Saturday, April 29, 2006

Do not go gently...

After much hoo-ing and ha-ing, several contested votes, a court case and, not least, a scary reference to civil war, Silvio has conceded defeat. Looks like it will be a bit of a "we haven't gone away you know" situation in the Italian parliament where it's avowed that the feck-acting will continue as the right fulfils its "moral duty" to bring down the government, promoting instability at this delicate juncture for their economy and society. Why is that the right gets on everyone's case about duty while it is liberalism which has to do the decent thing in times of crisis/delicacy and bite its lip as the morally and credibility bankrupt on the right go about the business of fucking things up for everyone except their cronies?
Anyone heard of the Tallaght strategy or the regular and shrill attempts at moral blackmail from the government benches that any criticism of their appalling policies will hurt the economy? In the States, the Democrats have been cowed and brought to the brink of schism on foot of blackmail about the great civilisational war with the guys with hook noses and schimitars.
Sorry, you can't criticise us until it's over. You know, because of, um, patriotism. When will that be? It's open ended. We think never. Ask Mark Humphreys.
It doesn't make any difference if you do bite your tongue, these guys have no interest in actually doing the right thing. It only makes it worse for when you have to come in and pick up the pieces at the end. Re Italy, just how moral these characters are is thrown into stark relief by their [unsuccessful] nomination for President of the Senate. Former PM and all round creepy guy, Giulio Andreotti, is the one-time "finest political mind in Europe" and a man who, literally, got away with murder. His conviction for Mafia membership was escaped only on foot of the Statute of Limitations. As much a mafioso as any of the Dons Corleoni, his nomination indicates that the dark days are far from over for Italian politics as far as the Berlusconis of this world are concerned. According to investigating magistrates back in the day, Andreotti's denials that he was bossom buddies with the Sicilian Mafia were:
incomprehensible and absurd, disproved not only by the most elementary logic, political and other, but by concrete evidence.*
Somehow, I doubt people will be too quick to invest their money in Italy while things continue to hang so much in the balance. *Midnight in Sicily (London 1996) pg 233.

E for Emo, M for My Space, V for Vendetta

So, like, emo is huge right now on the You Tube/My Space matrix. Is it the start of Huxley's Brave New World or a heartening insight into the creativity and humour of young people today? All I know is that when I see parkour, those kids on YT who totally shred the gee-tar, robot dance in a jaw-dropping manner, do ninja stunts and generally rip the piss out of themselves and the world, I'm sorry my adolescence took place before the Web, broadband and digital cameras. I'd like to see stats on how many YT videos have a single bed as the backdrop. Certainly, the teenage bedroom today is a forum very different to what it was when I was locked in there with my Squire Strat, 12 amp Peavey, Pixies albums, Jim Morrison haircut, mirror and well-thumbed copy of Catcher. TCAL points out this morning that You Tube is spending one million dollars on bandwidth per month, in essence underwriting the sea-change in Internet use which is currently taking place. The above is pretty cool too and reminds me that I won free tickets to V for Vendetta at the Irish Blog Awards. I mentioned it at the time and said I really enjoyed the flick, but never got around to doing a full review. James Wolcott correctly pointed out that the shrill insistence on the right that the film was "bad" indicated that its themes were cutting a little close to the bone. V works as art, genre flick and political polemic and is a top companion piece to Syriana, which I thought was subtly profound on the interconnectedness of things. One is reminded of the army of morons on the IMDB message boards who say things like "Sideways is a bad film because that guy drinks alcohol all the time and the other guy is unfaithful to his fiancé. And they were all divorced and everything." I guess I missed that day of Critical Theory 101. Still, you expect more from the New Yorker and the NY Times. My only issue with V for Vendetta really (apart from Miss Portman's typically inadequate performance) was that it unnecessarily has the gub'ment engineer with appalling cynicism the circumstances which allow it to introduce a totalitarian dispensation. It's a cop out. Depriving us of our freedoms and civil liberties because of security threats is just as wrong when those threats are genuine and external as when they're manufactured. In a free society, it's up the citizenry to suck it up to a certain extent whether they feel threatened by urban youths or implacable and deranged fundamentalists. And I've read Martin Rees. It's too easy for educated, middle-class conformists to make free and easy with the liberties of others by succumbing to hysteria in respect of their own particular interests. It doesn't cost them anything. I wonder where the You Tube kid got that mask...

