It’s all true (no, it isn’t)

The Indipendent publishes “The truth about la dolce vita”, what Peter Popham has found out about Italy and italians in his years spent over there (that is over here, I mean…)

The rules are merely words on a sign. Welcome to Italy!

What Mr. Popham writes is – as often happens in such matters – only a part of the truth. But it is not a lie. He emphasize what he calls “la simpatia”, the pleasant, easy going,  somehow superficial approach to life that italians have (or rather like to show having).

La simpatia: proof of soul. It is a quality that in Britain is more often honoured in the breach than the observance. And that is one reason, and not the least, why this week in our hundreds and thousands we are packing our bags to fly to Italy. There is sunshine. There is chilled white wine at lunchtime. There are the Tuscan hills, the honey-coloured ruins of Rome. But underlying them all and somehow yoking them all together there is that quality which the Scottish philosopher David Hume (curiously, for one who was born and raised so far from the Mediterranean) identified as the glue that holds society together and enables us to come to valid moral judgements: sympathy.


We are being sucked towards a melancholy conclusion: that la simpatia, for all its charm, is a disastrous principle by which to run a society, because far from being the wellspring of morality it is the trick by which morality is short-circuited, and that allows privilege and patronage to rule unchallenged.


The hacking scandal that has erupted in Britain over the past fortnight has exposed corrupt connections between press, police and politicians that are eerily reminiscent of the way things often work in Italy, and the sort of news that fills Italian papers every day. Yet, as Corriere della Sera pointed out in a recent editorial, the difference is that in the end, affairs were brought to a head. With the humbling of News Corp and the multiple resignations that followed, we experience a sort of catharsis. A fresh start seems possible.

That is what is lacking in Italy. The Italian government has for the past two years been racked by scandal after scandal, any one of which would have brought a British government to its knees, yet it remains in office. Meanwhile, Silvio Berlusconi himself – the most simpatico billionaire in the world – continues to treat the country as his private fiefdom. Maybe it’s time the Italians turned a little nasty.



One thought on “It’s all true (no, it isn’t)

  1. I beg to disagree, at least in part. It is not entirely true that Italians lack nastiness. We are nasty all right. But only with the weak, never with the powerful. Whem we attack and reject those we worshipped for years (Mussolini, Craxi, Andreotti) we only do it when the balance has completely tilted. When the powerful are already NOT powerful any longer. That’s when we strike: we are cowards. We only bite those that are already on the ground, or almost there.

    And we are not “simpatici”. We think we are. And we like to think that other people think we are. But really, we are always scheming how to take advantage of the person we are talking to, if he doesn’t belong to our clan.

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