The Secret is to Tell All!

The Hunt for Money

I asked you, Phoebus, for a hundred thousand sesterces on loan,
seeing that you had said to me, “Do you then beg for nothing?”
You enquire, hesitate, delay, and for ten days
you torture both yourself and me. I now ask you, Phoebus, to say no.[1]
Valerio Martial, VI, XX.

Once more money – accursed money, essential for survival – was in short supply. But I didn’t have the least desire to return to the factory, that absurd place that is similar to a prison. We had already passed our days in a ghetto that was no better than a penitentiary; thus there was nothing surprising in my preemptory refusal to justify my existence by selling my time every day for a miserable salary. I did not want to go to the gates, day after day, subjected to the control and blackmail of a company, without even knowing the face of the boss whom I hated. I no longer had the strength to once again undertake an interminable series of little robberies, especially in a period marked by increasing difficulties and a diffuse despair that incited one to shoot with an impressive frequency. And then, at the age of thirty-four, with the years beginning to weigh upon me, I took stock of things, and I found I didn’t always have enough energy to confront the risks.

Thus I spent long hours in reflection, without doing anything, unconcerned with the recriminations of my wife, to whom I had imprecisely promised a “normal” life. I listened a lot to the others so as to understand how they managed to live, and I meditated upon the hundred solutions that might be a remedy for the economic crisis, without immediate results, that brave Salvatore Messana was going through. One evening, I met up with Giuseppe Salemi and Pietro (the student from Motta) for no particular reason. After talking about this and that, we decided to dine together and chose Prospero, a restaurant on the Porta Vittoria, perhaps a little pretentious, but not unpleasant. Pietro was very relaxed, which compensated for the Mafioso aspect of Giuseppe and I had taken on to give ourselves character. The meat and drinks put us in a good mood. When it came time to pay the bill (too steep for our wallets), there was a moment of discomfort, but with perfect indifference our young friend pulled a checkbook out of his pocket and paid it, even leaving a tip of a thousand lire. When we’d left the place, he explained that they were stolen checks, backed up by fake papers, and that we’d eaten for free.

This was an illumination, like the one experienced by Saint Paul on the road to Damascus: the lighthouse for ships in distress: the idea! I was so pleased that I proposed to pay for pie and champagne. I was dying of impatience to put my plan into action. When I returned home, I couldn’t sleep and, terribly excited, I spent the entire night perfecting the scam. I didn’t intend to imitate Pietro’s small schemes, with the stakes hardly worth the trouble. To get some lire, I would be risking serious charges for possessing stolen goods, fake papers, swindling and God knows what else a prosecutor might imagine. I wanted instead to make good use of knowledge of credit systems and my unquestionable talent as an actor. With the last two million lire that I had (in truth, one of them belonged to my wife, whom I didn’t inform of my plans because she was painstakingly honest), I opened four bank accounts. I audaciously resolved the problem of references, which were summarily verified at that time, thanks to the credibility I had acquired from my old savings account at La Spezia, which I’d never closed. For a month I calmed everyone by withdrawing money from one account and depositing it in another; thus I used the first ten checks from each bank without dipping into my capital, but gave the impression of circulating a lot of money.

Everything was ready. After having made several inquiries, I went to a factory that made pants and shirts, where I ordered around twelve million lire worth of merchandise to be delivered rapidly. From the beginning, the owner – a horrible man, colorfully pockmarked – declared himself to be in complete agreement with me concerning the heavy responsibility of the unions in the general disaster that had struck the country. He shared my thesis about the absolute necessity for a strong man in power, one capable of putting things into order. He enthusiastically approved of my hatred of all people with hair that was too long and of homosexuals, in particular. Following that was an animated discussion of the criteria that allowed one to define the best whores in Lombardy, with a meticulous examination of their different prices. As soon as the conversation turned to financial questions, the Italian lira was the object of shared, pitiless criticism: it was valueless paper rejected by all individuals of good sense. At this point of the discussion, it was easy for me to propose a payment in US dollars, in exchange, obviously, for a discount of 10 percent, which was accepted after harsh discussion. I paid him with a wad of fake greenbacks printed by Professor Stamp and remarkably well made. Only a very great expert would have been able to discern his little masterpiece of craftsmanship. I received a receipt for payment in Lire, loaded the merchandise on a truck and immediately re-sold it to a previously contacted wholesaler for the agreed upon price of seven million lire. Everything was by the rules, with proper invoices; everything was in perfect agreement with the law. Only one piece of this perfect puzzle was missing.

