Monthly Archives: July 2007

Postcard from Florence

I’m currently sitting in an internet café in the heart of Florence (better known as Firenze to Harry Potter fans). I’ve been in Tuscany for just under a week now, and in Florence itself since Friday, so I’m starting to get the feel of the place. Sadly, the same cannot be said for my Italian keyboards!

This is my first time in Italy. I spent the first couple of days desperately trying to acclimatise – I think I’m there now. Economically, it is a funny mix of seeming 10 years behind the UK, and being somehow ahead of us. A lot more places – including our hotel – don’t accept credit cards compared to the UK and while chip-and-pin exists, it is unusual. On the other hand, the trains are much cleaner and much cheaper. The nature of a medieval Tuscan town like this is that the rich and poor live on top of each other, which is very different from London these days.

The Italian attitude towards religion seems to be one of studied hypocrisy. Where else can you find free rosaries given away on the front of magazines and condom vending machines on every street corner. I’m not convinced it is an entirely healthy attitude as it seems to lead to a very pick-and-choose attitude. I think I prefer the British culture of simply ignoring the church.

In a place like Florence, you can’t ignore what a monstrosity the Catholic church has been during most of the last two millennia. The studied hypocrisy is deeply ingrained and goes right to the very top. The Duomo – a stone’s throw from here – was essentially an architectural exercise in willy-waving. The Medicis were very keen on using religious iconography to justify for themselves a status that was earned almost entirely through usury and war-mongering.

You may have gathered, I’m not entirely taken by the place. To be fair, I’m impressed by the grandeur; it just seems so decadent. Perhaps once we get passed visiting the cathedrals and palaces and start to explore to social history in more detail, I’ll be more generous. Certainly I was much more taken by Siena, where we saw the Allegory of Good and Bad Government and Their Effects on the Town and Countryside by Ambrogio Lorenzetti. The mirror of all this tyranny was a desire for liberty and independence, which this fresco encapsulates superbly. Indeed, we went on to visit the Santa Maria della Scala, a medieval hospital which became the focus of a power struggle between the lay community, who wanted to use their resources to help the poor, and the priesthood, who basically wanted to spend the money on themselves.

So there is plenty here to inspire me as well as appall. Still a few more days to go before we return to old Blighty.

Joseph Goebbels: “honestly, it’s like living in a police state!”

Reading Sarah Helm‘s article in yesterday’s Observer severely pissed me off, on at least two levels.

  • The complete lack of contrition from Blair’s inner-circle that they had done anything wrong. Lest we forget that if anyone tried raising funds via undeclared loans now, they would be committing a criminal offence. They might not have committed any laws, but they were going around bending them like it was going out of fashion. If Sarah Helm was capable of self-introspection, she might be a little less quick to bemoan how her family has been treated these past few months.
  • If anyone, say the makers of Taking Liberties say, were to go around claiming that the police under the Blair regime have become equivalent to the Gestapo, the Blairistas in the press would tear them several new arseholes. Yet here we have a member of Blair’s inner circle bemoaning that fact that the police, under Blair, have become like the Gestapo. If the police are mob-handed these days, which Prime Minister spent 10 years indulging such behaviour?

Finally, a note of caution about Guido’s attempts to bring a private prosecution on this case. Firstly, I wouldn’t bet your shirt on this getting anywhere. Proving anything over this in a court of law will be difficult even with the CPS behind it. Secondly, is Guido going after all the individuals implicated, or just the Labour ones? After all, the Conservatives are up to their necks in cash-for-honours as well; Michael Howard was even interviewed by the police. I wouldn’t want naive people to think they are giving money to clean up politics when what they are actually doing is funding a partisan exercise in mudflinging. Thirdly, Guido is a cautious soul when it comes to the law and his pledge seems to be deliberately vaguely worded. This isn’t a tenner you’re being asked to cough up for, it is a “donation” of no fixed amount. Sign it and you may find yourself jointly and severably liable for the legal costs incurred, with no say over what is spent and how.

Me? I wouldn’t touch it with your’s, mate.