I have to tell you that I was not raised with any belief in Father Christmas or Santa Claus — Dutch kids believe in Sint Nicolaas, a man dressed as a somewhat garish Catholic bishop, in whose name Americans can find the origin of their Saint Nick. Saint Nicholas’ birthday is on December 6th, and the night before he goes from rooftop to rooftop on a white horse and distributes presents through chimneys, helped by his Moorish helper. Now that helper, Zwarte Piet or Black Pete has caused some concern, as they are clearly cartoonish black people played by white folk in blackface. Every year there is some discussion about that. But hey, it’s tradition.
That said, we see enough Anglo-American culture to notice the similarities – old man, white beard, presents, kids sitting on his lap… but wait. Kids sitting on his lap? Surely not. Selfridges in the UK has sacked Santa for inviting a grandmother to sit on his lap. And she complained, the old hag. That’s what a heartless old trollop with way too much imagination and a penchant for being the center of attention does when she gets half a chance. Damn the Christmas Spirit, full steam ahead!
As it turns out, Selfridges ‘made clear to potential Santas during their training that no one should sit on Santa’s lap and Santas must certainly not “promote or proactively seek” anyone to do so’. What on Earth were they thinking? Well… they were hoping not to offend anyone, obviously. That young father who thinks everyone lusts after his spotty, grotty little girl for example. And the grandmother who thinks all those young men look at her because she’s such a stunner – not realising it’s the clash of bold animal prints and the stench of too much Venezia which is making heads turn.
Something is lost here – something more than got lost when people started to complain about old Saint Nick’s blackfaced helpers. We’ve created a society which is afraid to offend anyone. That manager should have told that old lady that she must be stark raving bonkers to complain about Santa wanting her to sit on her lap – because that is what Santa does. Get with the program or stay away from Santas altogether.
Maybe us normal people should start being loudly and obnoxiously offended at all this. Because we never asked for a foam padded, airbagged, crash-helmeted safety party. We want our Christmas back. Don’t offend us – we’re still the majority.
A car passes by on the street below our house. The driver has the window open and he has stuck one arm out as far as possible. Hanging by the tips of two fingers is a little bag from the Despar supermarket with trash. He slows down but does not stop, drops the bag near the containers but practically in the middle of the street, and leaves.
This describes best the complex relationship that Italians have with their own trash. It’s a true story and an everyday occurrence. Trash is dirty, trash bags have no place in the home or in the car and you will also try to keep them as far away from your clothing as is humanly possible, lest you ruin your designer jeans or your carefully pressed shirt. But once you’re outside you can pretty much dump it anywhere you like.
And so the driver does not even get out of his car. It may involve lifting the small trash bag up to the edge of the container and resting your fine, Italian-made, fashionable and impeccably spotless shoes on the foot lever to open the lid. There’s just too many chances here of ruining an otherwise perfect outfit. Not to mention the stench coming out of a metal trash container in the midday heat. Or the chance that some dust kicked up by the lid settles in your hair.
Italians will invariably tell you proudly about the stunning beauty of their country. And rightfully so – it’s all mountains and valleys and beaches and islands and blue seas and picturesque villages and grand monuments. And trash. In containers which are not emptied; next to empty, smelly containers with the lid propped open by a piece of wood or cardboard; along the roads and streets; on the beaches; in the rivers; in the mouths of stray dogs and cats – everywhere.
The students upstairs run the vacuum cleaner every night. The people across the street sweep the kitchen floor every day. And our house, too, is a lot cleaner than I think is necessary. Italians are clean people – personal and domestic hygiene is highly important. But trash is below the dignity of an Italian. Taking care of the trash here means throwing it out in whatever way possible so that lesser people than yourself – those, for example, who work for sanitation companies – can come clean it up for you.
But it’s impossible to keep up.
An average day on our street
Listen to Public Enemy’s Fear Of A Black Planet, and in the typical chaotic mix of samples you’ll hear a simple but strange cultural fact:
Black man, black woman: black baby
White man, white woman: white baby
White man, black woman: black baby
Black man, white woman: black baby
Nobody seems to question this: last night saw the election of the first black President of the United States – there’s not a newspaper or network in the world, left or right, which doesn’t confirm this. Some quote King in celebration; the KKK invoke King as the reason Obama should not be killed. King – a black hero.
This proves how shallow racism really is. Despite all the talking about how ‘they’ run faster than white people, served up as proof that there ‘must be some difference’ (what’s wrong with your eyes? Of course there are physical differences!) which would then justify differential (read: racist) treatment, in the end it is all about colour and nothing more. Barack Obama is a nigger because he’s darker than a white man. And since no black groups in the US are calling him a cracker, even though he is whiter than a black man, this view is held across the board. Black man, white woman: black baby.
And if we keep this idea up, soon we’ll all be black. The question is what the racists will then come up with to prove their superiority. I’m guessing it’s going to involve a colour chart and a light meter.
If there’s one song I really really hate, it has to be In The Year 2525 by Zager & Evans. I hated it as a kid, I hated it even more when I started to understand English and picked out that ominous line If man is still alive, and I have just listened to the damn ditty again on YouTube. Don’t click that. I still hate it with a vengeance and, having seen the singers for the first time, I must say they look the part. Surely they must have gone on to become Christian Praise wailers or something. Hate them.
To my surprise I just found out that this was the song that topped the Dutch charts when I was born. My mother, in her final weeks of pregnancy, must have heard it a lot – she often had the radio on in the house when Dad was working. Perhaps I grew utterly sick of it as a newborn, as it remained number one in the Dutch Top 40 for four weeks after my birth. Or perhaps I hated it even before birth.
My mother didn’t really remember the song, but she did remember it’s predecessor – Robin Gibb‘s Saved By The Bell – topping the charts until just before my birth. Another one of those songs I really really do not like.
Perhaps it was simply a bad year in music?
When Michael Schumacher went from the Benetton team to the Ferrari team, his large German fan base followed. And if Lewis Hamilton ever changes from McLaren-Mercedes to Ferrari, his large British fan base will certainly follow. I know, I’ve seen the craze up close and personal when Dutch drivers Huub Rothengatter and later Jos Verstappen entered Formula One. Holland was behind them, never mind for whom they drove and what the results were. And it never was very much at all.
Poor Jarno Trulli. He has the bad luck of being a top racing driver in a country which does not value racing drivers. Maybe it has to do with the cold fact that since Alberto Ascari in 1953 no Italian driver has ever won the Formula One Championship. Maybe it has to do with the almost saintly status of the car here. But only a handful of people around Pescara, his birthplace, would have been rooting for him last night.
The rest of the country was rooting for a Brazilian, Felipe Massa, who just happens to drive an Italian car – a Ferrari. Italians will happily support Germans, Fins, anyone who is in the driver’s seat of a red F1 car from Maranello. But an Italian driving a Toyota like Trulli, or a Spyker/Force India (with Ferrari engines) like Giancarlo Fisichella won’t get any love from the tifosi.
Valentino Rossi however, the sympathetic multiple MotoGP champion, is highly popular. He started his career on an all-Italian Aprilia, but switched to Honda and later Yamaha. Not a single part of these bikes has that Made in Italy seal on it. So what’s the deal? Why is Rossi immensely popular with his Honda and why is Trulli not popular at all in his Toyota?
The secret is the winning. And since no Italian has won the F1 season since 1953, we root for the team which has won it a lot of times. As for Italian drivers… I guess we all know that there’s no such thing as a good Italian driver. It takes two steps out of your front door to discover that.