It’s been a long time since I’ve stayed up late to finish a book. But Tim Parks, with his impeccable rural Veneto credentials, has long fascinated me, and I finally got hold of his Italian Neighbors. To his credit, I could not put it down, although I was at times unsure what to make of his detachment — whether it boded well or poorly. Given that he’s still here, and now in Milan, I must assume the former. Doubtlessly the Veneto has changed even more in the quarter century between when he was writing and when I was living in Rovigo — his descriptions of rural rituals from a bygone era reminded me much more of my experiences in rural Macedonia than in Rovigo. But his descriptions of the sundry habits of the proper Veneto bourgeoisie, from obsessive cleanliness to worry about health, from state employment and its attendant security to the enterprising, and presumably-tax cheating small businessman, were spot-on. What mystified me, however, was what often seemed like a confusion over habits and attitudes that, although deeply different than those in the Anglo-Saxon world, I would have thought obvious, such as the pious Catholicism of the Veneto region or the great premium placed on eating well over the holidays. These are great differences, but I found myself keenly prepped for them — possible due to the amount of Italo-Americans and the habits they’ve imported? But that doesn’t seem right; London had its fair share of immigration, too, although one can reflect that perhaps a melting pot culture was less lauded there. Also, too, I think I would have appreciated perhaps a bit more comparison of Britain to Italy. Parks touches on it but I find that comparison of America to Italy informs a large percentage of my daily thoughts — and usually ends up in balance. One must reflect, is anyone truly 100% content with their own culture when they come to live in another? Parks criticizes the Italians for the self-assuredness of their own culture, but doesn’t he do just the seem with regard to Britain’s?
These quibbles don’t take away from the general enjoyment of another Anglo-Saxon displaced to the Veneto, though. And, politically, there are the early rumblings of Lega Nord mentioned in a chapter on elections — and the few lines make for a trenchant and still-accurate profile of your likely LN voter in Veneto. Personally, it’s refreshing to read about someone actually trying to hack out a living in the belpaese, and experiencing the pain of cancelled private lessons and mind-numbing boring translation material. And stylistically, I enjoyed his use of the second person as well — because, if you live in the Veneto, you will indubitably experience most things just as he has. I’m eager to explore the rest of Parks’ Italian oeuvre. Maybe I’ll run into him when I start a new course near IULM next week. One can hope, anyway.