Even Italy is in the grip of the health police
spiked editor Mick Hume's Notebook in The Times (London).
- Italy is another country, they do things differently there, to paraphrase LP Hartley.
So you hope that a fortnight in the sun on the Riviera dei Fiori in Liguria will also mean a holiday from the stifling climate of ‘Don’t eat/drink/do that’ back home. Even here, however, the dead hand of the EU-wide health and safety regime now seems to have la dolce vita within its grasp.
For example, the Vietato Fumare signs are spreading everywhere, since smoking in public places was outlawed in January. One of the last acts of John Paul II’s papacy was to sign up the Church to the new religion, by declaring smoking to be a sin (that should keep the confessionals busy). Even for a definitely ex-smoker such as me, the onward creep of this Euro-conformism is pretty depressing. Which makes it all the more heartening to see that most Italians still insist on seeing food and drink as a source of pleasure rather than paranoia, and will indulge in meals the very thought of which could give the guardians of nutritional correctness a coronary. When those experts praise the health benefits of a ‘Mediterranean diet’, they seem to imagine that people here live largely on vegetables lightly sprinkled with olive oil. They must have some other Mediterranean in mind.
Our standout Sunday lunch in a mountain village restaurant involved nine starters, three pasta courses, four main courses and two desserts – not ‘to choose from’ but to eat, everything from full-fat cheese to custard pudding, and from red roast beef to fried rabbit. The ‘children’s menu’ was exactly the same, minus the home-made vino rosso. Postprandial research did suggest signs of an immediate obesity crisis in one middle-aged English male diner. Yet many of the local patrons seemed inexplicably to have reached a very ripe old age on such a risky diet. Perhaps it is all due to the new ban on passive smoking between courses.
- Italians have their own ideas, too, about health and safety on the beach.
Venturing on to the sand at Diano Marina in the midday sun, when the UK advice would be to stay indoors with curtains drawn or at least to cover your kids in designer burkas, we thought to make a concession by putting up our beach umbrella. However, this token safety measure was quickly vetoed by the female lifeguard, on the ground that the light sea breeze made an open brolly ‘too dangerous’. Perhaps she had a point. The actual chances of contracting skin cancer from a spot of sunbathing must be at least as slim as those of being maimed by a low-flying beach umbrella – especially as many Italian beach umbrellas are still equipped with full metal ashtrays.
- Seeking some relief from the endless debate about the ‘meaning’ of the July bombings, and having abandoned fashionable novels with titles such as The Curious Incident of the Book in the Bin, I turned to re-reading, for the first time since the third form at grammar school, The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad.
Halfway through this 1907 tale of émigré intrigue, domestic terrorism and fear in London, I came across a telling exchange. A government minister asks the assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police for his analysis of an attempted bomb outrage at Greenwich: ‘But how would you define it? Shortly?’ The policeman replies, shortly: ‘Barefaced audacity amounting to childishness of a peculiar sort.’
That, it seems to me, is as concise an analysis of today’s peculiarly infantile terrorism as you will find anywhere. Mind you, elsewhere one of Conrad’s policemen also suggests that popular newspaper coverage of terrorism is ‘invariably written by fools for the reading of imbeciles’. And that can’t be true these days, can it?
- We watched from our balcony as another forest fire engulfed a local mountain – a problem made worse by the dire local drought (although they still insist on flushing the loos, Mayor Livingstone).
Solution? Send in a big seaplane to scoop up a hold full of saltwater and ‘bomb’ the mountainside until the flames surrender. Having witnessed this triumph of human resourcefulness over nature’s destructiveness, we went out to dinner. I’m afraid that there is nothing like the smell of a forest fire to put you in the mood for wood oven-baked pizza.
Mick Hume is editor of spiked
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