Most Italian criminals I know'and there are googols'are stressed, unmerciful and exorbitantly chintzy; and, that is not only because they are frightened of being arrested. It is that they have been swooped into the vortex of Italian law-breaking with no way to get out, and they are addicts hooked to that system depraved and underhanded. These Mediterranean malefactors are always looking over their shoulders, and they are intimidated by their own shadows. Crooks in The Boot are more queasy about their fellow felons than they are of Italian prosecutors.
Carlo swore to me that he was compelled to steal. Even if he didn't want to gain ground illegally, he was obliged to do so. He avowed that there was one thing he could do exceptionally well: Take money from others! The manner in which he did so is another matter we will observe further on. His success might be attributed to the enormous number of other individuals who think and behave like him. In the European Union, only Romanians, Bulgarians and Greeks are more corrupt than Italians'so "perceives" Transparency International. And I believe it! It is quite effortless to pilfer here.
Carlo was an old man when I knew him. He was more relaxed with his life. At his age, seventy four, he would never be doomed behind Italian bars. In fact, his lawyers'if he had been apprehended'would have argued that what he did was for the good of Italy, that Carlo's profligacy helped Italy to prosper financially! Then too, Carlo would be absolved of his transgressions, as if in confession, set loose, and worshiped as a hero.
I stopped teaching the teeny-weeny racketeer English in May MMX when I reported him to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Italian secret service'finally fed up, after three years, with his megalomania and vulgarity. His attitude in respect to women often made me want to slug him. His cruelty to the workers in his companies had brought me to despair.
Carlo's story began when allied troops were dug in near his northern Tuscan home. At seven years of age he cleaned tanks, trucks, jeeps and artillery pieces for the US Army. Compensated with cartons of cigarettes, not only did he begin to smoke at a fragile age (he gave up smoking when he was fifty), Carlo embarked on an eager business career hustling butts on the Italian black market to keep his family from dying away from hunger.
The vicissitudes of Carlo's life, and those of his relatives, were more than grueling. His uncle, a traveling merchant, drove his horse-drawn cart every day to the nearest town, some eight kilometers away, to peddle what he could. At one point along the journey, he had to dismount to permit a group of three-a-breast mules to pull his wagon up a steep hill. And do the same on the return jaunt. Carlo, years later, would follow that identical route on bicycle, even in the rain, to go to school'still, not for long. Today, that dirt road is an asphalted state highway crowded with SUVs and motorcycles and four-wheel-drives and plastic flowers pinned to trees and road signs to immortalize not just a few but very many motorists' accidental deaths.
Carlo possessed a solid constitution and an even more solid-state nature. He served in the Italian army but spent more time, he said, in the stockade than he did serving his country. His father was vicious with him, and more than once Carlo spoke to me about the beatings he had been inflicted with. Short and stocky, Carlo was built to absorb pain. His resilience would benefit him later on in his life when he would doggedly scrap to become a multimillionaire putting up for sale a mechanical invention of his that, he said, has sold more than 5,000,000 units throughout the world.
It is interesting to consider this unique Italian individual. There are many personalities similar to him in the Italian oligarchic structure that defines the dilapidated Italian society. Italy, as are most other European nations, is still stewing in the memories of its often horrible Past. Italians, and Europeans, are holding on tight to that which notched their historical before. Their present is horrendously insecure. Their future is nightmarish. There is nothing for Europe to do but make a big pizzazz. To contrive an enormous "look." Fashion is what Italians pitiably think will redeem them! The Mask. The Charade. Europeans must fake it. They must construct their reality on the basis of their drawn-out Past. They have no choice. They have been "out-Europed" by a Supercapitalism (Robert Reich) that is revolutionizing the world and diminishing their connection to the Past. Europeans have nothing to do but reject others' forward motion because they have been impotent to create their own future. Europe refuses to progress in this brutal milieu because it demands that the world return to the Continent's own times gone by. A pathetic dream. And a fascist one, to boot! Europeans are unrequited antagonists. They stringently refer to themselves as Christians to gloss over their pagan-like hedonism. Europeans pine to influence, to command with the scepter of days done for. They are weary, distressed and desperate'too caught up in themselves and their heretofore to earn any more any international respect of consequence. Dwellers in The Old Continent are too chesty to change and too stubborn to confront the menaces facing their existence. To camouflage their defects, they have assumed an enormous pose. An image which costs. Not all can afford this bogus appearance. Carlo made sure he could.
