No one can miss the fact that there is a financial crisis in Italy. “La Crisi” is spoken about on a daily basis and overheard in most street conversations. Long after the rest of the world has stopped talking about it, Italy battles on, slowly sinking under the weight of ‘austerity measures’.
Friends of mine with young children, hunker down and hope to wait it out so that by the time their kids need jobs and to leave home, Italy will be prospering once again.
Those with school or university leavers, say goodbye to theirs. Young Italians, never big on a ‘gap year’ are fleeing the country in droves. They go to Australia, UK, Germany and the US. Many of them miss home, miss their country, are not looking for adventure, but their responses are all similar ‘What is there to do back home? Sit at home and wait? Do nothing with my life?’. Many of them will never return and the loss of their skills, knowledge, university education and endeavour is signficant for Italy now and in the future.
Daily life is affected by more than just the constant topic of conversation being about how hopeless everything seems and the absence of youth. Shops and businesses are closing regularly, some of my favourite have already gone. Jobs, always scarce in Italy, are even more so. The last week of every month is very quiet as people stay at home due to the fact their household pay packet no longer stretches until the end of it. Houses remain on the market, empty for years on end without selling, prices for everything have dropped, holidays are simpler and closer to home.
But watching the morning news encourages and inspires me as I watch every day Italians innovate, struggle, embrace and respond in ever more creative ways to the constricts of their circumstances. Three news stories have stood out for me over the past month that have made me so proud to call Italy one of my homes and have reminded me of the Italian spirit and tenaciousness in times of difficulty.
1. A public school in the North of Italy was suffering so badly from government cuts, lack of funding to cover the amount of students requiring an education, and the inability of parents to contribute to buying school books or paying fees so the school could buy supplies, that they decided to produce their own. The school produced their own text books by writing their own, downloading copy from the internet, printing and producing all the texts required to run the primary and secondary lessons. Teachers and staff were gleely demonstrating their innovative approach and their self published texts. Not a scrap of self pity, just shy pride at how they had managed to win against the odds.
2. There is one shop or chain of shops that are booming and opening up all over Italy. Pawn shops and cash converters. Where Italians used to queue outside shoe stores or designer clothing shops they now queue outside pawn shops. Most Italians have a prodigous supply of precious jewellery – gold, silver and precious stones are collected from one’s baptism onwards and are seen as a sign of prestige and value on men and women. But now items worth a couple of thousand euro are being sold for a couple of hundred. These days three hundred euro can equal a weeks grocercies, petrol and bills for a family and is judged much more valuable than another peice of gold to be worn. Jewellery can always be bought back once times get good again.
3. Yesterday a job was advertised in a hospital for a nurse. More than three thousand people applied. Young men and women turned up from all over Italy, travelling for up to a day to sit the entrance exam which constituted the application. Special buses and excursions were arranged from the south of Italy to take applicants to the North of the country where the job was advertised. The news report showed a jovial atmosphere of people greeting each other, laughing, and talking together while congregating outside the examination hall.