live in a self-styled country of miracles, a realm of savants, mystics, skeptics and conspiracy theorists. Though I’m only a mile from the modest home of a gentle pope, I hear stories of aliens, sleeper cells, and second comings. I am informed beyond a reasonable doubt that man never landed on the moon. I am told extraterrestrials manage the experiment called man. I am persuaded arcane figures gather in the basements of banks to decide on the future of the planet.
No, I have not been kidnapped by members of a cabal or joined a zealot’s club to make my otherwise sedentary life more entertaining. What I have done, at least lately, is listen to my plumber, my waiter and the custodian of a building down the street who while looking for his lost dog “Vespa” recently decided to update me on the latest celestial breaking news.
The custodian, Vincenzo, is a Jehovah’s Witness (Italy’s the second largest religion after Catholicism). For years he and his wife walked local streets, brochures in hand with frozen smiles on fixedly cheerful faces. Age ended the trekking. Vincenzo now mostly chases after Vespa, and when she strays too far, stops to talk to me, or anyone else who happens along. Yesterday, Vincenzo pulled me aside to say he was convinced the last days were nearer at hand than ever, apparently a reflection of Vespa’s increasing tendency to flee her garden enclosure. “Vespa knows things,” he said. “She doesn’t know the things she knows but escapes them anyway.” I nodded. I also felt as though I’d undergone a close encounter with the Italian version of Donald “Unknown Known” Rumsfeld. Armageddon’s nearness was also somehow connected to the construction of a new luxury-housing complex down the street, destined, insists Vincenzo, to change the local order. It might well do that, if anyone can afford the €5 million set up camp.
My waiter, Romano, who was born in rural Romania, has separate concerns, part of a revelation that hit him after the birth of his second son. Examining the behavior of his children, he decided that “it” was true, namely that they were not children but small alien lords injected into the world to continue the experiment started before time itself by unspecified aliens suffering from ennui or depression. These creatures decided to create a race that would actually transform before their very eyes from childhood to youth to middle age to death as part of an experiment in … This is when Romano grows vague. He has yet to decide if the experiment has a purpose or was just made up for the sake of mischief and got out of hand (alien mischief is not linear). In any event these aliens, who look nothing like Hollywood ones, continue to argue about the merits of their still-active experiment, which is why Romano is sure his wife will have a third child, as a kind of cosmic joke at his expense.
My plumber Massimo is more down to earth, though that may be an exaggeration. He vaguely accepts the existence of the planet and humans and the (annoying) human condition. If only secret bankers wouldn’t continue to scheme from within elaborate vaults to fix the value of money so that those in trouble face more trouble, something the bankers do, like Romano’s aliens, for their own amusement. Also, this business of landing on the moon, let’s drop that pretense, insists Massimo. But he says this in a way that makes things even more difficult, at least to an unenlightened commoner like me.
Yes, of course, he says, we did land on the moon, but the 1969 landing was staged, perhaps by the bankers in the basement. That landing was part of a plot, like 9/11, to distract people from the reality, except that Massimo never gets around to telling me about that reality, or even just when the real landing took place and who landed. Since he’s very good at repairing leaks, I tend not to interrupt him when he gets going.
Massimo’s latest theory (articulated after my shower head broke) is that Italy was never unified and even Garibaldi never existed. They are characters in a script written by the state (and the bankers) so that people feel nobler about their purpose, a purpose Massimo has been dubious of for some time. Why, he asks me, would anyone want to live on a planet with such awful piping? He poses this question as if long-ago university education might somehow solve the riddle.
It doesn’t. All I can do is speculate that bankers are involved, if for no other reason than to make him happy and ensure I can shower by sundown.