It was truly exciting to read these words on your Solidarity Hall website: “where the cult of technocracy reigns, we hope to be the advocates of an humble personalism; where small-scale solutions to neighborhood problems are ignored, we hope to be their champions.”
What struck me first were the writings of Elias Crim, who knows our part of the world, Tuscany.
We are the residents of the Oltrarno, the left bank of the Arno cutting through Florence, Italy.
Florence in a way is where “cities” in the modern sense of the word began, and together with Venice and Rome, it is certainly one of the most symbolic cities in the world. And, due to the media personality of the former mayor of our city, Matteo Renzi, currently prime minister of Italy, it is, alas, setting the trend for all of Italy.
Florence has become an archetype of the “modern” city–an entirely commercialized and touristic center, surrounded by places where people sleep; and sleeping quarters depend on income, and so tend to split by ethnicity and class. Yet there is nowhere in these dormitories, where people can establish human relations.
We in Oltrarno, clustered around the parish of Saint Fredian (who came from Ireland) and the banner of the Green Dragon, are part of the “center”, yet light years away, as a living community of people with a great feeling of the Commons.
What is interesting is the very mixed nature of this community–craftsmen still plying ancient trades, immigrants from all over Italy and around the world, from as different backgrounds as Senegal and the United States.
And what does keep us together is the fact that we all live and meet in the same narrow streets and share the same problems, and greet each other over the wobbling cobblestones and laugh and discuss what is happening to us.
Under the “tabernacoli”, the images of the Virgin which are to be found at every corner of this district, with its complicated tradition of Catholicism, Anarchism and Communism, or more simply, being different, free and a good deal poorer.
Florence is a city where “tradition” is the great enemy of real tradition: the twelve-million-people-per-year tourist industry in this city is based on selling the past (Dan Brown’s Inferno is the topic of bus tours), and leads to the systematic destruction of all natural life forms and human relations which have developed over the centuries.
On January 10, we are organizing a demonstration through our narrow streets, to get back a park and buildings which a generous American, Edward Otis Bartlett, donated almost a century ago to the people of our district, and which has been taken over by a real estate speculator. The photo above is a picture from last year’s demonstration, with the Gonfalone del Drago Verde and a banner reading, “I quartieri a chi li vive non a chi specula”, that is, “Neighborhoods belong to those who live there, not to those who speculate on them”.
When you write, “We no longer have the coffeehouses of eighteenth-century London, where Samuel Johnson and his friends said more of substance in an hour than our blogs today could manage in a week”, I thought how lucky we still are: this morning we did a lot to prepare the demonstration while standing in a queue at the local supermarket, with a mother saying she had old sheets to dress up the children with, and a young man behind saying he was going to bring along a group of musicians.
To read more about our community,
The bottom line – is there a way we could work together?
There is so much to say about how local communities are resisting in Italy, and so much to do, and so much solidarity we need!
Miguel Martinez (an “oltrarnino” born in Mexico)