Me and my crew spent the train ride over to Arsenale chewing over some story doing the rounds on social media. I don't remember what it was but it was the reason we ended up having a pretty heavy morning chat that day.
The crux was how in Italy too many people are quick to reduce the ultimate role of women down to mother/potential mother. There's no alternative on offer and worse still, no acceptable argument against it. We noted that the obsession with woman as creator is well, lazy and limited and especially overused in the arts.
I know, we could've spoken about the croissants or the scenery but some days you see something on social media and it takes you out on a tangent.
Not all that different to what's on offer at the Biennale- where lots of artists are following their own tangents spurred on by themes that will be familiar if you're on social media or if you read the press.
Arsenale has less national pavilions than Giardini, so there are a few honourable mentions in this round up of what I think are the ten (+1) pavilions you should focus on.
Reality is the huge group show (90+ artists which will get a separate post) is going to gobble up most of your time so you'll want to make the best of whatever time is left over.
I'm starting somewhere unexpected- New Zealand to be precise. Lisa Reihana (Emissaries) gets a tick for the best use of space at Arsenale.
She's made a kind of panoramic video that mimicks the old scenic wallpapers popular in Europe once upon a time and fills the long narrow space that NZ has been allocated this year.
The video is interesting if a little heavy handed for the Biennale. Reihana has basically brought the conversation gripping a lot of former colonial countries to life: the one in which we are starting to articulate imperialism by bringing the darkness of the acts of colonial founding fathers to light.
The scale of the work is impressive and it's not too dissimilar in theme to the work of Claudia Fontes (The Horse Problem, Argentina). Fontes is using the symbols of Argentina's founding myth to address angst and frustration. Colonialism, paternalism and the overarching state narrative are not so much the white elephant in the room but a white horse who is chomping at the bit and ready to explode from frustration with the state (as represented by the national pavilion).
My friends think I've taken the easy option in choosing Fontes as one of the highlights: her work here is bold, pretty and striking but I also think it's one of the more intelligent uses of space and a pretty powerful subervsive statement about the spectacle of nationalism that makes the Venice Biennale both fun and ridiculous.
Spare a thought then for Tunisia. It's not had an easy time of late politically or socially.
I'm giving it a special mention because despite political obstacles, they (like the NSK collective) have managed to bring a political protest to the Biennale. The Absence of Paths is an installation: a booth where attendants will issue anyone a passport (a feesa). Its value is questionable and its blue ink (required for your fingerprint) frustratingly difficult to remove afterwards.
Its a simple bureaucratic act- a passport or a visa issued instantly - which offers comment on the refugee crisis and it happens so quickly that you wind up thinking (and trying to wipe off the stain of bureaucracy) only afterwards.
There are few things that I love more in Italy than the Venice Biennale.
I feel an immense sense of privilege that I have been able to visit it four times since I've been here.
Each year I do my best to write up my thoughts in the hopes that my impressions can help other visitors make choices about what to focus on- or give people who have no plans on visiting a down to earth curator's view on things. There are 29 national pavilions in addition to the group show at the Venice Pavilion here at Giardini and this post is dedicated to my favourites. A separate post about Arsenale- the other main complex of pavilions will follow.
About a third of the national pavilions at Giardini were offering up what I thought were brilliant or thought provoking work. The ten that I've selected here are more or less in line with the selections of my Biennale crew- this is the fourth Biennale we've visited together and although we usually bicker like sad old toffs on the train ride home this year we pretty much had consensus with our choices.
There were a lot of disappointing exhibits on offer at Giardini- especially from Great Britain (too art school), Spain and Holland (too much video and not engaging at that) which are usually my favourites- leaving me with the idea that this year it's Arsenale that is really worth the extra time and effort.
But a visit to Giardini will still blow you away if you spend more of your time at the following national pavilions (in no particular order):
3. South Korea
10. Czech Republic
More detailed comments about these pavilions and the artists after the jump.
I've been told it's snowing in Hawaii.
Equally improbable is the fact that I woke up this morning and found that I correctly predicted the results of Italy's constitutional referendum.
That's like the first time this year I've gone to bed knowing what the political result was going to be the next day.
You're going to be reading a lot of coverage about the referendum over the coming days. Primarily because Italy's prime minister Matteo Renzi had staked his job on the result. Poor little lamb just resigned.
