Before unification in 1861, there were a bunch of independent kingdoms, duchyies and states that were to become Italy--16 of them, to be precise. Today, there are 20 regions (they don't call them "states"). Yes, they've actually gained a few. Each region has it's own deal with the national government, with five retaining autonomous status from the national government. They have to finance the health-care system, the school system and most public infrastructures by themselves. Add another thing into this mix... Italy is also divided into 26 voting districts (for their Chamber of Deputies) and another 20 representatives--one each for the 20 regions.
This is one of the reasons why Italy functions in such a confusing manner. It is still not really one, single cohesive country, at least not like we're accustomed to. Italians are very region-proud. The North looks down its nose at the South. Tuscany thinks it's the "real" Italy because of its Etruscan roots. Lazio gets all the "grease" because it has Roma. Most of Italy thinks people from Calabria are backward and stupid. People think Basilicata is full of bandits. And Sicily can't seem to heal the scar of the Mafia. Of course, these stereotypes are losing any validity as all of Italy comes into the modern world, but Italians are still wary of one another.
It's like that old joke I heard long ago: "Mom, I brought a girl home to meet you. But she's Jewish", says the son. "Non-ja worry. I treat-a her like-a my own daughter". Next girl friend... "Mom, she's black". "Non problema. I treat-a her like-a my own daughter". Then, he brings home the girl he's planning to marry. "Mom, I'm gonna marry this girl... and she's ITALIAN!" With one eyebrow turned down, and the other eye full of malocchio, Momma demands to know, "What part-of Italy she come-a from??!"
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