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A Constant Whore: The Dark Heart of Italy by Tobias Jones

By on Sep 17, 2010No Comment
A Constant Whore: The Dark Heart of Italy by Tobias Jones

The first book I read after moving to Rome in 2005 was Dan Brown’s bumbling bastard child Angels and Demons. It was loaned to me by a flame-headed American lothario whose womanizing antics qucikly earned him the moniker Gutterdick and who, despite having Bukowski on his nightstand, swore to me Brown’s odious fiction was the best thing he’d come across since Ham on Rye. After giving Brown’s junk a whirl and grieving over the loss of so many innocent trees that had lost their lives for such a low and heinous non-cause, I scrubbed it’s dastardly disease off my hands a la Silkwood, stopped up the carnal flow of blood streaming from my eyes and moved bravely on to my next piece of Anglo-lit on things bel Italia, British journalist Tobias Jones’ The Dark Heart of Italy.

Jones’ chronicle is a travel lit must for anyone wanting to dig deeper beneath Italy’s surface than the fluffy gelato of my previous post. Preferring to let Jones’ book stand as the definitive literature for the outset of my Italian hours rather than that Brown debacle, I recently took it up again on my exodus from Rome last month. With five years between my coming and going to and from Italy, much like the conclusion that Jones tries to avoid but unfailingly finds himself returning to time and again, I too think that Italy is a constant whore, a country that’s been raped and exploited time and again by its own for rough personal and political gain.

To be clear, I consider Italy a second home that I love almost as much as my own red, white and blue. I love the warmth and the generous spirit of Italians. The architectural splendors, the natural landscape and the stunning beaches, particularly in the south, take my breath away. The language is animated, impassioned, symphonic, even more expressive and melodious than French to my ear, and I triple dare any other country on earth to produce such divine food, art and opera — Italy’s true cultural riches. Not to mention that my heart belongs to Gucci.

But Italy wears these things – words, food, art, music, frivolous luxury goods – like a mask, a mask that conceals corruption, collusion, exploitation and tragically unevolutionary stasis that has lain darkly at the nation’s heart for decades. (And, if you consider notions of Italy prior to its 1860 unification, some like myself might even argue that the darkness has been omnipresent for centuries).

Jones’ book was first published in 2003, when center right claymation cad and criminal politician Silvio Berlusconi was serving his second go-round as Italian Prime Minister. The second longest serving politician in Italian history — no small feat for a country with a bloody history of assassinated leaders — Berlusconi is in his fourth phase as PM today. Jones conducts a fascinating investigation into Berlusconi’s political origins, beginning with how the media magnate and world’s 74th richest man humbled himself to even the poorest of Italians by sending out dubious campaign pamphlets explaining his slow, everyman rise to the top of the food chain. (I asked my Neopolitan roommate about these pamplets. She laughed in disgust and said her family was lucky enough to have been passed over in the mass mailings, although she had come across them through friends who would have done better to use them for lining birdcages). Berlusconi and the mess of chronies he revolves in his government have their hands in every corrupt cookie jar of Italian life, from football doping scandals to fascist and communist political upsets, from terrorist bombings to cold case murders that have lain dormant for years. Jones, who lived in Parma (famous for its ham and Parmasean cheese, of course), makes it clear that Berlusconi is only the most notorious in a long line of glamorous and not-so-glamorous criminals as he pays particular attention to the ugly backstory behind the anni di piombo, or “The Years of Lead.” These tumultous decades lasting from the 1960s to the 80s left over 1500 Italians dead by acts of murder and terrorism owing to political strife between far-left and far-right political and terrorist groups bearing ominous names like The Italian Communist Party and The Red Brigades. The 1963 Piazza Fontana bombing in Milan is the apex around which these years revolve, and as such Jones’ book revolves around the major players implicated in the bombing and the haberdashed investigations the keystone Italian authorities conducted relating to this still unsolved, obfuscated event.

There are lighter notes in Jones’ book, such as his good-natured bewilderment that his newfound Italian friends insist on calling his girlfriend, who he has no plans to marry, his fidanzata Italiana, or betrothed, and his paens to the sensual pleasures of the Italian cucina. But The Dark Heart of Italy is ultimately a cautionary tale about the seedy political/criminal underbelly that drives Italian life and politics at the risk of screwing its people out of truth, justice and progress. Definitely one to throw in your suitcase on your next trip over to The Bo about reaot.

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