Last night, I dreamed that I saved Vittorio Emmanuele from assassination. That’s right, the first King of Italy. And then I was so happy that he was safe, I kissed his hand. I realized when I woke up that in my dream I’d had that feeling. The feeling Tolstoy gave Andre when he was sent as a messenger to the Tsar. The feeling Ann had in Hardy’s The Trumpet-Major when she met King George in the street by happenstance. It’s a sort of intense overall sensation of patriotism wrapped up into the adoration of a certain royal person. It resembles a combination of religious fervor, filial piety, and romantic ardor, all rolled into one.
As a monarch-less American, I’ve read about this feeling many times, and I admit, it fascinates me. It’s an emotion carefully cultivated by the authors of the numerous 19th century British books I like to read my children. It’s something I’ve often puzzled over as I open my Church hymnbook (printed for both Britain and America) and see God Save the King right next to The Star-Spangled Banner. How incongruously different the anthems are. And how novel to feel those emotions over a person rather than over a flag and an expanse of earth and a set of abstract ideals.
Vittorio Emmanuele is not too much of a household name in the United States. In fact, I wonder how many people there know (or care, I suppose; we’re just not that overwhelmed by royalty) that during the entire time (including two World Wars) that Mussolini was in power, Italy still had a king, also named Vittorio Emmanuele. Shortly after the end of World War II, a disillusioned Italian populace abolished the monarchy altogether. Male members of the royal line were banished forever from Italy (cruel fate! Even in Ancient Greece, ostracism only lasted ten years). The ban was finally lifted just a few years ago in exchange for renunciation of all claims to the (now nonexistent) throne. But when the Savoy royal family actually tried to sue the Italian government for damages for their years in exile, the Prime Minister threatened to counter-sue them for their collusion with Mussolini, and the matter was dropped.
So, yes. Royalist fervor in Italy these days is fairly weak. But there is still someone whom our Italian friends of today truly admire. Not even an Italian, but definitely a monarch. One of Tony’s favorite compliments to people is to tell them, “you’re a genius.” And his most oft-heard response from Italians is: “If I’m a genius, then you’re Napoleon.” There you have it! The despot who conquered them over 200 years ago and is responsible for 95% of the Red Tape of Italy is the archetypical genius. Welcome to Italy.
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I think we might actually be best friends and not know it yet: you had me at Russian invasion.
You caught me. I stole my title off the facebook group. Because I thought it was hilarious, and now it's the only thing I can think of when I hear the name Napoleon (which here in Piedmont is pretty much every day)
Okay, I meant "quite LIKE that", not "quite LACK that". My two-year old is climbing all over me and making things a bit difficult…
Interesting to read how different things are there. The title of your post is a strange coincidence for me. Earlier in the week, I saw someone wearing a t-shirt with that exact phrase! How weird is that?!?! I mean, I know what it is referring to historically and it cracks me up, but I'd never seen the sentiment worded quite lack that. I did just look it up and saw that there is a Facebook group. http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2234397758 about the phrase.