Let me just make a couple of points for you to keep in mind as you read the analysis.
When the referendum was announced, the goal was to simplify the parliamentary process. I think it's safe to say that Italy isn't famous for progressive, transparent government.
Law makers have a tough time of it here and laws constantly get sent back from the senate to the parliament for rewording and rewriting, making the process infiinitely longer. Because this country is red tape central, Renzi figured the parliament needed more power at the Senate's expense. This would effectively speed up the law making process [but give the PM more say and more power to push through his agenda].
Renzi started his term with a huge, popular mandate.
The constitutional reform he floated was approved by parliament, so he was, as always, bullishly confident that the public would approve of it too via the referendum. So confident, that he declared he'd quit if the referendum didn't pass.
Problem was that the political climate had changed substantially by the time the vote was taken to the public. In some corners, Renzi was increasingly being seen as a mini Berlusconi: all confidence and huff when Italy was yet to show much in the way of improvement under his governing.
The opposition [many parts of whom originally voted in favour of the reforms] changed their tune and began to vocally signal their opposition to reform when they sensed the public's mood. They correctly saw the referendum as being an opportunity to oust Renzi - thanks to his promise to quit.
Aside from Renzi's pointless act of personalizing the referendum which ultimately doomed the campaign, the other issue was that Italians didn't have a clear idea what they were voting for or against. The suggested reforms were not clear- they were incredibly complex questions for many people and even friends of mine who voted walked away feeling unsure what their vote meant.
But the takeaway was that many felt that in voting for reform, they would be stripping themselves of their power to vote in the electoral process. By stripping the senate of its power, they would effectively be removing part of their voice and giving it to Renzi or whichever party was in government.
And don't be fooled. The EU had nothing to do with these elections. It was not considered a vote for or against the European Union, despite what some in the press are saying. This was a vote for or against Renzi, and a vote for or against changes to the parliamentary process, which has revealed how little most Italians know about the political process.
You know when a news story just leaves you feeling, well, awkward?
A new candidate for Awkward! shuffled forward this week out of a court room in Sicily. From the minute you hear Sicily and 'courtroom' you know you gotta perk those ears up because you just know it's going to be juicy.
Well, I think it's more juicy as in moist. See? Got you feeling just the right kind of awkward now. Let's proceed.
Story goes a little something like this. A 69(!) year old man in the greater Catania area apparently just felt the need to throw a bit of caution to the wind and to, erm, give himself a little bit of pleasure in front of a group of teenage girls who are students at the university.
He was initially arrested for indecent exposure, but just this week had the charge overturned as the judge has ruled that it (i.e. the act of masturbating in public) is not a criminal offence. You see, in Italy, law is basically divided into two camps: criminal and civil. He'll be fined a few thousand euro for taking the liberty onto himself in front of others, but no criminal act will be entered onto his record. Which means, due to a change in the criminal code, masturbating in public is now technically not a penal crime.
So for you perves who want to get it on by yourselves outdoors and in front of Italy's greatest landmarks, the judge has basically paved the way for you to do it.
To avoid a fine, you might want to content yourself with just being out in the open air though, and not bother trying to get yourself an audience as it sounds like the law's interpretation is less about exhibitionism and more about the right to, erm, derive satisfaction in the open air.
Original report in Italian here, translated in English here.
Just for something different, I'm having another face palm day here in Italy. I know right? Life is full of surprises.
I don't know about you but the countries that I have spent the most amount of time living in all have the same problem: a population that is getting older. Some deal with it by trying to entice young, upwardly professionals over, but, immigration being the dirty word that it is now makes that a touchy subject.
Thank God for the Italian government. They've brought ingenuity to the problem.
You see, Italy is chock full of oldies. Oldies that the government tries to throw a pension at and ignore. You see, the mentality is largely, 'here, take your cash but don't come a knocking for any support: you want home care? You can pay for it with that wad you just risked your life withdrawing or, be a good Italian parent and ensure your own children look after you."
Don't worry. The government's ignorance towards its aged citizens is matched only by the contempt it has for its youth. Youth unemployment is currently at 39.2%. No, it's not a typo. 39.2% - with no real hope of improving at least in the forseeable future. [The national figure is 11.4%.] Those that are in work are most likely to be on temporary contracts, or worse, as I can attest, working as independent contractors who, regardless of how little they might be earning, have to pay thousands of euros worth of retirement contributions out of their own pocket in addition to their taxes even if this equates to more than 50% of their salary.