“Hello? Mister Salvatore Messana from Milan here. I’d like to speak to the director. Tell him it is urgent, very urgent.”

“One moment,” the receptionist responded in a smooth voice. “Remain on the line . . . I will connect you to his personal secretary.”

“Hello? Mister Salvatore Messana from Milan here. I’d like to speak to your boss. We saw each other this morning. Tell him there’s a problem of the greatest importance.”

“Don’t hang up, please,” said the slave, who was no doubt the boss’s mistress. “I will connect you.”

The pockmarked one got on the line, his conscience not very calm, no doubt fearing that I was going to complain about the price or (and) the quality.

“Good day, my dear sir. Is there something wrong? I am at your service. . . .”

“No, no, please excuse me, I am dismayed, I do not know where to begin. . . . My dear friend, I have been given – one has sold me fake dollars, I’ve learned just now. What a catastrophe! Do you still have them?”

“Yes, yes, of course,” my prey responded, very agitated. “It’s a big mess.”

“I am going to come see you immediately, in Arcisate. We will take care of it then. For the moment, the important thing is to not circulate those dollars, it will send you straight to prison. Excuse my agitation: I have lost almost thirty million lire! But you will not be affected, I give you my word. . . .”

“I will expect you,” he said, almost reassured.

I calmly entered my BMW, turned on the stereo, slid in an old cassette by Celetano,[2] and headed off towards that dirty pirate for the last act. Expert Germans: 160 kilometers an hour and it is hardly noticeable. After a moment on line at the tollbooth and several kilometers on the national highway at a slower speed, I was once again at the parking lot of the villa-camp.[3] “Work makes you free.”[4] It was here that this honest man sucked the blood of forty-five free men, only twenty-four of whom were officially declared (he himself told me with undisguised enthusiasm, unashamed about treating his victims like assholes). I was expected; I was immediately brought to his office. I looked at the face of that worm and saw that he was covered with sweat, cooked just right. Terrified at the idea of having to share the loss, that old moneygrubber struggled to find a lifeline.

“Good day . . . excuse me again,” I said. “I have aged five years in the last few hours. Quickly, show me the dollars.”

“Here they are, Mister Messana,” he said. “Are they counterfeit?”

I made a few gestures, then showed him the subtle differences between the real ones and the counterfeits.

“There is no doubt!” he exclaimed, and he agreed with me that it was fortunate that we had noticed it.

“You have nothing to fear, my dear friend. The situation is under control. I have already spoken to the people in question. As for me, I will immediately settle my debts.” After a well-studied pause, I struck. “I will write you a check.”

The idiot sighed with relief and smiled. With the style of an artist, I asked him to wait several days before cashing it: in the panic, I had forgotten my personal checkbook and the account didn’t have more than ten million lire in it. He refused my offer of two separate checks; he would only have had to delay the cashing of the second one.

“No, if you please; there’s no problem,” he said. “I am truly unhappy for you. What a bad business! The discount will obviously be retained, and will be renewed upon the next order. . . .”

I went off, leaving him with a rubber check, with seven million lire in my pocket. I returned the fake dollars to Professor Stamp, quite happy with the perfection of his work. I had everything worked out: the condemnation for a worthless check, and the fine that I would not pay because those who have nothing cannot pay anything. Besides, a pardon seemed unavoidable to me (it indeed was granted) because that idiot from Arcisate couldn’t very well reveal the affair of the [fake] dollars, which he no longer possessed, unless he wanted to risk new trouble for violating monetary regulations and making himself into a rather sad figure.

