Correspondence

Night and Day

When I first clambered onto the Italian carousel, at Piazza della Fontana di Trevi, my impressions were a kind of paean to the seriousness of Roman life.  Now, some four years later and roughly 400 kilometers to the south, I find myself in Palermo, marveling at the essential childishness of the people.  I dare say that those who would seize upon this apparent contradiction, suggesting that the dreamer has finally come down to earth, have never been to a fairground and never bothered to observe children at play.

There are, after all, some children who are good—that is to say, serious—although they are usually a beleaguered minority.  They are the ones whose games are a pleasure to watch.  Obviously, this does not mean one can ask them to balance the checkbook or move the car, and at times they may seem somewhat boisterous, but on the whole they are an altogether different breed from the autistic, rowdy, collectivist animals that the term “jungle gym”—fusing, as the Protestant world often does, the untrammeled nature of J.J. Rousseau with the careful nurture of Hitler Youth—brings to mind.  In fact, nice children are as unlike these gum-chewing automatons as St. Francis of Assisi is unlike Martin Luther, or as the Mediterranean is unlike the North Sea.  So if the Italians are at all like children, then my argument is that they are like nice children.

The...

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