Italian families also have it tough: there's very little in the way of public childcare here: it's mostly a private gig and an out of pocket scenario meaning those grandparents better put aside some cash to make sure there's always a Kinder surprise in the house for those pesky grandchildren.
To address the problem of the growing grey army, the Italian government, in its infinite wisdom, has declared September 22 to be Fertility Day. Basically a stay in and procreate day. This week, it launched a particularly gruesome online campaign right out of the 1950s. The above images respectively translate as: "Beauty has no age but fertility does" and "Fertility is a public asset".
Leaving aside the economic absurdity of straight out encouraging people to have children in a country whose economy is on the brink of collapse [in 2013 more than 90,000 young Italians left Italy in the search for work elsewhere], the campaign has also touched off debate about people - especially women's - right to choose what they want to do with their bodies and the life choices they make. The tone of the government's approach is shockingly old school - basically labeling women as incubators for the public. Additionally, the emphasis on fertility has been perceived as a tactless affront to those with fertility issues, or, construed as a campaign to make people feel guilty about having children later [if at all]. This in a country where most women need to go abroad in order to have fertility treatment if they're having trouble conceiving.
Italians were already weary enough of their government. Growing numbers are rejecting the established parties in favour of the new, populist reactionary groups like Cinque stelle. This kind of propaganda is seen for what it is: an out of touch campaign based on the Italian guilt complex that many grew up with but no longer tolerate.
That it made it through so many levels of government, that so many people clearly worked on it to get it out into the public is incredulous. Did nobody stop to think for a moment the outcry this was going to cause?
Say what you want about Italians, but they're not afraid to share their opinion on things, especially if the topic is divisive. The huge debate that these images and the ideas driving them has created led to reports of the #fertilityday website being shut down last night, just hours after it went live.
The debate though will rage over the coming weeks but the damage has already been done.
Get ready for a shocking statement.
"I am not an economist."
I'm like that car that is always running on empty, so heaven forbid that I say anything terrible about the Italian economy. I mean, it's all been said before anyway, hasn't it? Blah blah blah corruption, blah blah blah no one pays their taxes, blah blah car... oh that's a different one, kind of like Uber but for intercity trips. Everyone raves about that one.
Anyway, Italy as you'd be undoubtedly aware, has seen better economic days. Europe's third largest economy is on the skids blah blah blah. From the outside it's easy to look at Italy as being a country. One of the most populated in Europe, one which has traditionally been a centre of artisan production and small businesses that drove innovation in many ways.
But if you spend any prolonged amount of time here today, you start to look at it as less of a country and more of a transport hub.
In what way? In the sense that the ongoing brain drain of Italy's youth and the lack of economic stability here has created something of a new Italian diaspora.
Yes, sounds meaty I know.
But think of it this way. There are currently so many young Italians living in London, for example, that London could statistically be seen as one of the top ten Italian cities by current population metrics. For those Italians who insist on staying in Europe, Berlin is also a popular choice and there is now even a documentary film doing the rounds about the tens of thousands (!) of young Italians currently living there.
But when Italians are not chasing graduate opportunities, scholarships or funded roles in pretty much every other European country, they're having to look even further in order to get a job or to simply progress in their fields.
In my six years here, I've met dozens of architects. I don't know how it happened. Perhaps it's because there are more architects in Italy than in any other country (per capita) or because I'm just naturally drawn to meeting people who insist on removing the doors in their own homes to create "open space living" for themselves. That latter thing always kind of irks me, because what happens if you want to fry something in your kitchen? Does the rest of the house have to suffer for it? Maybe architects just don't cook in their own houses - or - just don't cook, period. I need to look into that.
Anyway, many - actually, EVERY one of the architects I have met here have either spent months and months working on projects in the Middle East or China, or have simply had to pack up and move there permanently. Italy's ratio of creatives per job opportunity is stacked against their favour, so it means for many, it's time to brush up on some English, get a passport (what is it with Europeans not having passports) and to go and live somewhere from which they can give us a satellite news feed full of interesting local dishes and culture shock. Don't get me wrong, hell, this blog is just the written equivalent of that kind of thing and I actually love seeing my friends post things about where they are and what they're up to. It's the vicarious travel that I am now resigned to doing thanks to the pitiful Italian salary that I'm on.
