giovedì 25 novembre 2010

l'arte di arrangiarsi

The occupation has ended, with a whimper. Classes began again today as everyone had expected, the desks had been put back in their rightful places, the signs removed from the windows. I came into my fifth year class and asked, "Soooo, what have you guys been up to?" The answers included: staying at home to play video games, playing poker, and attending the assemblies organized by the students.

The assemblies included a meeting with some of the immigrants who had been occupying an old factory smokestack near my home to protest the new curfew in their neighborhood, a rapper who found solace in music during his time in prison, and a scholar of the Piazza Fontana bombing. An assortment of political causes, insomma. Then this morning, instead of having classes for the fourth and fifth hour as usual, the students held an assembly for the whole school outside on the basketball court and requested that the teachers join them.

I went with Giovanna, my teacher, and watched as an intrepid group of students with a microphone implored their peers to come up and share their thoughts about the occupation, about the reform, or about politics in general, with no success. The teachers who had braved the cold stood on the edges, a few smoking, while the others watched from inside or waited it out in the teachers' lounge. The kids sat in a big ring around the basketball court, talking to each other in lowered voices, staring back at their friends with the mic, but no one wanted to come and share their views. Those who actually had articulated thoughts maybe were too shy. They are teenagers, after all. Giovanna and I had a giggle, thinking that now these kids were experiencing a little bit of what we deal with every day: the difficulty of making adolescents talk.

As they repeatedly lectured the others about standing up for their rights and how they should be ashamed that they wouldn't speak, Giovanna and I began to talk about Italy in general. She said that the students were protesting (in part at least) the debt owed to the school, but the truth is, there just isn't any money. People do work all the time, she said, that simply isn't paid. There's no money. Berlusconi pushes private schools to funnel money towards the church and private enterprise. Only immigrants are willing to pay taxes. There's corruption everywhere. And people just won't speak up. She said Italy has always possessed l'arte di arrangiarsi, the ability to worm out of even the most dire problems, but maybe it is getting too bad. Maybe Italy is losing its art.

She said that she thought the families would always be what holds Italy together, what gives it the ability to adjust. She looked around at the teenagers before us and said that the situation is bad, people don't have work, so they depend on their parents. And their parents, with their pensions and what little extra money they might have, support them, shelter them.

We spoke about immigrants, the school system, and politics, both in the United States and Italy. Giovanna said that she, ormai, has become a bit of a pessimist about the way the world is going.

We ended up going inside because Giovanna was beginning to feel the cold. I came back down to hear the last bit of the assembly, but it didn't seem like they had made much progress in cajoling their fellows to speak. A pair of my students came up to me to ask me what I thought as a foreigner. I told them that they had great power, being able to shut down a school even for three days is impressive, but they needed to organize and get productive, don't waste those precious days.

But what do I know? My only act of rebellion in high school was dying my hair blue.

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