I am spending Christmas with my partner and his family in Divino Amore, an outer suburb of Greater Rome. They have a wonderful property that they built from scratch and both mamma and pappi continue to work hard for everything they have. My favourite part is the fantastic garden with a home-made greenhouse. They have kiwis, plums, oranges, mandarins, apples, pears, strawberries, grapefruit, zucchini, broccoli, aubergines, tomatoes, potatoes, white carrots and much more – but even in heaven there are issues that cannot be ignored.
Here in suburban food heaven, some may find it hazardous not to drive everywhere – there are no pavements and the roads are narrow with the odd rather large pothole. There was a big snowstorm a couple of days ago. We had just got home with two small children who were very excited about it and I was happy taking pictures of my unexpected White Christmas. From inside the home it was fun. But if you know what it is like to drive around Rome, whether in the city or in the suburbs, then the snow may not bring any feelings of joy or fun. It may be so that all roads lead to Rome, but all the roads are not built for the astonishing number of cars there are here. The traffic is constant, whether you are on a motorway, an A road or a country lane, night and day. Many of the A roads are single lane, and if one car decides to make a left turn it doesn’t take more than 10 seconds for there to be a 20-car queue of traffic, and this is just in the provinces. In fact, Italy has one of the highest number of cars per one thousand persons (population) in the world.I also find it quite hazardous to drive as, along with many other situations, traffic rules are broken at drivers’ leisure.
As we go through the suburbs my dearest tells me about the depth of corruption that exists in this region. Approximately 70% of the housing in the Roman suburbs has been built illegally. I needed a longer explanation of how on earth this could possibly be the case in a country that is such a major player in Europe, but in fact the reason is quite simple: bribery. Civil servants in the municipalities are bribed to sell the land to property developers or simply rich people, who then do as they wish with the land without having to pass any kind of quality control and without legal planning permission, and they then rent or sell the properties on to Joe Bloggs for an extortionate price. Joe Bloggs may at some point in the future (if Italy ever breaks away from the deep-rooted anything-goes-for-a-price culture) find himself homeless and the property developer will be long gone with his riches.
The reason we began to discuss this was that I commented that the housing reminded me a little of India (as does the family life, food culture, traffic and household waste disposal situation), and a little of Egypt. There is no recognizable order in many of the areas that I have seen around Rome. It is not that the housing is unattractive; it is just very random. Similar levels of corruption exist in India. In Egypt, I only know that housing contracts are given and then building can stop half way through the process because of lack of money – I do not know for sure whether this is due to corruption or not. Anyway, the trouble in Italy at the moment is that people do not have much choice (unless they have money). In addition, many resent paying taxes (somehow understandably) as their tax money is not being spent how it should be. The much of the country runs on favours and every rule seems to be able to be broken; again, this is very similar to the civic, business and political reality of India. In Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, the ranking system is: 10 = highly clean, 0 = highly corrupt. Italy is the only country in Western Europe which scores below 4; it scores 3.9 and India scores 3.3. At the top end in 2010, Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore ranked first with a score of 9.3 and Finland and Sweden followed with a score of 9.2.
Last week Berlusconi once again managed to perform miracles and stay in power, after surviving a vote of no-confidence, much to the disappointment, and possibly detriment, of millions of Italians. Since I arrived, I have seen so many horrendous images of police brutality similar to that of the G8 atrocities in Genoa almost 10 years ago. This time it is protesters from all different walks of life venting their frustrations about the political situation and 'austerity measures' who are met with fierce violence from armed police. In one scene a police officer, without any such equivalent provocation, drew his weapon and shot into the crowd. The strange thing in Italy is that in spite of Berlusconi’s domination and control of the media, there is public discussion and condemnation of the corruption and brutality; it seems however that this is to no avail.
There is a strange atmosphere here. My dearest told me before that Italy is not as ‘hyggeligt’ (a fantastic Danish word which translates to cosy, but is much deeper than that) as Denmark. He is right. There is a strong air of discontent that is almost impossible to ignore, and impossible to notice during the spring and summer months when the vineyards are green, the wine is flowing, the sun is shining and the food is … well … the food just is (words fail me!).
My wonder is how the EU is accepting the chaos and abuse that is Italian politics and corruption without raising an eyebrow. My dearest answered, “Because they are part of it.”
The good news: The very North of Europe may be very well organized and far removed from negative aspects of life here in the South, but when it comes to caring models, I am a big fan of the Southerner approach whereby care is given and received, and visibly appreciated on a more regular basis by humans (such as families and friends) rather than institutions (such as the state).
And the food … well, I am certainly not short of recipes after the past few days. Yesterday evening pappi came home with a lobster – alive and kicking! Later on or tomorrow I shall post the recipes for our lunch today: Creamed Broccoli Soup followed by Linguini con Astica. The soup is my recipe and the lobster lingune was made by Colonello (pappi).
Out of 178 countries worldwide, Italy ranks 67 and India 87. For the complete list see http://www.transparency.org/policy_research/surveys_indices/cpi/2010/results