An untimely New Year in Italy
Italy started the new year in great (Italian) style. The state broadcaster RAI got the countdown to 2016 hopelessly wrong: 51 seconds early. And then there was that affair with the Vatican...
The New Year started badly for the State broadcaster RAI. Rather than getting off with a bang, it started with a blasphemy, and, worse, it started in 2015.
For visitors from northern Europe and America one of the most difficult things to get used to in Italy is the sense of time. I have felt bound to impose a rule that I walk out of any meeting which has not begun within 30 minutes of its scheduled start. Baffled Italians say, ‘But Dottore Bruno the environmental expert is just about to arrive … the delay unavoidable .. the traffic..’
But you know that in fact he has been organizing a bit of private business, talking to his mother on the phone, chatting to the girl from the council offices.
It is just that the importance of time -- my time in this case -- does not register with him. The worst of it is the Italians are so charming; you begin to feel you are imposing your own strange perversions on normal folk.
For those used to the BBC, it is a shock to hear the time given on local radio: ‘beep..beep..beeeep..it is thirteen and a half minutes past four.’ The further south you go in Europe the more time becomes a flexible concept, like in relativity theory. South of Rome, it could mean anything.
Anyhow, RAI exceeded all expectations. The countdown to New Year was a minute out – no, deliciously, not exactly a minute, about 51 seconds – and, incredibly, it was early. The switchboards were jammed with people saying it was still 2015 where they were (the broadcast had been from Matera in the extreme south where it might have been 1816). Perhaps equally surprising is the number of people who did not notice.
Worse, perhaps, they had instituted a new wheeze whereby for 50c you could text in your new year’s message and it would appear at the bottom of the TV screen. Alas in the land of the amorous this proved to be too attractive and an exhausted editor, since suspended, said he had spent hours eliminating ‘unsuitable’ texts. One got through, though, a fairly common expression comparing the deity to a farmyard animal.
Later that morning a whole barrage of worthy complainants, led by the Vatican, voiced their outrage. A spokesman for the Church said that RAI was ‘out of control’. It perhaps did not occur to the Holy See that with its head of publicity likely to face a jail term for theft, having left her knickers in a hotel room after an affair with a priest, they might have chosen to rise above this one.
Another early loser in the New Year was Beppe Grillo’s Five Star movement. 2016 was supposed to be the year that it became more sober, a party ready for government. The rumoured plan was for Grillo slowly to withdraw from the front line, together with his slogan ‘Vaffanculo!’ which means F*** Off. 5 star would unite behind the dark suited Luigi di Maio, from Avellino near Naples, who is not yet 30 years old and a name to watch.
Regrettably, Five Star got itself into the news for the wrong reasons. Its commitment to direct democracy means that anyone can be voted out of power by the hungover membership using their computers. In this case it had been reported that one of their senators had not, as is required, been giving up part of her salary to good causes, and she was duly deselected. Her name, and I am not making this up, was Serenella Fucksia.
One cannot help but feel that had Ms Fucksia received more publicity at the time of her election, the foreign press corps might have clubbed together to pay off her shortfall. With Silvio Berlusconi slowing down and the promising Francesca Ciaouqui risking imprisonment there is increasingly the need for subject matter to catch the reader’s eye.
Imagine if she had become Italy’s minister for defence, or European Commissioner for youth. Alas, she may now become a mere footnote to history. ‘Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been’ .‘
My best wishes to you all for a healthy, prosperous and happy 2016.
Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelance writer, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here
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