Can Italy reverse its falling birth rate? 

Anne McElvoy is on the road again, exploring the state of modern Europe. Following her Radio 4 programme, The Reinvention of Germany in April, the Politico journalist has travelled to Padua, in northern Italy, where reactions to the rise of the right-wing populist Giorgia Meloni appear to vary. Is the 46-year-old PM a breath of fresh air – the best chance Italy has for a future – or a hypocritical dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist? The reinvention (or rather restoration) of Italy is very much Meloni’s goal. Clinging to the familiar principles of faith, flag and family, she has eschewed measures that would allow those born in Italy to define themselves as Italian,

Politicians can’t win on illegal migration

It is eight years now since The Spectator sent me to Lampedusa to see the boats coming in. That was at the start of the 2015 migrant crisis. The island, which is home to just 6,000 locals, had just buckled under the weight of another 1,300 arrivals. I followed them to Sicily and then on up and across the continent. If I may be self-referential for a moment, it was on Lampedusa that I realised the scale of the problem and got the opening lines of my resulting book, The Strange Death of Europe: ‘Europe is committing suicide. Or at least its leaders have decided to commit suicide. Whether the

You have to be truly incompetent to eat badly in Paris

Paris has enough great restaurants to maintain its claim to be the world capital of gastronomy. That said, Parisian residents insist that these days, it is possible to eat badly in their city. Yet I still think that this would require especial incompetence. In Brussels, a strong second in the pecking order, it would be even harder. There is a splendid establishment called Comme Chez Soi. Almost 100 years old, it has established a worldwide reputation without losing contact with its roots. The last time I was there, I observed a couple of ladies-who-lunch, Brussels fashion. There was no question of a watercress salad on a bed of lettuce leaves,

A perfect slice of Calabria 

The Romans wrote the history, or at least the myths. But long before Romulus murdered Remus, the Mediterranean – the Great Sea – was the principal conduit of civilisation. The Greeks spread their wings across the wine-dark seas, to the extent that even later Romans accepted that much of southern Italy was actually Magna Graecia. The Greek settlements included the city of Sybaris. Although it was destroyed around 2,500 years ago, it has passed into the language. Sybaritic – the very word is expressive – denotes ease and pleasure, the beauties of nature amid the adornments of art and architecture: champagne and dancing girls. Sybaris is in Calabria, the toe

Thankfully, Tony Blair was nowhere near my Sicilian holiday

Sicily is far removed from the gracious suavities of Tuscany. With the souk-like atmosphere of its markets and obscure exuberance of life in the old Cosa Nostra towns, the Mediterranean island is halfway to Muslim Tunisia. The British Tuscanites who descend on the hills around Florence during the summer holidays as part of their ‘Toujours Tuscany’ dream – Tony Blair, Sting, David Cameron – are thankfully nowhere in evidence. In our post-Godfather world no history of Sicily would be complete without mention of the Mafia. The word is said to derive from the Arabic mahyas, meaning ‘aggressive boasting’: for almost three centuries until the Norman Conquest of 1061, Sicily was an

Italy is under attack from a killer crab

Italy is under maritime siege by a foreign invader known as the granchio blu (blue crab). Like some terrifying alien that lies undetected for decades in a hideous secret lair, untold millions of the crustaceans (whose shells can grow up to nine inches wide) have suddenly emerged and are causing havoc in the country’s delicately balanced marine environment.  The blue crab arrived in Italy from America in the late 1940s in the -ballast tanks of merchant ships, but no one talked about it much until the past couple of years, during which its numbers have exploded. Some blame global warming, but the blue crab is not especially bothered by water

What happened to Italian football?

