Sunday, April 22, 2007

Salutiamo al Duce!

Did I ever tell you about the time I was embraced by Fascists? Not fascists, but Fascists, except this was in Italy after the war, and they were called Missini by then, based on the initials MSI of the neofascist party, the Movimento Sociale Italiano.
It happened in the following way: I had an English class every Tuesday and Thursday morning at the Scuola Interpreti in Brescia. All the students were girls - and deadly attractive ones too - plus one older man, who turned out to be the owner of a hotel in Corso Magenta. He and I became friends, mainly, I think, because he needed an ally against this monstrous regiment of nubile teenaged girls. So, he invited me to his hotel at lunchtime for drinks and something to eat. When we entered the bar the first time, I was introduced to a number of men who, as it turned out, were regulars there. And the reason they were regulars there was that it was an unofficial meeting place for old time Fascists. Remember, the Partisans had won and they were in the ascendant. Fascists had to keep a very low profile.
But in the bar of the hotel in Corso Magenta, the Old Guard felt safe, they relaxed and they could say what they really wanted to say. I didn't get much of the dialogue at first - these were early days for me in Italy - but I soon learned certain "brindisi" (toasts) as we all raised our glasses to "I nostri fratelli morti nel cielo" - raising our eyes to heaven to let our dead brothers know we were remembering them. I was stunned, though, when I first heard the toast to Mussolini: "Salutiamo al Duce, fondatore del nuovo impero romano!" There were others, but time has erased them from my memory. Remember, it was illegal to say such things, so they were being very defiant, well, behind closed doors anyway.
The other part of my education about fascism was a guided tour of the Piazza Vittoria in Brescia, when my hotelier explained that it had been built on Mussolini's orders and to a design proposed by him. It was in the usual marble monolithic style, indistinguishable from the totalitarian architecture I saw later in the east bloc countries, designed to awe rather than to inspire. But what was special about it, my cicerone pointed out, was the there were only four entrances/exits and they, unlike the spaciousness of the square itself, were very small and narrow indeed. "In this way," he explained, "you can keep people in, or keep people out, with only a very few soldiers at each entrance." As far as I know, it is the only fascist piazza remaining in Italy.
So it was that in my early twenties, I had an education in communism at home and in fascism in Italy. It took me a while, though, to realise that in many ways they were identical. Totalitarianism is like that.

1 comment:

prairie mary said...

That building looks very much like the office building where I worked for the City of Portland for six unfortunate years. It was designed by Michael Graves who put a lot of festoons and a big copper lady with a frog spear on the thing and was hailed as a major architect. The windows were all sealed shut but there was an air intake right over the spot where the city buses idled between their runs. Once an entire department fainted due to diesel fumes.

Prairie Mary