I Know a Man…
Perhaps no other country in the world is so cramful with works of art as Italia is. The people of Italia refer to their Past to live in the Present. The nation boasts beauty in design, fashion, and architecture. Its culinary prowess is renown; its machinery goes to all parts of the world; and, its manipulation of matter gives joy to millions who wear its jewelry, drink from its glassworks, or touch its wood and marble creations. When one ties the knot of his silk cravat made in Como, wraps around her wool scarf manufactured in Prato, fastens the laces of his fine leather shoes made in Varese, or strokes her refined linen from Lucca, the MADE IN ITALY label is certain to bring a sense of glee and contentment to both the sexes.
Italia is a hands-on economy. Its modus operandi is meat and potatoes capitalism. Invoices are still hand-written. Candles are used to make wax seals for the post office. Remember those rubber stamps? They are now being used. OLIVETTI’s computer division went out of business. Italia is electronic only when it has to be. Italians want to create beautiful articles that fetch beautiful prices. Luxurious items. Not $50 electronic watches, but $50,000 ones that can be sold in one’s lifetime for $100,000. Italian publishers do not print essays for literary criticism or business management journals; they translate into Italian proven, foreign best-sellers—usually from the United States. Italians are conservative and cautious in business. They are out to serve the rich. Italian businessmen do not want a low price for the masses; rather, they want a high price for the elite. Italians are penurious. Even with their language. Italian has remained almost the same for centuries. English has as much as five times the amount of vocabulary entries in dictionaries than Italian does. Is it possible that Italians gesture so much because their language lacks the words needed for the expression of it?
Italia is, therefore, anti-scientific; that is to say “not with it.” Italia is low-flamed on a backburner in the very hot kitchen of Progress. It is an ingredient in the zuppa internazionale that provides flavor far more than it replenishes the hungry with vitamins and proteins. Italia is anti-scientific by its very nature. It is a place where works of artistic and historical value—from the Past—are exhibited and sold to the Present. The Future enters little. Italia is where what one has should be preserved as long as possible. Italia is a huge museum which blusters about how it was. It maintains itself showing the Past to the Present, and this effort has until now reaped tremendous economic advantage.
Italia is anti-scientific for another reason: its production, 90% stemming from small family businesses, is for the most part quasi-art— craftsmanship. It is not the mass production producer’s breeding ground. Science and technology do not enter persistently into the minds of little Italian family businesses many of which are quick to see their children leave school as soon as possible to come to work alongside mom and dad. University attendance in Italia is the lowest in the European Union.
Italians have an infinitely primitive sensitiveness regards design, coordination, and beauty in things they construct and manufacture. They are uncommonly gifted in fabricating objects by hand, and their consummate skill is recognized for its wonderful transformations. But, the Italians are no longer artists and have not been for a very long time; they are astute artistic businessmen and businesswomen. Italia’s capolavoro is no longer creation; it is changing form. (It is the Japanese who are making real the dreams of Leonardo da Vinci!) Work by artisans, skilled laborers who connect the Past with the Present, is good business. GUCCI, PUCCI, PRADA and FERRARI know this very well. The refined technique of linking the before to the now relies little on Science. The Pavarotti’s and Eco’s must record their C.D.’s and publish their books not in Milano, but in New York or London where the Present looks to the Future and the technological means to deal with the Future exist. Italia’s anti-Science stance, indolent in spirit, is carrying Italia further and further away from Progress. Italians are short-sighted when it comes to Science. They are traditionalists stooped in the what was. They are not complicated innovators or masterly creators. They are convinced that their Past cannot be surpassed or even equalled by any other nation.
Let us change the word “anti-scientific” to “non-conformist” and look at Italia from another angle not thought of in terms of annual reports, political expediency, scientific discoveries, or accountants’ printouts. Let us observe, candidly, Italia a bit as a brake on what some gauge an outlandish behavior to make everyone correspond to current customs, rules, and styles—at worst, to uphold by authoritarian means the designs of a polity characterized by a monolithic unity. (Italia is up against the giants yet it is doing everything to be squashed!)
The best and most skilled members of Multinat Statesmanship are clear about their obsessive drive to bring the world into correspondence—for the good, for the bad. Most of us who are alienated observers on the World Scene, not activists of homogeneity (giant businesses, worldly-thinking political entities, think tanks, Cyclopean financial establishments, et cetera)—more inclined to authentic, “outside the box,” immediate considerations than to chimerical ponderings—are running scared. We are distraught over starvation, overpopulation, destruction of the Earth, social injustice, crime, inflation, deflation, pollution, AIDS, broken marriages, and so on. The majority of us are at the receiving end. We simply want peace, quiet, and security in our political, social, and ordinary lives. And we know very well we do not have what we want. We understand that together we are doing something terribly wrong, yet we want to believe that the fault is not with us but with those establishings we are persuaded to opine have failed us. This fault-finding is a great mistake. It is the hatching grounds of the very heavy-handed appropriateness and supposititious
democracy—both false impressions—that at once we admire for their compatibility, then despise for their unfairness.
