About ten years ago we stayed in a B&B on a quiet canal in Venice. The owner complimented us on the few sentences of rudimentary Italian that we poured out about her as a conversation (‘Siamo dall’Olanda, l’appartamento è molto bello.’)
Comes through our course, we said. In case we know (‘chissa’) ever move here. She shook her head dejectedly. To Italy, voluntarily? As soon as her children were old enough, she immediately sent them (‘subito’) to London, Berlin or Amsterdam. Shaking head again. “Holiday ahead, but who wants to live in such a country?”
‘chissa’I said again, mainly because of how that sounded.
Whatever Berlusconi said or did, however enthusiastically received populist fool after populist fool after another, however inhumane Salvini’s anti-immigration policies became, however high the garbage heaps grew in Naples and the surrounding area, however devoid of flavor the TV was. However massive the exodus of the highly educated and how deeply racist the treatment black players received in football stadiums, I couldn’t help but find Italy less irresistible. When I wasn’t there I wanted to go there and when I was there I didn’t want to leave.
That Italy is now the country of Giorgia Meloni, who won the election this weekend, an event in which Hilary Clinton remarked that a woman’s victory is a step in the right direction anyway. Have Clinton analyze a recent climate report and she determines that the weather will also be nicer more often for the time being.
About what exactly Meloni is – fascist, post-fascist, a new populist or ‘hard right’ – will be debated well after the boundary of what is normal has moved a lot to the right again. Podcast star Francesco Costa said in The New Yorker: “It might not be fascist, but it’s definitely scary.”
Scary. Unjustly, no doubt, but Meloni’s predecessors on the right-hand side made me think of a lot, but seldom of ‘scary’. Berlusconi was already in power a kind of artifact, a monument of bad taste. And now that he’s re-elected, like his umpteenth wife (the last one in a constituency she’s never been to), he’s going to TikTok and still defending his old accomplice Putin, there’s still no sense of threat. After all, you mainly see a pop composed of all the weak spots of Italian society. Jarl van der Ploeg (former Italy correspondent of this newspaper) called Berlusconi on Radio 1 an old circus that you would rather not watch, but you have to. If the Berlusconi government was a circus, with rotten benches, a gloomy rhinoceros, a xenophobic clown and a ringmaster peeping under the skirts of trapeze artists, Meloni leads a chilly fair, with nostalgic nonsense records of an Italy that never had exist and bumper cars that never touch, because they all make right turns. Ahead, Salvini runs a bureaucratic merry-go-round, and to the right of the creepy cabinet, Berlusconi hands out free cotton candy to grandmothers and their underage granddaughters. Families everywhere. A lot of children. Minorities gather at the gate, they cannot enter. If only they weren’t in the minority.
Who wants to walk around at such a fair? How long will such a creepy amusement park stay in operation? Still regularly – on rainy days: three times a day – I fantasize about emigrating to Italy. And then I hear the voice of the Venetian B&B lady: ‘To Italy, voluntarily?!’