It doesn't take very long, once one is in Italy, to experience the excitement of crossing the road when faced with 50 massed scooter riders that don't give any sign of seeing any road signs, let alone complying with them. What makes it even more 'interesting' is the fact of most of the riders seem to be under the age of 16!
Well, Italy has now decided to introduce and enforce (perhaps) a law to ensure that the huge number of adolescent scooter riders will now have to take some form of test at the end of an enforced training programme. For the majority of the rest of the world this would not seem to be a problem - but, here in Italy, it has been possible for young people over the age of 14 to go and buy (or have bought for them) a 50cc moped and take to the crowded roads immediately - without any sort of instruction or training - or even any kind of insurance.
So, the law came into effect yesterday, the 1st July, making it compulsorary for the under 18's to now have lessons, free if they are still at school and then pass a written test on the 'rules of the road' before they will be allowed out onto the crowded roads to 'try their luck'. So far, a mere 442,000 have gained the 'mini-licence' - leaving many hundreds of thousands riding around illegally at the moment.
The motoring organisations here have complained on behalf of their teenage membership that the government haven't allowed sufficient time for the youngsters to take the proscribed lessons and then sit their tests to allow them to legally take to the roads and thereby avoid the possible fine of €516 and sequestration of the moped for two months. Transport Minister Pietro Lunardo has resisted the pleas to postpone the introduction of the new law, but he said this week that he had asked traffic police "not to pursue people so as to avoid accidents." - a very sensible request given the liking by young boys of high speed pursuits involving the police!
Mariolina Moioli, director general of the education ministry further added, "The high figures of road accidents, especially fatal ones, convinced the government to introduce a driving certificate for scooters". It is hoped that the change in the law will go some way to reduce the horrific toll of deaths amongst the 14-29 age group which, despite road deaths as a whole in Italy reducing steadily over the last 20 years, has remained at a very high rate.
Certainly, as one travels around in Italy it is common to find those very sad shrines to recently killed young people on street lamps and signs telling the story of yet another young life lost to the ubiquitous 'motorini'. It will be a major step forward if the flower sellers lose this particular piece of trade.
Reading through the Guardian this morning, I was struck by a small cartoon at the bottom of the page by Austin, a regular contributor. A knight in armour, holding a banner showing the flag of St George. The dragon that St George is so famous for slaying is standing close by saying "That flag makes you look a bit of a loser".
It got me thinking about the flag of St George and how it has become the flag of England and the symbol of Englishness in a fairly myopic way these days.
How has St George come to be regarded as such a symbol of English might though? England's patron saint under the Normans and early Plantagenets was ironically, a Saxon king, Edward the Confessor. George crept in first as patron of the Order of the Garter in 1348 under Edward III. The following year Edward, during the siege of Calais, is said to have suddenly drawn his sword and called out: "Ha! Saint Edward. Ha! Saint George!". According to Thomas of Walsingham, these words "instilled spirit in his soldiers and they fell with vigour on the French and routed them". This was in the year 1349, 419 years after the same flag was awarded to Milano by Lambert, then archbishop of Milano, in the year 930.
Milano is not alone in having as it's flag that of St George (known as Gherghis or El Khoudi in Islamic renditions of his legend). It is also used by Genova (1198) and Frieberg (1368) as well as the Brasilian Merchant Navy Health Service!
So, what I would like to know is why they are so proudly flying the flag of Milano (and Genova, Frieberg and the Brasilian Merchant Navy Health Service) as though it's their own flag? Still - I suppose that as they stole the country, they might as well steal the flag as well!
A terrible thing has just happened in Venice. An idiot, presumably either trying to make a name for himself in the league of the brainless, or in desperate need of urgent medical care, attacked a couple of the sculptures on the facade of the Redentore church in the very heart of Venice with a hammer. A hammer, for goodness sake. This idiot broke off the hands of St Francis, shattering them into hundreds of pieces, going on then to smash one of the hands from the statue of St Mark the Evangelist. But, that wasn't the end of it. The moronic vandal then moved on to the Doge's Palace in Piazza San Marco, attacking the capital to the right of the Porta della Carta, opposite the statues of the tetrarchs of Constantinople. God is no longer giving Moses the Tables of the Law, which have been smashed into 17 separate pieces by a vandal's hammer.