What's interesting is how the youth exodus is now being mirrored more and more by a lot of Italian design and fashion houses. In recent weeks there has been news of how Dolce & Gabbana, for example, did a major flip. You see, last year, those two hacks came out in opposition to LGBT parents. In a way they were kind of ahead of the trend for once because just this last week the Italian parliament and public have been divided on a key part of the same sex union bill currently being debated in public.
The bill, which has been dismantled and reassembled and stripped of its more controversial aspects, stumbled because there was a mistaken belief that if the parliament granted legal protections to same sex partners in the case where one partner wanted their partner to be able to adopt their own child - that it would open the way for same sex couples to pursue surrogacy in Italy - which has been labelled as utero in affito (rented uterus) basically. This has had everyone up in arms and has created a fire storm of social and political debate.
But basically, Dolce and Gabbana made comments late last year about how disgusting the whole idea of same sex parenting, rented uteruses and LGBT families are in general. Yes, it's called self hating people. But magically, in recent months, D&G, the brand, have done an about face and even created, wait for it, a children's clothing line, inclusive of one with, might I just say, horrific images of same sex families (as above). Amazing what an untapped market and the lure of the pink dollar can do to change your public position on some things. Mind you, weren't D&G done for tax avoidance last year too? Hmmm.
D&G and other Italian fashion houses, like the majority of Italy's youth are also looking beyond the borders of the boot shaped country. They're adapting to other cultural situations and, are now creating collections with the modern Middle Eastern woman in mind. They released a collection of hijabs and abayas in January as part of The Abaya Collection. In a way it was the kind of foray they've done in other markets (creating specific collections for Russia and East Asian countries in recent years) but kind of like a complete left of field change in direction. After all, you gotta pay the rent, and Middle Eastern buyers have fast replaced Chinese and Russian shoppers as the must have clients to court these days.
They're not the only Italian creatives who are tapping into a new market as their own domestic/EU one struggles to support them. Sanctions on Iran have barely been lifted but already fashion houses like Roberto Cavalli and Versace are lining up to open stores in Tehran. A case of first in, best dressed you might say, and a way in which Italians and Italian companies are, due to economic need, spreading their own version of soft power on a one by one basis (even if the numbers add up to thousands).
Follow the dollar kids.
There are things that I'm sure you think of when you think of the word Italy. For some of you I'm sure your thoughts around different plates and dishes. Others among you will have ideas about warm, sultry Mediterranean nights and, um, Latin lovers. Me, well, especially during this period I tend to associate it with an ineffective postal service and constant banging the head against the wall the minute something beuracratic needs doing.
Well, cast aside your thoughts about pizza, pasta and olive skin. You can now associate Italy with breakdancing.
Yep! The world has a new champion breakdancer. He's Italian and he entered the Guiness Book of Records by way of a shopping centre.
All hail Stefano Maso.
Sara Goldschmied & Eleonora Chiari are two Milan based artists who have worked together for some time.
The Museion space in the North Eastern Italian city (some would argue that it's actually not very Italian) of Balzano commissioned the artists to produce an installation as part of the collateral events for Milan's Expo.
Their response? An eighties tribute. And you know how much I love the eighties.Pretty ingenious idea if you ask me. They imagined the Italy of the eighties and managed to tie in their observations and experience with more than just a bit of social commentary.
How? By imagining eighties Italy as a party or more precisely, as the remnants of a party. Dove andiamo a ballare questa sera? (Where shall we go dancing tonight) is the resulting work. The snapshot of what began to happen the very morning after the party had ended. You know when the guests have gone, and there's no life left at the party...just the left overs that need to be cleaned up and cleared away.
In capturing that moment, Goldschmied and Chiari have effectively acknowledged and paid tribute to the Italy of the eighties that no longer exists today (but whose consequences live on).
What they're referring to was the Italy which was experiencing something of an economic boom, and large scale (unfettered?) reevelopment. This coinciding with Italy's notoriety as being one of the centres of Europe's cultural and party scene.
It was a party that brought with it a lot of fun, but a socio, economical and political mess which is still being dealt with today.
Love the idea, love the concept, and in a way, also love what happened next...and to think I thought it was modern life and not modern art that is rubbish. Check what happens here.
