European Diary

A Political Honeymoon

I had fallen in love with Italy because she was my twin, my mirror image, my other half.  Like me, she wanted to sit between two chairs, to have her torta della nonna and eat it, too.  She sought to arrest the dissolution of society by progressive, that is to say capitalist, fictions; yet she wanted her showgirls spangled with sequins, cash on the barrel and price no object.  Alone in Europe, she was unbowed before the triumphal progress of American futurism and ready to throw every spanner to hand into her works, including an unhelpful attitude to authority, reminiscent of that of the Old Believers to the established church in Russia, and an equally ambiguous attitude to labor, reminiscent of the old Soviet joke: “We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us.”  Conversely, she was the European polity that put the highest premium on fetishes of womanhood, without, however, allowing the revolutionary longing for an American-style sex-and-shopping phantasmagoria to become the prime mover of social organization; clinging stubbornly all the while to such resources of emotional satisfaction as neighbor and friend, food and family, promenade and song.  If Italy had done it, why couldn’t I?

Here beauty was sovereign.  Bello, said the middle-aged, balding accountant in a green barbour, fondling an electrical insulator of white industrial porcelain in the confusion of a street...

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