Culturally the first of April – April Fools’ Day – is the same in Italy as in America. It’s a day of practical jokes and laughs. Only here it’s called April Fish Day, because it is related to the ancient end of the Pisces or Fish sign in the zodiac. It also the day of jokes which Italians inherited from the ancient Roman feast of Hilaria (hilarious in English) celebrated around the spring equinox. During the Hilaria celebrations Romans would dress up in funny masks or try and fool each other with a modified physical appearance.
Enough with the cultural history lesson. The humor shared today on Italian social media bordered on cruel sarcasm. People exchanged private messages about a month long lock-in being lifted (April Fish Day!!) and sudden announcements about emergency bailout checks in the mail (April Fish Day again!!). It was a sad display of black humor playing off peoples’s desperate hopes and pretenses, and no doubt their willingness to get a laugh at any cost. The truth behind this humor is that the state-owned news media updates and government press releases are so confusing that no one knows what to believe anymore. Anything could be true. Even the police-state signed self-certifications that Italians must carry with them as affidavits explaining which of the four “government approved reasons” they have for driving or walking around has been updated with new rules four or five times in last few weeks.
Underneath all this the biting humor is a grumbling foundation of angst and dissent. The patience of the “popolo” has by now worn razor thin. I have seen postings of photos of empty fridges and a modified “rainbow of hope” sign hanging from a housewife’s kitchen window reading “get my husband out of here.” The routine singing and clapping from windows at 6:00 pm has become less and less so. Instead we are starting to hear “e ora basta!” (enough is enough!) and “siamo stufati!” (we are fed up!).
If you don’t believe me, just read some of these news stories about civil unrest rapidly building in Italy. The headlines speak for themselves (some I have translated from the original Italian):
- Singing stops in Italy as fear and social unrest mount
- From drugs to healthcare, the pandemic is a boost for the “criminal economy”
- Coronavirus: first strikes erupt in Italy. On Wednesday metalworker union walkout in Lombardy
- Coronavirus quarantine causes marital separations and suicides. Psychologists speak of “explosive situations”
- ‘We Have to Eat’: Sicily Police Crack Down on Residents Looting Supermarkets amid Virus Lockdown
- Domestic Violence during the Coronavirus [lock-in]: How to ask for help
- Coronavirus: theft at Naple’s Loreto Mare Hospital. Stolen were masks, lab coats, and protective suits
- Coronavirus: in one day 6,700 criminal charges filed, 39 for breaking quarantine
The hotblooded violence and crime is quickly boiling to the surface now that Italians have entered their 4th week of ‘solitary confinement.’ Many SMEs which survive like struggling employees on a month-to-month basis are now on the verge of bankruptcy and have laid off workers or have stopped paying them. These are the same honest workers and entrepreneurs that are surely now breaking into closed supermarkets and shuttered shops out of desperation. Unhappy couples that normally can’t get along are at each others’ throats. Drug addicts are going through severe withdrawals and along with other depressed adults are jumping off apartment building balconies. Not even the mafia know what to do, so they start infiltrating the only businesses that are still functioning.
Added to all this nervousness are the new tighter restrictions set forth by the Italian government for entering churches. As it now stands, Italians may enter houses of worship only a) “if on the way” to a government authorized destination and b) “if strictly necessary” and with a proven reason to do so. As if visiting a suffering Jesus were not good enough.
It is easy to project that if this situation is not resolved by the first of May, Labor Day here in Italy, we will witness a nation-wide revolt of both workers and business owners like this country has never seen before. And it will be no joke at all.
Photo credit: Michael Severance