The first target of my solitary naval battle had been hit, if not sunk. Not only did I have no remorse but, on the contrary, I had a powerful desire to reveal to all the workers that a fool who pretended to be clever was exploiting them. Summer was approaching, and I used my second bank account to pay (so to speak) the best Hotel in Camogli, which had generously welcomed my little family between 3 and 28 June. Rosaria managed to be happy – though she disapproved of my methods – because she had finally been freed from the thankless tasks of domestic life. The tip that I left for the personnel made a very good impression and, when we went on holiday, they begged us to return next summer.

I took the following precautions.

1) I complained about the noise and obtained apologies from the management;

2) I refused a bottle of wine and asked to have it replaced by another, of a more prestigious vintage;

3) I reserved our room by paying two days in advance, with a check backed up by the seven million lire I had pocketed;

4) I let myself to convinced to prolong my stay by the manager, an evasive fellow whom I hoped had been fired after the blow of my insolvency;

5) Once assured by the arrival of good banking references, I emptied my account, leaving only thirty thousand lire in it;

6) From that moment on, I had arranged things so that none of us lacked anything.

The third and fourth steps were taken at the expense of a fabricator of Tuscan shoes who was guilty of environmental pollution (five million lire) and a wholesaler who was well placed in the sector of exquisite alcoholic spirits (six million, three hundred thousand lire). Having attained these results, the “campaign” could be considered completed, if only because I no longer had access to a bank that was ready to place its confidence in me or deal with me in any way, and I didn’t manage to surmount this obstacle, despite desperate attempts to do so.

At the Lope de Vega, injunctions and summons arrived; given the amounts of the sums involved, turmoil broke out among the scoundrels who lived there. In different ways, I tried to explain my technique to good Giuseppe Salemi, without managing to get him to understand the mechanisms of the swindle, because as soon as he saw someone with a frowning face, he would prudently get out his wallet, as that seemed advisable![5] In any case, at least thirty of the occupants started signing rubber checks and distributed them all over the place, most often content with modest sums. Very soon none of us were accepted as clients by the credit bureaus, and it was enough for their functionaries to see the address for them to immediately become suspicious. In the meantime, the bailiff became a familiar figure at our condominium.

Criminal charges (for illegal occupation, uninsured vehicles, thefts from supermarkets, passing bad checks and so forth) obviously did not come to any concrete outcome, as everyone knew how to fight against them and how to appeal their convictions, in the expectation of pardons, which were considered inevitable due to the lack of space in the prisons and the need to keep the increasing numbers of powerful men who had been caught red-handed out of trouble. Basically, a Welfare State existed, and its passivity could be considered as an unexpected intervention in favor of the dispossessed, and the complaints of the extra-parliamentary Left were unfounded on this point (nothing important), and one shouldn’t be surprised by the perplexity of its militants concerning the calm but rampant lawlessness of the proletarian masses. On the other hand, these young people didn’t always see their efforts rewarded. I recall one day when one of them came to visit – I don’t know if he was a municipal or provincial councilor – and enthusiastically announced that we had won. The Independent Institute for Working-Class Housing had agreed to sign our leases, and there was no longer the threat of us being evicted. We obviously agreed to become full-fledged tenants, but when they asked us for two months of back rent, there was an outcry and no one paid a penny. Despite the acceptance of long leases, which that councilor, poor man, had managed to extract with great difficulty, the tenants slipped away at the moment when payment was due and even had a tendency to accumulate debts. Our defender ended up tired of the behavior of his clients and probably preferred to occupy himself with a mob that was less difficult and ungrateful.

