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


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

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Analyst

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading indepen...

Recruitment Genius: Linux Systems Administrator

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Systems Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: ICT Infrastructure Manager

£27000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Edinburgh city centre Scho...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Britain's Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, arrives with his son Prince George at the Lindo Wing to visit his wife and newborn daughter at St. Mary's Hospital in Paddington, west London, Britain, 02 May 2015  

Prince George's £18,000 birthday gift speaks volumes about Britain's widening wealth inequality

Olivia Acland
Nicky Clarke has criticised the Duchess of Cambridge for having grey hair  

Letting one’s hair turn grey would be the most subversive Royal act

Rosie Millard
Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'