The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Wednesday, June 18, 2003
THE ANARCHIST'S VILLA: Sergio the anarchist, my cousin Lisa's father-in-law, lives in a lovely villa in Antella, a small town near Florence. Seven of us are sitting in his dining room, drinking wine and eating vegetables grown just outside the door. Lisa and R. and I are due back in Florence, but it's pouring outside: There's been a heat wave since R. and I came to the city, and now it's been broken by a torrent of rain and hail. It isn't quite safe yet to drive down the hill to the city.

We're speaking a mixture of Italian, English, French, and Spanish that no one completely understands. Lisa comprehends the most of it, so she ends up playing translator a lot. You should come back in September, when we pick the grapes for our wine, Sergio tells us through her, and stay through November, when we pick the olives for our oil. September is the key month: Sergio's anarchist group will be holding an international bookfair then, in a space -- I don't think I got this part right, but I report it anyway -- donated by the city.

More often, Tuscan revolutionaries just take the space they need. The night before, Lisa and Sergio's daughter Leslie -- she's there too, drinking wine with us in the villa -- took R. and me to Il Centro Popolare Autogestito, the Self-Managed Popular Center: an abandoned elementary school that had been taken over by squatters and transformed into one of the Social Centers that dot the Italian landscape. There they provide free housing, especially for immigrants; a free kindergarten for the neighborhood; concerts; classes in cooking, dancing, and Linux. There are two such centers in Florence -- the city shut another down recently, while yet another was legalized, transformed from a squat into something more formal. "They do the only real social work in the city," I'm told by Lisa, who doesn't share their politics but likes what they do. (She's exaggerating, of course, but I take her point.) It sounds very inspiring, but my inner ideologue is disappointed when we arrive there and see, not a dinner or a concert, but a meeting in "solidarity" with Castro's ratbag dictatorship in Cuba.

I had
read that communists as well as anarchists were involved in the social center movement, but I had assumed that these were eccentric communists -- "autonomists," say, or maybe some Rosa Luxembourg types -- not Stalinoids. Nope. There's even a picture of Lenin inside, in place of the Gaudi-like art that apparently decorates other social centers around Italy. ("Betrayer of the revolution," Leslie mutters when she sees old Vlad's portrait on the wall.) This particular project was once more philosophically diverse, I'm told, but the communists eventually kicked the anarchists out. One consequence is the Castroites gathered outside. Another is that the squat is now self-managing in name only.

I could see why anarchists would want to build D.I.Y. alternatives to the welfare state. But why communists? Seems there's a tradition in this country of civic virtue among the Reds. Antella contains a casa del popolo, a community center sponsored by the group previously known as the Communist Party. The party's name and politics are now more social-democratic, but the casa is still there. Young people see concerts and movies there; old folks come to play cards.

We were going to get a tour as well of Controradio, a formerly (and maybe still?) unlicensed radio station that I'd written about in my book Rebels on the Air. But this fell through: I walked by the station, took a couple pictures of the front door, but never got to go inside.

I don't mind that. Back at the villa, the electricity flickers off and on. People light candles, pour wine, pass around tomatoes and bread and Pringles. ("Even revolutionaries like Pringles.") The rain slows and we climb into the car; and then, with water and mud, we slide down the road to Florence.

posted by Jesse 2:38 AM
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