September 21, 2007

Divorce and all that

It is very difficult to objectively and lovingly examine one’s own culture. Luigi Barzini is the only Italian that has done it successfully, while adding wit, historical background and journalistic accuracy.

His book, The Italians, published in 1964, is still the only true examination of Italian culture that exists today. If you are thinking of moving to Italy, you already have or are just interested in the Italians as a people, this is the book to read.

He made one big mistake, though, near the end of the chapter, Power of the Family. “Divorce is beginning to be adopted as an upper-class custom. Of course there is still no divorce on the law books, and there never will be. Not only is the Church against it, but the people themselves rightly consider it a barbarous and ruinous institution; the necessity to preserve some solid bulwark against the impermanence of things will always prevent its adoption.”

Instead, only eight years later, divorce came to be -- despite the war waged by the Catholic church -- by “furore del popolo” and a public referendum.

Between 1995 and 2005, separations have gone from 51,000 to 83,000, divorces from 27,000 to 47,000. Although Italy doesn’t come close to European standards, or American ones in which 50% of marriages end in divorce before reaching 25 years, separations have become more democratic. They no longer involve only the upper class, which means that more couples that separate end up in poverty.

With an Italian twist. In a country where the family supplies “welfare” instead of the state, one in five separated men go back home, to their parents' home – the only way to afford alimony and a another roof over their head – and yet another example of intra-generational solidarity and family ties. Luigi Barzini was right – “The first source of power is the family. The Italian family is a stronghold in a hostile land: within its walls and among its members, the individual finds consolation, help, advice, provisions, loans, weapons, allies and accomplices to aid him in his pursuits. No Italian who has a family is ever alone.”

A domani,


Kataroma said...

I really have to read that book by Barzini.

I'm not sure if I agree with you about the Italian family. Yes, on the surface families seem close and a lot of people live with their parents until they are extremely old, but I sometimes wonder how close people really are to their families - a lot of the ties that bind seem to be economic/practical ties rather than "family" ties the way I understand them ie. mamma will not require you to pay rent and cook meals/will wash your clothes - but do you really talk to mamma about your life and is all that clothes washing and meal cooking really for her (ie makes her feel useful) or for you?

For example, I was quite shocked because a single mum who I work with had a terrible flu all last week. She told me today that she had to look after her son all weekend despite running a high fever and no one in her family helped her (3 siblings all of whom live in Rome). I never thought of my Australian family as being anything in particular, but I remember when I was a kid my family (mum's sisters or my grandparents) would always drop everyting and take us off mum's hands when mum was sick, had plans to go out or was away on a business trip.

I guess I feel a lot closer to my family than a lot of my Italian friends despite the fact that I moved out and was economically independent in my early 20s.

Elizabeth said...

You are right when you say that family ties are of an economical/practical nature and not necessarily "close". Family is about a unit of survival and power and welfare over sentimental ties.