Neither Sandro Tonali nor AC Milan wanted to part ways. The young midfielder is from the outskirts of the city, has been a fan since boyhood and his dad’s an ultra. He wanted to become a Rossoneri icon like his hero Gennaro Gattuso. The top brass at Milan saw him as a future captain. Tonali was instrumental to the club winning Serie A ­– Italy’s top league – last year and reaching the European Champions League semi-final two months ago. Milan’s legendary manager from the 1990s, Fabio Capello, says Tonali is ‘the recipe to win’ and that he could have played in ‘the great Milan teams’ from 30 years ago. But no

Where to drink Tuscany’s finest summer tipples

Some subjects invite an eternal recurrence. One such is Tuscany. The other day, I wrote about that glorious region: its mastery of la dolce vita, its almost effortless command of civilisation. Indeed, Tuscan civilisation is a tautology. Since then, I have paid a brief visit. There was only one shadow. How can one find the words to equal the subject matter? Wine was produced here long before we Brits had even discovered woad My host was Grahame McGirr, a successful banker who has always been fascinated by wine, which led him to buy a vineyard near Monte-pulciano. I commented on some of his wines after a tasting in London. They

What’s so super about Super Tuscans?

In Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, the hopes embodied in the title dissolve into grimness and black irony. It was all Mussolini’s fault. Despite the endless opportunities Italy offered for enjoyment, Fellini never trusted his own country, or his countrymen. He could not relax into dolce far niente. For decades, many Italian wine-makers churned outa mass-market product to sell cheaply Perhaps he should have spent more time in Tuscany, surely the most civilised region on earth. Venice may claim to be La Serenissima, but among Tuscany’s gentle hills, hill villages and glorious cities, nature and man are in a harmony so serene that one can almost hear the music of the

Turmoil in Tuscany: The Three Graces, by Amanda Craig, reviewed

The title of Amanda Craig’s enjoyable and provocative ninth novel might conjure the dancing trio in Botticelli’s ‘Primavera’ (which we visit in the book, set in Tuscany); but the three graces here are Ruth, Diana and Marta, elderly expat friends who meet for weekly gossips over coffee, ‘united by age, exile, the love of dogs and their disinclination to discuss their infirmities’. The women may be less beautiful than Botticelli’s, but they are certainly more formidable. By the end of the first chapter they’ve already smashed a car window to rescue an overheating dog. Their idyll is thrown into turmoil when Ruth finds herself hosting her grandson’s ill-matched wedding, Diana’s

Life’s survivors: The Angel of Rome and Other Stories, by Jess Walter, reviewed

Anyone who has read Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins will want to turn straight to ‘The Angel of Rome’, the title story in this second collection by the versatile American author. Like the novel that elevated Walter from an underrated writer of police procedurals and thrillers to one capable of bestsellers, ‘The Angel of Rome’ is set in Italy and features a filmset and glamorous actors. Both are also partly based on real life. In Beautiful Ruins, Walter plays with what happened during the filming of the 1963 epic Cleopatra. Here he bases the story on an episode in the life of Edoardo Ballerini, an actor who read Beautiful Ruins. Walter,

Giorgia Meloni’s first 100 days have proved her critics wrong

Macho Italy’s first woman prime minister Giorgia Meloni has now governed for 100 days and I cannot help but notice the enormous elephant in the room: the failure of the global media even to acknowledge, let alone apologise for, how wrong they were to warn the world that Italy was on the verge of a far-right, ergo fascist, take-over.   During the election campaign and immediate aftermath the crème de la crème of the world’s media were chock-a-block with warnings that Meloni and her party – Brothers of Italy – were the equivalent of a Biblical plague of locusts in jackboots about to engulf Italy and from there Europe.   These awful people were the heirs to the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, we

On the trail of Gomorrah in Naples

‘Isn’t Naples beautiful? I’ve always dreamt about it. I always wanted this city all for myself; I didn’t want to share it… I alone deserved it because of everything I lost and I would have done anything to get it.’ So says Ciro Di Marzio – nicknamed ‘the immortal’ because he has survived so much mafia bloodletting – in the hit TV crime drama Gomorrah.   He is not talking about the churches or castles, the arcades or theatres or museums. He may have been out on the bay at night when the words are uttered, but the Naples he knows, grew up in and by then controls is the Naples of

Portrait of the week: Chancellor unveils his unBudget, Hilary Mantel dies and corgi prices soar