Friday, April 28, 2006

Dublin Community Blog

I'm delighted to have become a contributor to the Dublin Community Blog. I know it's very fashionable to knock the place, but I really enjoy living here and am looking forward to posting about all the things there are to do and see on the horse-dunged cobbles of the metropolis. Of course, the city has it's problems and it is inevitable, given my propensity to indulge in what was referred to in Sideways as "neg-head downer shit", that I will tap the odd irate posting into Wordpress. Check out the blog and maybe even think about how, as the play of Dublin life goes on, you too might contribute a verse. Summer's here and the city is coming alive.
In the meantime, I leave you with my biography cum apologia as a Dublin Community contributor:
Copernicus is a Dublin-based civil servant and law student (at least until after he fails his forthcoming exams) who has lived in the capital for five years and two and half months.
Although he was born a startlingly beautiful child in the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street Dublin 2, Copernicus does not consider himself a Dub. Not a wet week in the world, he was transplanted post haste to Munster where he was reared on the creamiest milk produced by contended Fresians on a cud of lush Golden Vale grass, fatted on Kerry lamb each spring and derived many boyhood-enhancing minerals from the swift, clear waters of the Shannon whose music may be heard in crystal cadence over the rocks at Doonas Falls below the ancient Limerick keeps and raths of his Norman and Gaelic forebearers.
On attaining a tender but serious three years of age, he entered Tullyvaraga Playschool to begin a programme of education which continues unabated some 29 years later at the Honorable Society of King’s Inns. However, he has always been a poor scholar and continues at his books more in hope than expectation.
Copernicus maintains blogs at The Midnight Court and Cruiskeen Eile and as made guest contributions to Fústar dot org to relate dark tidings on freemasonry, Christmas monsters and the inscrutable doings of the wee people. He received a best commenter nomination at the 2006 Irish Blog Awards and he would have won it too if it wasn’t for these pesky kids.
Despite an aristocratic mein and sedulously cultivated patrician air, Copernicus prides himself on being approachable and often condescends to respond enlighteningly to those members of the lumpen proletariat who comment on his posts.

Saturday, April 22, 2006


My new best friend and rocket ship co-pilot, Frank Neary of the Land of Ireland speaks of his great love of Money (the book, not the legal tender) in comments on foot of a reference here t'other day to the Clive James chat with Martin Amis in the highly recommended Talking in the Library series. The comment thread prompted the following labyrinth of thoughts:
I have Money around here somewhere but still haven't got around to reading it. I really liked London Fields when I read it as a callow undergraduate in Galway and there is much to enjoy in the Moronic Inferno collection of essays, especially on the porn industry. (I may be getting my wires crossed, but he definitely writes about his visit to the San Fernando valley somewhere.) I picked up his collection of criticism, The War Against Cliché about the same time as I picked up the Hitchens collection, Unacknowledged Legislators, [this book is a typically handsome volume from the Verso imprint, by the way] both of which are great reading, even though the Hitch's politics are now somewhere to the distant right of his brother's. Who'd have believed that would happen a mere six years ago? I'm bound to say I may be unique among Irish bloggers in having seen Saturn 3, the sci-fi film written by Amis and starring the bizarre triumvirate of Farrah Fawcett, Harvey Keitel and Kirk Douglas. I'm happy to be proved wrong by fellow sufferers. Amis was also hired as a writer on Mars Attacks. Fuck knows why. When I was a gruesome adolescent I read the Riverside Villas Murder by Amis pére, the tale of a gruesome adolescent who gets seduced by an attractive, bored 30-something housewife, which I really, really liked. Can't quite remember why...
Another book I quite liked as a wretched teen was Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming. Bond is a classic role model for the pathetic, sensitive youth with his cruel, sardonic edge, sexual success and ability to smoke copious, impractical amounts of cigarettes. The less said about the first two characteristics the better, but I managed to put in plenty of spadework on the third. I believe the works of Ayn Rand have a similar effect on the young, expressing, as they do, the world in an especially adolescent, ego-centric way. As any developmental psychologist will tell you (he suspects without knowing. Ed.), maturing is the process of developing in ever increasing circles from the near-solipsism of an infant's estate to the full comprehension of one's fellow beings as real live humans with their very own thoughts and feelings. Not to mention civil rights. Tobias Wolff's Old School has all the dope in this regard.
Any old hoo, in the snot-green days of my tender boyhood there lay about the house another James Bond paperback, Colonel Sun by Robert Markham. But as this one was written after Fleming's death by someone presuming to take up the 007 torch with what I considered, taking typical teenage umbrage, to be appalling cheek, I disdained to browse its contents with the gun-metal coldness of Bond himself. Imagine my surprise to find out many moons later that Markham was none other than the bould Kingsley Amis. Of course, I've searched high and low for the book since, but it reveals not its hiding place in the old homestead. At any rate, it wasn't off the ground Amis jnr picked his penchant for unusual writing projects. Speaking of nomes de plume, Kingsley's buddy, Phillip Larkin, of whom Fergal Crehan of the Tuppenceworthies blogged with his typical perspicacity recently, was no stranger to the pseudonym either. In fact and quite coincidently, I picked up only today in a city-centre bookshop Larkin's collected novels including the posthumous Trouble at Willow Gables which he wrote enmasked by the sapphic-frisson intensifying soubriquet, Brunette Coleman. I quite like this spot-the-pun review by a Mr. Jon Swan over at
Hardened readers of spanking novels will find much to enjoy and bemoan in Larkin's Trouble at Willow Gables. Have no doubts, the former poet laureate is one of us. All the signs are there. He's good on uniforms, of course. But, more importantly, he can't help gravitating towards the buttocks of his schoolgirls. The heroine of his fantasy, typically, is a slightly plump girl with a big bottom. She enjoys her food. She is beaten with a cane by the Head Mistress. In the book's best scene she gets lost in a wood at night, tears her tight trousers at the seat, and is forced to face the morning with her bare bum hanging out. Lovely. Another girl rides bareback with no knickers. [...] His essay on schoolgirl fiction at the end of the book is illuminating. It gives all the basic elements. It should be required reading for all those hacks thinking of writing a schoolgirl spanking novel.
So there you go. If you're thinking of putting pen to paper in that noble enterprise, this information can't have come a minute too soon.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Exam Hell

Things are grim here at the Midnight Court. My first law exams (Kings Inns, Dip 1) loom in less than a month and thus far I have managed to do approximately two and a half hours study (Adverse Possession and, somewhat randomly, Statutory Interpretation*). My mind was somewhat concentrated on reading this case (law suit by persistently failing student on my very own course) via a link from the excellent new suite of Irish Legal Fiction blogs (added to links) maintained by Abhcóide. Hence, I am off to spend the day in the library pictured above. I am a horribly lazy person who hates work and prefers to spend his time on the couch reading, surfing the net, watching tv, playing music, talking shite to my long-suffering wench, eating epicurean fare from boutique delicatessens (usually all at once as I try to cram experience through every sense, pore and orifice during the headlong towards the grave). Somehow, I stumbled into an amazing job some years ago which has the fantastic quality that work cannot be taken home. You go in, perform each day's newly generated tasks according to a very tight deadline which admits of no room for the procrastination which would otherwise be indulged in and go home with nothing on your mind to worry about. And I only do it three days a week. I went from an Arts degree to this, so I've never had the opportunity to develop a sense of discipline, or (ahem, more accurately) never bothered to. So, I've no excuse for now finding myself staring into the academic abyss. But that doesn't stop me from throwing myself at the mercy of my blogopeers (O sweet coinage!) Like a character out of Aesop, I've ignored the pending winter of exam discontent and pranced on sun-drenched hills, wilfully neglecting the gathering clouds, dense with case law, legislative provisions and other legal arcanum. I'm faced with a vast morass of information in six subject areas (criminal, constitution, contract, land, tort and legal systems) which I have no idea of how to go about rationalising, trimming and ingesting in anything other than a random, panicked way. As such, exam tips left in the comments section or communicated by email (theapothecaryguy at yahoo dot co dot uk) will be gratefully and hungrily seized upon, especially from former/current law students. God have mercy on my soul. *If Simon McGarr or TJ McIntyre are in the neighbourhood, I'd be interested to know if they have an opinion on the effect of s. 6 of the Interpretation Act 2005 on data protection lacunae in that it permits a court to give an updated meaning to legislative provisions to take account of technological and other developments which have occurred since the passing of an Act or the making of a statutory instrument. Not that it is necessarily a sufficiently copperfastened protection.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Grammar Are On Their Last Leg

My old mucker fústar of fústar dot org fame has a top notch post today about the snooker - am watching Hendry and Bond while I jack this cyber missive straight into the matrix - which I highly recommend my tiny band of readers to check out for purposes of sporting edification. I've never had the stolid, collected, intellectual qualities required for snooker or golfing success (No, doing things simply for enjoyment is not enough, I must have victory damn it) being forced by an intemperate nature and an inborn laziness bordering on nihilism to stick to pool and pitch and putt instead. Even at that, the slightest display of skill or whiff of usefulness and I go to pieces. I can't handle the pressure. Anyway, watching the World Championship is a different story. Its is a compelling, understated appeal which even a sports dunce like me can totally deal with. Fústar prefaces his post with a quote from the superlative essayist, Clive James, to whose portal-style website a link exists yonder on my sidebar. There is much at clive james dot com to titillate and stimulate he or she who would the life of the mind pursue, not least of which is the interview series Talking in the Library in which Clive speaks to such luminous adornments of the creative world as Martin Amis, Julian Barnes, PJ O'Rourke and Cate Blanchett. Don't miss his chat with Terry Gilliam. Bibiliophiles will be sick with envy at Mr. James's book-lined abode so dense with hefty tomes that it has been assessed by structural engineers as in imminent danger of plunging through the loft-style, warehouse conversions below to end up in the underground carpark several floors down. Anyway, I've meant for a while to post the following poem from Clive and Fústar's quote provides me with the perfect motive. When I intoned it aloud to my beloved, we both ended up in stitches, creased with the giggles, doubled over with belly laughs and guffaws to bate the band. It is a pleasure I would share with others. Of course, I am brilliant at reading having first formed an acquaintanceship with the alphabet almost 30 years ago. Another laugh out loud effort from Mr. James is The Book of my Enemy Has Been Remaindered with which you should, having consumed the following, familiarise yourself instanter. Lest the impression be given that Clive is simply a gifted light versifier, faithful readers are encouraged to sit a while in his poetry section and spend time with some of his more thoughtful works. Out loud now kids, out loud. And have fun.

Windows is Shutting Down

Windows is shutting down, and grammar are On their last leg. So what am we to do? A letter of complaint go just so far, Proving the only one in step are you.

Better, perhaps, to simply let it goes. A sentence have to be screwed pretty bad Before they gets to where you doesnt knows The meaning what it must of meant to had.

The meteor have hit. Extinction spread, But evolution do not stop for that. A mutant languages rise from the dead And all them rules is suddenly old hat.

Too bad for we, us what has had so long The best seat from the only game in town. But there it am, and whom can say its wrong? Those are the break. Windows is shutting down.

(Clive James 2005)

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

La vita é bella

As the Italians tot up their ballots and ponder, no doubt with relish, the vista of a potential recount, The Midnight Court takes the opportunity to treat readers to the following perspicacious exerpts from Luigi Barzini’s explanation of how to succeed on the Latin peninsula. Having recommended his book, The Italians: A Full-length Portrait, in Sunday’s post, I decided I’d better form a closer acquaintanceship with it myself. And I’m glad I did. Luigi’s voice is a compelling one; liberal, pragmatic, generous, wholly in tune with the condition of being human, not to mention scholarly and mature. One instinctively trusts his menchly, measured tone, which is reminiscent of Umberto Eco’s better moments but without the postmodern tics, even while suspecting that some of his strokes are that little bit broad. My only caveat is that The Italians was first published in 1964. Still the Italy it depicts is recognisably the one on which Silvio Berlusconi and his henchme…, er, political allies are fighting to maintain their grasp. (Lest Irish readers in the uber-modern Tygger polity dare to feel insufferably smug about those crazy eyeties and their impossibly opaque politics, they should note the following example of our own facility with obscurantist power broking. Reading an interesting article on some aspect of the legislative process recently, I googled, as one does, its impressive barrister author, a former official in the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, Mr. Brian Hunt, and found his informative profile page at Mason Hayes & Curran. He is the consultant at the firm who “advises clients who have concerns about proposed and existing legislation, and the various ways in which they can seek to contribute to the shaping of that legislation.” To seek to contribute to the shaping of legislation sure sounds like a noble, thankless task; the patrician practice of succeeding generations of gentle plutocrats and not remotely a euphemistic description for special interest lobbying and an engagement with influence peddlers. I hasten to add that Mr. Hunt is certainly not doing anything wrong here, either morally or legally. He’s applying his hard-won knowledge for the benefit of his clients and employer. But the choice of language is interesting, to say the least.) Starting with a brief survey of la famiglia, the most immediate of the ever-increasing circles to which the wily Italian belongs, Barzini considers the pattern of competing, inter-leaved groups in that society, not least - but then again not the greatest - of which is the State itself. And there are wheels within that wheel too of course:
In Italy, powerful groups know no other limit to their power than the power of rival groups. They play a free-for-all game practically without rules and referee. Of course, the law is allegedly supreme; the apparatus of a quasi-modern State is visibly omnipresent, with its props, cast of characters, costumes, titles and institutions, but there are important differences between such dignitaries and organisations and what they are elsewhere. Each branch of the State machinery in Italy is in reality a mighty independent power which must struggle sometimes for its existence, and usually for the prosperity of its protégés and subjects against all other rival branches of the State machinery: they fight savagely at times, but more often surreptitiously, exactly like private pressure groups, for a larger place in the sun, a bigger cut of the budget, more employees, a higher rank and wider prerogatives for their leaders.
The reference to costumes reminds me of the Italian railway station and the impact on it of the important concept of the bella figura. Maintaining the bella figura goes far beyond the bourgeois English notion of keeping up appearances and makes it next to impossible to distinguish an Italian platform steward from an admiral in command of an entire naval fleet. festooned, as such an officer must be, with epaulets and dripping in gold braid. As both Berlusconi and Prodi will be well aware:
The Prime Minister himself must have private backing of his own if he wants his orders to be obeyed, backing within his own party, within the bureaucracy, and within the Church (if he is a Christian Democrat) as he can scarcely depend on his constitutional authority alone.
The law in Italy is notoriously complex and contingent, more often used as just another weapon in the armoury of power than as an instrument of justice and deployed not so much with a view to achieving the immediate end of a litigious battle, but of tying up one’s opponent, shackling his resources and distracting his attention:
Some sort of protection is therefore necessary for everybody. Even the little men with no ambition need ample help merely to be left alone.
And so:
[A] man must choose what group to join. The range is rarely very wide; nobody is entirely free; his background, tastes, class, talents, character, ambitions will narrow the field still further. There often is, however, a moment in a man’s life in which he must take a chance and make up his mind. Some associations he can join are old, powerful and nation-wide. Some are village groups. Within the vast associations, there are again other cliques, one inside the other like Chinese ivory balls, among which a man must skilfully find his way.
In Ireland, we call this Fianna Fáil. As with the average cumann member:
When dealing with an Italian it is always prudent to know exactly where his loyalties lie, to what clique, association or party he belongs, who protects him, who are his friends, and from whom he derives his power. Naturally, there are no handbooks listing such indispensible information. The man will often hotly deny his allegiance.
In Italy, it is never a good idea to be too conspicuous. One should avoid standard bearing and stick to secondary positions. One should always leave doors open behind one and cultivate friends among one’s opponents. This leads us to perhaps the most interesting insight of all and a rule Silvio seems – as with those just listed - to have broken in the most unItalianly obvious manner in the run up to polling day:
When in April 1940, a commisario di polizia arrested me for being a dangerous enemy of the Fascist régime, he was inordinately polite. While I waited at the Questura to be interrogated, he sent for a good dinner from the nearest trattoria, sent to my house for clean shirts, a change of clothes, and some money and warned me veiledly about what was best to say and not to say when questioned. He courteously drove me in his car to the Regina Coeli prison. I thanked him and asked why he had been so kind. He frankly said: ‘One never knows. Maybe you’ll be able to do the same for me some day’. (The régime was still very powerful and unchallenged at the time. Italy was still neutral. Germany looked like winning the war. The commissario was carefully buying insurance against a most improbable event).
Silvio is a conundrum. I find it difficult to buy him as a self-made, successful businessman, but that may just be my bourgeois, northern prejudice. He has all the characteristics of a classic front man and he seems to be misstepping badly at the prospect of ejection from power. It’s interesting to note as he teeters on the verge of loss of office - and in light of the foregoing - that some group somewhere has decided to arrest or have arrested after 45 years “on the run” the head of the Sicilian Mafia. I used the word “decided” advisedly. Bernardo Provenzano may have chosen to be arrested himself and that choice may or may not have something to do with the election. If he didn’t choose to be arrested, the move against him too may or may not have something to do with the election. Still, prudent capi-Mafia have long found it useful for a variety of reasons to retire to Palermo prison with its less than strict regime when the balance of power has shifted within that organisation or in general. At any rate, more than one registered resident at the gaol has turned out in the past not have let his official situation dictate his actual whereabouts. It will be interesting to see what happens next. Readers might like to note that Provelone’s predecessor, the notorious Salvatore "Toto, the Beast" Riina, was arrested at his home address in Palermo after 20 years in “hiding”. The authorities must have thought it was the last place he’d go. Like his pal, Provezano doesn’t seem to have stirred far beyond Corleone, his home town and the approximate scene of today’s arrest, in over 40 years on the run.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Midnight at the Dark Heart of Silvio

As Dick O’Brien of the back seat drivers pointed out this week and Sky News has been eager to inform viewers all day, Silvio Berlusconi has delivered himself of some pretty choice remarks lately. With opponents characterised as morons and bollockses and phone-sex girls turned to in the lonely watches of the night for, er, polling data, the bould Silvio would appear to be feeling the pressure. Hardly surprising for a man who arguably turned to electoral politics to steer the agents of the state away from the murkier corners of his commerical empire. With the Italians going to the polls today and tomorrow, the Midnight Court expects Irish bloggers will be taking an interest in Europe’s most boot-shaped nation state and to forestall any bewilderment has decided to come to the rescue with a modest reading list. My own slight familiarity with the place has its origins post-graduation in the mid '90s when I followed a good chum to the Mezzogiorno to teach English amid the sassi di Matera, the caves and limestone grottos of Basilicata which represent Europe’s oldest continuous habitation. As long-haired, beardy Celts we achieved instant fame across at least 50 square miles of the rural south as the “barbaroni Irlandesi”. Nice. Living in Italy is demanding stuff. The Irish smoker’s biological clock, for instance, must be realigned on arrival to avoid running out of cigarettes afternoon after afternoon, just as the horrific longeurs of the siesta kicks off and he finds himself wandering streets devoid of all life but creepily wolf-like wild dogs, making forlorn encounter with firmly-shuttered tobacco shop after firmly-shuttered tobacco shop. Dealing with a certain cast of Italian employer is a constant headache too, as it will be more important to him – this type will always be a "him" – to establish that he is furbo (the fox) while you are fesso (the fool), maintain his bella figura, and pursue a policy of divide and conquer among his employees than to encourage the creation of a productive atmosphere in which happy workers are eager to meet challenges and bask in the rewarding glow of a job well done. As he reaps, so shall he sow when it comes to his bottom line alas. So what is going on over there at all at all? Why is the Italian economy in the toilet, its dependants bobbing about down there waiting with appalled trepidation for someone (the Chinese they reckon) to yank the chain and send them spiralling down the U-bend of socio-economic oblivion? If you’d like to know, you could do a lot worse and spend far more unproductive hours than to read the following tomes. The Dark Heart of Italy by Tobias Jones is a useful, easy-to-read and relatively up-to-date introduction to Berlusconi’s polity in the period leading up to the Parmalat scandal, on which the book’s various insights throw prescient light. Toby’s most pertinent insight is that in the post-war period until quite recently, there existed in Italy a state of near civil war between left and right which almost reached its apotheosis in a military coup behind which lay a shadowy freemasonry. You couldn’t make it up. Appetite whetted, you’ll want to get a bit deeper into the origins of the mystery and so your eyes must turn to the south and the detailed, wonderfully rendered observations of superlative travel writer, Norman Lewis. Lewis was an intelligence officer during the Second World War and his diary of a year in the Italian south in the midst of the conflict, Naples ’44, will be one of the finest, most interesting books you ever read. Lewis returned to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies after the war to produce perhaps the definitive work on Cosa Nostra in The Honoured Society, a book which continues to go a long way towards explaining modern Italian electoral politics and which will horrify along with Jones’ book on the proportion of economic activity in the state which is controlled by the Mafia. That statistic in turn explains a great deal of the dysfunction in the Italian political economy. It’s a bit of a nightmare. Among The Honoured Society's more delightful episodes is the almost incredible tale of the Mafia monks of Mazzarino, whose Franciscan abbey was the base of operations for prostitution, murder, extortion, orgies and other refinements of a less than Christian nature. And a bonus for bibliophiles who pick up the Lewis books is that they are published in the most beautiful paperback editions of all time by the Eland travel imprint:
All our books are printed on fine, pliable, cream-coloured paper. They are still gathered in sections by our printer and sewn as well as glued, almost unheard of for a paperback book these days. This gives larger margins in the gutter, as well as making the books stronger.
Having read the foregoing, your tongue will be hanging out to know how the Mafia and mainstream Italian politics continued to interact to the detriment of the plain people of Italy throughout the 70s and 80s. Football fans will also find out what happened to Diego Maradonna during the Napoli years. Midnight in Sicily by Peter Robb contains all this and much more as he surveys art, food, history, travel and Cosa Nostra. Readers will have noticed that the books set out thus far are all written by non-natives. Fret not, I have two more recommendations for the Midnight Court faithful, The Italians, by Luigi Barzini and The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. The first is a book to which Robb and Jones refer and which is regularly spoken of as the definitive work on the subject. While it’s in my library, I still haven’t gotten around to doing anything more than dip in and out of it. I can tell you that it has an utterly charming and informal, chatty style. The Leopard is one of the great works of world literature. A posthumous publication, it was written by a Sicilian nobleman, the Duke of Palma and Prince of Lampedusa, who laboured on it quietly as his House finally gave way to entropy. And it rocks. It chronicles the decline of the Sicilian nobility and one particular form of feudalism only to see it replaced with the different patriarchy of the Honoured Society. For the benighted inhabitants of Sicily, it is the mere trading of one yoke for another. Irish readers of these books will, I think, be struck quite forcibly by the parallels between our own little island and Sicily and between the Mafia and the republican movement, which are both instructive and cautionary. As Lewis points out:
No mafioso sees himself as a criminal, and the Mafia has always been the enemy of petty crime – and therefore, to a limited extent, the ally of the police, both in Sicily and the United States…It can be regarded as a form of primitive human society that has somehow survived in the modern Western world; its cruel laws are those of tribesmen exposed to continual danger who can only hope to survive by submitting to the discipline of terrible chieftains. The capo-Mafia considers himself a lawgiver, concerned with the welfare of his people, and prides himself on watching over the advancement of deserving juniors in the organisation with the assiduousness of the master of novices of a relgious order…He is self-righteous and full of justifications.
Which is a polite way of saying "full of shit". Recognise anyone? Of course, the Mafia has moved on since the 60s and 70s, with the vast fortunes of the heroin trade finally breaking the “bonds of honour” among this particular set of theives. Still it’s useful to remember that throughout its history, the Honoured Society has numbered among its brothers doctors, lawyers, politicians, noblemen, priests and shepherds. In fact, it has been eminently respectable and thoroughly corrupt and corrupting. We’d do well to remember the lesson as we continue to normalise various relationships within and without certain bands of brothers here at home. Italy is a wonderful place, of course. Napoli is magical, Pompeii awe-inspiring, the Greek ruins of Sicily breath-taking, magnificent and transporting while up and down the length of the boot are museums and churches filled with important and beautiful art. Its people can be inutterably charming and, my God, the ice cream! But boy does it have its problems.