Views in Tuscany

I am in Cortona, a beautiful tourist-infested hilltop town in Tuscany as the guest of the Italian Democracy party. In the unlikely setting of a historic monastery church, over 300 serious people, overwhelmingly young, overwhelmingly masculine, are debating labour and democracy. I thought that they would want me to speak about globalisation but no, I was expected, as the only woman among the speakers, to focus on gender. Biology is still destiny, after all.
Yesterday there was a moving video address from Alain Touraine, the last surviving grand old man of French sociology, too sick to come in person. I was struck by his political optimism, still, after all these bitter years. One of his reasons for remaining so, he said, as he concluded, was Ed Miliband’s success in the UK Labour leadership election. There is an optimistic spirit among the delegates here too. This new party, only three years old, an amalgam of former communists and social democrats, is positioning itself to beat Berlusconi. Its logo (pictured here on the screen in the ecclesiastical conference setting) seems carefully judged to tick as many boxes as possible: the green-red colour scheme; the football image which, I suppose, could also at a pinch be read as a globe; the cog wheels on it also suggesting ‘old’ labour; but the name suggesting, if anything, the US democrats, perhaps even obliquely associating itself with Obama’s victory, but certainly referring to the European tradition of social democracy. The biggest rounds of applause in response to the political speeches were to: first, a demand for immigrants to be given full citizenship rights; second, a call for greater social mobility, with Italy becoming more like the USA with tolerance of multi-ethnicity and people moving from state to state to search for work; and third (this one was more opaque to me, with my lack of knowledge of Italian politics) a call for party unity and support for its leadership, once elected.
I am somewhat surprised at the vehemence of the second response, but suppose that these young people have a real desire to escape the claustraphobic traditions of family and community and feel themselves to be free citizens of the world, with the potential to be anyone, anywhere. It reminds me that it was Italy, the country that seems most steeped on its own history in all Europe, that gave the world, of all things, Futurism, in the early 20th century in what seems in retrospect to have been perhaps a furious fit of masculine parricidal rage. Matricidal too, come to think of it, in
that angry assault on Mama’s cooking exemplified in those strange futurist recipes involving blue potatoes.
Unlike most European opposition parties, these Italian Democrats have had to put an enormous amount of energy into ensuring that the government simply remains within the rule of law (‘playing by the agreed rules’ as one speaker explained) which makes it hard to put effort into other things. The general atmosphere of emergency also means that they have to be ready to fight an election at the drop of a hat, whilst also planning a coherent political programme that will work if the government runs its full term, till 2013. I wish them luck.
I am also trying to find time to enjoy the unphotographable the unlikely ecclesiastical conference venue before the opening session

it was for landscape like this that Leonardo invented sfumato

misty views of Tuscan landscape visible in every direction between the battered stone buildings. The journey here from Pisa airport was, unfortunately, mostly in the dark but gave occasionally glimpses of floodlit towers and craggy silhouettes that suggested it must have been spectacular. I was met by a driver bearing a placard that said HUVSLA, which made me feel like a new range of Ikea shelving, an effect that was augmented by the aromatic gusts of pine fragrance that issued from the wildly swinging car air freshener every time we went round a hairpin bend. Most streets here involve steep slopes or flights of steps so I can only puff slowly round a fraction of what I would like to see but it is nevertheless a treat. Last time I was in Tuscany for any length of time was in 1964 (the summer between O levels and A levels) hitchhiking with my friend Rosa between youth hostels that, by Spartan British standards, were sumptuous, and taking personal risks that would strain credulity today.

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