HUI 216 - Unit 1, topics 7-10
"I don't feel Italian"

Andrea Fedi

1.7 Geography

[Notes] — In reference to geography, one cannot overlook the fact that two thirds or more of the Italian peninsula are covered by mountains: the main mountain ranges are the Alps, and the Apennines.
The territorial configuration of the Italian country has played a role in developing and preserving, through physical separation, many of the different local identities, customs and traditions.

Geopolitical history

[Notes] — The Italian territory offers few natural resources (minerals, oil etc.), and few are the areas where agriculture can be a profitable enterprise.
Italy is more or less at the same latitude as New York State, but enjoys a much milder climate thanks to the mountains shielding the peninsula from the cold northern winds.
Being close to western and central Europe, Italy's commercial economy has always been important. Its driving force were the import of goods from the Middle East and North Africa.

Between East and West

[Notes] — Being close to Eastern Europe and to the unstable Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, during the Cold War Italy's democracy could not develop fully or freely after World War II.
The first priority of the U.S. and of NATO was to keep Italy (the country with the largest Communist Party in Western Europe) from surrendering to the influence of the Soviet Union.
Just consider the case of the secret paramilitary organization Gladio, or the financial support given to the two largest Italian political parties, DC and PCI ,by the Americans and the Soviets respectively.
It is significant that the widespread use of bribes in Italian politics during the 1970s and 1980s was 'uncovered' by the press and was the subject of judicial inquiries only after the end of the Cold War.

Geopolitical data

[Notes] — Italy is not a big country: it occupies 116,341 square miles (less than California).
At the highest level of territorial organization, Italy is divided into 20 regions (administrative and political districts).
There are 110 provinces (2009), each comprising a major city or town, and the surrounding areas.
Only 4 Italian cities have more than 1 million residents: Rome, Milan, Naples, Turin.

The Italian peninsula is surrounded by 4 seas, which are part the Mediterranean Sea: the Ligurian, Tyrrhenian, Ionian, and Adriatic sea.

1.8 Stereotypes in proverbs

[Notes] — Proverbs and sayings that are still popular in most Italian regions prove that local identities have always been very strong, and are rooted in the diverse history of the various communities. It is not uncommon, even now, to hear or read proverbs that betray the persistent rivalry between neighboring towns. For example, in Tuscany there is the saying "Fiorentini ciechi" ("Florentines blind"). This saying is used by itself, or in combination with others: "Fiorentini ciechi, / Pisani traditori (traitors), / Senesi matti (crazy) / Lucchesi signori (gentlemen)."
The use of the epithet "blind" for the Florentines, documented as early as the XIV century, is explained as follows: In the Baptistry of San Giovanni, in Florence, on either side of Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise there are two porphyry columns, donated by the Pisans as a sign of gratitude for the military help that the city received in 1117 against Lucca, when Pisa's fleet was engaged against the Muslims in the Balearic Islands. The two columns are fractured, perhaps after one of the floods, however popular tradition maintained that they were already broken when they arrived from Pisa, hidden beneath lengths of cloth, thus justifying the saying "The Florentines are blind and the Pisans are traitors."

In this context, one cannot omit the ever popular (and no doubt offensive) saying: "Meglio un morto in casa che un pisano all'uscio" ("better a death in the family than somebody from Pisa at the front door"). According to the traditional explanation, the death of a relative would be more bearable because those from Pisa are in the habit of complaining so much, that they make everybody around them terribly sad and depressed, more so than at a funeral.

Tuscan thieves

[Notes] — The insult "thieves" is one that seems to bounce from one side of Tuscany to the other. For example: "A Marradi," the proverb goes, "seminano fagioli e nascon ladri" ("In Marradi, they plant beans, and grow thieves"). Tradition has that Dante himself, traveling through that region, refused to spend the night in the village of Marradi, because of its bad reputation. According to the joke which is supposed to explain the name of the village, somebody asked him: "Why don't you stop here? This is a town of gentlemen." To which he replied: "Sì:, MA RADI" ("Yes, but scarce").

A better way to explain this proverb can be found inside a letter sent by a famous Jesuit, Paolo Segneri, to Tuscany's Grand Duke Cosimo III, in 1681. In this letter, Segneri remarks that it would be wise to have a special police officer in Marradi, because the village is close to the borders of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, and therefore it was not difficult for the local residents to commit crimes and then cross the border passing into the next state (extradition was rarely carried out in the past).

The thieves of Campi

[Notes] — Among those accused of thievery inside proverbs and sayings, no one has a reputation worse than those from Campi Bisenzio, a town near Florence.
"Brozzi, Peretola e Campi, / son la peggio genia che Cristo stampi" ("Brozzi, Peretola and Campi are the worst species created by Christ")
"Campi, valigia davanti" ("In Campi, [keep] your suitcase in front of you")
"Si dice a Pisa e a Pontedera: / Campi è un luogo da inferno e da galera" ("As they say in Pisa and Pontedera, Campi is a place good for hell and jail")
It was even repeated, as a joke, that Campi did not have a cemetery because all of the residents died in jail (and the nearest jail was in Florence).

