Lesbians? Not in Barneveld, Thank You

In the United States it is not uncommon for libraries to have parts of their collection challenged. Concerned citizens, usually of the Christian kind, are continually trying to have books removed which do not conform to their values. It’s symptomatic of the way fanaticists of any stripe are always trying to limit the choices available to all of us. It’s not enough for them that they believe in some sort of Salvation – you must be saved, too, at gunpoint if need be.

‘Only in America’ is what one might say. Not so. During the campaign Holland Reads libraries in the Netherlands give free books to their customers; this year it’s Harry Mulisch‘ 1975 novel (translated 1978) Two Women. Mulisch, seen by many as the greatest living writer of the Netherlands, tells the story of a lesbian relationship. It’s not at all a graphic account of lesbian love – Mulisch focuses on the emotional rather than the erotic side of things, and I for one admire him for succeeding in creating not one but two credible, emotionally interacting examples of the most elusive creatures the male writer faces: women.

The library in the central Dutch town of Barneveld however decided not to give away this book to it’s customers (link, in Dutch). Barneveld is a strictly Christian town and the library itself decided that it’s customers would not be interested in an account of lesbian love. A lovely example of the we’ll-decide-for-you culture, this time provided by the very people which are hired to maintain a collection of knowledge for the purpose of letting the people decide what they want to inform themselves about.

Any library board failing to grasp the most basic idea behind it’s institution – that is, to unconditionally provide the broadest possible collection of art and knowledge to the people – needs to go look for another job. But I am sad to report that there’s not even a tiny scandal brewing on the back of this (yesterday’s) news. Next stop: book burnings. Enjoy your trip.


Signor Colosimo

You must be a right idiot to do business with Tele2 in Italy. This phone company has called me ten times in the last year, always beginning with the question if by chance they are talking to signor Colosimo. That is a promising thought – going into business with a phone company which does not know, after ten times, that my phone number is not that of signor Colosimo.

Of course it’s a trick. Invariably, after asking for a confirmation about signor Colosimo as if she is taking note of it, the woman kicks in the sales pitch. Colosimo is a common name here in the South and many people will readily believe that she is indeed trying to reach this evasive person. But she gets you to not hang up within the first ten seconds, which is probably the outcome of some well-paid research into telemarketing. If you are past that point, chances are that you are going to sell something.

Well, not at this number you aren’t. If you want me to be interested, don’t start with a lie. Why on earth would I trust a company which so openly and blatantly lies to me – ten times a year? Of course, any company lies to me in some way, but at least they are not calling me, and above all they are not acting like I’m a fool who doesn’t remember a name and doesn’t recognize a trick.

Tele2? I wouldn’t use them if they were free.

That Saintly Pope, Pius XII

It was only yesterday that I touched upon the subject of sainthood, almost forgetting that in these weeks we are witnessing the beatification process of one of Benedict XVI’s predecessors, Pius XII. While there is lots of stuff I could say about that – and I did read more than one very good book on the matter and even translated part of the Goldhagen book on the subject, A Moral Reckoning – I am going to leave it at this:

“[C]ardinals Bertram and Faulhaber congratulated [Hitler] for surviving Georg Elsner’s lone assassination bid on 8 November 1939, with a ‘Te Deum’ being sung in Munich’s cathedral ‘to thank the Divine Providence in the name of the archdiocese for the Führer’s fortunate escape from the criminal attempt made on his life’.”*

“Even when in late 1941 the Catholic bishops protested proposals compulsory to divorce partners in mixed [Jewish/”Aryan”, RvK] marriages, Cardinal Bertram felt moved to insist that his words were not motivated by ‘lack of love for the German nation, or of feeling of national dignity, or of underestimation of the harmful Jewish influences upon German culture and national interests‘.”* [My emphasis]

*Michael Burleigh, The Third Reich: A New History (2000), pp. 723 and 724.

Those were the men directly under Pius XII, leading the church in Germany.

Enough said.


When there’s a fair here, or a sagra – every village has it’s wine or onion or cheese or chilipepper fest – they show up in droves: men – mostly Africans – selling wallets, fake Gucci and Armani stuff, necklaces or trinkets from a stall on the street. And posters, there are always two or three poster guys.

