Archive for March, 2014


A Bloody Depressing Holiday

This is not the first time I am in Italy. In particular, I was in Italy, for a rather long time, in the early 90’s, and the one thing one noticed was how much Italians talked, to strangers in general, and to foreigners in particular. As a matter of fact, back then, I even met a British man who had a second job as a talker: the owner of a snack bar kept him drinking and eating for free as much as he wanted: his cockney accent and red sideburns attracted so many customers it was fully worth it, albeit the man was rather liberal in his drinking.

Twenty years of neoliberal policies later, the country plundered by Berlusconi, his minions and those who pretend to be his opponents, Italy is a rather different place. If you don’t know your way around, for example, you’ll better bring a GPS or a map. Attempts at asking for directions are interpreted one of two ways: if you are dressed nicely, they’ll think you are a con artist; if you are not, they’ll think you are a gypsy. Whatever the case, the subject of your enquiry will change sidewalk, accelerate his steps, look away, and mumble. The idea that you are not there to relieve them of their money never crosses their mind.

Shopkeepers, too, have become positively rude. They assume you are either going to shoplift, doodle around or try to get a deal out of them; from the moment you enter their establishment, suspicious frowns, and the familiar “May I help you[, you fucking foreign thief]?” follow you everywhere (the part in square brackets is not pronounced but applies to most native Italians as well). Not that Italy is the shopping paradise it used to be: subjected to mafia-like taxation (often, on top of taxation from the actual mafia) from the state, which is now apparently imposing a minimum payment regardless of profit, almost everything you find for sale is iPhone covers, overpriced wine, half-rotten sushi and, chiefly, clothes made from cheap fabric by Bangladeshi children.

You could melt some of the attitudes above away, in some cases, simply by proving you come from certain countries: Italians are prone to believe, for example, that people from Northern Europe will not rob them. However, there comes another problem: in some, this triggers the Golden Egg Chicken Syndrome. A Danish colleague, upon admitting his nationality in an ice-cream shop in Rome, saw his bill increase almost eight times because the prices one the board were “the old ones”; it happened again in a pizza place the day after, and he spent the rest of the time pretending he was Armenian.

I am not saying you shouldn’t travel to Italy: in fact, I advise you do so as quickly as possible: the way things are going, they’ll soon sell off the Coliseum, so it might be a last chance to see. What I’m saying is: expect a bloody depressing holiday.


The Question Not Asked…

…about the Crimean Referendum is quite obvious: was the vote free and fair? Capitalist media have ranted endlessly about cavils in international law, which boil down to saying that people have the right to self-determination only if the occupying power is inclined to grant it to them.
The fact that the inhabitants of Crimea would want to join the country the majority of them belongs to ethnically is not an issue.
The fact that even people of Ukrainian origin would want to escape from a state ridden by poverty and corruption, and where the government is decided by street mobs is not an issue.
The fact that some 6% of the inhabitants of Crimea belong to minor ethnic groups which are periodically targeted by pogroms, and feel uncomfortable with the Ukrainian government’s veiled fascism is not an issue.
Only cavils are an issue, and the “territorial integrity” of Ukraine, meaning that a random rearrangement of administrative districts under Nikita Kruschev must forbid that the Crimean choose whom they want to govern them.

Luckily, the UN’s military does little more than sitting around shining their blue helmets, and the NATO has a strict policy of only helping Islamic fundamentalists against people who don’t shoot back. Applying sanctions to Russia is like threatening somebody else with shooting oneself: this is the one story where, after all the sound and fury is over, the good guys win. Or, rather, the bad guys don’t.