I often get asked what life is like for the gay community in Italy by friends abroad. People assume that because it's a Western European country that life is reasonably progressive here, as it is in neighbouring countries like Spain, Germany and The Netherlands.
Had they asked me in the month of July or August I'd probably be too distracted by the good looking locals, the gay beaches and the brilliant electronica parties to think too much about the situation.
But the month of June has delivered with it all the answers we need for the question at hand...read on and hopefully I'll have given you a pretty comprehensive snapshot of what the situation is like here.
From the outset let me say that I am not an activist. I probably quite naively believe that there is room for everyone in a society, even if reality continues to prove me wrong. But I have a brain and a conscience which is more than I can say for some parts of the wider community, and community leaders in particular who always seek to divide.
Earlier this month Rome celebrated its annual Pride event with crowd estimates ranging between 500-600k.
Alongside Milan's Pride, Rome consistently attracts huge numbers in part because pride there acts like a magnet for many people in the south of Italy.
While a number of southern cities are now hosting events (including Naples, Palermo, Bari and my new base of Lecce), the LGBTQI community still has less of a presence in the south and therefore those who want to march often do so in the protection of the country's capital.
In the country's capital and across its political offices, the current centre-left government, run by Matteo Renzi is busy trying to enact a number of huge reforms including the reforming of the public school system and the drafting of legislation to introduce civil unions on a national scale.
Renzi's goal is to have the legislation enacted as soon as possible - it's been one of his platforms since coming to power - and the idea is that the civil unions will in the main part replicate the system used in Germany where the protections are all but identical to marriage but without that pesky word being mentioned and, as in Germany, without provisions for gay couples to adopt.
Italian opinion polls show that despite the tentacle like reach of the church, the majority of Italians are in favour of civil partnerships. Any political organisation worth its salt has done its own polling to confirm this trend, and as such, even the usual suspects on the right are not demonstrating opposition to granting the right of legal acknowledgement to the unions, even if they are playing the political game and obstructing thousands of points in the draft legislation to slow things down.
Having realised that the public tide has turned, the right is shifting its stance.
The new line is that on the whole, they begrudgingly support civil unions (after all, their constituents are already on that page), so the debate has shifted towards gay parenting and the alleged perils that Italian children and families face, and its an attack that is being propelled by the usual suspects.
This month, a Family Day march was convened by pro-life and pro-family groups and the Catholic church and attracted a crowd in Rome for which estimates ranged between 300K and 1 million people. Even the Catholic press cited the 300K figure, but suffice to say the "Difendiamo i nostri figli" (Protect our Children) march drew in the parishioners in much the same way that occurred in France when gay marriage was legislated. This after months of lobbying and preparation from the network of churches and parishes that dot the land. Stepping into a church the other day to photograph the art, I was shocked that there was actually a poster inciting people to join the march.
But this new pope? Isn't he the good guy in all of this?
Well, some will have you believe so, and the church's involvement in the march was more grassroots in nature, with the Bishop's Council not formally being involved. That said, any negation that the church was involved would be a blatant lie (as I said, I spotted the poster in a church, and it was a mass produced poster some 600km away from the march itself).
But Francis has actually been doing a lot of late to fan the fires and to stoke the church's underlying agenda. While the perception is that he's gay friendly, the reality is that the Church's stance has not changed at all, and that he in fact is opposed by large factions within for conceding any public ground on the matter. As such, he has been releasing well timed statements to reinforce the Catholic church's fundamental belief in the traditional family. Every family needs a mother (female) and a father (male). Any sentiment to the contrary is unacceptable. Period.
And so, in sensing that civil unions are now politically untouchable, talk has shifted towards the idea of family and gender as being the perils that civil unions will bring with.
The march, although ostensibly one against civil unions, was presented as a march for traditional values, attracting its audience by opposing the idea of gender ideology that conservative groups believe is being piloted in Italian schools as part of the education system reforms.
What they are mistakedly, but conveniently, referring to are a series of initiatives based on improving social cohesion and harmony through the use of materials which challenge stereotypes. Materials that, the likes of which have been in circulation in Western schools for decades.
Materials like Salvero la Principessa which champions the use of words over violence, or Zaff, or E Con Tango Siamo in Tre, children's books which are designed and written to help children overcome their prejudices towards minority groups. These titles sit alongside conventional materials in some libraries in an attempt to acknowledge the growing diversity of society, but that right wing groups and certain politicians are demonizing, suggesting that there is no place for them in schools, and no space for these ideas to be considered.
