Friday, May 7, 2010

Life in an Italian democracy

Quiet weekday nights. The cook we are waiting for called on Wednesday night. ‘Sono Giorgio’ he says as if he were already part of the family. He babbles on for about 10 minutes, spouting the same stuff he has already discussed with mio marito. What is your kitchen based on, he wants to know. Ah, yes, just like mine, Sicilian pasta dishes, tuna, swordfish roulades, antipasti Siciliani … I tel him our paella is a big seller and he says he is not being into paella, because in his town in Germany the Chinese restaurants give you paella for €4 and who knows what would be in it. Hmmm. He assure me he will be with us next Saturday because he is just waiting for his son’s school to break up for holidays, sign his report card and hey presto he’ll be with his. ‘Sono dietro la porta’ he says – I’m just behind the door. Sure. I said well, I need to see you to believe it since we’ve been expecting you for the last month. How’s your car? Is it working? Did the spare part arrive? It is impossible to take this man seriously. He even tells me, in his familiar way, that he’ll show up for dinner like a customer, and let’s see if we recognise him. A regular prankster! I would write him off as a looper straight away, but my husband is still convinced he’s the man for us.

I catch my North European neighbour when I go home at 1am having a quiet cigarette under the stars. Thank God the scirocco wind has gone, it has wreaked havoc over the last few days: cars are covered in a dirty coat of sand, windows are stained with sandstreaks, rubbish has been blown up out of the smelly skips. We discuss the hazards of living in Sicily, but also the problem of the noisy weekend nightlife depriving us of sleep. The bar a couple of doors down has reopened after being closed all winter, bringing an undesirable druggy clientele back to the borgo. We can hear their music as loud as if we were in a nightclub, standing right next to the speakers. It seems to reverberate through the flimsy walls of our houses. On Saturday night she says the police came because a gang of them were beating a man to a pulp. They only come if there’s a fight, she says rolling her eyes. I know lots of the neighbours here – many of whom are anciani – call the police to complain at 1am and 2am when they can’t sleep because of the racket, but the police always says their car is being used elsewhere. The police station is hundred metres down the road … Basically the bar in question has put its Olympic size speakers outside – meaning we have a disco in the borgo, a residential historic area. Not the place at all for a disco. When you call the police, she says, they tell you to come down and make a denuncia, file a report against them; but who would expose themselves in that way here? And it is not necessary at all. Italian law states that the mere presence of speakers outside a bar in a residential area is an infraction of the law in itself. She tells me that various neighbours have gone down to the bar owners and complained, telling them they will file the report against them . and though bar owners say 'Go on then – if you don’t want to live. Just see what happens to you …’ Charming. The head of the police has even complained to us about this bar, and says they are well-known as trouble-makers. But nothing is done. And why not? Either these people are so well-connected the police are scared; or they are paying off the police with a huge bribe. I suspect it is the former, because our last cook was from the same town as them, and when her husband was knocked off his scooter by a local hooligan she said the didn’t dare even claim the insurance off him because they knew who he was and the kind of trouble he could cause for them. They say that the Barcellonese run Milazzo, that Milazzo is in their hands. Great. This democracy we are living in … or civilisation, Sicilian-style.

I went to the Sunday meeting of the Donne Libere – the Women’s Group which is trying to give support and representation to women in Milazzo. The subject was Sexuality and Identity and they had speakers from the Arci (cultural group) Gay and Lesbian. Several of them told their stories of ill-treatment at school and when growing up, of how long it took their families to accept them. But the thing that struck me as strange was that they kept repeating, ‘it is not an illness. We are not sick.’ Apparently their parents had taken them to the doctor’s when they were teenagers in the hope for a cure. That these days, in contrast to our Spanish neighbours, in Italy men can't walk hand in hand down the street, girls can't kiss in public; homosexuals are not free to live their sexuality in public in a country where heterosexuals can comfortably demonstrate affection. It is probably because of the heavy political weight of the Vatican in Italy that these outdated offensive attitudes prevailed (not that the Vatican can provide a good example ...). The Arci speakers said they tried to visit schools to do educational projects with the kids but many schools would not participate, saying it was encouraging homosexuality. No such things as PSHE (Personal, Social, Health Education) in Italian schools. No sex education. And they need it; there is little else to do all summer long – hot days on the beach hot nights under the olive trees ... A recent article by a psychologist said that teenage pregnancies were on the increase in Italy, but wondered why, with all the information teenagers get via the media and science lessons at school … : hardly the same as PSHE, and I don't know what lessons the media projects, with the bikini-clad women dancing and prancing on TV. Ah yes, equality and respect. The speakers said it was unacceptable, in a democracy, that taboos should still exist around this subject of sexuality and identity. What democracy?

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