First 20C day today of 2013 and my first walk in a polo shirt for the year. But don’t get too jealous on Sunday we are promised driving rain, gale force northerly winds with a windchill temp of 5C . So we just enjoy the day and get the wood ready for the fire. My walk takes me past about 50 houses as I manage to walk in a circle around the lanes. Of these 2 are inhabited the year round, about 40 are occupied for a couple of summer months and the rest are empty all the time. Of the 40 summer homes 95% are owned by local people not northern Italians who tend to prefer to own on the coast. Now my walk is just 4.5 miles so you need to extrapolate that quite considerably to understand the amount of second and third home ownership down here. And we are not talking little insignificant places by the way. Most are like this one
The guy that owns this engaged me in conversation the other day by asking where I lived and after I told him I returned the gesture pointing at this house. Yes he said and the one behind it is mine , plus the one over there and the one behind the church . His grown up family of a son a daughter and a cousin live in the others. But I said you are only here for a couple of months a year. Oh yes I own three houses in Martina Franca and we live in those in the winter. Now we are not talking a wealthy guy here just an ordinary fellow who used to run a shop in town. We have been lucky enough to have been invited to many meals in various Italian homes in the area and I realised that everyone not only owned their homes but owned others too and almost none had had to buy them . They were given either by inheritance, dowry, or gift.
Therefore it wasn’t a big surprise to read yesterday that the latest household wealth figures from The Bank of Italy showed Italian households as almost the richest in the world. The Bank estimated household wealth at €9.53 trillion or €400,000 for each household in Italy. A fairly impressive sum one would feel and the clincher was that 2/3 of that wealth is in properties. But it does make you wonder about how it came about.
Well we need to go back to the end of WWII to understand it. The allies left and the Italians ditched the king. In the north a struggle began between the communists and the others but in the South life went back to how it had been since before Italy was formed in 1860. Grinding poverty, petty crime and for 90% of the population what can only be described as serfdom. People were still tied to an estate owning elite and worked for them in return for food. A survey in 1950 showed 800,000 southerners had never ever eaten meat nor tried sugar, and 90% had no indoor sanitation. Then the US Marshall plan was introduced and the Italian government was told in no uncertain terms that they needed to spend it on improving wealth and on nothing else ( the idea was to conbat communism of course). So the then Minister of Agriculture Prof. Bandini passed a series of Land Reform Bills in 1950 that were revolutionary. The elite had lots of their land expropriated by the government using Marshall Aid monies for compensation and the land was then distributed to the poor. The expropriated land was cut into 20 acre slices and sold to the queues of people that waited in line at town halls throughout Italy but very much so in the South. A World Bank loan meant peasants (literally) could buy 20 acres of land for US$160 on a 30 year loan at 3.5% . That is about €1,600 in todays money. The Marshall Aid hugely subsidised the building of a house on the property and bought the machinery , livestock and crops to go with the land and built the roads for both access and to get stuff to market.
By 1954 the peasants were ensconced on their own land but in the south still scratching a living as the land expropriated was not high quality. In 1954 Italian TV started to broadcast for the first time with a diet of U.S TV programmes and on one day alone in cinemas all over Italy in 1954 over 6,000 U.S. made films were being shown. The people watched in awe at the lifestyle they saw. The second part of the revolution in property ownership was about to take place.
6,000 films must be a cue for a song.
What a great movie that was. I can watch it time and again and it gives you a real feel for the Italy of years ago. The Church was still strong and the priest in the film does the censorship on each reel of film which was how it actually was. I remember my first trip here noticing all the women had to ride side-saddle on the back of the Vespas by order of the Church. Times sure have changed.
Enjoy your weekend.