During the negotiations with the Institute, the rumor spread that a steady job was obligatory and that, lacking one, a tenant could be evicted. I had pulled off the rubber check scam and was resigned to this requirement. With difficulty, I tried to make the best of a bad situation, and I and the Salemi brothers became seasonal workers for two months at Allemagna, the maker of panettoni.[6] Fate was against this initiative because, three days later, I became ill (this time actually ill: viral hepatitis), and thus I had to spend the entire time in bed. Yet I had the pleasant surprise to discover that they were going to pay me anyway. But that wasn’t the end of it. About forty days after the completion of my contract, by which time I’d recovered, Giuseppe came to my door and asked me to go with him to his lawyer, believing that we had to make common cause so that each of us could obtain a steady job. I rebelled and protested strongly against this idea, declaring that I was ready to pay a sum to avoid such a wretched fate. But the Sicilian was unshakeable and, despite my legitimate demands, brought me to the courthouse and the office of a professional who specialized in employment disputes. There were at least fifty people in that tiny space, and they all smoked like chimneys: the air was unbreathable. A half an hour later, a small, bad-tempered and determined man entered the room and explained to us that our short-term contracts were illegal and that, consequently, we had the right to full-time jobs at Allemagna. He asked to see our employment contracts and, as soon as I told him that they had neglected to give us any, his eyes glowed with enthusiasm. Without hesitation, he affirmed that my case was one of the simplest and that a positive outcome would no doubt be obtained.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that my presence there was only pure courtesy, my inability to do wrong to a friend when doing right cost me nothing. I only just avoided him putting me on a list of those who “urgently” wanted to resume such monstrous activity. I was struck by the active participation of Giuseppe Piras, an old Sardinian bandit whom I knew wasn’t engaged in proper business affairs. Out of curiosity, I engaged a few words with him, and he tried to get me to share his enthusiasm. Gesticulating, he told me that he wanted to return to the factory to make the bosses pay dearly, and that it would thus be essentially be a pleasure to return. I listened to him without believing a word, but the others around us seemed to think as he did, and this made what he was saying more convincing. I signed the power-of-attorney form, certain that nothing would come of it. This was certainly reinforced when it was communicated to all those who were present that the consultation to which we were entitled was free! But what kind of attorney did we have, if he worked for free? I approached our defender, who was nervously arranging his papers, surrounded by two young employees who were bearded and poorly dressed. He raised with eyes and observed me for a moment with a weary look.

“I don’t know why,” he said, smiling. “I frankly don’t know. Sometimes the simplest questions elicit the most difficult answers.” Then he put his glasses on his forehead and added, “The important thing is to win. Afterwards we will have plenty of time to reflect upon the motivations. And winning this battle, my friend, won’t be easy. We must try with all necessary energy.” His words revealed great ambition, supported by his robust fighting spirit. His balance was perhaps fragile, but he seemed stubborn like a Jew who was used to crossing deserts to attain unknown goals. The present wasn’t satisfying to him.

Later on, I had completely forgotten this episode and didn’t even recall having tasked someone with summoning Allemagna to court to obtain a job, which, for me, obviously aroused more revulsion than interest. Two months had gone by when Giuseppe Salemi informed me that I had to go to court to attend the first trial in a series of them, a kind of test case, with Piras at the head of a cast of characters that included six of his comrades. The spectacle was less theatrical than I would have imagined; none of the attorneys wore robes in the small hall where the discussion took place. Since a large audience for this event had not been foreseen, we had to wait on the corridor. We hung around for two solid hours, coming and going from the gallery to the snack room, where we nibbled sandwiches and drank beer, without knowing what was going on. A strange Calabrese lawyer, in his forties, elegant and from a good family, stopped by to keep us company and talked to us with clumsy cordiality about his freewheeling idea to turn the courthouse into a vegetable market: the produce would be displayed in the large corridors and the merchants would transact their business in the small offices. At one point, they all went out – the bosses, the workers and the lawyers, tense and sweaty – announcing that the verdict would soon be rendered. It was like making predictions about a boxing match without having seen it.

It was a total victory for us. The powerful chief of staff at Allemagna walked away, humiliated, while we applauded with joy. The seasonal workers were to be rehired and, what’s more, given five months of salary, which made me think. That same evening, Piras explained to me what had transpired, and I paid the greatest attention to what he said, considering our victory in a different and more attractive light, given that, if everything went well, twenty-fours later I would have a thick wad of cash and satisfaction.