They give you an interesting look into parts of the Italian psyche which are not always obvious when you look at the country from the outside. What about posters of Pope John Paul II – Papa Wojtyla, the revered late Pope – and Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini hanging side by side? Strangely, the heroes of pop culture are usually absent or not as prominently displayed as the Pope, the Duce and of course the ubiquitous Padre Pio, who enjoys enormous posthumous popularity around these parts as well. Even le Veline, highly popular dancing bimbos from the Striscia la Notizia comedy show, are not on display.

Yesterday brought us news of the ongoing trials of the three suspects of the murder of British student Meredith Kärcher in Perugia – a case rife with sex, drugs and foreigners served up by the media with gusto. One of the suspects, Meredith’s American housemate Amanda Knox, is receiving love letters in her cell from all over Italy. She is a rather bland looking blonde, but hey, any blonde will have Italians scramble for attention. But a murder suspect?

And she’s not the only one. Another popular figure – people pay thousands of euros to have him appear in their club, without actually doing anything – is Fabrizio Corona. Ex-model and ex-con (extorsion, forged money) Corona has started his own line of underwear. Girls went by bus and train from here to Naples (a four hour trip) to see him come out of jail. The man has his own fan club, but he never sang, danced or acted. He is simply Corona, always angry with the system, usually appearing without shirt, with sunglasses and with slicked-back hair. He’s just short of writing FRAUD across his forehead, it’s that obvious.

Saints and sinners are vying for the attention of the average Italian. Maybe, as Catholics, they are preprogrammed for hero worshipping. What else is this whole system of blesseds and saints anyway? Maybe, as Catholics, they are drawn towards sin like a priest towards choir boys. But perhaps it’s just the media creating larger-than-life figures to fascinate us all.


After I published my last blog, the world has set itself in motion for Roberto Saviano (I don’t imagine I had anything to do with that). Not only did Salman Rushdie speak out about the Neapolitan writer, saying that he is in more danger than Rushdie has ever been, but a host of Nobel Prize winners and other great minds – among others Dario Fo, Mikhail Gorbachev, Orhan Pamuk and Desmond Tutu – have launched an appeal to the State (with English translation provided). Go there, sign it, and above all – spread the word!

Where Is The Outrage?

The casalesi clan of the camorra -the Neapolitan mafia – has spoken. In the words of a pentito, a ‘traitor’ of the clan working with the authorities, writer Roberto Saviano must be killed “before Christmas”. Plans speak of a bomb along the highway from Naples to Rome, echoeing the horrificly violent Cosa Nostra attack on anti-mafia magistrate Giovanni Falcone in Sicily in 1992.

Roberto Saviano is guilty of having written a fictional work about the camorra in Casal di Principe – casalesi territory. His book, Gomorra, is apparently so close to the truth that the clan boss wants him dead, and in such a way as to set a clear example. That is, after all, how you maintain fear of the clan. Saviano lives “somewhere in the north”, an exile from his beloved city of Napels. With the film from the book winning a Golden Palm at Cannes and representing Italy at the next Academy Awards, there is enough media interest in the writer and he does appear on TV regularily, undeterred by this death threat.

But what’s lacking is the outrage. I remember when Ayatollah Khomeiny issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie and I find myself wondering what the difference is. Writers from all over the world stood up for him – where are they now? Where is the international media? Where are the tacky world leader statements about the arts and about freedom?

Or are we saving those for the funeral service?

Twenty-One Million Pounds

At the current rate, that’s just under 35,700,000 USD, or just over 26,300,000 EUR. That amount buys you twenty-two luxury yachts of 30 meters, more than one hundred new Rolls Royce cars or, at our local supermarket, eleven and a half million one kilo loaves of bread. It also buys you one year of services of one (1) senior investment banker. If you’re lucky, that is: others are rumoured to earn forty million pounds.

Of course, if these preposterous bonuses and pay packages are to be cut, this “talent” (and we’ve all seen how talented they are in running the whole economy into the ground) threatens to run off to other countries with less regulations. Because hey, if I can earn twenty million pounds instead of ten, why stay at home and work for peanuts? Who knows, with just ten million a year, I might have to cut down on expenses a bit, right? Can’t have that, I work hard enough as it is.

Call me a Communist, but I think noone works hard enough to earn 21 million pounds per year. Here in Italy, people die doing dangerous work for 600 euros (477 pounds, 811 USD) a month. An investment banker is worth 3600 times that? How so? And how is it that someone needs 21 million pounds per year? If you have a big house, a holiday home or two, some big cars, some money in the bank and you can put your kids through college even if they are thicker than a brick, what do you need the remaining 20 million pounds per year for?