It isn't the first act of violence against a work of art - and, unfortunately, it surely won't be the last either. Nothing is safe from these kind of attacks as was shown back in 1992 when the frustrated painter, Piero Cannata, took a hammer to the foot of Michelangelo's David in Florence, causing damage which has only recently been fully repaired. Interestingly, Piero Cannata is now out of prison and acting as a tourist guide in Florence. Showing visiting 'culture vultures' the best of the city's works of art - including David!
Why is there so much vandalism to art and other property though? Here in Milano there is so much graffiti that one hardly notices any of it after a while - not the effect that any budding graffiti artist is seeking, surely? Or should we be classing graffiti as the same thing as vandalism any way? Perhaps it really is just an expression of one's artistic inner-self seeking release?
Certainly, graffiti has been with us for a very long time. I remember being interested in the graffiti on some of the Egyptian temples around Aswan that had been left by the occupying Roman soldiers some 2000 years ago (as well as examples from almost every occupying force since that time). I wasn't particulary upset by it, although surprised by its existence and it was actually presented by the guidebook as a social comment of the time. Amazingly, the graffiti itself was pretty indistinguishable from that we see now - a variation on the "Kilroy was here" type of thing - or, more accurately, "the head of the guard is a tosspot"!
Of course, we have to consider what graffiti actually is though, surely? Does it have any artistic merit - or is it just simply vandalism that should be prevented. The problem is that graffiti as we now know it is not a social comment at all - it is simply a cry for attention by the 'artist' - a proof of arrogance and bravery, perhaps. Most of the graffiti one sees here in Milano is barely more than an ugly daub of paint on the wall of a 14th century palace - a smear of black or silver paint on a beautiful renaissance building. Is this really graffiti at all? Wouldn't it be better to consider it as simple defacement of property? There are a large number of websites proclaiming the 'cool' nature of graffiti - with groups of graffiti painters calling themselves "crews" - after their American idols. But, the actual graffiti that is on every available piece of wall here in Milano is not a statement of ideal - not a cry of artistic passion - not the voice of thwarted political dreams. It is simply an ignorant squirt of paint that has no more purpose than to deface and destroy. To try to draw a parallel with any form of artistic expression is giving it credit for being created with a thought behind it other than simply that of defacement of one's own society, one's own 'family'.
Who thinks that the English are a "Nation Apart" now? How the Celts were pushed out of the way and ended up in Wales, Cornwall and Brittany - possibly even in Euskadi.
An interesting view on European Celtic history can be read here - I would only like to add that my own opinion as to the nature of the Celts in Britain is that they actually originate from the northern Celtic tribes, which are red, or fair faired - and the southern Celts, which are dark, or black haired. I can cope with being proven wrong on this though. As I get older, I become more and more conscious of "standing on the shoulders" of my forbears, increasing my interest in the history of my own past, my own family roots.
I was just reading an old story in the Guardian by Larry Elliott, the Guardian's economics editor, about Europe - the contention being that it isn't working. The story gives three possible reasons for working together in the single cohesive group that the EU is supposed to represent. The need to tackle the 'problem' of the USA - secondly, to deal with the 'problem' of US capitalism - thirdly because the rest of Europe is far better served with services, such as roads, railway, hospitals, dentists, etc - and finally, in order that the spectre of a future possible war in Europe be diminished, if not entirely extinguished.
My own feeling is that the Guardian has followed the path set by a great many people before it and have restricted their view of the world to a remarkably parochial one - the kind of view that is propagated and fostered by football (sorry!) and other sports with roots back into warring history. With such a blinkered view of the world - ignoring the fact of our shared humanity being something which all of us share a common root in - how can we resolve the issues of power and independence which are used as the basis for the arguments against a single Europe? Now, I'm not a "federalist" at all as I would prefer to see a limitation on the individual power that anyone may take upon him or herself. That is the surest way toward yet another war between differing groups of people, I believe. But, I do see a great deal of sense in sharing our common beliefs and ideals, which is something the various people of Europe have had in common for the past 2000 years, at least.
