(click on pictures to enlarge)
The ‘No’ result of the referendum held a few days ago has created political turmoil in Italy. The referendum was on whether or not changes to the constitution should go ahead. As it stands, it is almost impossible to get any laws passed as they have to be approved by both the cabinet as well as the senate in a system filled with small parties of differing interests. The Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, resigned following the result as he had put in a lot of work to propose constitutional changes in Parliament but hadn’t been able to garner sufficient agreement to unequivocally put them in effect hence the referendum. The possibility of a ‘No’ vote was also of concern to the financial world as the Italian banks are in dire straits and political instability at this time could affect the value of the Euro. As it turned out, the President Sergio Matarella, appointed Renzi as a ‘caretaker’ until an interim cabinet is announced next week and the Euro has maintained its value after all.
You may be wondering what the picture above has got to do with any of this. I was struck by this image of Renzi which I came across on the Business Insider website, not by him particularly, but more by the fragment of the picture behind him showing a naked rider riding bare-backed on a rearing horse. After some research, I found out that the PM is standing in front of a fresco by Rafael which is currently in the Palazzo Chigi, the Presidential Palace. It depicts the meeting between Pope Leo the Great and Atilla the Hun in 452 AD. Legend has it that the miraculous apparition of Saints Peter and Paul when Attila met with Pope Leo caused him to desist from invading Italy and marching on Rome. Actually, Pope Leo was among a group of ‘Ambassadors’ sent by the reigning emperor Valentinian III and it is not known what exactly made Attila cease his conquest, possibly an outbreak of the Plague in northern Italy. Anyhow, the fresco was originally in the Rafael Rooms of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican and was moved to Palazzo Chigi but that’s another story. What’s ironic is Renzi standing in front of a fresco alluding to the prospect of an Italian invasion over 1,500 years ago. Historically, Italy has always been politically unstable. It only became a fully unified country in 1870 as a monarchy. In 1946, the monarchy was abolished by referendum and it became a democratic republic but since then, there have been about 63 different governments, clearly none of them lasting for too long. So even if the ‘No’ vote signals a possible takeover by a populist or extreme right government as seems to be the spirit of the times, it will be a miracle if it lasts more than a short period. We are all waiting with bated breath to see what happens next.
The other excitement of the week was the official start of the Christmas season yesterday, Dec 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. By tradition, the Pope lays a wreath on the statue of the Virgin at Piazza Mignanelli near the Spanish steps and Christmas lights are turned on in the city. The church two doors down from me Chiesa dell’Immacolata celebrates the feast of its namesake in style. In the afternoon, a procession, complete with a brass band and people carrying lighted candles, escorted the statue of the Virgin from the church and proceeded down the hill stopping at intervals for prayers and singing.
This took a couple of hours and it was dark by the time they returned to the church where there were more prayers and music. The event finished with a show of fireworks which I watched from my window before going to meet friends for dinner. Since I will be returning to Toronto for Christmas, my friends here are kindly inviting me to dinners and other events before I leave which is very nice. Loris would be pleased and so am I!