01 August, 2005

La feccia del mondo

Today we return to my week in Italy, in order to delve into the delightful world of anti-Americanism. The following is an edited excerpt from a letter that I wrote to my then-fiancée:

At this point the conversation turned to other matters; I don’t remember how we arrived at this, but as we were rising, T— [my mother's cousin and lawyer] said at one point, Ma questo Bush, mi sta facendo diventare anti-americano: non voglio dire anti-popolo americano, ma anti-governo americano. That translates to, “But this Bush, he is turning me into an anti-American; I don’t mean to say that I am against the American people, but against the American government.”

Ho-boy.

Anti-Americanism runs strong in Europe these last few years; it's the only thing that seems to unite both the left and the right wings of politics (only a sane center seems immune). T— himself is left-wing, as you will learn in a moment, but I have also seen about town the manifests of a new right-wing organization called Forza Nuova (New Force, or also New Strength). In stark black and white colors, the manifests proclaim either Stop NATO or Un’ Europa forte contro un’ America male (a strong Europe against a wicked America). A photo:

This, while an American cruiser sits docked in the harbor, and a NATO base rents the Angevin-Aragonese castle. We're quite oppressive as imperialists go.

In any case, my mother answers T— that she’s glad none of her children are in the military. Pointing to me, she adds that I even wanted to join the military.

Sigh.

T— looks at me with disbelief. He asks how I could desire such a thing? This being Italy, he leaves me no time to think of a reply, but continues, don’t I realize that on the other side of that gun, the person I would be firing at, would be another human being?

, I answer affirmatively; it’s not as if I have to think of the answer to that question. I didn't have time to think of anything else, and besides he didn't leave time for a reply.

T— goes on to list all of the more famous American crimes: dropping the atomic bomb on the Japanese (although I had to correct him: it wasn’t Roosevelt who made that decision, but Truman); exterminating the Indians, a peace-loving people, in order to steal their land, their gold, their oil...

(Their what? Oil is a new one. I'll have to check that.)

At this point he's worked himself into a self-righteous frenzy, and exclaims, ma che vuoi, questi sono tutti immigranti: i popoli che il mondo non voleva, la feccia, l’hanno cacciato in America! “But what do you want; they are all immigrants: the people that the world didn’t want, the dregs of society, they expelled to America!”

Quindi sta nel loro sangue. “Thus, it’s in their blood.”

I thought he wasn’t against the American people, but only against their government?

Ma non tu, he hastens to add to my mother, tu sei una di noi. “But not you: you are one of us.”

I see: my mother is one of those people who have "class." I could list a series of crimes committed by Italians throughout history; indeed, I could name a few offhand, starting with the Piedmontese oppression of southern Italy, an oppression so brutal that it led to the mass exodus of southern Italians to the Americas, where freed from the southern Italian aristocracy's corruption and the northern Italians' legalized robbery, they somehow managed to do quite well — but I would rather not dredge up the sicknesses of the past. I have... what do we call it in America? Oh yes: “class”.

T— turns to me and advises in English, “Listen to me: I am a son of the flower: peace, love!” (Here he was translating from Italian: “son of the flower” would come from figli dei fiori, a translation from the English, “flower children.” So he should have said “I am a flower child.”) “Make love, not war!” he added. (It sounds hilarious in the accent of a 65 year-old Italian man.) “I like beautiful women, beautiful clothes, beautiful food.” Then he repeated, with a grand smile on his face and a peace sign on his fingers, “Make love, not war!”

E poi ricorda, he added, placing his arm on my shoulder, che il tuo sangue è anche il sangue di mamma, il sangue mio. Ce l’hai anche tu questo nel sangue. “And remember, that your blood is also mamma’s blood, is also my blood. You also have this in your blood.”

Yes, I also have my father's blood, la feccia del mondo.

My mother asked, Come si sta qui a Gaeta? “How is life here in Gaeta?” She was asking about terrorism, really. My mother has been terrified by the occasional Arab street vendor in the alleys of Gaeta.

“Well,” he answered in Italian, “Here we can still live without worries. The only thing I worry about is at the one bar, across from the port, where the American sailors gather; I worry that there will be an attack there.”

