On the crowded tube my dad bumps into a respectable looking 50 year old man in a stylish suit with a briefcase on his way home from work.
“Sorry” says my dad, “there’s a lot of us here.”
Within seconds this man is telling us it’s not us there’s a lot of but it’s them, “estra comunitari” people from outside the EU, foreigners. I glance around the carriage and aside from 2 or 3 South Americans it all looks pretty Milanese to me. I’m so stunned I don’t react as I listen with incredulity to a diatribe spout forth about how they are untrustworthy, workshy, cheats, we should stamp them out...
This is obviously an acceptable voice of the Legista (supporters of the Lega Nord, a party that would give the BNP a run for their money).
What’s surprising is how easily and comfortably this all came out without invitation, but when I challenged him he shrivelled, looking at me confused like he’d just walked into the ladies toilets backtracking as he realiesed, you’re not one of us.
This at the end of the day which has seen me repeatedly fail to persuade restaurant managers to part with their waste oil. Men who have no imagination and are gripped by the fear of the unknown. It’s clear some thought I was trying to catch them out with some sort of a trick, but for most it was just easier to say no rather than do something out of the ordinary.
I found a Chinese run restaurant (serving Italian food) where they happily gave me their oil. The night before I’d eaten “Cotoretta Milanese” there. While I pumped 30 litres I had this buzzing sound of their neighbour telling me how the Chinese had tried to flush the oil away but she’d stopped them and these foreigners, you know, can’t be trusted to follow the rules...
I tuned her out and focused on the oil, too sludgy and by the time I’d got the barrels out to the bus it was all shaken up.
I’m re-reading Nick Davies, Flat Earth News. It’s about how the process of UK news gathering and journalism has been affected by cost cutting and libel laws. The day I arrived in Italy 300,000 people gathered in the main square in Rome to protest about free speech in the press.
Berlusconi controls the state TV, the main private channels, and much (though not all) of the press and his control is such that the scandal of him fucking prostitutes, including a secretly recorded conversation where he solicits one, was effectively silenced. That he wants to fuck prostitutes is his affair, he is after all over 70 and I imagine struggles to get it up or get it off so who else is going to do him? But that he lies openly about it and is able to silence the issue when he is found out as a liar is really frightening.
Italy’s economy is doing well despite the crunch, and this is down to Berlusconi’s leadership. At least he has led the country where the left has been in factionalised disarray for decades. But Musolini famously got a depressed Italy working and made the trains run on time, testament that autocracy isn’t the end-all.
The attitude and openness of the Legista on the train rings of 1930’s German attitudes towards Jews. And on that subject I discovered tonight that my great grandfather, Andrea Piva, helped Jews escape Italy to Switzerland while they were being rounded up in and sent to concentration camps. Not for money and at great risk to himself he used one of his villas in the north of Italy (they were quite a moneyed family back then and had several villas) as an assembly point then used mountain guides to get them across the border. Interesting to think there is a history of supporting oppressed communities in my family.
Even the street art in Milan is shit. “Roberto ti Amo”, “Fuck Police”, “Inter”, “Juve”. Not exactly thought leadership, and graphically little more than bad handwriting block capitals sprayed scattergun on every wall. This is a sure sign that there is no credible or thoughtful counter culture, no creativity, no angry youth interrogating and challenging authority, just like in the media. This in the birthplace of the renaissance. Buonanotte Buonarroti.
Without a counter culture there are no alternative ideas and alternative thinking has no way of leaching into the mainstream. They are hot on recycling and sorting here, but when it comes to alternative energy, environmental issues and energy savings, they are leagues behind.