Until a couple of days ago, I was very nearly incommunicado for two weeks. We took the kids to Italy on holiday, you see, and found ourselves in a place with no television, no internets, not even mobile-phone reception. The tiny shop at the site doesn’t even stock English-language (or any other non-Italian) newspapers, and my Italian is, if that is possible, even viler and more vestigial than my Spanish. I found this isolation very pleasant altogether, and in some ways regret having to come back into the connected world.
The shop does carry Italian papers, though, and bad as my Italian is, it’s just about barely adequate for hacking through the high points in the Corriere della Sera. It seems I found myself in Italy in the middle of a big debate on the merits of bipolarismo in politics. Perhaps my translating skills missed some subtle point, but whilst I agree that ‘bipolar’ is a very good descriptor for Italian politics, I shouldn’t have thought there’d be much question whether this is a good thing.
Also, Bank of Italy governor Antonio Fazio was accused of improper interference in a couple of M&A transactions and was being sternly frowned at by all. Or at least, by all outside Silvio Berlusconi’s coalition government. The separatist xenophobes of the Lega Nord, crucial coalition allies of Berlusconi, liked Fazio because one of his acts of meddling shielded a northern Italian bank from foreign takeover, and it is important to Berlusconi to keep the Lega sweet. Also, Fazio announced that he had investigated his own actions and found them perfectly proper. So that was all right, then, and anybody using the Fazio affair as a cudgel to beat the Berlusconi government was obviously, as critics of the Berlusconi government invariably are, a communist agitator. (Among the voices calling for Fazio’s head was that of the Economist. No surprise there; the Economist has long despised Berlusconi and his posse as paragons of cronyism, corruption, incompetence and lawlessness. Inevitably, therefore, Forza Italia wags have dubbed the newspaper ‘the Ecommunist’.) Elswehere in the Corriere was a feature article about Berlusconi’s close friendship with Russia’s Vladimir Putin (like Berlusconi, a close friend of George Bush as well); no surprise there either, perhaps.
(It turns out now, BTW, that the Economist might not be communist after all. Since a couple of days ago, even Berlusconi has decided that standing by Fazio might be too costly, and has abandoned him.)
There were also increasingly alarmed reports that something horrible was happening in New Orleans. But you’ll have heard all about that.
One thing you might not have heard was that Ambrogio Fogar has died. Fogar was a dashing adventurer of the old school. He circumnavigated the globe solo. He survived two and a half months in a lifeboat off Antarctica after a killer whale destroyed his boat (his companion survived too, but died the day after they were rescued). He was not above a bit of showmanlike deception. He announced that he would conquer the north pole alone, using only a dog-sled; he had to be rescued, though, and was forced to concede that his real plan had been to conquer the pole using only a dog-sled and a plane to get him within a few miles of the goal. Then, in 1992, while Fogar was barrelling through Uzbekistan in the Paris-Moscow-Beijing Rally, he endoed his jeep, shattered a cervical vertebra, and was paralysed from the neck down.
I mention Fogar’s death because he strikes me as a colourful and impressive man of whom I had previously known nothing, learning of him for the first time in a report of his death. I learned one other thing as well, though it was not in any of the papers. One of Fogar’s feats was to have been a solo crossing of the Atlantic on a shockingly tiny catamaran called the Spirit of Surprise. Unfortunately, Spirit of Surprise broke up off the African coast, and Fogar had to be rescued. The craft had been built, as I learned, on the very spot where I was standing. After the second World War a perhaps slightly eccentric aristocrat called Gadda della Gherardesca built a boatyard next to his villa on the shore. Gherardesca was obsessed with boats of all sorts. (His favourite, it seems, was a very old-fashioned fishing smack; he even hired a very old-fashioned fisherman to man it for him.) His yard turned out many beautiful craft, including some fine racing boats, before it ceased operations in the 1980s.