As you shall see, my dear reader, Carlo was truly a crafted original formed out of a convulsive Past, a personage who sparked with the instinctive savvy of a cornered animal, a someone who was compulsive as much as any adolescent in love, and an often brutal individual who would stoop to the most base tactics to win his game'the contest to accrue stashes of money applying the rules Carlo and his clique of miscreants themselves had established.
Carlo's psyche was forged in the glut of death and violence wreaked by World War II. A kid could slip in and around the fortifications of the German and allied troops scrounging for what he could to bring home whatever viands the combating soldiers made available to him and his friends. The times were hard-bitten. A boy learned more about surviving in the vicious reality of a war-torn countryside than he might study in an elementary school bombed out or closed until further notice. Autonomy, self-sacrifice, hardship and knavery were some of the dimensions that molded the characters of the Italian youth struggling to survive in the horrible Second World War years that had hard-heartedly devastated vast areas of the Italian peninsula. These features would remain fixed in Carlo's personality and millions of other Italians horror-stricken by the furiousness of war. To this day, World War II serves to shame and disgust millions of Italians.
Carlo drifted through grade school, arduous odd jobs in the Prato textile industry, and the Italian army. Subsequently, he saw a fork in the road of his life and left Italy to go to Caracas, Venezuela where he indulged himself for five years and flushed out a great deal of his Tuscan sectionalism. Like most other Italians who did not, Carlo introduced himself to another world, another culture where he tested his own versatility, his own capabilities. He studied himself. He weighed his potential against what others thought of him. Unlike most of his peers, he held a huge respect for modern technology. With this newly acquired savvy, Carlo returned to Italy to frame his future, to begin a new life with the pluck he had obtained contrasting his previous life with that of another. Carlo was ready. He had a sizzling desire to make a success of his life and reemerge from the squalor that had been his and his family's during those accursed war years. His horizons broadened. His goal was to be a big fish in a little pond where he could be manifest to a few but, in murky waters, nondescript to many.
An inventor of sorts and a determined dreamer... Uneducated and only open-minded to what was immediate, this mini-gangster struggled for decades with his invention before it achieved prosperity. He had to be maniacal in his approach. Working day in and day out, he planned and schemed to reach the top. And it was at this pinnacle of his life that I met the aging Carlo'dazed at his success, hyperactive still with the manic disorder that had catapulted him to hoard riches, lost in his thoughts about what it is all about, reading historical biographies and silly life after death books, and fanatically displaying his rough-cut ostentatious which he thought would cross out the years of poverty he had endured in wartime Italy.
The pint-sized pasha was always in the mood to reminisce. He worked only half a day, being in semi-retirement, letting his partner hold the company's reins. Always a pest, he hung around the office in the mornings keeping a watchful eye on the company's commercial activity and checking the activeness of his very low-paid workers. When we met in the early afternoons, Carlo was ready to forget the world of commerce, converse with me in Italian, and study the English language. He drove me to his mansion often so soused I was afraid he would crash his car into a ravine. He refused to latch his seat belt'would have preferred to pay a fine. If we passed any police authorities, he would imprecate them under his breath.
I often wondered why Carlo wished to learn English. He continually expressed to me his antipathy for Americans. (To soften him up a bit, I frequently told him that I was not an "American" but a "New Yorker!") He revealed to me one day, in a drunken stupor, that he had invested $2,000,000 in the United States attempting to establish a foothold there in order to augment the productivity of his invention. But his efforts were in vain. This mini wheeler and dealer forever then talked horribly negatively about his experiences in The New World.
