parliament. This majority does not reflect the actual balance of forces in Italy, but this also is another story.

So people are kinda worried that we may end up hearing one side of the story only. I mean, the whole of the broadcast media controlled by one side, that would look sort of a bit on the alarming side by many. But Berlusconi apparently doesn't see the problem. After all, he says, he's merely the owner of Mediaset, which controls the three private channels, he has nothing to do with the management. And besides, he loves freedom of expression. He'll guarantee for it. It's just partisanship, lies and aggression he won't stand for. He will personally guarantee that no opposition leader is subjected to the shameful attacks he had to endure...

That's right. Francesco Rutelli, head of the opposition coalition, will not be accused of owning three national TV networks. Piero Fassino, leader of the major opposition party DS, will never be accused of having bribed judges to decide a business deal in his favour, or the Financial Police to close an eye on book cooking. They will not have the fact that they employed a member of a Mafia family as their personal holster used to sort of imply that they might have not disapproved of his connections...

Because Berlusconi has been accused of all of the above, and more. And he isn't happy about it.

Now some of the people who accused him of these things are, unfortunately, state prosecutors, and he can't do much about them, because the Judiciary is, alas, a separate power. But he's working on it.

However, some people who don't wear a toga picked up these claims, and it is crystal clear for him that such people, repeating claims like this in public, are a threat to democracy. After all, the people voted for him. This means the approve of him. Therefore, anybody who critizise him goes against the will of the people and therefore democracy. This is dangerous and should not be tolerated.

Many of these concepts have been expounded upon by Berlusconi during a press conference in Bulgary, where he was on a state visit. He called these threats to democracy by name: Michele Santoro, Enzo Biagi, and Daniele Luttazzi. "They have made a criminal use of the public TV, which is paid for with the money of all of us. The management should not allow this to happen again." He was willing, as always, to be merciful: "It they will change their ways, I have nothing ad personam against them. But since they will not change..."

Who are Luttazzi, Biagi and Santoro?

Daniele Luttazzi is long gone from TV. Before the general election that gave the power to Berlusconi, he was the host of a talk show not terribly different from Letterman's, say. He would joke, with a surreal kind of humour that often tackled the crass with an unfazable unflappable demeanour, and would interview writers, actors, and generally interesting people.

One of this writer was Marco Travaglio, author of "The colour of money", a book on Berlusconi obtain by stitching together documents - all rigorously available to the public - from the various trials he's embroilered in. Apparently, it makes for chilling reading... but was passing unnoticed. Until Luttazzi gave it the only kind of publicity that counts in Italy - a passage in TV. There is a transcription of the interview here - unfortunately, in Italian.

The day after the programme, the book was sold out all over Italy. The publisher rushed several other print runs. The author was promptly sued. But it was Luttazzi that got most of the flak.

Commentators thundered. He was a comedian, how did he dare talk politics? It was libel (talking about the book, that is. Apparently the book itself didn't rate a libel suit before that). The following week, Luttazzi's programme was suspended, while the RAI management panicked. The berluscones were furious. Luttazzi had another few instalments programmed - and on the last, said goodbye to the public with a smirk and a "I have this feeling I won't work for RAI any more." He hasn't been heard of on TV ever since, and has had problems securing theaters to host him.

But few days afterwards, the author of the book - Marco Travaglio - was a guest on another programme, and this wasn't a comic variety show - this was serious stuff, one of the pillars of public TV - Michele Santoro's Sciuscia'.

Michele Santoro has long been a sore spot for Berlusconi. He affects not to know of him. Santoro has acquired the nickname "Michele chi?" because of this. He is certainly not a middle-of-the-road man. He has opinions and doesn't hide it. He is a provocateur. He is a clever, sometimes unpleasant, interviewer. But, since he thinks strong opinions and vigorous clashes make good ratings, he usually invites right-wing people (it was in his programme that I first witnessed the new communication strategy of Forza Italia, Berlusconi's party: to talk incessantly, over the other guy, repeating slogans ceaselessly and not responding in any way to what the other guy is actually saying, but simply ignoring him).

Michele Santoro invited Marco Travaglio and even showed the last interview with Paolo Borsellino, a few days before he was blown up with all of his escort in Via d'Amelio, in Palermo, in which he talked, among other things, about Berlusconi's mafia-affiliated holster.

A second, stronger storm hit Santoro after this. But he wasn't a random comedian with a short-term contract: he had high ratings, and a rock-solid contract, and was probably among the ten most celebrated TV personalities in Italy. This wasn't the first time they had tried to shut him up, and he was still there. He still is - as a matter of fact, the last scheduled broadcast of his programme goes on the air in a few hours today.

