TORONTO - By virtually any barometer, Italy is a major player for Canada. It is the 9th largest economy in the world; a significant trading partner for us (one in need of our valuable natural resources); the 4th most popular destination place for tourism; a centre for culture, innovation, design and cutting edge manufacturing, and, now most significantly, given our interests in having the CETA ratified, the 3rd largest economy in Europe (about 50% bigger than Canada by GDP).
Italy’s Diaspora comprises 5% of Canada’s population, one that continues to distinguish itself for its fierce attachment to Canada, its progressive forward-looking sense of nation-building, its self-reliance and its global perspectives.
Building on those assets, over the last several years, Canada’s relatively youthful leadership had begun to foster closer ties to their Italian counterpart. This was until recently, most notable in the relationship that was developing between the two Prime Ministers Justin Trudeau and his younger colleague, Matteo Renzi.
Alas, things have not been going well for that alliance and convergence of interests lately. Renzi, once (and still) a dynamic agent for change, is being challenged by the public and his Party, the ruling Democratic Party.
Italy, despite its culture and refinement, may well be home to the most unruly of populations. It is a characteristic cultivated over the millennia as the Peninsula became subjected to one invader after another. Over the latter part of 2016, dissatisfaction with Renzi gave birth to a slogan his political enemies used to “malign” the youthful Renzi: authority yes, but not authoritarianism.
It seemed that Nature and International events joined in a conspiracy to undermine his “decisiveness”.
The surprise Brexit outcome, and later the improbable victory of Trump, gave new life to the objections of an ever-intemperate Opposition. It claimed that Europe was of little use to Italy’s growing problems: a stagnant economy; unheard of levels of unemployment among women and millennials – approaching 55% in some regions of the South; 300,000 refugees literally “fished out of the waters” of the Mediterranean in the last two years (Canada has accommodated 30,000 in the last 16 months).
In August (and September), earthquakes levelled several towns and caused hundreds of casualties. That would test any leadership. Last week the price tag for rescue, reconstruction and restoration came in at a staggering 32 billion Canadian dollars.
Then, in December, he lost his bid to transform the political architecture of the Italian government, when the YES side suffered defeat in a national referendum. Some of the Leaders in his own Party urged on the NO vote. Italians, initially pleased to see Renzi as potentially the lead player in the remaking of Europe, turned the Referendum vote into a proxy battle against globalism and immigration.
Renzi resigned the Premiership, installed one of his loyalists as Prime Minister, shuffled his Cabinet and initiated the process for restructuring his Party. But, “it never rains unless it pours”. One of his close associates lost the vote to become President of the European Commission, to another Italian with Centre-Right background, in January.
During a PD convention to determine the party’s future last weekend, Renzi became the punching bag for every one who had a bone or a nit to pick with him. Renzi gave better than he got.
Practitioners of political science in Italy are artists in oratory and professionals in ideology and philosophy. It is a potent mixture that masks an otherwise naked thirst for power. There are “public intellectuals” by the dozens, none of them political waifs or ingénues.
Italians prefer their political strife to be resolved in the open. It makes for great theatre. But the PD is weakened and in tatters. Italy’s value to Canada as an ally in Europe and the World stage will suffer a temporary setback, at least until there is a political reset.
TORONTO - Even if words like cafone and terrone may seem innocuous to people like you (at the Corriere), behind them hovers the sensibilities and sensitivities of those who utter them or who are their targets.
Galati’s courage in expressing his dismay, if not hurt, for the use of cafone prompted me to reflect on a book published in 2010, by Pino Aprile, titled Terroni – with a subtitle “All that has been put in place to ensure that Southern Italians become ‘Meridionali’”.
The denigrating vocabulary intended to give offense to those same meridionali were thereby release into the public domain. Today, as some may know, “Terroni” is [also] identified with a chain of restaurants (specializing in the cuisine of the South). However, the socio-political conditions that gave rise to the use of these words and the scars they created, are still present, even if 150 years have gone by.
I share Galati’s reaction. It is not dissimilar to that manifested by Neapolitans toward Matteo Salvini (Leader of the secessionist Lega Nord) when he visited Naples.
Yet instead of offering us, your readers, a background to help better understand the motivating factors behind his reaction, you opted to give us an article on the “use” of the word. It seems to me you missed an opportunity to demonstrate understanding and knowledge of the true impacts of the Risorgimento (unification of Italy). Italian Canadians [in general] like most Italians, particularly those from the North remain unaware of the true outcomes of the event.
Let me applaud [lawyer] Galati who broke open this debate. My reaction, like his own, is born out of the sufferings and endless social, moral and economic damages inflicted upon the Meridionali over the generations, the nuances of word notwithstanding.
