Italian values

URBINO, Italy – These American undergraduates are getting their orientation from Mirko Marinelli, a director of GEV, the outfit that runs their dormitory. It’s a remarkable building — palatial, literally: a 15th century palace, the Palazzo Chiocci, which contemporary Italian designers and contractors recently spent two years reconstructing for visiting students.

Mirko Marinelli addressing ieiMedia class of ’22

The work of the designers ought to win a big award. It’s the perfect expression of the Italian respect for historical buildings (especially from the Renaissance; especially here in Urbino) and functional, energy-saving modern material living. The outside is preserved – old brick held together with iron bolts or new plaster and a four-panel double wood door. Inside, preserving the vaulted ceilings, the new floors are now close enough to bang your head if you’re not careful. Rooms in a maze are accented in smooth wood and elegant metal railings. There are recycle bins, exposed beams, and a bathroom for each bedroom, with bidet, two-level toilet flushing and a shower.

Mirko’s orientation seemed to express Italian values as well. These may seem, at first, disorienting. From the perspective of America’s politics today, they would be controversial. But they are, merely, mature. Italy went through its Fascism 80 years ago. This far from that, Italians seem freer, happier, humbler and more connected across generations than Americans today. In the post-WWII years, American school children were taught to appreciate the stability of the American two-party political system and its peaceful Presidential succession, compared to Italy’s multi-party system and its constant changing of governments. Now look. After the Jan. 6 insurrection and the party of “that’s your Reality, not mine,” Italy seems a better system.

Mirko advises:

  • Respect the cleaning lady, Francesca. She will clean your floor and your toilet once a week, but you must keep your floor clear, and clean and change your own sheets.
  • Only students registered with the police to be staying here, after turning over passports for 24 hours, may be in the building.
  • Separate your waste into recycle bins for glass, aluminum, paper, plastic and cardboard. Failing to do this is illegal.
  • If too many are using electricity or Wi-Fi at the same time, these might shut off.
  • Don’t leave the door open, or a city cat might enter. (What happened to one cat after a month stuck inside is a story that gets a sympathetic reaction from the students.) Urbino pays a city worker to feed the city cats (who keep the rat and mice population down).

These kinds of rules, like the registration on gun ownership, might seem to restrict freedom. But they are really rules for living with maximum freedom in a world of limited resources and respectful relationships. The kind of world we want, isn’t it?

Reading the history of Duke Frederico Montefeltro, on the 600th year of his birth, at the statue of Raphael (at the top of the street of the painter’s birthplace).

About Doug Cumming

Writer, W&L journalism professor emeritus
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