Squadrismo in Firenze
Plus, a new series of Belve and a 'lost lecture' on Renaissance music
If you’re reading this from Florence – or anywhere in Italy for that matter – you may well have seen the reports of far-right violence that have been doing the rounds the past few days. If not, here are the basics: last Saturday a small group of teenage “leftist” students at the Liceo Classico Michelangelo (Via della Colonna) were hanging around outside their high school when a gang of older men dressed in black attacked two of the group, punching them, kicking them and throwing them to the ground [see the clip here]. Preliminary investigations suggest Azione Studentesca, a far right youth organization that just so happens to be based in the same office building as the local Fratelli d’Italia (FdI) branch, were behind the attack. Yes, this was a scale-scale incident in some respects, but it’s serious nonetheless. As Annalisa Savino has recently reminded us: “fascism in Italy wasn’t born from the mass participation of thousands of people. It was created on the sidewalks of cities where people were beaten-up in acts of political violence which were ignored.” The people of Florence - for what it’s worth - came out in their thousands to condemn the attacks earlier this week, as the video below shows. The local FdI branch, however, has neglected to comment on the political motivation underpinning this incident and until now has only offered a generic statement condemning violence “of all kinds.” Make of that what you will.
Francesca Fagnani is - to my mind - one of the most impressive journalists working in Italy right now. Born in 1976, the Roman broadcaster began her career as a foreign correspondent in the U.S. before coming to prominence for her powerful work on the three part series Il Prezzo about child prisons in Naples. More recently, she’s been garnering a reputation as “Italy’s best interviewer” thanks to her work on the show ‘Belve’ which is indeed one of few shows on TV worth tuning in for. On 21 February the new series kicked-off on RAI 2 featuring Fagnani’s conversations with President of the Senate Ignazio La Russa, the singer Anna Oxa and the model and football agent Wanda Nara. The presenter’s stye is unflinching: she never lectures or moralizes, but neither does she pull punches. She’s sharp but generous, and ably avoids the usual trash-style conduct of Italian TV while, at the same, side-stepping the so-often condescending arrogance of many left-leaning commentators. For this series, the show’s producers have also enlisted the help of Cristina Di Tella, a well-known TikTok impersonator, to offer some comedic breaks; an inspired decision and a rare but welcome sign that there are still some functioning-minds at Italy’s public service broadcaster. You can watch Belve on catch-up here [ITA only I’m afraid though Di Tella’s antics, below, are universally comprehensible…]
OK a bit of a jump now, but I do want to share this link to an extremely dense (but extremely enlightening) economics report which Max Krahe recently published for the Dezernat Zukunft Institute of Macro Finance. In this 58-page document - with a neat summary at the top… - you’ll find out why, despite being Europe’s second-ranking manufacturing nation, Italy continues to fall victim to “economic stagnation, high unemployment, low investment, and waning confidence.” Krahe’s explanation - in wonk-speak - is “market liberalising reforms” combined with “demand suppression.” What this really means is: privatisation, outsourcing, austerity and fiscal tightening via poorly managed adoption of the euro. Almost all of Italy’s politicians are now realising that the state must play a greater role in mediating future investment. The question is, what will this look like? Will, can and should Italy believe the EU’s promise that fancy flagship schemes like NextGenEu will provide snowball impetus for further investment? Or should the government continue to focus on protectionist and nationalist measures to prop-up potentially strong fields such as agriculture and tourism? Whatever your politics, this report will certainly leave you better informed about the structural issues that are at stake today. Read it here.
Arts and culture: Popes, Germs and Music
Francesco Fusaro – one of my favourite DJ’s – has got a new newsletter out this year dedicated to music, philosophy, politics and pop culture which I’m pretty sure will interest a sizeable sub-section of you reading here. The title of his publication is “Tafelbrief” and the latest post, “The Lost Palestrina File: On Popes, Germs and Music” is my personal favourite so far. This particular instalment takes the form of a “lost lecture” that Fusaro was supposed to give back in 2020 to coincide with a book launch, but which, due to Covid-19, he was never able to deliver. The topic, as the title suggests, is the life and work of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, one of Italy’s most important (late) Renaissance composers, and indeed, in a sense, this is a breezy 3000 word biography of the man and artist. More importantly, however, and more interestingly, the essay also offers a profound historical-anthropological reflection on the nature of Vatican power during the rise of Protestantism and it even draws some evocative and humane parallels between the nature of precarious work in the past and present. So if you’re even vaguely interested in classical music, or history, make sure to check this one out - and then subscribe to Tafelbrief while you’re at it.
Netflix Italia has been enjoying some major success over the past few months with shows such as ‘Mare Fuori’ [The Sea Beyond] and ‘You’ each finding their way to the top of global charts in 2023. The latest title to draw such attention, and the nation’s undeniable “show of the moment”, is ‘La legge di Lidia Poët’ [the law according to Lidia Poët]. This six part mini series follows the adventures of the real life figure of - you guessed it - Lidia Poët who, in 1920, became the first woman to be formally recognised as a modern lawyer in Italy. I haven’t seen the show yet, so can’t comment on the content. Still, the trailer below does seem rather promising. Matilda de Angelis (Rose Island star) is an excellent actor and surely well-cast in the main role. The production style - a touch of BBC Sherlock, a bit of Apple TV’s Dickinson – is appealing, at least to me. And the story itself, a feminist parable, about one woman’s successful fight against the patriarchy, feels fresh and necessary in Italy today. Hats off to Netflix Italia for giving this one the green light.
Recipe of the week: galani cherry 'sandwiches'
Carnival time is now officially over, so I thought one final sweet dish - a little goloso indulgence - might be in order this week. This recipe is another favourite from Russel Norman’s book Polpo, and it’s a quasi-authentic, slightly elevated take on Venetian street food. If you live in Italy this is basically a matter of assemblage. You can find galani in most supermarkets at this time of year, so Norman’s instructions are really just a guide: put two strips of dough on top of one another, fill them with cream, add some boozy cherries soaked in brandy or grappa and you’re done! If you don’t live in Italy this is still a pretty easy desert: just fry up some crispy, thin doughnuts and proceed as before. I find this is a good option for a quick and indulgent end to an otherwise light meal, and it’s particularly effective as a funky palate cleanser after a simple fish or vegetable main. Check it out at the isssue link here [pages 26-7 in the widget] or have a squint at the screengrab below if you feel like cooking up a treat.
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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