Pope Francis’s visit to the United States means many things to many people. Granted, so does Catholicism. But whether you’re rerouting your commute through Washington, New York, or Philadelphia, or if you're just seeing media coverage of Francis’s every move, what's undeniable is the fanfare and frenzy. Antonio Moresco’s “The Pigs,” translated by Ann Goldstein of “Ferrante Fever” acclaim, is about another momentous event that brings presidents and a pope together amid a media circus.
Moresco’s narrator is fixated on the death of “little Alfredino” Rampi, a child who fell down a well twenty years earlier. Alfredino’s death provides the narrator with a point of comparison between Italian society of twenty years before and its contemporary ills, which he describes in indulgently cynical terms:
It’s all rotten. A country that makes a mockery of itself, attributes to itself sentiments it doesn’t possess. Sentimental, but without sentiments. Moralistic, but without any morals. Hypocritical and corrupt to the bone.
Endless masses of persons who must only devour and consume goods and multiply financial riches shift here and there like swarms of locusts.
On top of this broad criticism, Moresco derides the Italian political class as
hard, rapacious, vulgar people, hidden behind rubber masks, who rose to power by means of enormous corruption machines that can buy everything, and who go on television to dupe the credulous, and use advertising knowingly and cynically.
Leaders incapable of moving, perhaps literally, one way or the other, whether because they're being guarded or being blackmailed.
From this seemingly hopeless moment, the narrator reimagines little Alfredino’s death, which for him reveals the chasm between a lost sincerity and contemporary narcissism:
In recent years I've returned often to that incredible story, which seems to me to reveal, like few others, the face of this country and of this era. And I imagine, in moments of despair about what surrounds us, that it is happening now, that it is still happening, that it is continuing to happen without interruption. And that, standing around the edge of that hole which the child fell into are not men of that time but men of today, standing around that open wound. And that, in the background, behind the people who did their best and who would do their best now, too, who gave and would continue to give their souls, are the big shots of today, with their entourage of servants and flunkeys posing in front of the TV cameras.
The story ends with an otherworldly departure for little Alfredino that seems fitting in our current cultural moment. News coverage in the United States borders on the surreal, with segments on Francis’s clown car and the political theater of Donald Trump. It can feel like we’re all crowded around a tragic spectacle, bombarding it with the lights of our cameras until we lose sight of the child in the well.