Odoardo Di Santo
TORONTO - I have followed with pleasure and some delight the debate that the epiteth, “cafone in chief”, affixed to Donald Trump. It is a colourful, descriptive that ironically describes his personality in its negative connotations.
With equal attention, I noted the rather strong position assumed by Rocco Galati, an excellent Constitutional lawyer, who, a Southerner like my better half, got caught up in the debate. I followed the Corriere’s excellent “Odyssey” of the cafone as part of the lexicon of our language – it is an term “puffed up” to serve as a cudgel, the weapon of choice in a war of insults, to beat to a pulp one’s unhappy adversary.
Regrettably, it would take a Titanic endeavour to attempt to stem the tide of the current definitions ascribed to the use of the word. Nonetheless, without nurturing any vain hopes, I would like to cast a spear in defense of the Cafoni. It is my modest contribution against the indiscriminate use of the term for the purposes of giving offense.
In 1933, Ignazio Silone published his novel Fontamara. He was at the time an émigré in Switzerland as a Communist seeking asylum from the persecutions of Fascist regimes. Fontamara came to be translated into 27 languages and sold over a million copies – an astounding number for the era.
Fontamara, a fictional, tiny village, located on the shores of lake Fucino nella Marsica, had been squeezed dry by Prince Torlonia.
Silone recounts how in Fontamara there were two social classes: “gentlemen” and “cafoni”. At the apex of this social pyramid, Torlonia reigned supreme, followed by Torlonia’s administrators, then in turn their dogs and after them, at the very bottom were the Cafoni – this was the lowest and poorest stratum of society for whom no one ever cared a whit, its members being considered an inferior species.
In one passage Silone reports a typical dialogue: “and what of us?” [protested the poor] “are we not also men?” [human beings]. Came the answer, “You are cafoni, flesh created for suffering.”
For Silone, “Fontamara resembles on so many fronts the typical Southern village … one less advanced, poorer and more abandoned than the next”. It was essentially a microcosm of the human condition described and chronicled by other writers, like Carlo Levi in his “Christ Stopped at Eboli”.
But for Silone, the Cafone was the repository of hope for a better society: “the day will come when suffering will no longer be seen as a badge of shame, but rather become a symbol of respect if not indeed of honour.”
I harbour no illusions that anyone will for a moment ponder the profound humanity and sense of redemption required for the reconciliation of the countless exploitations and abuses to which the cafoni were subjected.
For these reasons, I side with the cafoni.
Odoardo Di Santo
is a Corriere Canadese
a former NDP mpp