Monday, June 1, 2009

more monza

Recession? What Recession? Walk the city centre of Monza, and you'd never guess that there are places in Italy hurting for jobs, at least at first sight. The city is a rich corner of one of Italy's richest regions, with a right-wing administration to match its wealth; the neo-fascist Alleanza Nazionale with their leader Gianfranco Fini who always reminds me of Spock, usually cringing at some unfortunate remark by poor old Berlusconi, the Bush of Italy, several members of Forza Italia, the party of the aforementioned Mr. B., and the rest coming from Italy's answer to the BNP the Lega Nord. These are people (especially the Lega Nord) who take great pride in Getting Things Done, stuff like planning a Park and Ride on the edge of town, and having it finished by the weekend. Excellent. If you think you hear the distant sound of trains running on time, you may be right... Political buzzwords are always biographical, here spreco is the hate-word, waste. It is a nice wide open term, a general condemnation of waste through corruption, waste through mismanagement, waste through handouts to the undeserving. Careful people, these monzesi, cheap might be going to far, but certainly not given to the sort of chaotic and florid spiritual and material generosity the South.
At the same time, this industrious yet quietly unindustrial town is in the process of breaking away from being part of Greater Milan in favour of being a provincial capital in its own right, Monza e Brianza, I'm not sure why they feel the need to tack on the Brianza bit, it's not a 'twinned' city as in the case of Massa and Carrara, but rather the name of this little bit of countryside around here. Perhaps it speaks to a sense of pride and independence, this is, as we saw earlier, the city of the Iron Crown.
The river Lambro runs through Monza, that's the Lion Bridge you see above (built right at the end of the Austrian Period, in 1840, when a new military road was being built through town) and beside it, shown in the next photo, the Lega Nord stand. It's election season in Italy, once again another long drawn out series of smug-looking men on ugly posters, and most Italians are fascinated, mostly on a verbal level only, by politics. This booth seemed to invite fear and loathing in passers-by, which surprised me; and apparently about two hours after I took this picture, there was some open hostility that turned into a pushing match, quickly quashed by the police and 'kept out' of the local paper. Make of that what you like.
In piazza Roma, on the main pedestrian street leading away from the duomo, is the swankiest cafe in Monza, I think the double tablecloths may have been ahead of me in transmitting that piece of information. Monza is Old Money, combined with new ideas, the Comune just launched its online services. Comune is Italian for common and also means the City Hall, the local government offices, their slogan is Cosa abbiamo in comune which means 'What do we have in common?' but also 'What do we have at City Hall?' The idea that the local government might in any way be there to serve the public seems a radical departure from business as usual in Italy. Here the idea of the comune is highly valued, as it recalls the period in Italian past (ands something of a heyday in Monza's history) when autonomous mini-city states flourished and fought against the evil forces of imperialism and foreign dominance. Themes very much alive and well today.
I was a bit shocked, by all this 'what can we do for you' from local government, this is not the face of Italy I expected, but then I went to cash my traveller's cheques at the bank, where a man with a long face and a posto fisso (= he can't be fired unless he kills the Bank Manager) took one look at the 'chore' of doing his job, and, instead of smiling and just giving me my money, rolled his eyes almost out of his head and sighed like a steam engine. Aah now that I recognize.
Here in the picture is the place where people could sign up for internet access tot heir personal account in the comune making it possible to register for things like a place at school for the kids, business permits and licenses, proof of changes in residence and medical care, and of course pay taxes, taxes taxes.
The city hall itself is an imposing 18th century monster of a building, but to make the process of signing up more simpatico, the Comune opened shop in the old market building, the 13th century Arengario which recalls similar buildings in Germany and England too: it made me think of the one in Ledbury. The word Arengario comes from the German Harihrings, the ring of the army, or meeting place. Downstairs under the arcades there's room for a market, and upstairs a huge room once used for town meetings and now set aside for exhibitions and special events. It's been pulled at and primped over the centuries of course, the spiral staircase in the tower for example dates from 1903, Lord knows how they went up it previously. I particularly enjoy the pulpit-like parlera with its little flag; it was from here that the The Arengario represents in a historical sense the civic heart of the city, while the duomo is the religious heart, and it's interesting to note that while the two buildings are close to one another they are build in such a way thet neither has a direct view of the other, two worlds close and yet studiously apart.
Anyone who knows about the Lega Nord will have heard reference made to il Carroccio, which is a slightly mysterious medieval war-wagon, adopted and transformed into the political band wagon of the nationalist, and northernist party of Umberto Bossi. (another great name for a politician, don't you think? He comes off as extremely bossy).
Historical documentation on the carroccio of the medieval period is a bit sketchy, but there's no shortage of modern interpretations of the war waggon, and its purpose as a rallying point for the troops, a reference and a refuge depending on how the battle is going, the place where the commander, medical assistance, even the funds of the army, were kept. Here's an example of one of the many sites that spells out this movable feast of unification... On top of all that, it was the symbol of defiant independence, pride and general go-gettability. Here's a plaque from Monza cathedral on the subject...

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