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A singalong in the Senate
Plus constitutional reform and some weekend jazz
First, some light-hearted news. Or sort of. This Tuesday, to mark the 75th anniversary of the first sitting of the Italian senate, the crooner pop singer Gianni Morandi gave a private concert to an audience of more than 200 of Italy's most lackadaisical politicians in the Parliament at Palazzo Madama. The scenes, which you can watch in the video below, are pretty hilarious I think. Alongside his own big hits like ‘Uno su mille’ Morandi sings operatic classics like ‘Caruso’ to a row of usually-square-policy-makers who seem to be enjoying or at least pretending to enjoy themselves. There's Renzi - clearly self-conscious about the cameras - playing it all up, singing the words, banging on his bench. There’s Meloni, stern faced, dressed in a symbolically ominous black shirt and sporting a strange constipated grimace. There’s Matarella the President, serene as ever with a slight smirk of world-weariness. Many look pained. Others bend over their desks to embrace the singer. I know, stereotyping can be nonsense. But seriously ragazzi this is peak Italy. It's the ultimate Sanremo-ification of politics; the essence of the postwar postmodern nation distilled into one ludicrous spectacle. Whose idea was this? I don't know. What does Morandi have to do with Senate or its history? Nothing at all. Has anything like this ever happened in Italy's history? I've got no idea. But now it has: and it’s absolutely, side-splittingly hilarious. Watch, and prepare to be amazed.
On a (far) more serious note: long-term followers of Italian politics may well remember that during her campaign last year the now Prime Minister Georgia Meloni repeatedly voiced a desire to alter the Italian Constitution by introducing a direct public vote to appoint the President of the Republic. A reminder, for those who don’t follow such things: the current system, where parliament nominates a candidate, was put in place in the 1940s to prevent a future situation in which a single Dictator figure - like, say, Mussolini - could wield too much power. Historically, efforts to alter this legislation have proved unpopular. Matteo Renzi learnt things the hard way when he put a similar proposal to referendum in 2016. Ultimately, it cost him the Premiership. Now, Meloni is trying her own luck. And I have to say it’s a risky move. There's little appetite in the public for this measure. The opposition will easily score points here - first on the basis that this is a tactic to cover up inaction on national health and employment, and second that it’s a textbook neo-fascist power-grab. Talks have only just begun, but I wanted to flag this showdown early-on as many are predicting it will be a major factor in deciding the ultimate fate of the current right-wing coalition. Frankly, let’s hope so.
The Guardian published a great essay this week under the following no-nonsense headline: "Global super-rich head to Italy for tax breaks and dolce vita." And for once, the reporting lives up to the frame. The author, Angela Giufredda, speaks to luxury real estate agents about a little known flat tax which – by allowing foreign investors to pay 100,000 euro and avoid property fees – has sparked a boom in billionaires purchasing property in the country. The most sought-after properties, as you might expect, are old central Italian villas and Sicilian country homes. What a surprise. What makes this new and noteworthy, however, is that this phenomenon is having a major impact on both rental and sale markets (which are both being inflated beyond any reason). Long story short, locals are being priced out of city centres in Rome and Florence while the ultra-rich are building gated enclaves to cut themselves off from the noise and bustle of the country’s street life. As a reader of this newsletter, I am 100% sure that you have, at some point, entertained a fantasy of the most high-budget kind of Italian dolce vita. I know I have. Well, these are the people who are living it. For better or worse? You be the judge.
Arts and culture: in praise of… life!
A cinema tip for the weekend. Yesterday the international edition ofThe Eight Mountains hit the small screen, and not only that, it is - apparently - rather good! Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch’s adaptation of Paolo Cognetti's award-winning 2016 novel tells the story of two male friends in the Val d'Aosta. Both come from difficult families and both have struggled to conform with the normative gender and consumerist expectations of contemporary society. Instead they live a life in the wild, contemplating the moon, the stars, the trees, rocks and rivers, the peaks of the Alps. Cognetti's text is that rarest of things: a lament against urban life that somehow resists conservatism, and which moreover delivers on its deeper promise to celebrate and valorise both male friendship and life itself. Check out the trailer below - and buy or rent it on YouTube here.
Last but not least, a little left-field chill-out music to see out this Thursday eve, because… why not? We could all use a bit of chillout right? Gianni Brezzo, the DJ and jazz musician, is rapidly becoming one of my favourite young Italian artists. His album Tutto Passa got me through the winter (or just about) and it's still a regular feature on my Spotify “get-the-vibe-going/aperitivo” playlist. If you’ve never heard his stuff (and judging by the low numbers of listens the chances are you haven’t) then rectify that right now and whack this record on. Even if you have, I want to draw your attention to two of his new 2023 releases. The album Soundscapes for Harlequins Vol 1 is a witchy medieval fusion jam featuring a prominent electric harpsichord. Tangram, a collection of accompanying singles, is more traditional, more free flowing with an improvised post-bop feel. Brezzo himself is a virtuoso multi-instrumentalist with a whole roster of unexpected skills. So somewhere in his repertoire you're probably going to find something that fits your groove. If that hasn’t convinced you, here’s an extremely relaxing music video of him wandering around, doing absolutely nothing in Turin. Just because.
Recipe: olio santo
Olio santo. Oh my days, olio santo. A perfect reminder of how the simplest little tricks can liven up your spring-summer menu. This “holy oil” is one of those things it's so easy to overlook. It's just a little too simple to bother with. When you’re out in a pizzeria, sure you do it; you jump right for the chili oil. In the supermarket too, many of us, feeling lazy, find ourselves picking a bottle off the shelf. But why not just make it yourself? The instructions are simple. Heat up a desired amount of (grassy) extra virgin olive oil, add a mix of dried chilis, bottle it all up and leave it to sit. After a few weeks you’ve got your magic ingredient. This is something that will totally jazz up your grilled meats, fish and vegetables. It also works well as a pasta condiment with a little cheese; though, frankly, this smeared on a loaf of good bread – accompanied by a few cherries or apricots – is a dreamy summer lunch in itself. I'm sharing a fairly random recipe, just for reference vis-à-vis quantities, but feel free to use another and to adapt to your personal tastes. Just do yourself a favour. Make some olio santo. Right now. Or this weekend. Whenever. Trust me, by midsummer, your future self is going to be extremely grateful.
My name is Jamie Mackay (@JacMackay) and I’m an author, editor and translator based in Florence. I’ve been writing about Italy for a decade for international media including The Guardian, The Economist, Frieze, and Art Review. I launched ‘The Week in Italy’ to share a more direct and regular overview of the debates and dilemmas, innovations and crises that sometimes pass under the radar of our overcrowded news feeds.
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