A month later, to learn more, I went to visit Piras at his house on the Viale Fulvio Testi. He was about to leave for Sardinia, having quit his job in exchange for twice the five months’ salary that the court had awarded him. He had purchased a small farm with several sheep.

“I’ve gotten married, Salvatore,” he said. “This annoyed my comrades, but I hope they will understand. This might be my last chance. Do you know when I realized that? Just yesterday. The cops came to my place out of the blue, under the pretext of keeping tabs on squatters. They were looking for victims. They looked everywhere, throwing things into the air and eventually found my money from Allemagna hidden under the mattress. They demanded to know what robbery it came from. . . . I told them that I’d earned it, and they slapped me around mercilessly. Then they took me in for a second helping, trying to make me confess. I’d been repeated the same song for hours, but they screamed at me to not take them for fools, since they knew me so well. A real mess! In the end, my brother Gavino arrived with a photocopy of the judgment, and they released me. Grudgingly, they released me. Salvatore, how long will this money last with a petty criminal like me? How long could I endure in a factory, in a uniform, with them always breaking my balls? I went to the director and signed off, instinctively. I would rather be a shepherd in Nuoro, even if it’s harder work, because in that trap I would die of melancholy.”

I understood him like I never did before. He didn’t seem like a son of a whore any longer. We weren’t “workers,” but uprooted people from whom civilization had taken everything. We had not left our villages willingly; we’d been forced off. Now we were too old to become city dwellers (one never forgets the wandering, the idleness or the relationship to the land) and too young to live in the past. But Piras was quite naïve to believe that he could stop time, move backwards in it, and hide himself in a fetid and dirty hole in the impossible hope of escaping from department stores and toxic fumes. Asshole! He took himself for an American Indian and did not understand that he would only be provisionally free, that he would live with his neck under the sword of the first town planner to come along or a builder who wanted to put a pretty power plant next to his home. Asshole! But how many times had I dreamed of returning to Lecce, to a field of my own, in comfort, but also with a vineyard and plenty of space? We ended up staying silent a long time, each one of us absorbed in our own thoughts.

“Have you told the others?” I asked him eventually. “The lawyer? The members of your group?”

“No,” he replied. “I’m afraid that they will persuade me to stay. Now I’m sure that I won’t be able to come back if I want to.”

“You’re wrong. But there’s plenty of time to fix that. It doesn’t seem like you to escape secretly and allow the boss to use that against your friends. It would be cowardly, and you know it, too. . . . If you explain it to them, they will understand, because most of them feel the same need you do and want to spit in the faces of those vampires.”

“I don’t think that they will understand,” Piras said, pessimistic like all Sardinians. But he went on: “Let’s try, all the same. You have no sense of shame after you’ve stolen, gone to jail and spat blood here and there because you refused to bow your head. Let’s go find the boys. If they understand, good; otherwise, amen. I will leave calmly and without my tail between my legs. Vamos!”

We went to three or four cheap restaurants and finally found most of his comrades in a greasy spoon called Morimondo. They were seated behind big bottles of what was supposed to be barbera[7] and eating cooked salami sandwiches, commenting on yet another meeting that had come to a close. Projects sprang from intersecting discussions, and the scene made me think of a clever wax reconstruction – for use in a specialized museum – of a gathering of 19th century socialists.

In fact, they did not understand Piras’ explanations; they could not see that, between the strict rules that they had imposed on themselves and the betrayal of those rules, there could be a banal but adamant decision to return to one’s origins. What they could especially not tolerate was what should have made them think: the struggle had been profitable; the boss had had to pay up to satisfy the mania of a poor man only because that man had annoyed him. And when Uncle Crook had maneuvered in the same way, they’d been happy to keep silent! The mood became heavy. The Sardinian reacted quickly and began to get worked up; the others attacked him without letting him breathe, and accused him of having exploited “worker fury,” but did so without convincing anyone, not even themselves. They preferred (they would have preferred) that Piras had hypocritically furnished excuses concerning his private life, because these would not have shaken that little, well-ordered universe of the champions of disorder. Personally, I was persuaded that the thousands of employees at Allemagna would have been more understanding than these so-called revolutionaries, because the affair had demonstrated that the bosses were uniquely generous with those who escape their claws and succeed in making them fearful. I also noted that, if each person had demanded ten months of salary, the establishment would have gone bankrupt and it would have been up to the bosses to explain the size of the sum paid to Piras.

