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For a nation that exported a steady stream of emigrants to North America and Australia well into the middle of this century, things have taken a drastic turn in the other direction.  The fertility rate, the number of children an Italian woman is likely to have in her lifetime, has dropped to 1.2.  That is hardly going to replenish a diminishing population.

The child I see in Turin is going to have the dedicated attention of two parents, two sets of grandparents along with the inevitable aunts and uncles on both sides.  In terms of attention, at least, this child is going to have it made.

He will probably go to school and grow up an only child, born into a very different world than the one of his gregarious grandparents.  He’ll live at home into his early thirties, save his money for a car, then an apartment or a house.  His marriage will be a big relief to everyone, of course.  Before long the inevitable question will arise, when will there be another bambino?

More than likely, his working life will fall into one of three categories:  statali, dipendenti or autonomi.  In other words, he’ll end up working for the state  (in one capacity or another); as an employee of a factory, company or corporation; or as an independent businessman or shopkeeper.

Bear with me while I float a curious conceit your way.  It came to me in the middle of a restless night. If we were to populate Dante’s Divine Comedy with the working population of this county, they might end up distributed something like this– the statali would be in Paradiso, the dipendenti in the Inferno. You can work out the rest.

Even a lowly cook in a state-run nursery school works just five mornings a week.  He gets off all school holidays, gets days off for union meetings, blood tests etc. He can get a low-interest mortgage from his employer, cheap holidays in hotels and camps, unbelievable paternity and maternity rights, and the kicker is, he can keep his job for life.  He is unfirable.

The dipendento will have his taxes are deducted at source, like the state employee, but he will probably be making less.  He will have rigid hours, limited opportunities for moonlighting, and difficulty justifying sick leave without actually being sick. He won’t have the lavish benefits or the job security of the statale.

The autonomo resides in Purgatory, of course.  His situation may change drastically, depending on the health of the economy.  His taxes are not deducted at source, so he may end up getting rich and paying no tax at all, triggering the resentment of his neighbours.  However, he may also find himself bankrupt through no fault of his own.

Fortunately, despite what seems to be the innate conservatism of Italians, there is a considerable amount of social mobility built into the system.  Fathers and sons can easily find themselves in different categories and workers can slip out of one group and into another.

Curiously, I have a well-regarded English novelist to thank for the subject matter of this post.  His name is Tim Parks, and he has written two charming memoirs about his life in an Italian village over the last 20 years– “Italian Neighbours” and “An Italian Education.”  He will never be truly Italian, of course, but his children will.

He is my Virgil and he deserves credit for his perceptive books and graceful way with words.  And thanks to my Italalian teacher, Caterina, who spoke in class about the long adolesence of young Italian men and reminded me of the Divine Comedy, one of the few great books I have actually read.  It must have been a long time ago, back when I was in college.  Years before I knew anything about Torino or dreamed of learning Italian.

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