It’s a ‘giornata rovente’ today, unfortunately. At nine a.m. it’s already 29C, and by early afternoon it’ll have reached 37C. Troppo caldo!
Fortunately, our Italian school in Bologna (where I’m composing this, as my wife’s at the beach) has air-conditioning. Phew! For now, though, I’m making do with the windows open and a (relatively) cool draft blowing around my legs, under the reception desk.
So, just a quick one today, it being so hot and all, to introduce Episode 20 of our thirty-part Summer Series ‘Dal Risorgimento alla Seconda Guerra Mondiale’.
You can find all the episodes we’ve published so far on the club’s History page, along with the Summer Series from the last three summers. A hundred and ten articles (with online audio), all FREE, covering Italian history from the mystic origins of Rome to – next year – the Berlusoni years and the euro, where we’ll stop.
The current series started with the foundation of the modern Italian state, took in WWI, and we’re now learning about the rise of fascism in the nineteen-twenties. Mussolini, who you’ll doubtless have heard of, was a sort of Italian Hitler – though more of the tough-guy action hero type – who came to power ten years earlier (Hitler didn’t hit the big-time until the nineteen-thirties), and who was, arguably, less horribly-evil.
Reading though (and listening to) these articles, it seems the historical parallels never end. Populist demands for strongman leaders, ‘normal’ politians facilitating their rise, supposedly ‘ethical’ organisations hurrying to profit. Sound familiar?
Our writer describes Mussolini as ‘cinico e opportunistico’. In today’s episode we hear how he secured the acquiescence of the Catholic church (some would say, its active and enthusiastic cooperation) with what were effectively political and financial bribes, which persist to this day!
Maybe modern catholics don’t know, our writer speculates, that this privilege, that that tax break, that the vast amount of money disbursed by the state into the church’s coffers each year, were the price that Mussolini paid a nineteen-twenties pope for his support?
In ‘twenties Italy it was the right (and potentially the 95% of Italians who were Catholics and so could be preached to each Sunday) versus the left – despicable socialists and communists, many of whom thought, like Marx, that ‘religion is the opium of the masses’. Read more about that here.
And not so much has changed. Despite fascism, despite WWII, despite the passing of a century since some of these events, I can see the left/right split still, amongst my friends in Bologna – Italians in their fifties mostly, so the great-grandchildren of the protesting workers or pliant Catholic voters of Mussolini’s time.
A simple way to know an Italian’s ‘politics’, and I use the term loosely, used to be to notice what newspaper they read (asking was too direct, like asking how someone voted…) But these days, who reads actual newspapers?
A better way is to check the third finger of the left hand for a wedding ring and to ask, casually mind, where they got married? The answer will be one of three possibilities: a.) in the church at… b.) in the comune at… c.) we never bothered!
If it’s an a.) then likely your friend is NOT of the left, so you’ll be able to continue to associate with them without endangering your immortal soul.
The other answers, especially if given proudly, indicate the contrary. Marriage in the ‘comune’ (town hall – the service is conducted by the ‘sindaco’ – mayor – or a deputy) is much less glam, but avoids the ethical compromises of pretending to believe in a god.
Not marrying at all used to be frowned upon, so was an excellent way of establising ‘woke’ credentials. Some of our friends are discreetly getting married only now, when their kids are at college or already working, just to be on the safe side when it comes to the inheritance…
So either b.) or c.) and your friend is a red. And this all goes back to the nineteen-twenties! Who said history was a bore?
N.b. I was a ‘won’t get married again’, being divorced and technically muslim, but my arm was twisted, so I ended up in the ‘comune’, dressed in a new suit and pretending to the ‘sindaco’ that I understood Italian.
Another good way to spot subversives (and this is a more multi-generationally effective) is to ask how someone feels about cruxifixes in state-school classrooms.
Italy is supposed to have separation of state and religion (like the USA), so answers to that one are a tell. Find out more in today’s FREE article with audio:
The previous nineteen episodes in this series can be found on our History page, along with the ninety Summer Series articles from previous years. Scroll right down to the end to find the latest ones.
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