Carlo was an alcoholic who imbibed only 13-14% red wines at lunch and dinner on weekends and on Mondays when we had a lesson, he would be feeling the unpleasant aftereffects of too much drink gulped throughout his cherished Saturday and Sunday festivities lined up in his opulent villa. These regalements included sumptuous meals prepared for large groups of his friends and business associates. He wanted to show off his teemingness, and the extravagant get-togethers which his daughter, girlfriend and Philippine cook and female domestic prepared for invitees, were what Carlo related to me were most memorable and pleasing for all who attended them. The husband of his Filipino house servant would travel to Viareggio on Tuscany's east coast and return with pounds and pounds of fresh fish which easily cost half the manservant's monthly wage. The best wines accompanied the dishes. Carlo topped the night off with a beer to quench the thirst the wines and hard liquors had left him with. Each and every event had to give the aura of a Brobdingnagian celebration for it was Carlo's paramount inclination to impress his visitors with his economic clout. A weekend glutton, the excessively sure one belched as a pig on Saturdays and Sundays and then dieted on salads during the week yet never stopped bending his elbow during weekdays.
It was in these surroundings that Carlo was unparalleled. He trumpeted his 36-room villa, his precious olive trees, his pool, his tractor, his Toyota pickup, his Mercedes Benz, his Porsche...ad infinitum. He knew that that which was most expensive was very often that which was unexcelled. And it was the blue-ribbon that he wanted to vaunt about (without bragging!) to his guests. He needed to show off the most costly NIKON that he had acquired for $1500 less on a trip to Hong Kong. He had to tell the story of his two-week cruise in the Antarctic on a Russian ice-breaker which had cost him'he brought along his girl friend'$50,000. He regularly gifted his two grandchildren the latest Apple computers. In the kitchen, there was a drawer filled with 30-40 obsolete cellphones. He had to pour out the most highly-priced wines and Scotches and rums and liquors. He rented a 40-acre reserve to go hunting with his three dogs ("You three are the only ones who love me"), and he ante upped $20,000 a year for it. His new swimming pool cost more than the property he had built it on cost when he purchased his tenuta years ago. He paid $15,000 a year just to heat his villa. His electric bills breached $1,000 a month. He never mentioned the prices for these items, but he always goaded his guests to inquire about them themselves! His irrational motives had no limits. He made vast generalizations out of passion'not irony. "Ago-go!" was one of his pet verbalisms.
This itty-bitty despicable duce had a formidable street sense, an incomparable business sense, but none righteous or ethical. Why should he have had? No one else among his friends and associates had. Carlo was an "artist." He did what he did for the "love" of it! The measure of whatever prosperity one might imagine to possess was for Carlo and his entourage the accumulation of possessions'money. The way that he did that was so clamorously fly-by-night, he had to sleep with a rifle at his bedside. He had no tranquility of mind. Had a terrible time sleeping at night. Would wake up and stroll around his tenuta to bring his being to that satisfying state, that homeostasis which would allow him to rest and fall asleep. He was a high-pressured character, and along with many of his Tuscan henchmen, possessed an irritably loud voice, frequently banged on the table, and was constantly, embarrassingly, wont to impress others with his material plenteous because he held so small amount of intellectual mettle being so uncouth and unschooled. Incredibly, he often left the doors and windows of his villa open at night'as if he wanted to be burglarized!'and he had to be filched three times before deciding to lock up at night before bedding down.
This tormented old man, this split personality bounced from one dark side of his psyche to another. An explosive personality. With a penchant to overflow into tirades. He revealed his internal feelings when with me. He could afford to. I was not a kinsman of his. I asked not to do business with him. I may have been the only uncomplicated friend he had ever had. He admired me for my candidness. Because I was a foreigner, he could tell me days-gone-by yarns that no other Italian would be interested in hearing. Tales about his youth, his middle age, his later years. He relaxed with me. He did not have to shield what he held to be intimate. In this state Carlo found a fount of self-possession which eluded him during his hectic commercial activities. Returning to his roots, he proudly reflected on his accomplishments and the difficulties he had weathered to attain the financial opulence he now basked in. And I encouraged him to do so'to unbend him. To help him save his life from the excesses he had bestrewed it with.
It was not always easy for me. More often than not, I would meet him when he was rabid with anger not only concerning his economic affairs but also because some minor detail had not been attended to'had not satisfied his finickiness. And if he had been inebriated, I would many times have a rough going with him. In a sense, I had him hypnotized. I would look for that opening with which I could lead him to regress to his Past, and there harp on his activities in the olden days pleading with him to explain to me what life was like in post-World War II Tuscany. I was frequently triumphant but that served as no compensation.
On recurrent occasions I had no luck whatsoever. Our encounters might easily have ignited quite violently. If Carlo was exceptionally unsound one day, he would dig his emotional claws into me berating Americans with a vile ferociousness. His face would turn blood-red, and I often feared something in him would burst into a heart attack or a stroke. I was so terrified once I decided to ask his girlfriend, Tosca, to give me her cellphone number so that she could direct an ambulance to Carlo's tenuta in the back hills in case he had been stricken ill. A favorite theme of his was his adamant perplexity about why so many Americans possessed firearms. He would bang on the table, yell at and insult Americans with exceptionally emotive expletives. (La elocuencia vac?a es como el cipr?s que es grande y alto pero no produce frutos.) He vilified Americans implacably scoffing at their predilection to keep firearms in their homes. One day, I almost shocked him into a state of sobriety by asking "Carlo, during World War I and World War II what did they use to slaughter 200,000,000 people? Snowballs?" He leaned back dumbfounded.
His anti-Americanism mystified me. One of his grandchildren, Katia, had been born in the States! Carlo was a man of contradictions. His proclaimed that he was an atheist, but frequently wore a gold crucifix around his neck which he said his mother had given to him. He avowed that he was a Marxist, but his preferred newspaper was Silvio Berlusconi's right-wing Il Giornale. All of his friends were conservative businessmen who tilted to the extreme right in their political thinking. Carlo paid and housed a Philippine family (husband, wife and two children), responsible for his tenuta's upkeep, but loathed Blacks and Afroamericans referring to them as negri which signifies "nigger" in Italian. With Carlo, it all depended on what side of the bed he had risen each morning. He might be affable one day; he might be crusty the next. The amiable side of him was fascinating. He possessed a store of the most interesting narratives garnered from his numerous first-class (champagne and caviar ago-go!), frequent flyer trips to all parts of the world'all with sojourns in five-star hotels and restaurants. It was when he dwelt upon thoughts of his Past, globetrotting the world, that he was entertainingly riveting. It was a pleasure to be in his presence. He bloated with joy. He held his listeners enthralled. The mercurial Carlo, not an easy man to live with, could hold his audience at bay if he wished to. Tosca, twenty years younger than him, could only stand him on the weekends. During the week, she lived far away in her own home'a gift from Carlo. This trounced upon woman (with words, not fists!) called him a tyrant!
The two teenagers, Katia and Francesca, were the apples of Carlo's sentimental purview. What they desired, he bought. The runty autocrat kept his venerable grandchildren drugged, hooked to his economic vantage. All they had to do was beg and beg and beg for whatever they hoped for. A new computer? Trip to the States to see their friends? A Roman Catholic private school which was more interested in tuition fees than in their educations? A new dress? A watch? Whatever... (At a bar once with these monsters of consumerism, F asked for a chocolate bar that had been posited next to the cash register. Carlo said "no" to her in the firmest of tones. It had been close to lunchtime. F, the younger, begged and begged and begged. Carlo caved in.) K & F were spoiled brats when I knew them some. Carlo would not let me teach them English'something they in truth needed. The two times I dined in Carlo's home, K & F broke bread at another table distant from me. Their only intellectual criteria was the cost of things! They had brain matter, but rarely used it because it was easier to buy something to satisfy their want than it was to think about anything that would benefit them but which had no price tag attached to it. They had nothing to say about anything, beyond their provincial scope, that might be interesting. They were perfect dullards. Their faces reflected the self-satisfaction of possessing the most expensive skin creams, the costliest shoes, the most magnificent sweaters, the best computer or cell on the market'all paid for by nonno, the Tuscan strongman! Both of these dimwits have no choice but to marry a moneybags whom we all wish'for their eternal felicity'will be as boneheaded as their grandfather and they are!
The intolerant one regretted this very much. He had desired greater things for his grandchildren. He intuited that his progeny had little, if not none, ambition. And that was in large part his nonaccomplishment. He incessantly satisfied their inclinations with the power of his wealth. He made all things depend upon him. He did not give his offspring the psychological nutrients to expand and enjoy life. He imprisoned them in a mental institution of wealth and comfort. He drubbed into their minds that financial good fortune was Life's panacea. These handicapped young ladies had no need to succeed. All would be fulfilled for them by others. A boyfriend. A spouse. Rich others. Their mother ("You are going to be a very rich woman one day!") and father were counting the days when Carlo would pass from this world. She ruined each and every business venture Carlo had set up for her. He served as a go-for for Carlo performing those commissions which only a soon-to-be flush family member could be trusted with. In all of this, Carlo had to be the one pulling the strings. He was the padrone and anyone who disputed his dominance was cut out'lickety-split! Carlo was great at cutting off the financial faucet he had turned on once someone had become his opposer.
The bully (The Master Bully) had to be the head honcho. He believed that he could succeed at whatever task he set his mind to. Nothing was too difficult for him. He had to be the winner. He harmed for good his arm to become a decent tennis player. He was a whiz at cards. He fixed his broken farm machines. An Italian psychiatrist, Piero Rocchini, classifies Carlo's personality with this diagnostic marker: Sindrome da Madre Mediterranea. This syndrome produces castrated men who are lacking any sense of responsibility. The Mediterranean mother satisfies all the desires of her son and takes away his sense of obligation with the purpose of keeping the son tied to her forever. Carlo's mother represented for him an unconditional love that surely his father could not offer him. In Italian society the father figure is almost totally absent. Where is the Italian father who ought to stand for reality, society, rules and regulations, strictness of character? The Italian mother says to her son: "Nothing is too much for you, my son!" This creates persons with an infantile optimism'personalities who feel like Superman, mortals who are untouchable.
When Carlo's daughter was ready to give birth to Francesca in the United States (Can someone please tell me why Carlo would want to have one of his grandchildren carry a US passport?), he invited her Italian gynecologist and his wife to come to the US'all expenses paid by Carlo!'and assist at the delivery so that his female heir would not have to worry about the American GYN man making a mistake! Carlo refused to believe me when I told him that Italy is a world leader of the Caesarian section classification, that Italian doctors are more prone to "cut" a delivering women open during birth! No matter. The point here is that Carlo, so meddlesome in his ways, had to intrude even upon the event of the birth of one of his daughter's children'to demonstrate his Superman qualities, to bluster his pecuniary pull. Just an adolescent-minded prig!
Ten percent of the Italian population owns fifty percent of the wealth'just as do, more or less, most of the societies belonging to the affluent industrial nation block which leads, for now, much of the world's economic yield. Carlo is a contributor to that mentality which suggests that the worker must make the employer wealthy. Period. One cannot say that Carlo was generous with his employees. Italy might be considered one of the richest nations in the world, but its workers are not. They are often blackmailed into subsidizing the illicit operations their big shot, Superman-like employers order them to accomplish. Women, working to pay their family's mortgage, are extorted'a common practice'for sexual favors. Workers are not paid overtime. An electrical engineer in an American company is paid '1,300 a month. A professor of medicine in a university is compensated unconscionably low compared with other European educational institutions. Italian laborers might well be defined as enslaved proles. I stunned Carlo one day when I quizzed him so: "How many children do your employees have all tolled?" He was vexed! It is dumbfounding that a nation with a history of more than two thousand years still does not know how to replenish its population! Carlo, and his cohorts, are literally destroying the Italian whole number by keeping their employees low-paid and frustrated with the fact that there is only a minute opportunity to progress in any labor field in Italy. Disgustingly, old men run Italy, and a very, very few of them are willing to dispense with their posts of power.
Women were allocated a very special nomenclature by Carlo: "Pigs!" All of them were pigs. Maiale in Italian. I can't imagine how many times he used that word in reference to a woman or women in general. We could be riding in his Mercedes and if we traveled by a woman who was in some way attractive'by body, by face'Carlo would growl "maiale" always under his breath. His reaction to that individual, whom he did not even know, was as disparaging as he could make it. I refused to grill him for his reasons for calling women so because I just did not want to hear still some other perversity. Carlo never failed me repeating the word maiale.