Home Kwasi Kwarteng, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, presented a far-reaching ‘fiscal event’ (ineligible to be called a Budget), said to have cut more tax than any measure since 1972. The markets’ immediate response was to sell pounds, and sterling fell to $1.07 (though the euro also continued in its own decline against the dollar and the Chinese yuan fell sharply). The Treasury defensively said it would publish proposals for dealing with its debt and the Bank of England said it would buy government bonds to help ‘restore orderly market conditions’. The IMF spoke out, inviting the government to ‘re-evaluate’ its tax changes. The unBudget had reduced the 45 per

Giorgia Meloni can’t afford to fight the EU

Ravenna, Italy The victory of Giorgia Meloni in Italy with a huge majority of seats in parliament has prompted the expected political indignation. It’s not just the international press, either. Yesterday, for instance, my 17-year-old son Francesco Winston told me that at his school – we live near Ravenna in the Red Romagna, a hotbed of ex-communists – all his companions were in mourning. Why, I asked? ‘They say she’s going to abolish abortion,’ he explained. Why do they believe that? I asked. ‘They’re badly informed,’ he replied. Bravo figlio mio, bravo! Meloni would not abort an unborn child herself – she told me when I interviewed her in Rome

The BBC’s Meloni problem

Here is a quote from the BBC Europe Editor, Katya Adler’s, very short piece on the BBC Radio 4 Six O’Clock News this evening, concerning the electoral victory of Giorgia Meloni in Italy: Millions of Italians didn’t vote for her. They say they do not recognise themselves in her nationalist, protectionist proposals, her anti-immigration rhetoric and her conservative family mores. Isn’t that remarkable? Can you imagine the awful Adler, or indeed any correspondent, commenting on the victory of a left-wing candidate:  Millions of people didn’t vote for her. They say they do not recognise themselves in her mentally unbalanced identity politics, ranting support for cripplingly high taxation, foreign policy characterised

Will Meloni be able to govern Italy?

Mario Draghi’s national unity government lost badly in yesterday’s Italian election – worse even than the polls predicted. Fratelli d’Italia, the main opposition party, was the big winner. Five Star, which pulled the plug on Draghi’s government, also gained. What we did not see is a big shift between left and right. The right coalition of Fratelli d’Italia, Lega, and Forza Italia, got 44 per cent. The really big movements occurred within the coalition. Giorgia Meloni’s FdI ended up with 26 per cent – way ahead of the published polls. Lega got only 9 per cent. The coalition is on course to secure a majority in both houses of parliament,

Second chances: The Marble Staircase, by Elizabeth Fair, reviewed

To reject ‘in rainy middle age the poignant emotions that belonged to youth and Italy’ is the lesson learned by the heroine of Elizabeth Fair’s last novel. More than 60 years after its author consigned the typescript to a black tin trunk, following her literary agent’s failure to find a publisher for this, her seventh novel, The Marble Staircase finally sees the light. This is thanks to Furrowed Middlebrow and Dean Street Press, the company responsible for reprinting the six light, romantic comedies that, in the 1950s, earned Fair an appreciative following and commendations from writers such as Compton Mackenzie, John Betjeman and Stevie Smith. Literary rediscoveries are always potentially

Pre-Mussolini, most Italians couldn’t understand each other

Towards the end of Dandelions, Thea Lenarduzzi’s imaginative and deeply affecting memoir, the author quotes her grandmother’s remark that there are tante Italie – many Italys. ‘Mine is different to hers, which is different to my mother’s, which is different to my father’s, and so on down the queue,’ she writes. These Italys – of fascismo, of Garibaldi, of emigrants living in Sheffield and Manchester, of 31 dialects – are not far-flung historical oddities confined to documentaries or textbooks but are, in Lenarduzzi’s account, the patchwork story of one family. Sitting at her Nonna’s (grandmother’s)table with ‘the blinds pulled down against the morning sun and the rest of the family

Europe’s new migrant crisis

Earlier this month I spent a week in Sicily, driving south from Palermo to Agrigento and then east to Syracuse and Messina. It was my first visit to Sicily in 17 years and, given the media reports, I had expected to find the island crowded with migrants from Africa. In fact, I saw none, other than those I glimpsed in a fenced-off processing centre at the quayside in Agrigento, the first port of call for many migrants who arrive in Sicily. Last week the local paper in Agrigento drew on official government figures to reveal that so far in 2022, 45,664 migrants have landed on Italian territory, an increase of