Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Il Divo

I'll bet we see them both in Arts and Letters Daily: two densely detailed obituaries of Giulio Andreotti, who apparently did not mind being recognized as Il Divo, the mastermind of Italian politics for most of the time since World War II, even if it  brought him perilously close to disgrace. The obit in The Telegraph is thicker with anecdote, but I'll cast my vote for Jon Tagliabue's rendering in the New York Times because he more sharply poses the central puzzle of Andreotti's long  career: how did so (seemingly) evil a man preside over the rise of Italy from near-third-world poverty to its current position is one of the  richest nations in the world?

The question is not rhetorical by which I mean I do not have a foreordained answer for it.  Could be that Andreotti was not as bad as he was cracked up to be? Or that Italy is not doing as well as I like to think?  Or--yes, I am tempted here--that the Italians have mastered the art of not letting bad government get in the way of the good life?

This is, after all, the most perfunctory of nations--the "geographic expression" in Bismark's famously dismissive one liner; the one where they didn't even pretend they spoke a common language until after World War II; the one where the Pope himself told the folks they didn't need to pay taxes (I know the Pope changed his mind on that one; it is equally conventional to remark that the change of mind seems to have got lost in the famously slow Italian mails).

Eppure si muove; and yet it moves, Galileo's folkloric recantation of his recantation. It was the title of a pretty, although perhaps a bit too cheery, account of Italian politics I read back in the 80s, round about the first time I ever went there.  On the whole, my guess that things are a tad worse  now than they were then: the postwar miracle is over, real earnings seem to have declined and that damn song-and-dance man just keeps going and going and going (we keep him because with him, we know we'll never have to pay taxes).  Which might, in the end, by Berlusconi's best defense: hey, Italians have survived and thrived under dreadful government before.

Afterthought:  I had totally forgotten that somebody actually made a movie about Andreotti (L'uomo Magro?) a few years back. I know I watched it,stuck around all the way to the end. But in retrospect, it is apparently just about as colorless and forgettable as Il Divo so often attempted to be.  For my Italy-sleaze fix, I'd rather go back and take another look at Habemus Papam, about a Pope who seemed about as gentle as the new incumbent, but didn't seem to enjoy it as much.

No comments: