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“Quarantine Diaries,” by David Garyan (Day 25)

Quarantine Diaries – Day 25 April 8th, 2020

Trento, Italy


In his poem “Song of Myself” Walt Whitman wrote the following lines: “Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” Contradictions are a problem for philosophers and neurotics, along with neurotic philosophers; they aren’t a problem for the poet, however, or cities. I love contradictions because they’re emblematic of humanity; they’re the antithesis of mental disorders. Contradictions are the highest passions and the lowest despair—the human condition, unlike the answer to a math problem, can have two results. I’ve been writing these entries for almost a month and it only dawned on me today that I haven’t actually talked much about the location in which these entries take place.

Yes, I’ve put many pictures of the city into these diaries, along with the beautiful nature which surrounds it; however, I haven’t discussed the area itself to a great extent. Thus, I’ll utilize this opportunity to talk about the places which many tourists (the few who do come here anyways) probably won’t see.

Trento is a contradiction; it’s quite unlike Ravenna, which is where I study. My beautiful city next to the Adriatic is just as quaint (albeit without the mountains) as Trento is; however, it’s a more “straightforward” scene, if you will. I wrote an article on Ravenna as a sort of companion piece to the first section of the long poem I published about the town. Its history follows a clear trajectory, starting from its days as the capital of the Western Roman Empire, to an important center of Christianity, followed by Dante, and ultimately to the present day in which the place is nothing more than a quiet cultural center of about eight UNESCO sites—very impressive for a town of under 160,000 but also kind of predictable.

At just under 120,000 people, Trento is a bit smaller but it’s an oddball kind of spot. The first weird thing about this place is that if English-speaking people actually called it by its proper English name—Trent—many would realize they’re more familiar with the town than they thought. If the Council of Trent doesn’t ring any bells, maybe a refresher course in history might help; here’s that course free of charge, offered by Wikipedia.

First of all, I don’t understand why English-speaking people are allowed to call Trent with its Italian name, Trento, but they never make the same Italian accommodation with bigger cities like Milan—no, Milan is Milan and Trent is Trento. If any linguists want to buzz in on this one, feel free, but I’m afraid the entire effort is going off topic again—I’ve written almost a page and my own city, Ravenna, has been discussed at greater length than Trento.

The other weird thing about this place is that it’s in the north, and by north I do mean way north—in fact, it was part of Austria until 1919, when the Italians annexed it after WWI with the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye; hence, there’s a sort of identity crisis not just in this city, but also in the entire region; this is especially true in Bolzano, where German is actually a protected minority language. According to a local newspaper, the Dalai Lama visited the city on numerous occasions and admired Italy’s willingness to protect the autonomy of Germans; he saw it as a perfect example of what could be implemented in Tibet.

Naturally, under Mussolini’s rule, authorities repeatedly tried to Italianize the region: “German local names and public inscriptions were forcibly renamed while German newspapers were censored and the German language was banished by the public service, although roughly 90% of local residents were German speakers at the time.” This time, we’ll leave the past in the past, however.

I mention all this only to reaffirm why, unlike Ravenna, this city is such a weird mix of contradictions. Let’s start with the fact that Trento is located in the region which is the stronghold of the political party, Lega Nord, led by Matteo Salvini. Every Italian knows him, but for those who are ignorant of international politics (hint, hint, US), he’s basically the Italian Trump, except he’s a “college dropout,” according to The Washington Times—that’s not stopping him, however, from threatening to get Italy out of the EU and threatening to kick illegal immigrants out of Italy.

I know. I know. You’re asking: Where are the goddamn pictures of Trento? I’m getting to that—not only is there a method to this madness, here’s the madness itself not far from where I live.

The good news is that, like I’ve said, this city is a strange mixture of contradictions. You basically have a place in which the most popular political party is an intolerant, almost authoritarian institution; however, in the midst of all this, you also get a street named after Anne Frank—someone who fell victim to the more extreme forms of such right-wing ideologies that are taking over Italy and Europe as well.

Not far from the street named after Anne Frank, homage is paid to the great non-violence advocate, Mahatma Gandhi. I wonder whether Salvini has ever seen these streets and what he thinks of them.

Not all of these pictures were taken today, but many of them were and this is one of those. On my way into town, I saw this peculiarity—a beer waiting for the bus; the poor thing looked so lonely, I wanted to sit down and keep it company, but given social distancing rules, I thought it best not make any new friends today, especially when they’re drunk and not wearing a mask.

Crossing the Ponte S. Giorgio, I was treated to the best view of the city, in my opinion, although this isn’t the center, you get the best views of Trento from this bridge; also the ones from Ponte S. Lorenzo are quite good as well. Naturally this is only my opinion—come over and judge for yourself.

Is that enough photos now? Good. Moving right along to more strange things, since I’ve already talked about the Harley Davidson shop in another entry, why not talk about some more US economic imperialism. Below is the sign for the America Graffiti restaurant; I’m certain it’s closed now (much to the dismay of its owners). To be frank, I’m not sure who actually owns this place, but if it does turn out that Italians are running it, I’ll be further confused by Italy’s fascination with the United States; I still don’t understand why Italians are so obsessed with the culture; in fact, they’re one of the most pro-US countries in the world; according to the Pew Research Center, even in a Trump presidency, 61 percent of Italians still held favorable opinions about us; six years ago we were at an astounding 78 percent favorability rating, but times change.

Indeed, it’s a mystery. While this doesn’t happen often, I shudder at the fact when an Italian tells me they want to visit New Orleans—not because the city is kind of dangerous, but because of what happened to that good people there; on March 14, 1891, eleven Italians were lynched in the city for supposedly murdering a police chief; the men who were charged were either acquitted or their case ended in a mistrial. The public, however, refused to believe it and took matters into their own hands. According to The Guardian, it was the biggest instance of lynching in US history, and the mayor of New Orleans only apologized last year; that’s about 128 years too late.

People also forget that by early US immigration laws, southern Italians were essentially considered black, enduring the same discrimination as African Americans.

Well, it seems I’ve gone off-topic again—not really, in fact. We were talking about Italy’s fascination with the US. What was the reason for that again? Walking back home from the supermarket, I was happy to see American Power in decline. Ah, yes, if America Graffiti isn’t owned by Americans, I’m sure this baby is. Looking at a closed McDonald’s that could be open is a bigger tragedy than keeping a wedding dress in a nunnery, at least if you’re from the US—it’s the economy, goddammit! Just look at those empty tables and chairs; that’s money we could’ve used for our bombs in the Middle East. What a waste! What a tragedy!

Walking back home with grocery bags in hand, I had to stop and admire this sign. It’s one of the pictures I took today; look at it and tell me: How good would this place be at spreading the coronavirus? Pretty damn good, I would imagine, but that’s not the point. I thought this was the conservative stronghold of Matteo Salvini—family values, emphasis on religion, and decency in society. What the hell does a strip club have do with any of those things? Someone call Salvini. Someone tell him about this sin that has descended upon his territory. Yes, this city is a contradiction, but neither Whitman nor a poet of my minuscule stature care about that. Contradictions are human—maybe a little too much in this case.

Although this picture was pretty funny, the photo I enjoyed taking the most was the one below. The fact that it’s not far from our house and reminds me so much of LA graffiti made it impossible to resist. I’m sure stuff like this can be found in other pars of Italy, but I myself haven’t encountered it anywhere except here. Forget Banksy; you need to see Chicano and Chicana graffiti artists in action—some of the best work in this respect can be found in LA. I must say that this particular piece in Trento isn’t bad, given the circumstances.

Well, that’s my town—actually it’s my brother’s. I’m just riding out the lockdown here. I began this entry talking about Whitman, and in the spirit of contradiction, I would like to do the rational thing and end it with the same poem as well: “Logic and sermons never convince, / The damp of the night drives deeper into my soul.” Indeed, stop telling me what to do; I feel exactly that when reading Whitman and also when I walk by this graveyard at night. You can have the biggest piece of property on the lot, and it may even be lit up, but in the end we’re all going to the same place. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust—there’s no contradiction in that.

All the way from quarantined Italy: I may seem crazy now, but in a month everyone here will be no different.

Until next time.


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