Magazine article The Spectator

Long Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Long Life

Article excerpt

What has happened to I taly, a country that not even Mussolini could discipline?

It used to be cheerfully anarchic and self-indulgent:

cars parked haphazardly all over pavements, long lunches and long siestas, fat tummies full of pasta. Officialdom, though bloated and intrusive, could also be flexible.

I first fell in love with I taly more than 50 years ago when I skidded on an icy road into a tram stop in Milan, knocking over a bollard and banging my head (no seat belts then) on the windscreen, and a man in uniform poked his head through the window offering to help me move the car because the bollard was the property of the Milan City Council, which would certainly make me pay for it if it found me there, and I noticed that the uniform he was wearing bore the insignia of the Milan City Council, no less.

That was then: now it could never happen. The cities swarm with parking wardens as vigilant and heartless as any in the north of E urope.

I am writing this on holiday in Tuscany; and while you used to be able to wander into Siena Cathedral whenever you felt like it, even when it was thronged with tourists, you can't get inside any more without first going somewhere else to join a long queue for a ticket. The same applies if you want to look at the frescoes of Piero della F rancesca in the Church of St F rancis in Arezzo. People who used to dump their rubbish anywhere now separate it into categories and carefully recycle it. Maybe that's one of the good things, like the mail being reliable and the trains running on time. But I miss the disorder and indiscipline.

The long lunch and the afternoon siesta have more or less vanished to be replaced by what they call 'the continuous day'. And people don't even eat pasta in the comforting quantities that they once did. Mussolini was against pasta. He thought it made I talians flabby and poor soldiers. But his efforts to wean them off it were in vain. Not only did they like pasta; it was about the only kind of food they could afford. But now Mussolini would be proud of his compatriots. Like Vladimir Putin, I l Duce was a fitness fanatic who liked to be photographed half-naked engaging in vigorous physical pursuits. …

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