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What’s with these ‘two-faced’ Italians?

Once again Italy has found itself a hero and an antihero. But then, as history has shown, ‘they are like that only’

Rome: In Gregorio Maria De Falco, the until recently unknown head of operation at the Port Authority in the Tuscan coastal city of Livorno, Italy found itself not just a national hero, but the anointed foll to Capt. Francesco Schettino, the reckless and apparently cowardly captain of the cruise ship Costa Concordia.

Easily adapting to the national propensity for dualism, Italians have got themselves a hero to play against their antihero, a champion to their villain, as Pierluigi Battista wrote in the Milan newspaper Coriere Della Serra on Thursday. Captain De Falco’s reprimand to Captain Schettino loosely translated into English as “Get back aboard! Damn it,” has already entered the national lexicon, not to mention the front of T-shirt, and (according to Italian news reports) as a cellphone ringtone.

“Italian are ashamed and understand that what’s at stake goes beyond life and death and touches on the notion of national identity that has to do with history, ethics and the way we are perceived,” said Francesco Merlo, a commentator with the Rome daily La Repubblica, in an interview.

This sense of shame has made for a hyperbolic retelling of the tale.

Though knowledge of the personalities of the two men is perfunctory at best, the Italian news media easily tagged them as distinctive Italian stereotypes: Captain Schettino as the flashy daredevil and rule breaker; Captain De Falco as the upholder of duty and respectability, who is often overlooked in a nation easily taken in by more boisterous — and usually sneaky behaviour.

The striking contract was compared by some to the equally conspicuous difference between Italy’s former prime minister, the flamboyant media mogul linked to scandal, Silvio Berlusconi, and his successor since November, the staid and virtuous churchgoing technocrat Mario Monti.

And as social commentators latched onto the sunken Costa Concordia as an obvious metaphor for the country, mired in an economic and political morass, sinking under the weight of its unwieldy public debt. Captain De Falco’s no-nonsense pragmatism came to echo that of Mr. Monti and his technocratic government. At the same time, Captain Schettino’s taped conversations reassuring that nothing was wrong on board were reminiscent of Mr. Berlusconi’s repeated avowals that Italy’s finances were sound — he pointed to full restaurants as proof — even as the country teetered toward economic ruin.

“To see someone that in a moment of  difficulty maintains steady nerves is consoling because that is what we need,” said Beppe Severgnini, a columnist for Corriere Della Serra and the author of “Mamma Mai!” a new book about  Mr. Berlusconi.

Indeed, in the face of the enormity of the tragedy apparently caused by Captain Schettino’s navigational misjudgment, Italy openly sought, and found, some solace in Captain De Falco’s clear-headed reaction in those chaotic moments as the ship began to sink with no obvious leadership to oversee the rescue operations.

Some commentators have drawn analogies with other ignominious episodes from Italy’s past, like the escape from Rome of the royal family and the prime minister after Sept. 8, 1943, when a new government announced Italy’s breach with her Axis partner and the signing of an armistice with the Allies — often described as a classic moment of abandoning a sinking ship.

“The notion of  running away is part of our history, and nail the Italian character,” Mr. Merlo said, noting that cowardice was a theme in many great films of Italy’s neo realist tradition.

“That is our history, even when we try to modify it,” he said. And, he added, “our moment of greatness, often, have an element of the accidental hero,” as in the case of Captain De Falco.

But other warned of such simple narrative. Captain Schettino is being made “as easy scapegoat upon whom to vent our rage ” and contrasted with ” a hero with out stain to placate it,” wrote Massimo Gramellini, in the Turin daily La Stampa. He called on Italian to suspend judgment of the episodes, and objected to what he called the abuse of the term hero, which he said in Italy today seemed to be awarded to anyone who does his or her duty.

Captain Da Falco might be the first to agree. he is under order not to speak to the news media, but his reticence he is not one to seek celebrity. When he has been to reiterate that he and his team were only doing their job.

(SOURCE : Times of India dated 22.01.2012)

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