■ 30 August 2011 by James Martin
Political Americans seem to derive great pleasure from pummeling the soft underbelly of this Italy, pointing out its political and structural “flaws” with a particular delight. Italy’s economy is not growing. Italy is burdened with a bureaucracy that is slow and inefficient. Italians drink a mere ounce of coffee standing up, for god sakes, an empirical measure of the immense poverty of these deluded people—at least compared to a country in which the same amount of coffee is used with 32 ounces of tap water to produce a medium-sized big-gulp cup filled with the dirty water they charge a bundle for.
Expats point to the lack of things like cool-whip and Kraft cheese singles, among other things they can’t seem to stop missing. Italy is a civilization in decline, certainly. Life there is hell, certainly.
The not-so-complimentary invective “Old Europe” has even been known to reverberate through the hallowed halls of American Congress—even as (somebody’s) God lashes out in anger over the deficit that ten years ago mattered naught. It’s been like that forever, or at least since Dick Cheney’s reign.
I was thinking about all this while reading a review of Cheney’s book in the NYT. I perked up considerable at the mention of Italy:
And in the epilogue, Mr. Cheney writes that after undergoing heart surgery in 2010, he was unconscious for weeks. During that period, he wrote, he had a prolonged, vivid dream that he was living in an Italian villa, pacing the stone paths to get coffee and newspapers.
Yes, in the end, the wannabe warriors, imperialists, cooks and accountants all seem to dream of living in this Italy.
Why is that, do you think?
Cheney’s dream is just starting to be analyzed. I like the Freudian one:
Dr. Paula Ellman, director of the Psychoanalytic Training Institute of the New York Freudian Society, agreed with the majority of Kazes’s diagnosis. For her, Cheney’s dream is “lifeless, concrete, [and] devoid of rich symbols.” It might reveal “his desires to have a life of ease, with its ordinary, mundane pleasures.”
You know why I like the analysis? It’s because it focuses on the major elements at play here. No real person cares about the growth of industrial monster Monsanto, or the increasing money accumulated by those of unimaginable wealth.
Nope. Some people—I’ll call them “real” people—are hooked on mundane pleasures. The pleasure of eating a fish fresh from the sea, cooked by people who own the restaurant and care about bringing pleasure to their customers. The sun peeking out from under the storm clouds gloriously. The harmony and pleasure of letting one’s eyes wander over the delicate curves of the southern Baroque expressed in a simple country church in Puglia. The things pictured on this page in other words—those Italian landscapes that always seem to be inhabited by something built by a culture that values and nurtures creative types rather than obscenely large corporations. And when we “real” people get to feeling a bit peckish, we know our plate will soon be brimming with simple food peasants have spent years learning to make glorious.
So why do people never seem to come to grips with the fact that they can bellyache as they damn well please about all these flaws and the simple fact is that it doesn’t matter a bit. Yes, everything they say is true about Italy. Awful place, this Italy, by modern political standards. But the reality confounds them. What they see can’t be real. To real people the incredible awfulness is well hidden; Italy is a very desirable place to spend some quality time. Ask nearly anyone.
So why wait for a near death experience to clear the buffers and make you see that all you want are sparkling days peppered with mundane pleasures?
Why can’t people see this simple fact? The signs are all over the damn place.
(Perhaps, just perhaps, that vile and impenetrable bureaucracy binds Italians not to government services, but to their families and to each other. Just a guess.)
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