I don't speak or read enough Italian to be able to tell you anything more concrete, but there is something seriously wrong with this country.
And while it does not manifest itself in quite the same ways as That Thing That is Wrong with Britain, it is every bit as serious.
What do I mean?
Some time ago, I wrote a somewhat muddled post about how the British are forgetting who they are. I compared it to a novel by Ursula le Guin in which an evil wizard had torn a hole in the fabric of the universe in an attempt to live forever. All the cultural memories of all the people of Earthsea was draining out through the hole, and the people had forgotten their history and how to raise their kids. They had become bestialised by this terrible spell, and it was all so that one man could cheat nature.
What is happening in Italy seems to be different, on the outside, but there is something about it that smells like that.
Nothing, of course, can ever stop the Italians from being Italian, and the rot has not gone so far as it has elsewhere because the time when Italy was still a mainly agrarian, Catholic society is still within living memory.
Last winter I went with a group of friends down to visit Monte Cassino, and we stopped by Fossanova on the way home.
And I keep having the same thought: What happened to the Italians?
We drove through some towns down there that looked like they were sets for a Mad Max post-apocalyptic movie. I've lived in buildings put up by Italians in the last ten years, and they fail even to perform the basic function of shelter from the elements. The extreme crappiness of current Italian construction is legendary. How did they get from Fossanova to the apartment that fails to keep out the rain?
And what's with the 1.3 birth rate? I'm told by people with kids that the Italians are still nuts about them. That you can't push the pram down the street without getting mobbed. So why aren't they having any?
But there really is one thing above all others that creeps me out. That gives me chills in July.
this man is the most popular "opera singer" in the country.
Aren't the Italians supposed to know when a man can't hold a note?
I mean, heavens. It's embarrassing.