Cabbages and Kings, II
Bossi begins his memoirs with a depressing visit back to Cassano Magnago: the highway cuts right through what had been parkland, cement houses have sprouted up like tumors, and everywhere is the sound of traffic, the smell of asphalt. Years later I would be struck by the words of a very popular song by Adriano Celentano, “Il ragazzo della Via Gluck,” which describes the urbanization of Lombardia. A young man moves away and when he comes back, expecting to see friends and home,
Ora coi soldi lui può comperarla
Torna e non trova gli amici che aveva
Solo case su case
Catrame e cemento
Là dove c'era l'erba ora c'è
I don’t know what Italy’s greatest pop star thought of Bossi, but in 2015 he praised Matteo Salvini, who was becoming the dominant figure in the Lega and would later serve as Deputy Prime Minister.
Over and over, in the course of Vento dal Nord, Bossi will say that it was his first fourteen years in the country that formed his character, that taught him the old ethic of "work and save," a motto that has been replaced by "Consume."
The paradise lost of childhood is the source of much, if not most rebellion in the modern world, and although Umberto Bossi would go on to be a roughneck, a salesman, and a medical student in a modern Lombardia far removed from his early years, his ability to tap into the aspirations of North Italians has never been limited to the usual appeals to greed, self-interest, and parochial resentments that fuel most populist movements. All the time, if only at the back of his mind, has been the desire to recover the world "the way it was" and, perhaps, to get even with the people who destroyed it: greedy politicians, Sicilian mafiosi, and corrupt businessmen who cement over villages, counting only their own profits but never the costs that others have to pay.
I spend most of the first two days of the "Festa per l'independenza" at a CIESLO (Centro Internazionale per Studi Lombardi) conference on agriculture in the village of Olginate on the River Adda a few miles south of Lecco. Visiting a school for agroturism, I wonder if the old Lombardia can only be saved as a series of model villages and vacation farms. CIESLO President, Giuditta Podestà, is less than enthusiastic about the Lega. There are many good people, even among the leaders, but Bossi is a clown--or better, he is a poet with a gift for metaphor, but he should stay out of politics. Umberto, she observes, is an unlucky name for Italian kings: one assassinated and one deposed.
If Bossi were actually a poet, perhaps he might be like Vergil, the Mantovan poet who lamented the imperial dispossession of Padanian farmers in the Ninth Eclogue:
We have lived to see the day that we had never even feared when a stranger, the owner of our few acres could say, "These are mine: old farmers, be off!