Today I helped my parents move. They have been moving for the last four months, and although
my father has vowed to spend Christmas in the new Milano house , I am not sure that it will be complete by then.
The problem, of course, is that they insist on doing it by themselves and by the SUVful. And they have
a large amount of furniture. I politely observed that to me it was a completely senseless activity, and
that there are professional movers.
Having said this, and since my father is extremely pig-headed and my mother more or less ignores this sort
of details, my only possibility as an Italian son is to help them in this strange endavour. So, gentle reader, today I have
helped load a station vagon and a SUV with stuff; and I have loaded and tied a solid wood dinner table to
the roof rack of the SUV.
Some healthy physical activity, I tell you. In a sense, it seems that in the last five or six years all that
I have done is moving, alone or with other people. It is also interesting that my parents insist that I
must have my own room in their house, and in fact we always refer to it as "our" house. Remember, in
Italy you never really leave home. Maybe this has something to do with my persistent inability to organize
a "real" home for myself. And for the people that I have loved. Hmmm... could this be an insight? That more
or less every place is alike to me insomuch as every place is not my parents' house? Of course, this
means that I am really screwed.
It also means that anyone that might want to live with me, in the future, is also screwed from the very beginning.
Anyway, enough ethno-cultural wining! What I wanted to write about was something else.
I am on the train from Milano to Torino. What I have just witnessed:
In Italy, you are supposed to buy your ticket at the ticket office in the station, or at one
of the ticket machines, or maybe on the Internet, but anyway; you are supposed to buy it off
If you are on the train without a ticket, you have two possibilites;
- you risk it: in this case, if you are caught you face a 30.000 lira fine (15 USD) and you
have to pay the ticket.
- you play safe: in this case, you have to find the capotreno (the conductor, I guess), and
buy a ticket from him. In this case, you pay the ticket plus an additional 10.000 lira (5 USD), which is really
not that bad.
Today I was a bit late at the Milano Centrale train station, and I had to rush to catch the train. No possibility
to buy a ticket. So I go to the capotreno car (the first one behind the engine), and comply with regulations.
After a while, two black girls showed up.
From the way they spoke, it was clear to me that they were from Nigeria. Now, statistically, if you are 20 - 30, you
look passably good, you dress in a certain way, you are from Nigeria and you happen to be in Italy on the Milano-Torino
line, it means that you are a prostitute. Not that that is a problem to me; I mean no moral observation. It is simply
a fact of life. Many young women from Nigeria either see prostitution in Italy as a viable alternative to prostitution
in Nigeria, or are induced to come to Italy with the promise of a job; the job does not exist, the winter is cold and
Italy is expensive - and you now what the possibilities are.
Strangely enough, in Italy for every emigration country there is a job; Philippines -> housekeeping; Brazil ->
transvestite prostitution; Sub-Saharian Africa -> industry work; Romania -> building industry; Albania -> various
forms of trafficking; Northern Africa -> restaurants; Senegal -> selling things on the street and in markets;
and Eastern Europe and Nigeria -> prostitution.
Again, this is only statistically true... among the approximately 2 million of immigrants that live in Italy there are
all sorts of trades and professions.
So, these two Nigerian women wanted to go to Torino, but they only had tickets to Novara, and they wanted to extend their
tickets, but they did not have the approximately 20 USD necessary, or maybe they did not want to pay. A semi-heated discussion
ensued with the capotreno, who held his cool.
Eventually, when we got to Novara, the railway police got on the train and convinced the two women
to get off the train for, as the woman officer put it, "a quiet discussion among us".
There were more passengers in the same compartment, and some of them were very vociferous, and called the Nigerians "bastards",
saying that they should not be reasoned with, they should be hit with "nightsticks" and "kicked out of the country, back to
Two thirty-something young men looked particularly annoyed. They looked like the sort of people that drives around at night
looking for prostitutes. I cannot help thinking that, if the irregular passengers had been Swedes the reaction would have been
The challenge of immigration in Italy is quite complex. There are not that many immigrants, and most of them are
regular. But they are very visible in some areas of Italy. Integration is proceeding slowly, and one hopes for a lack of
polarization, ghettos and cultural wars.
On the average, Italy has been rather welcoming. There have been very few episodes of major intolerance in the country
(a country that, at this point, needs African iron-workers, Indian cowherds, Polish waiters), and I guess that the
beginning is always rough, for an immigrant, almost by definition.
And still, I suppose that we could do more. I have been a foreigner in three country, and even if I was living well (I had
not been forced out of my country by hunger, political terror or war), I felt what it means to be in a place where nobody
speaks your language.
Italy, being historically a land of emigration (witness all the people of Italian descent in Venezuela, Argentina, USA, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Switzerland...) also has a strong moral duty to treat well the people that come to it to work.