Happy New Year, gentle readers! I apologize for my long silence. Bronchitis, deadlines, and (in all honesty) the many stresses of unemployment have had the better of me these past six weeks.
Verdi can feed people: In reality, this open letter by Umberto Eco mentions Verdi only once. But when the time came for Eco, or Eco’s editors at La Repubblica, to choose an emblem for Italian culture in their headline, they chose Verdi.
Verdi fed many people during his lifetime. When famine struck, he had polenta distributed to starving peasants from his kitchen at Sant’Agata. He employed many local people (including field workers, stonemasons, and gardeners) on his estate and was immensely proud of having adopted then-innovative irrigation methods that greatly improved crop output in his region. Verdi feeds people today, too—the artists and artisans who bring his works to life, and all of us who are nourished by his art.
Eco’s title, though, is a response to the Italian Minister of Economy and Finance, Giulio Tremonti, who opined late last year that con la cultura non si mangia—“culture doesn’t feed people.” I think that there are flaws in Eco’s piece: I would have chosen Berlin and not New York as an example of a culturally prosperous and prospering city. (Nearly all of New York, including formerly sketchy neighborhoods, is now infested with investment bankers and lawyers, the very people to whom Tremonti and his peers in the United States offer tax breaks while slashing already meager funds for culture.)
In any event, a writer of Eco’s stature and wit is not to be ignored. I’m sorry that I don’t have time to gloss the article comme il faut: There is an impossible-to-translate obscene pun (involving uccello), and I refer you to Wikipedia to learn about the liceo classico and liceo scientifico. I would also note that Mike Bongiorno, the late television host whose appeal I never fathomed, once again dominates headlines because his grave was robbed. G-d help Italy.
You can read the article in its original form here.
Dear Minister Tremonti: Verdi Can Feed People
Dear Minister Tremonti: I am writing to you because someone, probably a fool or one of your enemies, attributed to you the idea that culture doesn’t feed people or something like that. As far as I can tell, you have not defended your reputation by issuing a vigorous denial, so this urban legend will stalk you the rest of your life.