My father-in-law looks like the classical Sicilian Mafioso. When I first met him, I found him intimidating, with his mumbling voice, imposing figure and well-kept moustache. As I spent more time with my new family, I discovered a doting grandfather. He helps his family in any way possible.
He has a commanding presence over his children, exerting control over their lives. Still, his motivation is always a traditional protective one.
I realised how much of a softy he is when I discovered the real reason he didn’t leave for Australia in the fifties, like so many other locals in his area. My father in law couldn’t bear the sight of his mother crying before his departure, so he stayed.
Don Liberto is a figure who commands great respect; his paternal grandparents were wealthy landowners. They owned many hundreds of hectares of land in and around Sinagra. The area, abundant with agricultural riches, including plantations of hazelnuts, olive trees and livestock, was eventually divided between the numerous members of the family.
This left Don Liberto only with a modest portion of the family’s wealth once included most of the agricultural land in the area. People call him Don out of respect. It has nothing to do with the mafia. Still, it is a Sicilian word used to address older people with a certain level of life experience and deserve a particular group of respect.
We often get visitors to our house when pieces of furniture are being delivered. When our display cabinet arrived, I dusted it off and put things away when one of my sisters-in-law came to see it. A small crowd began to gather as she and my father-in-law and another friend who is a local lawyer.
The lawyer is a kind-faced, bald, dyed-in-the-wool communist who has been a friend of my husband’s family forever. I don’t understand how he could be a working lawyer as he never seems to be doing anything.
He swings by my husband’s office, which is on the ground floor of our house, at least once every couple of hours, to make photocopies and talk soccer or politics.
Avvocato is a textbook copy of an old-fashioned Italian communist. His father became a communist in the 1950s when communism became more prevalent in Italy and Europe.
He inherited his ideology and undoubtedly re informed it with his studies in law, as most Italian universities are a strong base for the liberal socialist movement. Universities are still strongholds of the progressive, radical form of watered-down socialism, which is more digestible nowadays.
Still, the lawyer believes he is an old-school traditional lefty type that fits so well with the corrupt centre-right. The dictatorial Christian Democrats party held Italy firmly in their grip for decades after world war two.
Our lawyer friend reads only L’Unità, the major communist paper. And doesn’t watch certain television stations owned by Silvio Berlusconi. He honestly believes right-wing politics taint the perspectives of the programmes on Berlusconi’s stations. I don’t know what the Avvocato would have read once his newspaper disappeared off the newsstand after going bankrupt.
Our friend’s point of view represents one of the many aspects to make up the hotbed of Italian politics. Italy is a passionately political country.
The situation in Sicily is even fiercer than in the rest of the country. Not only do Sicilians struggle with the nation’s problems of high unemployment and taxation, but they also combat a debilitating lack of development and infrastructure.
Trying to understand politics in Italy is a real headache. Trying to untangle the origins of the political knot is nearly impossible as it is characterised by a history of endless parties and politicians. They hopscotch from one ideology to another. There are political movements that splinter off into smaller ones after disagreements. And many political characters and personalities are all trying to dominate the political landscape.
All newspapers are out to sell a political message blatantly, and journalists openly favour a particular side of politics. Ever since Machiavelli wrote his pamphlet The Prince during the Renaissance, politicians have been making secret deals and playing with peoples destinies.
The late great Italian singer and prose performer Giorgio Gaber highlights the national attitude towards politics in his apt observations about Italian culture. In one of his prose performances, Gaber said, they immediately form a political party when an Italian meets another who thinks like him since two of the same opinion are a majority.
Even the anti-politics political party, founded by the comedian and t.v personality Beppe Grillo. The Movimento Cinque Stelle gained popularity by highlighting the shameless corruption of the Italian political landscape.
The five-star movement’s underlying campaign is to send all politicians home and begin again with non-politicians, ordinary intelligent people to revive the country. The only problem with their idea is the public thinks they are incompetent, which has left the movement floundering.
Until the Cinque Stelle movement succeeds, everyone in Sicily is still tainted by their politics. I have never been a politically motivated person as the Australian conservative political landscape is quite dull compared to Italy.
Negotiating the political minefield in Italy is confusing. I don’t understand our lawyer’s self-censoring stance against Berlusconi. I try to read, see and interpret every paper or T.V channel I can. How else can honest opinions be formed?
The Avvocato is against all forms of conflict. Everything from international disputes to his clients will go out of his way to avoid hostility. He will often not take a case if he feels it will create animosity.
Or if anybody is likely to become irritated, who may, in turn, make him uncomfortable. I often think this is the real reason our friend never married; he often hides inside his tortoiseshell too often.
Avvocato is convinced there is no better place in the world than Italy and that America and globalisation are the roots of all evil.
He is confident the left will win the next election in a landslide on the local, regional, and national levels as the people need to be liberated from the immorality of Berlusconi.
His enthusiasm has been hard to maintain ever since his political party practically imploded from the inside after internal factional bickering and a change to the election laws, which imposed a minimum requirement of votes in each election for each party.
The new law made dozens of small leftist parties disappear overnight to be absorbed by the larger parties of the centre-left.
Despite the decline of his beloved Italian communist party, the lawyer is happy to put aside the hammer and scythe for friendship and conversation about A.C Milan.