It's a tale of Two Italies: the showboat and the tugboat, the thoroughbred and the workhorse, the hare and the tortoise. The story is now all-too-familiar: an overconfident captain with his shirt unbuttoned and his eyes on an exotic young dancer, navigating a risky course through rocky shoals. Never mind that the most elementary precautions, like a lifeboat drill, have been postponed. When disaster strikes, as it's bound to do, it's someone else's fault, certainly not the captain's inattention or incompetence.
To the rescue comes Gregorio de Falco, of the local Coast Guard detchment, a gent with a gruff, take-charge demeanor, a cross between a drill sergeant and a brain surgeon. He does not tolerate fools. When he learns that the captain is no longer on the ship, he barks, "Get back on board, you dick!" (A transcript of the conversation goes viral, and the Italian phrase "Vada a bordo, cazzo!" quickly becomes a best-selling t-shirt.)
In Italy this week, Capt. Francesco Schettino is under house arrest, and the Coast Guard officer who commanded the rescue effort is hailed as a hero. Meantime, the disgraced former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who played bunga-bunga while Italy's ship of state foundered, is biding his time, expecting a return to political life. The man who succeeded him, Mario Monti, is making slow but steady progress restoring discipline to Italy's chaotic economy. (Monti is often described as a technocrat, leading a government of technocrats who were chosen because they have experience and expertise rather than political connections. Very rare, even in the US, to have professionals rather than party hacks, former rivals or long-time campaign contributors as cabinet ministers and ambassadors.)
But let's get back to the lifeboat drill. Every cruise is supposed to have one, before dark, on the first day out. I was on the Holland America line's Zaandam five years ago for a brief repositioning cruise between San Diego and Vancouver, BC. Although there was an interesting wine & food program on board, I found that cruising's not for me.
And how many times have we tuned out the safety demonstration aboard airplanes? We get it, already! We feel it's an insult to our intelligence at best, or an intrusion on our drinking time at worst. Right? The pilot may not be Sully Sullengerger, but we have every confidence that, should there be an emergency, at least the crew isn't going to trip past us into an evacuation slide.