Monday, July 18, 2011

La Crisi

We had a Sunday morning to ourselves, my wife and I, and because she can't sit still when there is anything worth exploring close by, we took off on foot to check out Terni.

In a land filled with amazing hill top villages, and churches and medieval history at their backs Terni stands out as the modern city with no visible tourist attractions. It is the capital of the second smallest province in Italy, Isernia in the region of Molise is the smallest, and Terni has no visible value as an attraction. This apartment wall by the way is covered with solar panels. Do not expect to see such forward thinking any time soon in the Florida Keys, land of perpetual sunshine.

Terni's claim to fame is the Thyssen Krupps steel plant which with 3,000 workers is said to produce some of the best steel in the world. The Germans now want to sell the plant throwing the city and it's identity into crisis...the steel plant was the target of heavy Allied bombing in World War Two which let the city rebuild in a particularly uninteresting style after the war, but small areas of Old Town have survived.

Terni has a long history as the Roman city of Interamna, between the rivers, as shown on this map in the Vatican museum from the 15th century.

These days it has a population of 120,000 and is an industrious hive of activity, a provincial backwater the big city of my childhood.

My childhood friend Giovanni has lived and worked here all his adult life, 35 years as a cardiologist in the main local hospital. He grew up here went to school and university here. He is Terni, and he is fond of his home town for all that he is aware of it's social limitations. Terni is a city at the center of a lot of interesting stuff- Rome is an hour away, the Mediterranean too, the mountains are all around and skiing is nearby in winter. The roads are tortuous is some places close by, a motorcyclist's delight, the food is good of course and summers are hot especially in the industrial basin that is the unfortunate location of this industrial beehive.

Aside from steel, and the Beretta small arms factory Terni's greatest claim to fame is the fact that St Valentine was the bishop here when he married a Roman soldier to a Christian girl and was martyred for his heresy, or so the legend goes, and thus we have our world wide celebration of lovers. It is a legend the city has been totally unable to exploit, for tourism or any other money making purpose.

It might be because Terni, though situated in Umbria whose slogan is "'Italy's Green Heart" for it's mountains and woods, is actually a haven of the Socialist Party in Italy as red as any heart you might meet!

The red flags were out in front of the Prefecture, the seat of the representative of the central Government when news of the new austerity plan was announced. Pensions are being scaled back, retirement looks further away than ever for most workers, taxes are going up, fees are increasing, medical co-pays are going up and people are starting to see a future of less for everyone.

The fact is that in Italy unlike the US the political parties came together, held their noses and voted for a piece of legislation that none of them much liked. The Chamber of Commerce was dead set against increased taxes and employee contributions, the politicians all had something bad to say but over their shoulders they see Greece being purchased by Germany,Portugal is going down next o Spain an Ireland is all but bankrupt. Italians know that if Italy, the seven largest economy in the word fails the global economy fails. Italians have a touching faith in the European Union and the United States which itself seems he'll bent on a course of voluntary bankruptcy as I write...

(We Need The Left- Vote Communist. Which is the nostalgia wing of the left with few voters and no influence).
In talking about Italy's future Giancarlo, on a break in our motorcycle ride pointed out that one third of Italy's economy is "under the table" in a murky world of no rects and no taxes and no reporting which he thinks may make Italy more resilient than mainstream economists might think.

Italians themselves may be more resilient than one thinks. Giorgio Napolitano, the leftist President told the people that this austerity program is just the beginning of a national belt tightening. That may not have gone over well, local governments are protesting and refusing to implement the changes which are supposed to start immediately, but compared to our wavering Hamlet of a President, Italy's is demonstrating leadership at a bad moment in the country's history.

Greece for Italy has been an Awful Warning, and this country which seeks desperately to see Europe integrated knows that if it fails Europe fails. Italy's official economy is larger than those of Greece, Portugal, Spain and Ireland combined. If Italy goes bankrupt Europe falls apart.

In terms of daily life you have to wonder where the crisis actually is. Storefronts are closed here and there and renters aren't apparently on the horizon.

Yet the annual vacation remains a critical feature of summer life. Ten dollar gas is compensated for with super efficient cars diesel luxury cars and free health care. Traffic jams are as bad as ever and just because gas is expensive doesn't mean Italy is immobilized. Far from it.

Stefano who I've known for thirty years runs his own extermination company and he says business his bad. His sister runs the family bar but business is way down because the nearby cement factory recently closed...his brother had brain surgery which had they been in the US would have bankrupted them but Stefano is a hustler and he works days and nights keeping the business going. He's not optimistic about the future.

