In the last week I’ve had a couple of gentle wake-up calls. Sort out your Italian! There is only so much you can blog about sun-drying tomatoes and the arrival of Latte di Mandorla (almond milk) in the cafe’s and, after nearly two years here, I need to be doing more than simple surface scratching. I need to read and understand more about the other parts of life that make the southern Italians who they are, after all I’m not just a visitor anymore, I’m a registered voter. Today and tomorrow are election days for the local councils and city mayors, elections that can have a powerful impact on national government. Milan, in particular, may prove to be a defining moment for Berlusconi. These elections are followed later this week by a referendum on nuclear power (think we know which way that’s going to go) – this is earthquake country folks! Doing some research before casting my own vote, I was surprised to learn that Italy boasts one of the world’s highest turnout percentages (often over 90%), it may not lead to one-party domination but you can’t argue that it’s not a true reflection of the people’s will.
All week there has been a fascinating battle going on in the streets, the poster wars. When you retire for the night your house will bear the image of one politician, only for it to have been redecorated by the morning with one of his opponent’s. Coming home well after midnight last Thursday after having been out for pizza with some friends, I was amazed by the sight of a small army of men, running around out of breath, up and down streets, chasing each other with step ladders. No sooner had one climbed down from plastering a poster on the side of anything that doesn’t move and gone to the next street, than another would sneak out from the shadows and overlay it with two more. As there seems to be at least a dozen different parties and fifty or so candidates for each district you can understand that the step-ladder business is doing quite well. I wanted to hang around until the inevitable moment when two or more poster-boys turned the same corner from different streets and came face to face. Would they whistle to themselves as they, nonchalantly, passed each other pretending they always took their ladder for a walk at 1.00am or would they draw glue-brushes and charge at each other, ladders poised like lances? However, Maria was tired so I couldn’t stay to watch.
I’m not sure what all the local issues are but I’m pretty sure that Pellaro must be a key marginal. In the last week not only has the rubbish vanished, we’ve had an entire road resurfaced for the first time (apparently) in living memory. An event which brought everyone out to drive up and down just to enjoy the smooth pot-hole-free experience. I shouldn’t be flippant though, the national issues are serious and immediate. From Libya and the waves of North African refugees that land on our shores daily (unwanted by the French and English who have done so much to encourage them – thanks guys) to the economy and another promise to crack down on the Mafia (always a vote winner). Controlling most of the media as he does, no doubt our Prime Minister will convince enough of the masses that there’s a communist plot to take over the judiciary and the “slightly-left-of-centre-left-liberals” are really Taliban insurgents bent on ousting him from power – for no good reason other than his penchant for paying young prostitutes not to have sex with him.
This brings me to the other wake-up call. I was introduced to a very interesting Italian journalist at a party last week and we were talking about the forthcoming election and Calabria in general when he was told by another guest that I did a bit of blogging. “Really?” he said. “What do you write about?” “Well mostly it’s meant to be gentle view of life in the South of Italy, for the folks back home. They know a lot about Tuscany but not much seems to be written about Calabria.” I explained. “What do you say about the Mafia?” He asked. “Well, nothing to be honest.” He turned and stared at me for a moment then shook his head. “How can you possibly write about life in Calabria and NOT talk about them!” Its true I know and I’ve been doing my best to avoid the subject, but whether I ever write about them or not, I have begun to realise that, unfortunately, life’s not all sun-dried tomatoes and Latte di Mandorla. It’s close, but not all. Guess I’ll have to work harder on my Italian and find out who won the poster wars.