But if Santoro is a brazenly left-wing, controversial character, Enzo Biagi is the doyen of Italian journalists now that Montanelli is dead. (Montanelli is another doleful chapter in the long and painful story of Berlusconi's relationship with the press - he had been the director of a rabidly right-wing paper sponsored and paid for by Berlusconi, and had been more or less ousted because he had not approved of his entry into active politics). Enzo Biagi is an old - 82 - and thoroughly respected moderate journalist. He is everybody's stern and old-fashioned grandparent: very Catholic, very proper, socially conservative, politically spot on the middle of the spectrum. The champion of unsensational journalism, of English propriety. Enzo Biagi is the old school. And, as such, he has a deep suspicion for demagoguery and populism. That is, he's not a Berlusconi fan.

He has been a journalist with RAI for the past forty-two years. He has been there forever, and his programme, The Fact, which goes on air just after the main news of Italian television - TG1, the news of the First Channel - is nine times out of ten the highest-rating programme of the whole public networks.

He is scrupulous in how he conducts his programme. Each left-wing commentator must be balanced by a right-wing one. Sitting completely still at his desk, like a white turtle, he asks his question in a polite monotone. What has this champion of facts before opinions done to gain such wrath on himself?

He's invited Benigni, of course.

Benigni doesn't need Berlusconi to work and cannot therefore be threatened or intimidated. He doesn't scare easily, and he has the sharp, vicious, and irresistible humor of the Tuscans. A few days before the elections, he was asked by Biagi, on prime time on the major Italian tv channel, what he thought of Berlusconi, and he let fly. People laughed themselves silly. Berlusconi wasn't amused.

So there it is: a comedian who dared turn the spotlight on an unauthorised biography; a talk-show host who hosts Berlusconi's enemies ans asks rude questions; and a very proper journalist that dared make fun of him. They are all, according to Berlusconi, criminals. Among them, according to Berlusconi again, they made him lose 17 points at the elections - this in itself, one feels, is in his mind a crime.

After his Bulgaria press conference, there was turmoil and scandal. The opposition cried censorship. Santoro opened his next Sciuscia' by ambling around the studio humming "Bella Ciao" under his breath.

And I thought, and said: Santoro and Biagi are there and won't go. It's impossible to kick them out, they are too famous, too celebrated, too respectable. Disappearing them would smack too much of censorship - it can't be done. It's in bad taste on Santoro's part to hum that song, as if he too was threatened with death and torture as the Resistance fighters whose song it is were. He'll stay there and he knows it well, he's needed to provide a cover, a fig leaf over the wider censorship.

Santoro and Biagi are not in danger, I said, this is not intended to scare them. But the young journalist just signed in at a local RAI office? The writer just starting on in one of the great newspapers? They know, now, what can happen even to the greatest of their trade of they displease Berlusconi - this is intended to make people shut up of their own spontaneous will. This is to ensure that no other Santoro will grow up.

I was wrong.

The new management has been telling Santoro things. His programme is stale and boring. Yes, yes, he still has high ratings, but it's time for a change. Shift it to another day for a start, and then... well, RAI 2, his channel, is due to become a federal channel. They are more interested in entertainment than news or commentary. And his contract... well, nobody's actually irreplaceable.

As for Biagi, his contract is due to expire next December. His programme is due to be suspended for the usual summer pause on May the 30th. According to him, on the fall schedule there is no mention of him. He hasn't been told anything, despite having asked. He sits there and says: "I thought we had dealt with this people once and for all in 1944."

Do you see why I'm a bit nervous keeping this blog?

Just heard

"Everything is all right, and that frigging Communist journalist has been dealt with". These words have, reportedly, been pronounced by the head of Italian Intelligence, SISMI, after the killing in Somalia in 1994 of Italian journalist Ilaria Alpi, a reporter for TG3 (the news service for RAI 3, one of the three public Italian network), who was investigating arms deals in Somalia.

I won't be linking much from this blog.

Partly because I'm terminally lazy and not much of a surfer anyway - but mostly because it's a bit futile to link, say, to a page of an Italian newspaper. Besides, I don't like cross-referentiality much. I try to provide content... maybe not very interesting, but mine.

I've thought about this. I'm going to comment on things you folks out there have few chances of disproving. You've got my word on it and that's about it. I can try to be fair, of course, and I will, I will try to be factual, but there are limits on this, and one of them is that I want to be able to speak my mind with a minimun of self-censorship.
So treat everything I say as a primary source - not necessarily a hundred per cent reliable, but significant.

