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I’ve been in Italy for five days. A late summer holiday. (I’ll of course be back to writing next week.)

I must admit it has been nice to have a break from thinking about doom-laden things. It’s also a great pleasure to return to Italian soil.

One can hardly overstate the beauty of this country. Every nook and cranny is worthy of a painting or a poem. Streets are glamorously narrow (the kind you see on those posters in Caffe Nero). Houses are artworks in themselves. Even the poorer-seeming buildings, marked with age and sour in colour, retain a strange and ancient dignity, unlike any equivalent on England’s threadbare estates.

I’ve been travelling mainly around the Northern cities this time; a region quite remarkable on its own two feet. The area is referred to as ‘Padania’ by its more nationalistic residents and there is a well-established movement to make it independent. This movement (spearheaded by the Lega Nord – Northern League) is stupid, but its motivating logic is not difficult to grasp.

Padania (Northern Italy) is one of the most productive regions of the European Union. Every Italian carmaker you’ve ever heard of has its base or construction centre here; Maserati, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Alfa Romeo being some of the largest and most well known. ‘Padanian’ cities include the historic splendours of Milan, Venice, Turin and Genoa. (Milan incidentally is every inch as beautiful as Rome). The people of Padania are said to be ethnically Celtic and are resented for a snobbish attitude towards their southern countrymen, much like the English North-South divide in reverse.

Despite this affluence, and though I’ve tried to keep politics out of my mind, the signs of the European times are visible even here. Young people seem in a different (lower) mood than the last time I was in Milan. Though the employment rate is better than in the South, there are still many sad and bored looking faces to be found in the afternoon. The Piazza del Duomo is fuller in the daytime than before. There are more drunk people than before. There are more unused buildings than before.

Still, for a comfortable resident or tourist, the life here is almost faultless. The time goes by too quickly. Europe has never seemed so precious.