Italy: A Puzzle Any Way You Look At It

A great talk by the wonderfully engaging and knowledgeable David Travis at New York University’s Villa La Pietra in Florence yesterday afternoon—introducing a group of culinary studies grad students to Italy today, a quick look at the Italian outlook, and a penetrating attempt at the murk of Italian politics.

I came away distressed with the description of modern Italy yet content that at least I am not the only person who finds the current situation in Rome even more depressing than the one in Washington.

Florence, the synagogue, the duomo in the background, the tower of Palazzo Vecchio way over to the right

Florence, the synagogue, the duomo in the background, the tower of Palazzo Vecchio way over to the right

Among the interesting facts and figures cited:

  • Florence has a population of 400,000 with 300,000 licensed motor scooters, more than any other Italian city
  • A shared common language (Italian) is a very recent phenomenon and only became effective in the early 1960s
  • 120 billion euros of accountable tax money is not collected each year, an amount that would go far to resolving Italy’s economic distress
  • Italy has 2.2 cell phones for every single man, woman, and child in the country
  • The little two-cylinder Fiat 500, when it arrived on the market in the late 1950s, cost the equivalent of 30 months of the average working class wage—and many (me too) believe that the little car revolutionized the country
  • The average Neapolitan spends one hour and 40 minutes at dinner each evening [how much time do you spend?]
  • One-third of all married Italians visit their moms every single day of the year
  • And many, many more similar observations that distinguish Italians and Italy as a race truly apart and truly very special.

Looking at the present political situation, really an enigma wrapped inside a puzzle: Italian commentators have taken to calling it the Third Republic (First Republic was the Christian Democratic republic that lasted from the end of World War II to 1994; Second Republic was the Berlusconi republic from 1994 to 2011; Third Republic begins with the Monti government in November 2011). Three months after the most recent parliamentary elections, in which comedian (literally) Beppe Grillo’s 5-Star Movement won 25.6% of the House and 23.8% of the Senate—safe to call it a landslide—Grillo’s party has collapsed completely; Giorgio Napolitano, President of the Republic, has been asked to serve another term which will make him 94 years old when he completes it (but he is the single person on whom most of the wranglers could agree); and the largest party represented in the election was the party of people who did not go out to vote—most unusual in Italy where normally 80% at least of voters turn out in national elections.

So what’s the future for the Third Republic? In Travis’s words: “No one knows. Nobody knows how long its’s going to last.” This political chaos coupled with economic recession, he says, is a recipe for disaster.

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    1 Comment

  • Reply Adri June 3, 2013 at 1:21 am

    Hi Nancy,

    What an interesting post, and I love the fun facts. My friends and I just marvel at Italy’s government… and her voters.

    I must keep this short. I’m typing one-handed after shoulder surgery.


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