This is actually an old post, from March 28 2002, before I had managed to work out how to keep a blog.
Today I went in search of things to bake a pastiera with. A pastiera is a cottage cheese cake that's traditionally prepared in Naples for Easter, and therefore not exactly something I can claim blood affinity with. My friend Paola, who is from Naples (well, actually from the vicinity of Amalfi) used to prepare it for me, and now I'm returning the favor.

Padua was full of people shopping for pastiera. Cooked wheat was everywhere. All of them Neapolitans? Perhaps. There are lots and lots of them, just as there are lots of sicilians.

I'm not from Padua. I've lived here for more than fifteen years but, like the neapolitans looking for pastiera ingredients, I'n not one of _them_. I went to see my friend Riccardo in a play by what is probably Padua's most celebrated son, Ruzante, and I couldn't understand word one of it. I got the gist - and the final invitation from the whole cast to the public to come down and share in the food on the loaded table: "El pan! Vida! El vin! Vida!" - but little else. I've lived here most of my adult life but I don't speak the language. But then, I never did speak the language of the place I was born in, either.

As I was cycling back the moon hung in the sky, still meekly turquoise long after sunset, over Prato della Valle. It was a fat, serene, slighlty yellowing moon, and it hung there as if by her own determination. Prato della Valle always keeps some surprise in store for you, when the weather is like this, clear and luminous and soft. Soft may well be the word that sums up this land. Soft colors, soft voices, soft noises. Pale hues, slightly fuzzy edges. Two days ago I passed through here earlier in the day, when the sun was just beginning to acquire that pink-orange tint it has in late afternoon. The sky was clear, the facades on the east side of the huge round square seemed to strecht and blink in the soft light, for all the world like huge ginger cats sleeping in the last patch of sunlight.

There is something about Padua at his best that pierces you. The light does it for me every time. Clear days are not that common, but when one comes along it stops you in your track, forces you to look at it. The light is not the golden, glorious, almost palpable light that paints evetyhing in a warm clarity in Rome; not the windy and broiling crystal light of Palermo, with its hard edges and stark shadows; not even the dusty glory of ochre and tan and yellow that I remember from my one September in Brindisi. No, Padua has discreet hues, a soft blue, a quiet pink, a mild orange spread by sunset on marble walls. Fog is never very far away, or better still, nothing as decided as fog, but the haze, the blurring, that reminds you that the normal state of the sky, here, is a lowering white that lets no cloud formation be discerned, a stifling and depressing sky, softening everything into drabness.

This land is my land, whether I like it or not. Not in the sense I was born here. I wasn't. Not in the sense I speak the language. I don't. Not in the sense I am particularly proud of it, or that I like it in particular. In the sense that I have to care for it. Some corners I'm very fond of. Others make me furious. But they are my responsability, because I understand them.

Today - well, technically it's just past midnight, so yesterday - it was ten years since they killed Falcone.

The prevailing mood among friends and family is bitterness, and despair, and defeat.

Ah well - but he's gonna end up on a stamp, so I guess it's all right.

Oh - and I'm just getting to know this blogging stuff. I hope I'll get better at it, eventually, and add, er, features.

I don't know if this is such a good idea.

I have long been meaning to keep a blog about what's happening in Italy. Or maybe to Italy. I have just realized that this may, just possibly, come back to haunt me, that it can hurt my career, my chances, and generally myself. Yes, I do so believe. I'm not telling you that I know it will... but it's not good news when you are afraid to talk about politics in your country because you suspect it will hurt you.

This is a depressing time. It's depressing up, down and sideways. I'm not an optimist, and have been accused of elitism for this. But... well, I'd love to think that my despair is personal and temperamental.

I don't know how often I will have the heart to post. Will it be any use? Will it serve? It may serve me. I have to survive somehow the death of most things I love about this country. Italians are mostly not patriots and I love them for this, as I love them for many less than obvious virtues. We are not proud about our country. We are not proud about ourselves. We are mostly ashamed. "Shame is a noble sentiment" Marco Paolini said. Yes. Shame is our best virtue. So this is a diary of my shame and anger. The best Italians down the ages have been ashamend and angry, and often have been branded cynical for this. I think it is on this shame, and anger, and even cynism that this country survives with some dignity intact, and most of its sweetness and humor.

I'm aiming for humor. I suspect I'll mostly miss. I expect a lot of outrage instead.