July 04, 2012


What, then, of the Chinese? “€œThe people who come here will not accept the cinesi (Chinese),”€ said Giulio. “€œPolitics has got nothing to do with it. What do the cinesi know about the italiani?”€

There were virtually no clients in the bar to ask. Maybe they were already on strike to protest the Chinese takeover. 

A Chinese man arrived”€”the new owner. His grasp of Italian was limited, but he was bursting with enthusiasm. We sat down at a table on the terrace shaded by an umbrella in the sweltering heat. On the table was a copy of L”€™Unità, the communist newspaper founded in 1924 by Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci. Like many things in Italy, L”€™Unità  survives only thanks to hefty state subsidies.

He picked up the newspaper and with my pen drew on it a small hammer and sickle and next to it the number 91. “€œNinety-one years,”€ he said. What? “€œMe,”€ he replied. I didn”€™t understand. Something to do with China and communism and the Carlo Marx, no doubt.

His name is Cuimin Wang and he comes from a city called Zhejiang. He is 49 and left China when he was 27. I asked why he left. “€œChildren, three, close restaurant, two!”€ I finally understood that he meant China permits only one child and he had three. So as punishment the state closed his two restaurants and he decided to leave China. The Carlo Marx would make money, he said, because “€œMe open 24 hour a day, if customer here, me open. Cheap. Cappuccino, brioche, 1.50 euro, not 2.50 euro. And takeaway, tutto, with scooter!”€

Mr. Wang did not strike me as being a communist at all. I asked if he believed in God but he did not understand. So I put my hands together as if in prayer and looked up at the scorching sky. “€œYes!”€ he replied and as he did, he made slashing motions with his right hand up and down and across his chest. At first I thought it was some kind of kung fu throat-slashing gesture.

“€œIslam, Allah?”€ I asked.




Ah, so it was a cross he had been drawing on his chest. Well, his Italian communist clients won”€™t like that, either. They far prefer Muslims to Christians.

At last I spotted a customer”€”Costantino, 46, who works in a bank. What did he think of the bar’s takeover by people who came from a real communist country? “€œThe Americans are much more communist than the Chinese,”€ he said. “€œThey have respect for the working man. And they have nationalized loads of things to save them from bankruptcy.”€

What I find incredible is that a Chinese man such as Mr. Wang, who can still hardly speak Italian after 22 years here, can find work and make money in Italy whereas millions of Italians cannot.

Later, still puzzled by Mr. Wang’s hammer-and-sickle doodle on the newspaper and those 91 years, I subtracted 91 from 2012, arriving at 1921. I tapped “€œChina 1921″€ into my computer. It turns out that 1921 was the year that the Communist Party of China was founded”€”the same year that Italy’s Communist Party was born.



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