September 04, 2011

Silvio Berlusconi

Silvio Berlusconi

Not quite the perfect Homo economicus. Though where that elusive animal is meant to have his habitat, I have no idea. I’ve read about him in magazines and second-rate novels, but I’ve never actually spotted one.

I did come across some lovely species of local fauna at the café, though. Like Ingenua adorabilis, who was spawned by Bologna’s public university. She is thirty years old, has no career, and lives with her parents; but she speaks four languages with the most delightful accent, can converse in them intelligently on art or politics, and looks as beautiful in a bathing suit as in an evening dress.

Or Sarda selvatica. Another fine specimen, Sarda selvatica runs a shop with her mother—a family business open only in the summer, during which she can still be seen for about four hours each day at the beach, her tangled hair turning blonder, her bronzed body browner, and her bottom line staying pretty much the same year after year.

Why expand if there is always enough money for a ristretto or an aperitivo at the café? Or if there’s always a friend to pay for it, who in the informal system here will never ask for it back or hold it above her head in any way? Though they may ask her if she has a job for their nephew in her shop—the insidious system of raccomandazioni, unimaginable in a great meritocracy such as America. Get rid of it, says The Economist, and be more like us. Would that include the power to print money recognized the world over that can then be loaned or given to others to ensure compliance, or is that a specific raccomandazione we’d rather keep for ourselves?

Italy is like a café, deplores The Economist, one that is family-run, hasn’t been renovated for years, and doesn’t even serve frappuccinos.

Here in Sardinia we spend many hours a day in such a café, chatting about the weather and who kissed whom the night before, and lazily passing around the papers.

“The liberation of Libya and the acquittal of DSK are the two big stories of the summer,” says a Frenchman at the next table. “What a dog,” he added with a salacious grin. “In Paris we’ve known about his shenanigans for years.”

“Oh, and what about the financial crisis, isn’t that a big story, too?” asked Ingenua adorabilis in her charming accent. “And by DSK’s shenanigans, do you mean the predatory lending imposed on weaker nations by his bloated institution or the forceful fondling imposed on the weaker sex by his swollen body?”

“The financial crisis? That’s not a story,” said the Frenchman, turning livid, “it’s a catastrophe.”

Is it, though?

The International Herald Tribune announces on its front page that “the much-anticipated meeting between President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany produced little that would provide quick relief to the anxieties of bond traders.” But is it really the role of the government to “provide quick relief to the anxieties of bond traders”?

Are we really that intertwined that the plight of speculators is a tragedy for all? We are all bonded, sure, but we are not all bond traders.

And isn’t anxiety part of their job since lending is a risky business? However much we try to control or calculate or regulate it, isn’t it like love—inherently risky?

When the Frenchman at the next table passed from current affairs to love affairs and started bemoaning his budding romance—the longing, the not knowing, the distance—we all told him to shut up.

“But what if it doesn’t work out, after all I’ve invested in it?” he whined.

Deal with it.



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