This week's big questions: Is there hope for the Italian economy? Will Berlusconi to go jail? Does Chiantishire still exist?

This week's questions are answered by novelist and translator Tim Parks

Share

In your latest book you describe Italy as a “dystopian paradise”. What you mean?

I get up in the morning, walk to a small corner café in Milan where, no matter how busy the place is, the most charming of barmen produces a cappuccino such as you will not find anywhere in London, for just €1.20. Out of town, all the Italian picturesque is still in place, the vineyards, the old men with their cards, the fine views. Yet as soon as you get involved with work of any kind, obstruction and obstacle are the rule, or two of the endless rules, though official regulations rarely bear much relation to the way things are actually done. The upshot is the arrogance of power, obtusity of every kind, the prevalence of nepotism and 40 per cent youth unemployment. So Italy is a wonderful place to be, but also a place where so much is wrong.

How likely is Silvio Berlusconi to end up in jail?

Very unlikely. Berlusconi’s wealth and power are huge. He controls one of the country’s two large political parties, which he formed himself. Its members at every level show a passionate loyalty/subservience to him. It has been made clear that if an executive prison sentence is finally passed against Berlusconi at the highest and at the last unappealable level, they will make parliament unworkable. The ageing president of the country, Giorgio Napolitano, has no stomach for a showdown. On the day after Berlusconi was convicted of paying for sex with a minor, Napolitano invited him to talks in the presidential palace. Above all, no one speaks of the actual nature of Berlusconi’s financial misdemeanours, corrupt practices and conflicts of interests. No one is concerned about public morality.

Can you see any way back for the Italian economy?

The country is full of talented young people, able, hard-working entrepreneurs. So it’s no doubt possible that vitality and ingenuity will find a way out of this hole. But the system is held back by a huge ballast of vested interests, overgenerous labour rights, top-heavy public administration. All this could theoretically be reformed, if only there were a political system capable of producing a government with real power and the public interest at heart. Alas, such a thing is unimaginable and the lobbies rule supreme. It is rather like one of those nightmares where you slide towards the abyss and find you can neither scream nor struggle.

Having written about your health in Teach Us to Sit Still, is there anything in Italy that the NHS could learn from?

The health system where I have mainly lived, in Verona, works pretty well, though it is always useful to know somebody in whatever hospital or clinic one is dealing with and that is hardly a state of affairs to recommend. One thing I very much appreciate about Italian doctors is that they give you your X-ray plates, your scans and the full results of all tests, so that you can study them and take them elsewhere for a second opinion. They treat you as adults. At least that has been my experience. This was the one thing that occasionally bothered me with otherwise excellent treatment on the NHS.

What can we learn from Italian railways?

Like any complex system, the railways come to reflect the nation, the Italian way of doing things. So the railways here are rich mix of technological excellence and bureaucratic obtusity. In recent years, the Italians have concentrated vast investments on their high-speed service from Turin, through Milan, Bologna, Florence and Rome down to Naples and Salerno. The superiority of speed, comfort and stability over anything in the UK is all too obvious. But this has been done at the expense of running down urban and regional commuter services to the brink of collapse. In general, prices are low, but not because the service is efficient. Simply, a debt is being run up that our children will have to pay.

Is the capture of an Italian mafia boss in Colombia this week just another small victory in a war we are destined to lose?

Yep, I’d say so. With all my heart I salute those magistrates and policemen who genuinely fight organised crime. With all my heart I wish that one day the country could be free from this ongoing catastrophe. But it seems to me that the extreme of mafia collusion is only a more ugly manifestation of a general state of mind in Italy that puts family, private and group interest before the public good. I do not see it changing.

A 10 per cent pay rise has been recommended for UK MPs. Are they worth it?

What is important is that these people genuinely concentrate on the job. One of Italy’s interminable difficulties is that its MPs, who are reputed to be the best paid in Europe, always seem to hold all kinds of other positions. A parliament that gets things done is worth a bit of money. On the other hand, I can imagine plenty of other folks who feel they’re worth 10 per cent more but lack the power to vote themselves a rise.

Does “Chiantishire” still exist?

Chiantishire is a space in the English psyche, winking wineglasses on terracotta terraces, good books in the cypress shade. But its only contact with things Italian lies in the props, and since it has no real engagement with the life around it, Chiantishire can never be more than a brief dreamy episode, more or less comparable with a teenage crush. But those were pleasant too. Let people enjoy it.

Tim Parks’s latest book is ‘Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo’, published by Harvill Secker

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Big deal: Changing what we eat must be a better option than cutting into people’s stomachs  

Gastric bands are as useful as a plaster on a severed artery

Zoë Harcombe
Lord Lawson has been 'banned' from the BBC  

Don't let balance get in the way of truth

Katy Guest
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?