Malaparte on Campi

[Notes] — Because of its reputation, Campi deserves an entire chapter in a famous pamphlet, Those Cursed Tuscans (1956), written by a prominent and somewhat controversial Italian author, Curzio Malaparte.
Malaparte maintains that still in the early 1900s the people of Prato (his hometown) "were afraid to pass by Campi at night," and, in his usual caustic way, he closes the chapter with an ironic portrait of the Campigiani, which borders on insult: "And there they are, rigid on the bridge, my dear Campigiani. Look them in the face. To recognize true Tuscans one need only look them in the face. They all have flaming skins, scorched eyebrows and burnt hair, as if only just now returning from a long trip through the infernal regions."

Il Vernacoliere

[Notes] — To understand how pervasive this war of words among different Tuscan towns is, consider the case of Tuscan monthly magazine Il Vernacoliere (=The vernacular digest), a satirical publication that sells tens of thousands of copies. Look at a cover from 1999. This is the translation of the first news on the cover: "First act of Ciampi, citizen of Livorno. Ethnic cleansing: The Pisans have to wash! But those stinkers prefer to run away." Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, from Livorno (the city where Il Vernacoliere is published, had just been elected President of the Italian Republic in 1999.

1.9 The national anthem

[Notes] — The Italian national anthem is the "Inno di Mameli" (The Hymn of Mameli), with lyrics by Goffredo Mameli (1827-49), and music by Michele Novaro (1822-85). The music was composed in 1847.
In 1861, at the time of the unification of Italy, the national anthem was the March of the House of Savoy.
During the Fascist regime (1922-1943/1945) Giovinezza ("Youth") was considered the second national anthem.
Mameli's Hymn became the provisional national anthem in Oct. 1946, after Italy became a Republic. It was confirmed in 2005. However, it is not mentioned in the Italian Constitution in spite of a 2006 attempt to modify its article 12 (which describes the official flag: "The flag of the Republic is the Italian tricolour: green, white and red, in three vertical bands of equal size").

L'inno di Mameli

[Notes] — The words of the anthem recall the battles for freedom waged by the Italians against the Austrians and the French
Fratelli d'Italia / L'Italia s'è desta, / Dell'elmo di Scipio / S'è cinta la testa. [...]
Stringiamci a coorte, / Siam pronti alla morte: / Italia chiamò!
Noi siamo da secoli / Calpesti e derisi, / Perché non siam popolo, / Perché siam divisi [...].

The Hymn of Mameli

[Notes] — Italian brothers, / Italy has awaken, / She has wreathed her head / With the helmet of Scipio. [...]
Let us gather in legions, / We are ready to die! / Italy has called!
We for centuries / Have been downtrodden and derided, / Because we are not a people, / Because we are divided.

Click on the following link to hear the hymn sung by Italy's soccer players after they won the World Cup in 2006: a video from YouTube.

Va' pensiero

[Notes] — "Va' pensiero" is what many Italians would prefer to have as the national anthem. it is a chorus from the 1842 opera Nabucco (music by Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Temistocle Solera).
Nabucco was "Verdi's third opera, and his first real success."
In this chorus "the Jews, enslaved in Babylon, sigh for their distant homeland." "Italy in 1842 was still a divided country, partially occupied by Austria." Therefore, Verdi "saw in the plight of the Jews in their Babylonian exile a metaphor for the condition of Italy in his own time" (BBC).

Fly, thought

[Notes] — "Fly, thought, on golden wings; / rest upon the slopes and hills, / where, soft and mild, the air / of our native land smells sweet! / Hail the banks of the Jordan / and Zion's fallen towers.
Oh, my country, so lovely and lost! / Oh, remembrance, so dear and despairing!"

Read the words of the entire chorus, watch a video from YouTube, from the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin.

Giorgio Gaber

[Notes] — Giorgio Gaber was a well-known Italian singer-actor, who began his career during the 1960s.
His last CD, I don't feel Italian, came out a few days before his untimely death (due to cancer), and rapidly reached the first place in the Italian hit parade, having sold 100,000 copies during the first week (it came out on Jan. 24, 2003).
Even former Italian President Francesco Cossiga manifested his appreciation of the title song, which is representative with the problems associated with the creation of a national Italian identity.
Watch a video on YouTube.
Read an article on Gaber's song, from English newspaper The Independent.

Io non mi sento italiano

[Notes] —

Spaghetti e mandolini

[Notes] —

"Italia, Italia"

[Notes] —

I don't feel Italian

[Notes] —

Spaghetti and mandolins

[Notes] —

"Italia, Italia"

[Notes] — There are no translations of the entire song on the web that are entirely accurate: you can look at the lyrics translated in English here, or you can find a slightly better translation inside this forum.

1.10 The Italian flag

[Notes] — The Italian flag was first introduced during the Napoleonic wars, in 1797. It was modeled after the French flag, considered then the symbol of a model democracy.
Its colors were associated with the city of Milan. Red and white were used in the emblem of the commune of Milan. Green was used for the uniforms of Milan's civic guards.

The coat of arms

[Notes] — The Italian coat of arms was realized by Paolo Paschetto, and chosen after a national contest. It was approved as the official emblem of the Republic in 1948. Here is an explanation of its symbols.
The white star, signifying hope and victory, had been used to represent the Italian nation, especially within the iconography of the Risorgimento.
The cog-wheel represents work: art. 1 of the Italian Constitution begins with the words "Italy is a democratic republic based on labor."
The olive and oak branches with leaves symbolize, respectively, peace and strength/dignity.

The End