Poverina Tosca! Carlo was divorced. He avowed that he would never marry again. Tosca had worked at his company as a secretary so in their coming together he not only acquired a lover, he took on a lady who was very familiar with the accounting procedures and the workings of his company'a live-in bookkeeper. What is more, she loved to cook! Carlo had found the perfect mate. One he did not have to marry. One who could serve him personally and professionally! What a remarkable combination. Our midi-ruffian would hunt for pheasant and duck on his reserve and bring them home to Tosca to prepare. Carlo turned down any meat that was purchased in a supermarket or local butcher shop. The keeper of his lilliputian reservation slaughtered pig and raised poultry and fresh eggs for the lord of the land. Carlo was woefully discomfited that the Italian youth of today have given up on many of the culinary traditions that had been passed down to them for centuries. He bewailed the fact that pizza, potato chips, Coke, and hamburgers are the "gourmet" selections of Italy's younger, Facebook generation. The much younger Tosca kept Carlo in the Past. Reviewed his balance sheets. Came on the weekends to hug him. On Tuesdays, Carlo and his friends in Prato hired ladies of the night from Russia and Czechoslovakia, and he bragged that he gave them a '10.00 tip because "it was difficult for them to adapt to Italian society after living for so many years in the sordidness of Eastern Europe." When he and Tosca jaunted around the world, he told her to wear a wedding ring so that people would think they were married. ("Anyone can pay a hooker to go with them on business trips. I like people to think Tosca loves me so much she wanted to marry me.") Tosca hated to fly. She became petrified at the thought. To help her lose her apprehension, King Farouk would quip this line at her: "If you don't come with me, I'll go with a Russian or Czechoslovakian puttana." Tosca went all over the world with Carlo without uttering a peep. It should not surprise anyone reading this that the Istituto Nazionale di Statistica (Italy's fact-gathering agency) estimates that one Italian woman in three between the ages of 16 & 70 has been physically or sexually abused. Latin lovers might tell their girl friends or wives how high their skirts should be. One twenty-year-old Florentine Latin Lover I know wears seven, at last count, leather or clothe bracelets on his left arm representing the number of "maiali" he has "dumped." Italian women better not look at another man. They have to clean the home, not we men. Tosca was a very reserved woman. Loved to read. Would never question her Latin Lover, her Italic cheat. He was her overlord. She submitted to his whims whenever she was called upon to do so. That was Carlo's way. Tosca accepted it.
I must not forget to say that whenever someone met Carlo for the first time, he flashed an enormous smile that was perceptibly engaging and highly genial. After all, he wanted you to think he was "simpatico!" But most of all, Carlo had to be nice at first because, you never know, there might be some biz here in the works. (What is that you want to say? Everybody is doing it? Of course. But Italians do it better, n'est pas?)
In July, the Tuscan sultan was air-ambulanced to Houston, Texas for open-heart surgery which he survived. In September, he suffered a stroke which confined him to a wheelchair. Two weeks before his death in October, I was asked by his family to visit with him. I was reluctant at first, but went nevertheless. He was upped in his wheeler and his face was distorted with paralysis. His upper lip drooped to the right. He could not utter a word and on occasion grunted a bit. The Greed Machine was in the off position. I sat speechless before him. All of the obstreperousness he had possessed was knocked out of him. He was as good as dead. I stared. Katia and Francesca watched the Simpsons on TV in the kitchen...Tosca dabbed her tearless eyes with an elegantly embroidered designer handkerchief...the Philippine housekeeper had an empty look on her face not knowing what her next duty station might be...the daughter and her husband were shopping in New York...the dogs were stretched out around the wheeler...Tosca "cried" telling me that he had been so generous to her, that he had sent '150.00 a year to a Tibetan orphan whom he had loved, but never met, as a "son"...that he had spent a fortune on his dogs' health...that he had given many workers a chance to live and raise their families...ad nauseam.
I remained inarticulate. I fumbled for something to utter to him. Anything. Nothing came to my mind. I protracted my visit a few more minutes hoping something would come to me, something I could leave him with even if he did not understand me nor could even hear me. Then it presented itself. Spandau Ballet. I thought of the words to Beyond the Barricades.
I stood up. Asked Tosca to leave the room for a minute. I approached the wheeler, then whispered in his right ear:
"It's a terrible beauty we've made."
His eyelids flinched. I walked out of the room.
On my way home, I mulled for long over a maxim of Will Rogers:
I never met a man I didn't like.