If you do not have confidence in the scholarship of Pino Aprile because he may be Pugliese, read instead the work of a Northerner, Giordano Bruno Guerri, The Blood of the South, or Damned Savoiards, a text by Lorenzo Del Boca, president of the National Association of Journalists, 2001-2010, or the many other books published “ground-breaking” authors, then we can have a serious conversation.
TORONTO - I have followed with pleasure and some delight the debate that the epiteth, “cafone in chief”, affixed to Donald Trump. It is a colourful, descriptive that ironically describes his personality in its negative connotations.
With equal attention, I noted the rather strong position assumed by Rocco Galati, an excellent Constitutional lawyer, who, a Southerner like my better half, got caught up in the debate. I followed the Corriere’s excellent “Odyssey” of the cafone as part of the lexicon of our language – it is an term “puffed up” to serve as a cudgel, the weapon of choice in a war of insults, to beat to a pulp one’s unhappy adversary.
Regrettably, it would take a Titanic endeavour to attempt to stem the tide of the current definitions ascribed to the use of the word. Nonetheless, without nurturing any vain hopes, I would like to cast a spear in defense of the Cafoni. It is my modest contribution against the indiscriminate use of the term for the purposes of giving offense.
In 1933, Ignazio Silone published his novel Fontamara. He was at the time an émigré in Switzerland as a Communist seeking asylum from the persecutions of Fascist regimes. Fontamara came to be translated into 27 languages and sold over a million copies – an astounding number for the era.
Fontamara, a fictional, tiny village, located on the shores of lake Fucino nella Marsica, had been squeezed dry by Prince Torlonia.
Silone recounts how in Fontamara there were two social classes: “gentlemen” and “cafoni”. At the apex of this social pyramid, Torlonia reigned supreme, followed by Torlonia’s administrators, then in turn their dogs and after them, at the very bottom were the Cafoni – this was the lowest and poorest stratum of society for whom no one ever cared a whit, its members being considered an inferior species.
In one passage Silone reports a typical dialogue: “and what of us?” [protested the poor] “are we not also men?” [human beings]. Came the answer, “You are cafoni, flesh created for suffering.”
For Silone, “Fontamara resembles on so many fronts the typical Southern village … one less advanced, poorer and more abandoned than the next”. It was essentially a microcosm of the human condition described and chronicled by other writers, like Carlo Levi in his “Christ Stopped at Eboli”.
But for Silone, the Cafone was the repository of hope for a better society: “the day will come when suffering will no longer be seen as a badge of shame, but rather become a symbol of respect if not indeed of honour.”
I harbour no illusions that anyone will for a moment ponder the profound humanity and sense of redemption required for the reconciliation of the countless exploitations and abuses to which the cafoni were subjected.
That’s how Gad Lerner – journalist, writer and noted Italian intellectual – characterized Silvio Berlusconi on live TV, January 24, 2011. The then Prime Minister, then embroiled in the Bunga Bunga scandal had called into the program to berate the Lerner for what he considered inappropriate attacks against himself, Berlusconi. Lerner responded with the epiteth: “… you are a cafone”.
In the Italian language, cafone has taken on the meaning that reflects behaviour that is rough, vulgar and absent of any signs of “cultured” upbringing – irrespective of social standing, financial status or geographic origin.
In his letter, which we published without edits in yesterday’s paper, Rocco Galati maintains that the term is used by Northerners to give offense to Southeners. The term is in fact used to indicate discourteous conduct, lacking in tact and embedded in ignorance not evidencing any the effect or trace of Castiglione’s “Galateo”, or decorum.
This fundamental difference of perspective on the use and origin of the word has lead to apparent differences on assessments of socio-political impacts.
For example, Silvio Berlusconi has been the recipient of this direct insult on several occasions. One of them became a quasi-reference point for others subsequent to a less than classy retort hurled by Berlusconi at fellow Parliamentarian, Rosy Bindi. The same Gad Lerner wrote, ”… had I been Rosy Bindi, I would have slapped out that incorrigible cafone”.
Beppe Grillo (not an infrequent visitor of vulgarities), Leader of the 5 Star Movement, on the 5th of April, 2009, posted an article on his blog about Berlusconi titled “The Ultimate Cafone ”.
From the writings of both Lerner and Grillo, there is no evidence of an allusion to Regional origins of Berlusconi (Lombardi) or of his social origins. They were drawing attention to his gruff, uncouth and unacceptable demeanour. In our view, Vittorio Zucconi was doing the same with Trump.