“Let us shout it from the rooftops,” I said. “Let us say that we were the ones who won!”

We ended up arguing and each person had his own opinion. On the way home, Piras began to cry, in part because of the wine that he’d guzzled in his excitement, and in part because that evening marked the end of a long period in his life. With his voice still thick, he continued to rave on about organic cheese, horses and mountains, mixing his remarks with curses (in a much more sincere tone of voice) against the factory and work: in the final analysis, against everything that he was escaping from. It wasn’t very easy, but I managed to get him into his bed, while his wife, worried and disapproving, watched. He did everything to keep me from leaving, bothering me with old memories, which he brought up one at a time – smuggling, thefts, sabotage, spectacular fires – without deciding that it was time to go to sleep. When he finally did, snoring like a bear, I headed back to the Lope de Vega, without quite managing to define how people like Piras and I differed from the militants of the extreme Left, with whom we had so often marched side by side. In fact, if the manner in which the Sardinian had let go of us didn’t please me very much (we must have been idiots not to see it coming), I was even more shocked by the moralizing of the others, by their proud assurances that explained nothing and especially not why it was necessary for any of us to remain on the assembly line when all the normal people had rejected it.

Another month went by, and I received a letter from the attorney. An agreement had been signed and approved by everyone; but it seemed pure madness to me. We did not win compensation for the damage, but won what I considered to be the real damage: the right to work. I had the strong desire to laugh. I had not done anything and didn’t feel like staking my claim; but I accepted this decision, which didn’t suit me personally, out of malice. The Salemi brothers, on the other hand, were delighted, since they only envisioned employment from the perspective of sick leave. Their father exulted, considering his sons to be “set up” and hoped that his children would “set him up.” I was forced (so I wouldn’t spoil the victory, of course) to go back to work, where I received two months of salary for the period of inactivity. These concessions by the bosses were suspicious: they sought culprits who could be blamed for their troubles, and we had arrived at just the right moment. The pie of State bailouts was very big! They bosses ate it all and left only crumbs for the workers, and they used the newspapers to accuse us of causing the disaster: shameless people! I wanted them to fire me immediately, so, as soon as I crossed the threshold, I diligently devoted myself to fighting back and for trivial reasons, shouting at the boss that I wanted to speak to the general manager. The answer was “no,” and so I threatened to go on a hunger strike if I wasn’t assigned duties that were compatible with the state of my health. Thank God, I was taken to an office, and one of the managers gave me a check for two million lire.

“I know, I know,” he muttered. “Sign this letter of resignation and we’ll be done.”

“Actually,” I said, perplexed, because I’d been caught off guard, “I would prefer to be fired, for reasons of my own.”

“Don’t be clever, my friend. We know all about that trick and won’t fall for it.” I was confused: what trick did they suspect me of? Two million lire made my mouth water, but I did not want to become Piras II. I suggested a way out: they would fire me, and I would sign the letter of resignation, so that we would both be covered. This went smoothly and no one bothered me. I know that I had failed a good experiment, but you cannot ask people to repudiate themselves, and I could not see Salvatore Messana in some quagmire, waiting around for layoffs.[8] That might alright for youngsters, people with two jobs or old people, but I was in too much of a rush, and a steady job did not interest me.

Thus I began a career as a street peddler, selling toys, necklaces and various goods on the streets of Lombardy and Liguria, and had no real adventures for the next four years.

