• Alex Subrizi

Black-out (in front)

Updated: Aug 6

Yesterday, from 10:23 AM until just after 6 PM, Poggiosole lost all electric power. For 7 hours and 45 minutes not only were our dishwashers, coffee machines, ovens and air conditioners down, all running water (from kitchen sinks to toilets) stopped as well. This is because Poggiosole's water, whether sourced from our wells or the municipal acqueduct, is kept pressurized by a series of on-property electrically-powered pumps.

It took me about an hour to ascertain that the cause of this blackout was not technical but administrative. My mother, whose name is still on all Poggiosole's utility contracts, had misplaced an electric bill due back in March, and after a series of unsuccessful attempts to reach her by phone and email (she is 92 years old), the electric company cut us off. A flurry of phone calls, a rapid bank wire, not a few emails and dozens of WhatsApp messages later, I learned the order had been given to restore our power. Having been told that the process of bringing us back on-line could take up to 36 hours, when the lights came back on at 18:08, I breathed a big sigh of relief.

Throughout, as I kept mom ("Why won't the TV work?!") and the two families that are presently our guests informed of the situation, I felt a blend of embarrassment and (pun alert!) powerlessness. But, as stressful as the experience was, it paled in comparison to the dread I felt, just last month, when Mario Draghi resigned as Italy's prime minister, opening the way for a general election for which the neo-fascist Giorgia Meloni (who prefers to identify as "post-fascist"), vying to be voted Italy's next PM, is polling very well.

The timing of this post seemed perfect when I bought this morning's paper, with a photo of Meloni and Vickor Orbán posing for a selfie (Meloni's phone) running above the fold.

Yet the timing of the collapse of yet another Italian government in general, and of Draghi's in particular, is, as journalists have remarked, quite awful, considering that €191.5 billion in EU grants and loans is riding on market and labor reforms Meloni's far-right party Fratelli d'Italia is unlikely to abide by. But above all, there is ample evidence that Meloni and her party are heirs to Italian fascism, promoting anti-immigrant views and homophobic sentiment (video in Italian) to stoke fear, foment resentment and build power.

The enduring appeal of fascism in Italy is not hard to understand. The country's weak sense of nationhood, general pessimism, extreme diversity of attitudes with respect to work, transparency, competitiveness, and globalism as well as its corrupt and over-compensated political class, combined with high public debt (household debt is comparatively low), all augur for a strong hand at the top. Add in the sense of grievance that attends a global center of art and commerce (15th through 17th century, and let's not forget neorealist cinema) turned present-day laggard and you have a good recipe for a society in which a very vocal minority, Meloni's core support, is susceptible to populist and fascist rhetoric. "We were once great", goes the rallying cry, "and we could be again, if only we distanced ourselves from / purged ourselves of / stopped catering to... [fill in your favorite liberal, broad-minded or inclusive entity, attitude, or ethno-religious minority]." This sort of scapegoating, especially if allowed to ferment into verbal and then physical violence, is worrisome. But some voters "just want a change", and memories are short.

The Camicie Nere (Mussolini's volunteer militia) were omnipresent during my parents' formative years, 1930-1943. Stories around our dinner table were consistent with the dramatized depictions of their tactics in post-war Italian cinema (through to 2022's L'ombra del giorno).

You need not look further than their flag: about as far from the vital and expansive humanism often associated with (Renaissance) Italy as it's possible to be.

Fortunately Italy is not, at present, a particularly violent society. Perhaps due to the weight of all that public debt and bureaucracy, not a lot of folks dream big here, and dreaming big, while exciting, has its downsides. But with Meloni out in front, and post-pandemic woes (add an energy crisis) weighing heavily on all but the most privileged, the departure of Draghi's steadying hand may someday be rued profoundly. Here's hoping reason, paired with sweet longing, prevails. Better to press for an honest reckoning of a nation's problems than conjure enemies out of one's neighbors IMHO.

Comments welcome.

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