Ultra conservative media outlets like Breitart (like Fox but exotic) and the dozens of Vatican connected media outlets will have you believe that these materials are indoctrinating children into cross dressing and, you know, basically trying to destroy the entire society because they are an affront to the church's agenda.
And what of Arcigay, the national LGBTQI group that attracts so much foreign press? Aren't they using their resources to help the government sensitize the public to the nuances of the debate? Well, although they have chapters in many Italian cities, (some of which are more active than others), much of the gay community here views them as being inneffective, so other groups like Mario Miele, or even much smaller groups like LeA- Liberamente e Apertamente here in the relatively small town of Lecce are using their own resources to strike back at the misinformation that is polarising the community on a piecemeal scale.
It's a long running debate which, in shifting the focus away from gay marriage, is tapping into another form of ingrained discrimination that the LGBTQI community has yet to overcome. LGBTQI people are conditioned into thinking certain things by society, one of which is that they are not entitled to become parents. There's a self flagellation that occurs suggesting that the ingrained religious beliefs are very hard to overcome in the quest to get over self loathing, especially when society as a whole is doing little to counteract it.
We've seen celebrity scalps in the debate already: Dolce and Gabbana waded unnecessarily into the debate in a classic case of this self-perpetuating loathing, and are now paying for it at brand level (good luck to them, as tax evaders, designers and self conflicted social commentators I can do without them).
The children in danger argument has though, infiltrated the mass media. Even local starlets like Lorella Cuccarini (I know, that name means nothing to me either) are becoming embroiled in a debate which substantially seems to be reinforcing the idea that, yes, we'll concede on partnerships, but in doing so, you, the gay community need to acknowledge that whatever you do you won't be seen as part of any family unit, and your yet to be enshrined rights have no place in our education system, nor should they be acknowledged in any other way. This is the case for adoption. But in a way it also addresses the consensus towards members from the GLBT community who have children of their own. (Surrogacy and assisted fertility is not provided to singles in Italy, though many hop over to Spain or other nearby countries to get around the law).
The overall message. Strides are being made and Italy (like my homeland Australia) will inevitably get on the right page of history. But before that happens, or perhaps while it does, groups like the church will continue to use kids as pawns in their own political agendas. Is their goal to obstruct the presence of non nuclear families so that they can instill just enough hate and self loathing in the next generations as well? That's my guess. What's yours?
This is Cretto di Burri, an amazing piece of land art created by Alberto Burri in Sicily from 1984-1989. But more on that later.
I'm thinking about the people of who find a way of being art warriors. People who do something to protect our heritage and make our environments something that we can continue to love and to appreciate. I kind of dig these guys. But if you don't understand Italian I'm going to simplify it all for you. They're the Legambiente, which translates to the Environmental League in Italian. Think of them as a greens group, who, in addition to addressing the toll of human activity on the Italian environment also take a comprehensive look at cultural heritage in Italy, with the view that the patrimony or cultural heritage is multi layered and exists in town and country..
They came to my attention after coining the term archeomafia. The concept was based on the black market for stolen artifacts and products looted from the innumerable archaeological sites in Italy, as well as misconduct in cultural institutions which placed objects at risk. Each year they tabled a report to determine the cost of illegal environmental and cultural activity to the environment, and to the state as a whole. Because some people only react to cold hard numbers these days.
From the 27 May thru June 2nd, they are spearheading a nationwide event called Voler Bene all'Italia which translates to something like Love (your) Italy. The event, with a major focus on Naples, one of Italy's most underrated and challenged cities, will feature almost 200 events in various parts of the country designed to get citizens to better appreciate their heritage with the end goal of encouraging citizens to be more mindful of their environment(s) and to do their bit in protecting them.
In Naples, a city whose current state belies the fact that it was once one of the richest and most important cities in all of Europe, participants in the event will be encouraged to reexamine their environment. Naples was, even further back, the mother city: Neapolis, and any visit there will peel thousands of years of continuous settlement before your eyes. It will blow your mind if you can get over the fear of the criminal element that it is now associated with.
Italy's rich heritage means that many of its most notable sites are known the world over. Sites that belong not only to the Italians, but to the world in general. Problems with the economy and funding have meant that many of these sites have fallen into disrepair. In some cases, EU intervention has been widely documented and helped turn back the scope of degradation.
