Impressions of a Recent Visit
by Nesta de Robeck
IT is hard to formulate one's impressions of Italy after an
absence of six years. Much is
ruined, much remains. much is changed, intich unchanged for tradition is still powerful. The first thing Ii) strike the traveller from England 6 tho appearance of the shops. which arc full of good things to cat, and indeed of lovely wares of all kinds—at fantastic prices. The Italians must have been champions at hiding things bons the Germans, and even after the purchases of the Allied armies there is a lot remaining. In the streets and markets of Rome and indeed of any town you can buy anything and everything Irons the booths and hawkers who offer cameras, fountain pens, silk stockings and food in profusion for the " black market " is quite open and its prices are quoted alongside of the con trolled ones. Indeed the " black market " is the chief interest, occupation, and amusement of 'mew people. A new rich class has arisen from those who have twen able to profit by the cruel and scandalous ramp in prices, but there are also a great number of people on the border line of destitution. who live by selling their possessions piece by piece in order to buy food. Theirs is a dire predicament.
Italy is full of paper money, some issued by the Bank of Italy. some by the Allies, and any government may well shudder at the prospect of the inevitable cleaning up that must come sooner or later. A great deal of ballet goes on among many who distrust the value of any bank note and I know of people who have let farms, not for money, but with a contract for stela dent of every kind of produce to support a certain numbes of people for a given time. At the present moment these people. and indeed everydne, is praying for rain. for drought spoilt all the crops last year, and there has hardly been any ruin throughout the win ter.
Two Million Unemployed
The people on the land work as hard as they have always done, and the local market will always absorb the available produce. but the almost complete cessation of all industrial life has made for the present disastrous situation of about two million of unemployed. Banditry is diminishing, hut it is bound to exist until work increases; besides, who, in any country with a dash of brigand in him would not have profited by the opportunities of these last years to obtain arms and then to use them? All the circumstances of the was have led to a breakdown of public order: the carsbinieri, who were formerly respected are no longer so. for public feeling veered sharply away from the more archy with which the carabinieri were associated: it is to be hoped that the allied police will not be withdrawn until des situation clears.
Lack of transport has thrown small provincial places back into an almost medieval isolation, and even when one is very familiar with the Italian love of standing in the piazza and talking it is impossible not to be struck by the crowds of healthy young men who congregate in the streets of every town and village with nothing to do from morning till night but talk. Politics are discussed with immemorial Latin factiousness, and, of course, alto twenty years of a more or less tight muzzle it is delightful to be able to say what one likes.
What is the gist of the talk? Fear of the Soviets and the encroachments of Tito, all the burning questions of the peace, and when one sees the crowds of Italians everywhere, above all the crowds of young men, it does bring home very forcibly the fact that Italian youth roust be given an outlet somewhere. No one in these days wants to emigrate and base to work under a foreign flag with the probability in case of a war of losing everything and finding oneself an enemy alien. But the mainland of Italy cannot support its population, as can that of France. Italians cultivate their country with incredible industry. but with the Apennines forming a chaiu all down the peninsular there is not sufficient land available for food growing.
Valiant attempts are being made to revive all the handicrafts which in normal times brought very substantial sums into the exchequer and are such a vital part of the Italian tradition But they can only revive slowly given the shortage of the raw materials. hut, the point is that the effort is being made.
Cohesion is Required
Italy to-day is a country of little general cohesiort but of a lot ot admirable individual effort in every field. There is widespread collective dishonesty and great individual integrity. The railways are being rebuilt, but where the work is under government control it takes much longer to see positive 'results.
Individual Italians have done wonders in the way of rebuilding; for instance, one Tuscan landowner I know lost fifteen farms during the battle of lune, 1944: some of the houses were completely destroyed, all were uninhabitable. Yet before that winter each house was roofed with one habitable romn, and within 12 months all were rebuilt.
There are plenty of other cases, and the achievement has been possible partly because of the relationship of landowner and peasant in those Italian provinces which still have the system known as " mezzadria." In this, the kouses, beasts, seed and implements are provided by the landowner, the labour by the peasant, and the produce is halved and a thousand years of experiment have shown that ibis is a workable arrangement. A Tuscan farm well run on these lines is almost a self-contained unit, and in bad times and bad years the burden falls on both the man who provides the capital, and the man who provides the labour; in many cases the association has gone on between the respective families for 403 and 500 years.
Two generations ago there were many absentee landlords, to-day they are almost unknown; the Communist cry of " the land for the workers " is sure of a certain success, and the elections will prove which way Italian men and women are moving. Any estimate is difficult. for the very shape of Italy makes it extraordinarily hard to guage what is being said and felt and believed 500 miles away; I, for instance, can see things only throtieh one small Umhrian seem hole. and know nothing of what is the spirit of the extreme. north or the extreme south. and Italian ideas and qualities and characteristics are. as varied as is the landscape and as are the faces.
One last word on what is a very important matter front the religious standpoint, the new standing of Italian Catholic Action. The who:e movement originated us a lay organisation, but in 1931, when the war between the Vatican and the Fascist Government on the subject of the Catholic clubs and Youth organisations was at its height, Pope Pius XI saved Catholic Action from temporary extinction by placing it entirely under the Bishops For the moment it became a local parochial enterprise and lost much of its original character, besides having
all its activities restricted Only the far sighted action by the Pope kept it alive, and during those years under the dynamic leadership of Padre Gemelli much good work was done Now a new corfstitution is being deliberated by which Catholic Action will regain its lay character and be free td expand as a lay organisation in the spirit which was stressed the other day when the Holy Father mule such a glowing appeal to the laity everywhere to realise that not only must they work fohrutrt.Church, but that they are the Church.
And here let me reeall what was said by an Italian of the old Liberal tradition who had suffered greatly under Fascism. The battle of 1943 passed over his palace in a small hill city, and dreadful things were done.
" We will put up a stone so that no one shall forget," said one of his sons. " We will do nothing of the kind." answered his lather. ' We will build a shrine to Oar Lady of Good Counsel; this generation has had enough of propaganda of hatred."
He spoke for all the laity everywhere who know themselves to be the Church.