So I thought I lived in a quiet area of Florence. Predictable. Boring even. There’s the fishmonger who’s been here since the dawn of time, he’s so old and knarled I suspect it was him that provided the fishes that fed the five thousand. There’s the owner of the bar on the corner who asks me daily if I still have a job (she wants me to quit my steady job to be able to teach her grandson English for a couple of hours a week. I already did this last summer and it’s absolutely the last time ...I attempt to force feed the present perfect to a grunting, gangly, greasy teenager). There’s the Berlusconi look-alike you see strolling round: I stopped dead in my tracks the first time I saw him. There’s the resident crazy guy who wears a turquoise jump suit, turquoise helmet and rides a turquoise scooter. He smells of wee and has inch-thick glasses that magnify his eyes balls so that altogether he looks like a poisonous frog. There are the local youths who hang around in the park at night smoking joints and snogging each other’s faces off. Everyone’s friendly, even the youths who try to look menacing but are about as scary as their grannies who sit in the park during the day exchanging ragù recipes. Even the crazy turquoise guy is nice, if you don’t mind the wee smell.
This was how I saw my local area until a week ago when I discovered that the second Cold War had broken out in my neighbourhood.
Our local circolo (a kind of politically leftwing members club, bar, community centre and in this case, cinema, rolled into one) is next to the neighbourhood Communist headquarters. It’s not like they interrogate you on Marx’s Communist Manifesto before letting you in to see the latest Benigni film, but there is an assumption that if you go there then you are basically a free-thinking, liberal lefty. You can tell this by the number of intense looking young people wearing floaty linen trousers and interesting scarves who go to the cinema. Well, Tuscany is famous for being leftwing, so nothing unusual there. What is unusual is that a far-right (dare I say it, neo-fascist) members club recently set up shop just a couple of hundred yards from the leftwing circolo. This caused complete panic in the neighbourhood. Urgent meetings were called at the circolo to discuss what to do about this evident threat to our safety, the good name of our area and democracy itself.
Considering Italy’s brush with Fascism last century and the menacing shadow cast by the Lega Nord’s recent rise in popularity, it’s kind of understandable that they would react strongly and I am the last person to defend Fascism. I am also, however, the last person to defend Communism too. What nobody took time to find out was what exactly was going on in this new rightwing club. To be honest, from the outside, it looked a lot like young people having a chat, listening to music and snogging (sorry, there’s that word again) their girlfriends on the sofa. No bomb making classes, booming thrash metal or swastika cross-stitch in sight.
Flyers were put up all over the area warning of the threat from these fascist hooligans and the estate agent who rented them the space was assailed one morning by over a hundred people who verbally abused her for having anything to do with them. Being actually quite nice people, our local fascists decided that it wasn’t fair for the estate agent to be bullied because of them and have consequently vacated the building and, as far as I know, the area.
Being a fair-play, wise old owl kind of guy, my husband was half way through organising a meeting between the two groups when the fascists up and left. His friends at the circolo are giving him the cold shoulder now. It seems that it’s all peace and love and liberal-thinking till someone actually comes along with a different view to yours. At that point you simply stamp your organic leather shoes, put your fingers in your ears, shout ‘NO NO NO NO NO NO’ and send your friends to harass an innocent estate agent.
In any case, the Cold War II is over for the moment, that is at least until the far-right gang find somewhere else to sit around of an evening comparing Mussolini tattoos. Perhaps my husband should have parachuted in the Berlusconi look-alike, they might all have been too surprised to do anything and actually talked to each other instead.