But they are not alone. On June 26, 2014, Senator Candiani, irritated by Matteo Renzi’s apparent disinterest in his intervention before the Senate, called the then Premier (a Tuscan) a “cafone maleducato”. He must have started a trend. The following July 29, Ernesto Abaterusso (regional Councillor from Puglia) called him an “arrogant, cafone Premier”. On the 1st of February, 2017, the Publisher of l’Unità, Sergio Staino, called him out as “Renzi cafone and liar”.
Clearly, few escape the discriminating eye of critics in Italian politics. On April 10, 2012, Ivano Marescotti of il Fatto Quotidiano had already referred to Umberto Bossi, Leader of the xenophobic, secessionist Lega Nord, as a “…loudmouth opportunist, cafone, racist and ignorante”.
Alan Friedman, celebrated journalist/correspondent in Italy for the better part of 30 years, perhaps having “absorbed” some of the Italian values, on March 4, 2016, characterized the Republican candidate in the primaries, Donald Trump, as “an underestimated cafone ”.
No one is immune from the penetrating scrutiny and judgement the word affords its user. In 2014, famous singer, Laura Pausini, from Emilia Romagna, was engaged in a celebrated encounter with a fellow beach-goer because she was “doing her nails” in public. The woman called her a “cafona”.
It is the same term that Marisa Bruni – mother to the model Carla, wife to president Sarkosy – levelled at now French President Hollande, whom she called disdainfully “a ridiculous cafone ”.
Some people wear the “title” as a badge of honour. Flavio Briatore, former Number one at the Renault racing team, laughed off the insult by self-identifying as “a winning cafone . Sound familiar?
In Italy, the term cafone is not exclusive to insults that appear regionally based. A “cafone ” can be a Venetian or a Furlano, a Calabrian or Emiliano, a Trentino or Sicilian. Cafonesco behaviour no longer connotates social standing: a Parliamentarian who vaunts his influence is a cafone ; the millionare who double parks his Ferrari on the streets of Milan is a cafone ; the person who does not mute his cell phone in the threatres of Bologna is a cafone , as much a cafone as the cigarette smoker in Florence who litters the streets with butts.
There are divergent views even on the origin of the word. One of them, repeated by Indro Montanelli, (venerated historian and journalist) in his history of Rome, where he attributes the genesis to a Roman centurion Cafo – who laid siege to Capua and subsequently parcelled out the spoils (territory) of his victory.
His followers, known as “Cafones”, and their manner became part of the lexicon of certain Southern Italian localities which terminology lead to usage in other parts of Italy.
It is true that in some parts of the Peninsula, more notably in the South, the term still carries with it a description of those who work the land – independent agricultural enterprises.
But the term long ago lost any allusion of disdainful reference by Northeners towards Southerners – if in fact this was ever the case… unless they were in the style of the “cafoni” above.
Too bad the English language does not have as eloquent and descriptive expression that prompted our reflection on Zucconi’s article.
TORONTO - I read with naked dismay, disdain, and disgust the editorial of March 20th, 2017 with respect to “Cafone-in-Chief” and the “cafonesco (“uncultured peasant behaviour”).
The reason for my reaction? Your paper’s delighting in the phrase and reference coined by Mr. Zucconi.
As a person born a Calabrian peasant in Italy’s 1959, I, like the rest of us from the Southern Italic Peninsula, know all too well, starting with the teachers in elementary school in Calabria, the origin and modern-day use of the word “cafone” in the “Italian” context. “Cafone”: used as a derogatory word, like “Terrone”, by (would-be) Northern Italians against us Southerners, to simply denigrate.
Notwithstanding my current occupation as a constitutional lawyer, I am proud of my peasant roots, family, and culture. Moreover, the use of a racial slur, in the Italian context, historically referring to, and oppressing Southern Italians is neither “cultured” nor “refined” as your piece puts it: it is revealing.
It is clear to this educated “cafone” that the moron Zucconi, and you Mr. Volpe, obviously have more in common with Trump than you may want to consciously like, think, or know. Perhaps that is why he bothers you so much. For me, Trump is yet another inept, incapable politician to made it to the highest office. He is not alone in history. Wrapping him up in the Italian “cafone” wrapper is mind-boggling and offensive to us. [After all, who ever referred to Berlusconi as a “cafone”?].
That an Italian journalist, from Italy, would use that historically repulsive reference is unforgiveable. That an Italo-Canadian paper whose readership is likely “cafone” in the majority, is beyond explanation to not only our dead parents but our living (grand) children.
Mr. Zucconi may as well as, in the American context, used the word “minstrel” with the “N”-word in front of it. Would you then have had the same reaction and approving editorial? You owe your readers an apology. Nothing else can restore your paper’s integrity and credibility.
And, may I also suggest some therapy for Mr. Zucconi, and you.
Rocco Galati is a Constitutional lawyer from Toronto