But part of the problem, in any country facing economic difficulty, is raising the awareness of how cultural heritage needs defending, even in the most difficult of fiscal times. This is a country where even some of its smallest towns play host to historical sites of incredible beauty and relevance, and whose tourist based economy would flounder should they no longer be in a condition to attract visitors.
So, if you're in Italy between the 27th of May and the 2nd of June, click on the link, get your Google translate button at the ready, and discover something off the beaten track. If you're near Trapani in Sicily, perhaps you might want to head out to Cretto di Burri, whose restoration is going to be announced as part of the week long festivities. You'll be doing your part, and it could do you some good to get away from the busloads of tourists whose greatest hits tours miss the essence of this country's spectacular and varied history.
I'M USUALLY quite forgiving of people who are patriotic or nationalistic.
It amuses me, but I know that I am probably just as guilty, especially in those more trying moments of life in a foreign country. We take comfort in thinking that we are part of a greater group of achievers and achievements.
There is of course an ugly side to patriotism. Its the blind rabbidism that is based on half truths, assumptions and plain rubbish and I unfortunately encounter it here on a regular basis.
An example here in Italy is of how Italians perceive their country. True, recent decades haven't been very kind to Italy. They have been caught up in a vicious cycle of politics, stagnation and economic woes and now, with a technocratic government in place are paying the price by means of an endless stream of new taxes and an annhilation of worker's rights in an attempt to modernise the economy.
So, when Italians tell me that Italy is home to more than 70% (90% on occassion) of the world's patromonio, that is, cultural heritage, I bite my tongue and let them continue believing it. I mean, everybody is at them and on their case about everything that it seems really petty for me to correct them.
What they are referring to infact is the UNESCO World Heritage listing. But maths is probably not a strong point in this country. It is true that Italy has more sites on the respective lists than any other country, and that like any other person who dabbles in a bit of nationalism, they deserve to be proud of their heritage, but, its not the one horse race some Italians would have you believe.
Italy, by the latest count, has 44 sites listed for their cultural significance. That's six more than Spain (38) and eleven more than both Germany and France's total of 33.
Overall, on the combined list of natural and cultural sites, Italy comes in trumps again with 47, with Spain close behind with 43 and China with 41.
These are impressive numbers. There is an entirely other debate to be had about the UNESCO listings, but its important to also consider that there are approxiamately 725 sites around the world that have qualified for status. Italians who cling to this idea that their cultural heritage is the centre of the universe probably could do with a cup of tea and a few deep breaths before being made aware of this.
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Although I mostly love the time I have in Rome, I often find myself reminiscing about my motherland. Anyone who knows me well, knows that regardless of where I am, I have a bit of a restless streak that not even a fulfilling life seems to cure for very long. When these restless periods arise, I find myself thinking of the things that I don't like about wherever it is that I am. And then mentally juggling them with the things that I do. Invariably, the dichotomy doesn't really resolve anything. If anything, it becomes a bit of a way to pass the time.
Like many people here, one of my major issues is that Italy has major problems with transparency. In Australia recently, political coverage shed light on the faceless men behind the political parties and how they inevitably steered much of the direction the parties were taking. In Italy, I think it is fair to say that the society is mostly steered by the faceless. There is a sense of helplessness here when compared to other Western and Northern European countries where freedoms and transparencies are almost a given.
In comparison to other nations, the freedom of the press here is limited and highly stratified, steps are being taken slowly to weed out nepotism which is endemic and nero, which is basically like the black market has created a sub economy with its own set of unwritten rules and etiquette. Professional guilds control sectors and pricing and are incredibly influential and powerful, as are the splinters of labour unions who seemed to be involved in a revolving run of strikes and public campaigns in protest against the country's substandard wages, austerity measures and the imbalance between political and individual power.
Italy modernised in the 1950s after being decimated in the second world war, and has experienced varying degrees of acculturation and economic prowess in the decades that have followed, but since the 1990s has been in a slump in comparison to most of its neighbours.
I recently spent a few days in Shanghai, a place I had not visited for about five or six years. Revisiting, I noticed there were a few more skyscrapers than I remembered, that the place seemed less like the dusty western frontier I remembered it being back in 2005.
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Dave Di Vito
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Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
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