Massimo and Luca are middle aged fathers I grew up playing sling shot wars with and riding bicycles and stealing fruit together in the long hot summers of our childhood. They work, bald Massimo as a salesman and Luca as a city clerk in Rome. Weekends they're back in the countryside growing vegetables at their parents' houses, staying close to the land and taking inexpensive breaks from the stress of the city. This is how Italians learn to cope with 'la crisi' by staying close to their families, living mortgage free and putting up with lower expectations. I wonder how we will cope when we finally figure out things are not going to go back to normal in our lifetimes?

For all Italians the biggest issue is youth unemployment now measured around 60%, and on small peninsula with a population of 60 million and an aging population at that, it is a constant worry. Giovanni's son faces a bleak future and he is firmly at home at age 24. To be unmotivated in 2011 is a thing that gives an anxious father heartburn.

I have no idea what to make of this crisis, Italians fear envy ANC hate to admit they are doing well,so maybe the gloom is an expression of self defense. The cares are busy the streets are crowded and ridiculous fashions are everywhere in storefronts

Are you wealthy enough or stupid enough to pay eighty bucks for boots without toes? I know Italians are, so I ask myself what crisis? Beats me.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Anonymous said...

A teacher and a dispatcher, two government employees, taking a month long vacation in Italy. What crisis? Exactly!

The Great Recession has struck everywhere except in the lives of the people I know. A few of my friends have cut back slightly, but those were acts of prudence not necessity. I must live in an alternative universe.

Chuck and the Pheebs said...

Sinistri = Left.

I always get a kick out of that.

I believe Italians to be more resilient as history is more immediate for them. Roma y Il Duce came and went and Italia still stands. It's about il popolo, as opposed to indviduals.

You'd be surprised how many people don't see this, hoping for a hail Mary Hollywood ending to something which has taken decades to get into.

Bravo to you for choosing to visit the land of your birth while you can!

Conchscooter said...

I read my history and know what's coming. If this recession surprised you you will be astounded by the misery yet to come. Get a government job if you can. Kwpd is still hitting dispatchers and officers.
Or stay in the private sector and depend on the kindness of bosses who hate union contracts.
Your choice, anonymous.

Dagney said...

"Ten dollar gas is compensated for with super efficient cars diesel luxury cars and free health care" ..muses Conch Scooter.
Despite being in a country gone bankrupt from such folly, you statists continue to believe that health care can be "Free"....
Nothing is free. It's paid for by someone, somewhere.

Anonymous said...

I'm self employed, so I don't have a boss or the need for his/her kindness. The market for my service has always been greater than my desire to meet it i.e. I'm always been fully booked and always have been.

As a government employee you're dependent upon the kindness of voters and their representatives. Given that Republicans are dedicated to shrinking government (that would be your job and your wife as well)your complacency is inexplicable.

That said, I would happily pay more in taxes to keep our dispatchers and teachers fully employed in the the good and necessary work that they do. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer people agree with me.

Chuck and the Pheebs said...

I've had more than a few conversations with CS about this topic - he's anything but complacent. If anything, being born in Italy, educated in England and choosing to be an American gives him a wider worldview than the Average Joe who wishes to have his opinion spoon-fed in 140 words or less.

His angst arises in having a pretty good idea where things are going - and being unable to do a damned thing about it.

FWIW - he's in Italy not so much as to gallivant around the country as many of you think, but rather to see friends and family for what he sincerely believes will be the last time he'll be able to do so.

Please think about that whilst formulating responses.



Anonymous said...

When did the conchscooter become so enfeebled that he needs a defender? We need Jack back to set him straight.

Chuck--The conchscooter used to be a grumpy, misanthropic, ironist, but now he's a sentimental ironist. Nevertheless, he's still an ironist. The irony of this trip has not escaped him.

BTW, please don't misconstrue the intent of my comments. They are best read after consuming numerous shots of DeLeon Reposado while bouncing a Russian dancer on your knee at Teasers.

Danette said...

Dear Anonymous, There are 23 million Americans who can’t find full-time work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

There are 50 million Americans who can’t see a doctor when they are sick, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

There are more than 15 million American families who owe more on their mortgage than their homes are worth, according to Zillow. That’s almost a third of all the families who own homes.

Yeah, things are probably not all that bad...

Anonymous said...

Danette I was speaking specifically about people I know in my own little slice of America, which is another way of pointing out that the Great Recession has claimed its victims unevenly across the nation.

Unemployment among college grads is only 4% and the conchscooter's favorite county in Florida (Monroe) is considering an across the board pay raise of 5% for all rank&file county workers.

The conchscooter himself is massively underwater in his own house, but I'm guessing he doesn't think his life is that bad.