So long as we continue to see Europe as a "them" and refuse to actually recognise ourselves as being a part of Europe, we will maintain our isolation from people. I don't just mean the English here, of course, as Le Pen, together with many other extreme right-wing politicians, has tried to use the argument of 'splendid isolationism' in order to bolster his personal status and power amongst the less intellectually inclined. Football actually becomes a very good example of the kind of isolationistic (or, if you prefer, nationalistic) thinking with the mindless support and the rabid attacks on those perceived to be 'against' ones own 'team'.
Perhaps it is because of the very many wars we have had amongst ourselves in Europe that we feel so strongly about our own village, our bell tower, our own 'race'. A completely irrational viewpoint as the national boundaries have changed so many times in Europe that it would be next to impossible to actually define a racial group in any of the individual countries now. I have my roots in Wales - which is the final bastion of the original Celtic inhabitants of Britain. Does that make me any more entitled to throw out the Picts, the Angles, the Jutes or the Saxons - or any of the subsequent invaders of Britain? The Anglo-Saxon majority would present a strong argument against that, of course. But the fact remains that my racial background would seem, by the nationalistic rules used by the Europhobe lobby, to give me a greater right to be in Britain than, say, someone whose great-great-great-great grandparents immigrated to Britain from Holland in the 16th century. Well, does it? That is the argument for national identity and separatism that keeps the political extremists in business. I believe it is simply wrong. I would suggest that our racial identity is fundamentally European, givenh our shared religion and common language roots. Our physical and psychological characteristics are similarly shared, with the same motivations guiding our actions in all that we do.
But, back to today. Britain's strength was built on its position as the foremost manufacturing power in the world - quite a while ago now. This was because of the raw materials being readily available for industrial manufacturing purposes such as iron and coal, without which Britain would have lacked the hard cash to actually trade and create its empire of trading partners around the world. Britain finds itself in the position of not having raw materials at its disposal any more because they are, largely, exhausted now. The long lost network of foreign trade and cheap materials sources has, similarly, long dried up, leaving Britain nowadays a shadow of its former self insofar as being a world leading nation. Britain nowadays only has the intellect and skill of the people that live there for its future strengths, there can be little argument about that statement anymore. However, there has long been a so-called 'Brain Drain' operating which has attracted the most bright, the most able young people to move and work abroad - mostly in the USA - for far higher salaries than would be possible in cash-strapped Britain. Without a suitable marketplace for any manufactured or value-added product, the amount of available resource for paying our own, intelligent, qualified and highly able people to work and live in Britain - what possible motivation would they have to remain? What would that situation leave Britain with then? What position of strength would it be able to call upon to continue to position itself as a world power then?
This then lends a kind of opaqueness to the view expressed in the Guardian. A more extreme version of the famous 'rose tinted spectacles' that the British have long been accused of wearing when it comes to seeing themselves in the global context. Without each other, we are as nothing - the main problem is how we see ourselves and who we regard as 'each other'.
I've been taken to task somewhat over my comments about the England v Portugal match, which England lost during a penalty shoot-out after the match itself ended with a draw. The reason that I was criticised was because of my comments about the press attack on the match referee, Urs Meier, because he disallowed a 'goal' that English fans would have liked to have seen allowed. Well, enough to say that I'm not attacking England because I'm Welsh at all - rather, I was attacking the press opportunism where they attacked and were rude and aggresive toward the referee for having made the decision to disallow the goal, correctly as it happened - as well as the on-going violence of the English supporters both overseas and in England itself. I stand by what I said about both issues and feel that it must be pointed out that UEFA has similarly raised it's own questions about the behaviour of the English press as well as the more blinkered English fans that chose to believe the stories put about by the English gutter press in such a racist manner.
The question that should be seriously addressed in the UK at the moment is more to do with what the press consider to be 'news' and how they present it to their predominantly English readership. A brief look at today's gutter press shows that the Daily Mirror considers the most important story of the day to be whether or not Real Madrid player and England captain, David Beckham, is going to be separating from his ex-pop star wife, Victoria. This story is followed by an item on the "Big Brother" TV show, a sex quiz, a story about a young lady out to snare a 'man' into her bed and then, finally, an item about the Iraqi handover by the US led forces to the US approved new government. Obviously they are setting their readers priorities here. I only hope that the xenophobic tendancies of the English media can be countered by reason and logic before the English effectively disengage themselves from the rest of the world by believing the nonsense that these sectors of the press would like to present as 'real life'.