"We're happier without it," Vittorio said.
As usual when he waxes philosophic, Vittorio got carried away and snipped dangerously close to my ear lobes. Vittorio is my barber, and, as such, constitutes my totally unscientific sampling of Italian public opinion. It is Vittorio's view (and therefore this entire nation's, if you accept the Collings Opinion Poll) that what Italians are happier without is the news.
We found out what it was like for three days this past week. Three days of bliss. Three days free at last from news of cemetery-trip planners with BMWs on their minds. Free from reports of bombs, Druzes, drugs, deficits, contras and AIDS.
Thanks to a three-day coordinated sciopero (strike) by Italian journalists of television, radio and newspapers, we enjoyed a total news blackout. Actually, it wasn't quite total. The Rome communist daily Paese Sera published. Only in Italy would it make sense for a leftist newspaper to be the one to break a strike. The incomprehensible reason was that the paper is a cooperative.
People enjoyed freedom from news of the hollow clamoring of politicians worried about their fate in upcoming local elections. People were ecstatically ignorant of world events. The only grumping was about soccer. The millions of Italians who normally glue their ears to radios Sunday afternoon suffered withdrawal symptoms. No emotional, excited, sometimes nearly hysterical voices of sportscasters with the play-by-play. However, all was not lost.
The state radio and TV had no choice but to give at least the final results. And for a very simple reason. In Italy, everybody and his mama plays Totocalcio, the weekly soccer betting pools. With millions of lire riding on the outcome, the entire peninsula and outlying islands would have been in uproar if scores had been blacked out. That kind of instability leads to things like Mussolini's rising up, and we can't have that again.
So results of Verona vs. Lazio and other games were provided to an otherwise blissfully newless public. And it was bliss in those three days to be alive. No more "Telegiornale"-TV newspaper, as the news on the tube is called. No more shots of Radical Party leader Marco Panella going on another hunger strike. No more yawn-provoking meetings. No more leaders of the 10 main political parties warning bored listeners at tables dotted with mineral water bottles that the other nine parties threaten everything Italians hold dear, like Totocalcio and going on strike.
Actually, we weren't quite totally spared news of politicians. That crafty fox, Bettino Craxi, Italy's socialist prime minister, invoked an obscure law to get on the tube. He did so in a way that caused uproar.
What happened was this: News editors at RAI, the state-run network (and the only one permitted, under the rules of the strike, to broadcast news in an emergency) were at their desks but not working. They monitored foreign news wires and were ready to interrupt normal programming and break the news blackout only in the event of something happening of apocalyptic significance to the Republica Italiana.
Shortly after 7 p.m. last Sunday, a motorcycle messenger pulled up in front of the RAI building with a communique from the Palazzo Zhigi, the prime minister's office. It said, in part: "Tomorrow afternoon, the president of the council, the Honorable Craxi, will discuss problems of public order in Palermo."
Quite sensibly, the RAI editors spiked it. Palazzo Zhigi was not pleased. Palazzo Zhigi ordered RAI to have an anchor read the communique. An anchor person read the communique at 8:12 p.m. Uproar, pandemonium and general consternation ensued. Everyone from the communists (whose own newspaper, remember, had published) to the Christian Democrats accused Craxi of pulling a fast one.
But the Honorable Craxi invoked Article 22, Law 103, which he said empowered him to force RAI to broadcast any communique he wanted, urgent or no.
So we weren't spared news of the Honorable Craxi's visit to Sicily. Nor were we deprived of the soccer scores. But otherwise we found out what it is like to watch video music instead of disaster reports, to see Huey Lewis and the News instead of Bruno Vespa and the Telegiornali.
Next time I see Vittorio, it'll be back to comments on the day's events. But for three glorious days there were no events he knew of to comment on. And for him, in those three days, no news really was good news.