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

Una città….

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years in the country that formed his character, that taught him the old ethic of "work and save," a motto that has been replaced by "Consume."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!

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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

1 Response

  1. Michael Strenk says:

    My sisters husband has a cousin who is half Italian and raised in Italy. She and her husband bought a place in Sardinia for vacationing purposes, but they sold it because it was too sleepy. The Sardinians, it seems are stymieing any attempts at development and keeping it from becoming a hot and happening venue. God bless the Sardinians.