Non-conforming Italia serves, in part, as a symbol of that reaction against the tendency to bring into compliance anomalously. Delightful are the Italians. They stuff themselves with pasta and they sing with joy. They bow with reverence to the Pope’s God and the United States’ Ambassador, yet never go to church or know the name of Washington’s plenipotentiary. Italians are warm, unconstrained “free” agents. Against the Machine, the computer, electronics, rationality, scheduling, punctuality—against the dirty “conformity” word. They change reluctantly and very, very, very slowly. They are always getting in the way of Progress. They are extant with an enthralling appearance—one they can count on to cover up much for them.
I know a man in Prato not far from where I live who is himself particularly interested in his “image” and how it is construed by others. And I would like to tell you about him.
I became acquainted with this individual a little more than a year ago, and met him for the first time in his office. The more I came to know about him, the more I was struck with astonishment. And even as I begin to tell this story, I am tempted to pinch myself to convince myself that I am not dreaming! This true story is for me a very sad one indeed.
The personage under discussion is a business consultant (commercialista), a very successful one at that—if one would judge by appearances only. He is always answering his cellphone. He drives an enormous white automobile equipped with electronic gadgetry. His office—with three secretaries—is outfitted with computers, the Internet, email, fax machines and other office accruements not normally found in Italian small business offices. The room adjacent to his office is crammed with books and economic magazines and journals mostly written in English. There is a book he himself wrote and published personally but which few people have purchased but which he has given hundreds of gifts of. He represents many companies, and he is often so busy in his office, he tells his secretaries to inform certain callers that he is out of town. He is twenty seven years old, uses Valium drops to calm his nerves, and is under doctor’s care for an ulcer. If you look at the left arm of his huge, expensive desk chair, you will see that it is worn through to the “bone” from his nervous hand rubbings. And he has told me, kidding of course, at least three times—Freudian-slipping all the way—the following: “If I don’t go crazy, I’ll go to jail!” (Kidding, of course.) Naturally, he dresses to kill. Elegance is all around him.
If you enter his office, you will be immediately impressed with an inordinate amount of framed pieces of paper which—with the exception of one oil painting of his beautiful, childless wife—are dedications to him for some honor or other, for some diploma from one university or other, for some seminar or other he has attended. Although he never went to university in his own country, he has testaments to his scholarly savoir faire from many institutions that seem at first to be reputable and of a high quality. All of these certificates are, as might be expected, framed in very elegant, costly wooden borders which enclose them. You would be fixed deeply.
Get ready to pinch yourself…
Two of these diplomas are from a school in California where this character studied for less than two months. The diplomas state clearly that the man studied successfully and fulfilled regularly the requirements for not only a Master’s degree in Economics, but even a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Economics. Under these two encased parchments is another boxed declaration—a bit smaller—written on false United States’ Department of State stationery attesting to the facts that the two degrees are in buona fede, and signed not “by…for…” but forged for the United States’ Secretary of State his very self!
Get ready to pinch yourself…
If we lean towards another wall in the room, two more sheepskins will be seen. These are from a university in Switzerland, and they proclaim that this twenty-sevenish some one has studied for not only the Master of Business Administration, but still—hold on!—another Doctor of Philosophy in Economics! (To date: M.A.. Ph.D., M.B.A., Ph.D.!) Are you counting with me?
Get ready to pinch yourself…
One of the truths of the matter here is that this somebody, to qualify for his Swiss Ph.D., purchased a photocopied micro-filmed Ph.D. thesis—of a student recently “doctored” at a very famous United States’ business school—from a company in Ann Arbor, Michigan and well-known throughout the degree-getting world, had that thesis translated, and then submitted it in order to receive his Helvetian documents conferring honor and privilege.
Get ready to pinch yourself…
The most recent foray by this man hungry in his extravagant quest for recognition of his adroitness in business relations, has been the enrollment in an expensive “by post” course, with video cassettes and brilliantly-designed study guides, for yet another M.B.A. (M.A., Ph.D., M.B.A., Ph.D., M.B.A.!!!) granted by an English school which I was informed—by an Oxford professor—is perhaps the most respectable of its kind and which is much-touted throughout Europe. And with all of these pegs, our fox wants to return to a famous business university in his own country to—you guessed it!—TEACH!
Get ready to pinch yourself…
While he reads some English, especially economic terminology, he cannot—I swear!—communicate in English, and if you call to speak to him in English, one of his secretaries will tell you immediately he is out of town! Call again? Still out of town.
Our heavily-degreed perpetual student ever on the march to nail another “HONOR” to his wall to impress his clients, has larceny at heart. If he is to be a purloiner, he is going to be the best of sharks. His determination and verve would move you. If it is everybody’s business to steal, he will do it better. He is an artist. He does what he does because he loves its labor for its own sake. (Cannot we, at least, admire him for this?) And the joy he affords his dear mother and father—as he sits next to them at Mass every Sunday morning in his parish’s almost empty church—cannot be computed in Earthly terms.
If you ask him if he thinks what he is doing is “eccentric,” he will respond with a boyish grin—his baby face shining, his blue eyes twinkling: “Everybody’s doing it!”
“If you give them (the capitalists) enough rope,
they will hang themselves.”
* * *
Anthony St. John
Casella Postale 38
50041 CALENZANO FI
3 April 1997