To make you smile, my dear reader, I will confess that I devised a personal system by which the bureaucracy, with its long, intolerable lines, would be totally eliminated, and that, encouraged by my taste for illegality, I fabricated my own licenses. But I never had any trouble, as I was always careful to not overdo it when I sensed the presence of petulant bureaucrats. In fact, I allowed them the joy of giving me a fine, without making a fuss.

If I managed to get along, lazily, Milan once again changed rapidly. As if by magic, the big parades, the cheerful chaos and the public protesters against authority disappeared. Most of them gave up their search for the promised land, settled for miniscule improvements, and returned to industrious productivity, far from the assembly lines, but locked up in the small mines of domestic workshops, converted basements and little, hidden factories. Some headed for the southern parts of the city (as I did); others lived the best they could at its edges or pursued their own destinies and ended up in jail. From time to time, I met [former] left-wing militants, and they were worse off than I was. Some had softened up in government jobs; some pretended to be managers; some, not knowing what else to do, fell back upon political parties and unions;[9] some shot up [drugs] without restraint.

One day, in fact, I saw Pietro, my old friend from Motta, sitting on a bench, a veritable wreck, thin and dejected, with his good old syringe. Without even leaving me time to say hello, he asked me, with desperate eyes, for ten thousand lire. He wanted to get the money from me with the inevitable declaration, learned by heart, that he was “firmly decided to quit,” but I preferred to pay him immediately and do without the bullshit. It was heartbreaking to see him try to smile, pathetic, emaciated, exhausted, already dead. He would in fact die shortly afterwards, which earned him the posthumous luxury of four columns in the Corriere.

Then there were the Red Brigades, or terrorists, or whatever you want to call them. They continued to fight in their own way, and, if they did not cause terror due to their numbers, they did so due to their methods. They acted clandestinely, believing they were hunting down the bosses, without realizing that they were the targets! From time to time, one of them was knocked down like a bowling pin, but no one protested, no one knew them; it was as if they’d fallen from the sky. It was a kind of suicide in installments, a game of Russian roulette, and those who survived it became more and more defiant, isolated and always at the mercy of internecine struggles. They weren’t capable of taking precautions. I had the occasion to meet three or four of them; they were convinced that they could militarily beat the Army with the four old pistols that they possessed. How pissed off they got if you doubted their assumptions! They would look at you with a kind of pity and begin to explain, meticulously, how increasing costs were going to result in a general uprising, etc. etc.

In short, good people to say “you’re right” to and go off to the movies, happily avoiding such dangerous bores. But three nights later, you might see one of them again and be unable to refuse your hospitality for two or three days. Your undesirable guest would begin to make insane revelations, and remain at your place for two solid weeks. Not only would he have taken root, but he would have begun to invite other militants in the group (a small armed band) over for meetings, dinners and various conspiracies. Unwillingly involved, the victim might not know how to extricate himself, until he perhaps struck upon a brilliant idea and pretended he was being evicted: he hired a dozen friends, each assigned his own part (bailiff, porter, lawyer), and that was the only way he could get a bit of peace.

As for me, I had no doubt that they would all end up in the Republic’s prisons.

[1] Latin in original. Translated into English by Walter C. A. Ker, Martial: Epigrams (1919).

[2] Adriano Celentano (born 1938), the single most popular singer in Italy.

[3] villetta-Lager.

[4] German in original.

[5] The French translation completely alters the meaning of this passage by adding the phrase mais était-ce bien utile (“but the attempt was quite useful”) and switching things around so that dès que quelqu’un voyait sa tronche (“when someone saw his [Giuseppe’s] face”), which is described as si peu rassurante (“so little reassuring”), it is this “someone” and not Giuseppe himself who posait prudement la main sur son portefeuille (“prudently placed his hand on his wallet”). But who could that “someone” be?

[6] Christmas cakes.

[7] Wine from the Lombardy region.

[8] And thus, through la Cassa Integrazione, receiving unemployment payments made over a limited period of time (approximately two to three years).

[9] The French translation of this passage gratuitously insists that they ones who joined unions were les meilleurs (“the best ones”).

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