At this point, we were leaving; we said our goodbyes, and he repeated to me in English, with a heavy Italian accent, a smile on his face and a peace sign on his fingers: “Remember, make love, not war!”

...

During this very conversation, he said that he considered Arab culture to be “not merely second-rate, but fifth-rate” (nemmeno al secondo livello, al quinto livello) but he would never say that to an Arab: first, because it’s rude to insult someone’s culture; second, because Arabs are crazy enough to explode a bomb and kill someone because of it.

Of course, he had no qualms whatsoever about insulting the American mongrel standing next to him, nor did it worry him that I might walk over to the destroyer docked at the port, gather some of my fellow mongrels in the Navy, and leave a permanent reminder in his office about what happens when someone insults American culture. (You know: like real fascists did, and still do.)

This anti-Americanism that has become so fashionable among the world’s “civilized” peoples is a little self-contradictory, and a little cowardly as well. Just a little.

It's appallingly ignorant, as well. A few days later, my mother visited T— again. He was regaling some would-be client about how the Arabs are poor and oppressed by the West, who have stolen their oil. He added, "I'm still not convinced about this Twin Towers thing not being a CIA plot: are you aware that not a single Jew died in the Twin Towers?"

"There were Jews who died in the Twin Towers," I chimed in. (a source, with some names)

"Oh, there were?" he asked. "I had been told there weren't. Well, in any case..." He went on to name a few more common conspiracy-theory claims. I let them pass. It's hard to argue with an educated, sophisticated, classy European lawyer.

At least the longest sentence I gave him corrected his ignorance.

6 comments:

Alessandra said...

Delightful! This was so good! It's one of your best posts ever of the genre (that I've read anyways).

You captured it so well. I'm amazed at how much you memorized of all the detailed bits of the dialogue. I want to be able to write like this someday!! :-D

In France and most other countries around the world, it's the same replay as above. There is only one bad people in the world, let's point fingers, and not look in the mirror.

I agree with a lot/all of the criticisms regarding American imperialism (as well as other imperialisms), but never if it's just used as a screen to forfeit local or personal accountability.

Ma che cosa faccio io qui? Talking to the dregs of humanity?? Oh my, I must choose more carefully ;-)))

The peace sign!!! too funny!!

“son of the flower” :-D

This was just fantasticly written.

jack perry said...

Wow, thanks :-)

I wrote almost all of it the very same day, which is why I could write so much detail. It's funny, though, since as I told you before, I'm not so good at remembering confrontational experiences; maybe because this wasn't so directly confrontational. But, it was a letter to my (now) wife, and I have a lot of experience recalling things for letters her. :-) That's how my wife and I met, actually: we corresponded innocently enough for a long time. Then something happened...

I agree with a lot/all of the criticisms regarding American imperialism...

I don't, because I don't accept it as imperialism, just as I don't accept the notion that Bush is a fascist. People are using terms that they recognize as "bad" from the past, and throwing them around at things they don't like, without knowing what they're saying.

The wrongs of American foreign policy can and should be criticized, and they usually are, generally by our supposed subjects, with Americans in plain sight. That itself is the first and most significant sign that this is not imperialism.

Then again, maybe I'm the one who doesn't really know what "imperialism" is. :-)

Ma che cosa faccio io qui? Talking to the dregs of humanity??

As I recall, he would classify you in the same category. :-)

Alessandra said...

The wrongs of American foreign policy can and should be criticized, and they usually are, generally by our supposed subjects, with Americans in plain sight. That itself is the first and most significant sign that this is not imperialism.

Then again, maybe I'm the one who doesn't really know what "imperialism" is. :-)
--------------------------
complicated subject that is hard to discuss in any format, this being one of them. I don't see how criticing outloud imperialism would invalidate it, but I really didn't want to start talking, because this would take work to discuss properly. So I'll mostly pass. :-)

Alessandra said...

I don't see how criticing =>
I don't see how criticizing...

Alessandra said...

Then again, maybe I'm the one who doesn't really know what "imperialism" is. :-)
---------------------
Obviously, since you are not a "son of the flower", this is beyond your grasp... ;-)

that was too funny... I tell you, I saw the whole movie of the scene in the mind, I have already put a face and body, complete character, on your uncle...

:-)

qkl said...

What is so wrong with imperialism anyway... I am for :}