Discover more from The Week in Italy
All smoke and no fire
Plus, racist media and a podcast about Italo Calvino's legacy
On 1 May, on the occasion of international workers' day, the Italian government announced a "momentous" tax cut which they claim is going to help “all Italians” to live with dignity in the face of rising living costs. Thanks to the new scheme, many low income employees will receive an extra 80-100 euros per month. It is, in Meloni’s words, "the most important tax cut of recent decades." A "sign the government is here to stay," as her colleague Giancarlo Giorgetti put it. Sure, this sounds OK - I guess - but let's consider the facts. First, this is hardly unprecedented. In 2014 Matteo Renzi introduced a virtually identical scheme, at a time when inflation was much, much lower. More recently still, in Spring 2022, Mario Draghi actually organized his own relatively generous tax reimbursement scheme which, unlike the current offering, also applied to freelancers. Not to mention the bigger picture. Yes, Meloni may be giving lower earners a (small) boost, but she's also cancelled the existing 500 euro jobseekers’ allowance and replaced it with a more restrictive means-tested 350 euro scheme. She’s also easing regulation on temporary job contracts and re-introducing gig economy vouchers: thereby ensuring more and more of Italy’s workforce will be confined to low paid jobs. Propaganda aside, there’s not much news here. This is a straightforward continuation of four decades of neoliberal policy. As Elly Schlein, the head of PD, put it. "We are fed up of seeing heaps of poor, precarious jobs that condemn young people, especially in the south, to unbearable precarious conditions." Looking at the map below, who, in their right minds, could disagree?
Panorama magazine has never exactly been the bastion of progressive thinking in Italy. It’s a low-level gossip-mag with dubious editorial standards, superficial culture coverage and a generally dodgy weltanschauung. Nevertheless, this week, the Italian publication has really outdone itself. The new print cover for the 3 May edition leads with the hyperbolic headline ‘Italy without Italians?’ which is imposed over a collage-effect map depicting stock images of various people of colour. Leaving aside the fact that most foreigners in Italy are white EU citizens, that there are only two to three million non-white people here, that areas where African, middle Eastern and other migrant groups are living rank among the most dynamic and culturally-interesting areas of the country - and, hey, the basic notion of human rights? - this is a disgrace. The cover below is right out of the 1930s: proudly racist and xenophobic, and a fitting refection of the far right’s resurgent hegemony. Sadly, this isn’t anything new. It’s not the first such cover and it won’t be the last. Nevertheless, I wanted to share this image, both as an example of how the media is distorting the discourse around migration today, and - more concretely - to name and shame Panorama itself. I’m generally not in the habit of preaching boycotts: but if you pay for this magazine, or read it online, it’s probably time to stop.
But enough with the doom and gloom, for now at least. I've just dusted-off my BBQ, the sun is out, and I, like most of Florence, most of Italy, and probably most of Europe, am looking forward to the summer. I won't be going far this year. I've got enough work trips lined-up in the pipeline as it is. Instead I've been looking for some inspiration for a quick Italy-based weekend away; and preferably one that won’t break the bank! There are always a bunch of pieces on this topic around this time of year, and 2023 is no exception. Conde Naste, the Telegraph and NYT have all been at it in recent weeks. My favourite so far, however, has been this Guardian feature on 'secret' places to stay in Italy. OK, so many of the destinations - Amalfi Coast, Liguria - are anything but “secret”, but let's not split hairs eh? There are some excellent budget-friendly choices here: a waterfront hostel in Sardinia (69 euros for a double)? Yes please. A Hillside agriturismo in Le Marche (80 euros for a double)? I’m there. Convent turned eco-resort in Umbria (99 euros for a double)? Sign me up. Check out the link here for some last minute inspiration before the summer begins in earnest.
Arts and culture: Past, Present, Future
The author David Runciman has got a new podcast out called ‘Past, Present, Future’ which professes to explore “the history of ideas from politics to philosophy, culture to technology.” The first episode, which was released last week in collaboration with the LRB, features the novelist Ian McEwan talking about Italo Calvino’s short novella The Watcher (1963). Now, I for one had never heard of this book, but after listening to this discussion I went and ordered it right away. Set over the course of a single day, the plot follows a member of the Italian Communist Party who is assigned to a polling station in Turin's Hospital for Incurables, to monitor the patients (in varying degrees of immobility) as they participate in the democratic process. Is this the best political novel of all time? For McEwan, who passionately communicates the book’s virtuosic fusion of existential drama and social commentary, the answer is a cautious yes. To hear his case - and to learn more about this forgotten classic - listen to the full episode here.
On the topic of literature: Netflix Italia announced this week that a new TV adaptation of Tomasso De Lampedusa’s novel The Leopard is in the works and that it will be released later this year. Il gattopardo, which is due to hit the small screen this autumn, is the first major adaptation of the much-loved literary work since Luchino Visconti’s film version back in 1963. Details so far are scant, save a few shots from the set, but we do know that, as expected, locations will include Siracusa, Palermo, Catania and, intriguingly, Rome. Taking on such a beloved work of high culture and of cinema is risky business; a ballsy move on the part of Netflix. Nevertheless, the book’s themes of social collapse, counter-revolutionary fervour, poverty and degradation in the south are so depressingly relevant today that there’s surely scope here for an adaptation with real bite. Watch the moody - and decidedly spoiler-free teaser - below.
Recipe of the week: polpette di lesso
I’ve been having an odd craving for this dish all spring, and finally last weekend I got the chance to whip it up. Polpette di lesso are basically meatballs, but not as you know them. Forget your classic mince, herbs and red tomato sauce combo. These little treats are made using old scraps of boiled meat from a stock pot (short ribs, brisket, sirloin flap, shanks, chuck etc) which are mixed with spices and sometimes a little potato. Oh, and did I mention that they’re deep fried? There are many regional variations on this recipe, but personally I like the Roman version, which incorporates nutmeg and parsley into the mix. This a heavy dish, no doubt about it. And the taste is unusual, a little funkier than most Italian recipes; perhaps a little Balkan-ish if I dare say so. Nevertheless, I heartily recommend these alternative meatballs to any readers of an adventurous palate who aren’t afraid of a little muskiness. Serve with salsa verde for a welcome, sharp touch to balance the flavours. Here’s the link [though do read the notes for some important tips].
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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