Trip through Italy: learning to live without a nation

Christmas has been a gift for Italians after the depression of suffering a World Cup football without his national team at stake. The football festival was only held in the Vatican (where there is a showcase dedicated to Argentine football in honor of Pope Francis when the visit to the Museum ends), and also in Naples, devoted to singing a popular opera in memory of Maradona together with his large mural in the Quartieri Spagnoli, in the small square that has become a kind of sanctuary. And it is not for less, football, sport in general, is together with the music of Giuseppe Verdi, the cement that amalgamates Italian diversity. So are the pasta and the language, but they have had to earn it step by step.

There are not a few linguistic variants of Italian, including the survival of other languages ​​such as Friulian or Sardinian -up to twelve are legally recognized, including the Alghero dialect of Catalan-, and although slightly more than half of its inhabitants consider themselves bilingual, Modern Italian, pioneered by the best Tuscan writers of the Renaissance, Giovanni Boccaccio and Dante Alighieri, has been widely imposed thanks to the development of the Italian literary, song and cinema industry that were hegemonic in hits and projection rooms around the world during the 50s and 60s, the sweet moment during which the “made in Italy” was created. And although the Italian political panoplies have drifted towards the Latin past as Benito Mussolini did or in the longing for the Risorgimento as Giorgia Meloni’s ultra fraternity declares, the truth is that Italian unification has come hand in hand with critical culture and the international success of its simplest food, pizza of Neapolitan origin and wheat pasta, grown massively in Sicily, and also in Puglia and Calabria.

Feltrinelli, Mondadori or Einaudi are essential surnames, Milanese and Piedmontese, in the creation and consolidation of the Italian book industry, from where writers as universal as Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco, Moravia or Dario Fo have been exported. Right now, crime novels are also emerging in the Italian language thanks to authors like Andrea Camilleri and Antonio Manzini, or with the denunciations of Roberto Saviano’s mafia plots. On the other hand, the Italian music that spread San Remo languishes, like the cinema, which only caught on in the Italian-American community of New York (from Scorsese to Coppola, Pacino and De Niro) and in solitary figures such as Paolo Sorrentino or Saviano himself. , who never tires of pointing to Italy as a failed country.

It is? Many Italians think so. The replacement of the post-war Italy built by the Christian Democracy –plus the historical commitment of the communist Enrico Berlinguer–, by a new populism with tacky roots –Berlusconi and his television conglomerates–, together with the neo-fascist revival and the xenophobic regionalism of the Lega have plunged many Italians into social depression. They are not fleeing famine like they were at the beginning of the 20th century when they emigrated en masse (one in four) to the United States and Argentina, but many Italians have left their country in the last decades, disappointed by the lack of a future and substance of its politicians. Germany and Spain now represent the countries preferred by Italians, many of them dedicated to the hospitality industry. The Balearic Islands, Valencia, Barcelona and Andalusia are his favorite destinations. Direct flights from Manises to Turin, Bergamo, Pisa, Rome or Naples… are always busy. Italy is connected to Valencia.

This Christmas, Italy has collapsed with tourists. Destinations like Venice, Florence or Milan were crowded, but nothing like Rome, a city taken over by rivers of visitors, where the rental scooter that young Romans leave on any sidewalk has become fashionable and where it was impossible to eat on their Good restaurants without weeks reservation. Queues at the Café Greco where a text by Ramón Gaya published by Pre-Textos has been framed, queues at the Caravaggio and Raphael’s rooms… Asian millionaires buying at Prada, Fendi, Versace or Gucci… the firms that compete to overwhelm their clientele with renewed and daring designs, at exorbitant prices but also with cultural bets, such as the Prada Foundation in Milan or the Giardino Gucci library in Florence.

And despite everything, in Italy vital optimism remains. A sense of humour, a taste for good design and a respect for heritage remain characteristics of the Italian people. Sometimes they seem to consume themselves with such apricot-colored beauty, with so much red brick castle, but it’s nice to see the clean and well-organized Tuscan villages, with their craftsmen more than centuries old doing fancy things with salami, marquetry or silk scarves. Quality traditional cuisine can be found anywhere, and it is already the country with the second most Michelin stars in the world. Avant-garde with roots, although they are very clear that, in terms of ham, the Spanish Iberico ham is second to none.

The chronic Italian political crisis may have more to do with the low awareness of the country, whose fragmentation has been dominant since the fall of the Roman Empire. The central state is weak in the eyes of the average Italian, a believer in its cities and regions, in its calcium team in any case and in the variety of pasta that was cooked at nonna’s house. For the aforementioned Manzini “the basic problem is that there has never been a strong national identity; the Italian sees the State as an occupier». It is just the opposite sentiment to that of the Spanish. In Italy, history, open everywhere thanks to hundreds of buildings, museums and palaces with fresco paintings, shows on a daily basis that his country is a 19th century romantic construction on a past of fragmented kingdoms, duchies and republics. In Spain, on the other hand, we are still asking ourselves what we are and where we come from, with simple stories about the unity of the country and absurd retorts about the existence of peripheral nations in times of late antiquity. Not even the Catalans have understood that their nation was none other than the one built by their counts with the kings of Aragon and with the Kingdom of Valencia as their medieval farwest.

Trip through Italy: learning to live without a nation