Essay. Happiness is no longer contagious, but works by subtraction, as in a zero-sum game: what you take for yourself is taken away from others. Mirafiori becomes a multitude of lonelinesses.

Mirafiori: Turin’s Fiat district on the precarious periphery of capital

The stories of Mirafiori are “paths made of spaces,” itineraries of phrases, maps of words to orient oneself in the geography of the everyday. That is why, while places tell their own stories in the right way, media stories, by repurposing places under a narrative, mythicize them, inserting them into the topography of the imaginary. Here, however, everything is real.

The 1980s meant boxes left on Via Biscaretti to see what happened to cars when they drove over them, it meant water bags thrown from buildings into backyards and over garages to hear the noise, and the bigger the bang the better. In the 1980s there were cars coming in from Milan for drugs, these were years when people were hiding guns in the cellars. One day, someone noticed he was being watched and chased us all the way to the front door. Often you couldn’t go to school because there were workers’ roadblocks, fires and picket lines that wouldn’t let anyone through. In the ’80s you didn’t go into the back alleys, because there were youngsters shooting up and all the flower beds were full of syringes: Mirafiori was dangerous and you were afraid. Still, in the 1980s Mirafiori was beautiful.

Mirafiori is “the city,” and you feel important when you go on vacation because you are from Turin. In Mirafiori you have many friends, but some people make fun of you and there are days when you’re afraid to go out because they’re waiting for you down below: they shout, they fight, they get blood on them. Your dad is strong, your dad defends you, he’s the one who goes to have a talk with the kids on the second floor and they leave you alone afterwards (even though you’re so afraid of them you don’t even want to talk about it). Your dad is strong, he runs construction yards, and there are so many people there from Puglia, from Sicily, from Campania; you have to be direct with them, make yourself heard, otherwise people will walk all over you, but your dad is strong.

In the ‘90s there were no jobs, people were suffering. A great many people began to live in permanent precariousness, between work and unemployment, in a mire of unstable situations that are one step above misery and one below contentment. Heroin disappeared and pills arrived, young people gathered in ever-growing groups, gangs, pouring into the Naxos in Piazza Guala and the Ultimo Impero club in Airasca, chanting that old rave anthem, “Sale, sale e non fa male.” Those who are educated, the children of factory workers, believed they were pioneers of a suburban middle class, while their fathers’ lives oscillated between layoffs, unemployment and despair. They carried guilt inside them, the idea that they’re not doing something right, stuck in place while others are running. Resignation prevailed; the days followed one after the other and slowly and gradually became psychological suffering, because they stopped having a “reason” to get up in the morning and some satisfaction in the evening that would tell them “you still did something today.” There were no more protests, no more beatings, no more shouting, because everyone felt responsible for their own condition.

The year 2000 was modern and predicated on individualism, instrumental rationality and political powerlessness. Unemployment had produced a situation of premature aging, an early, unstoppable inner senility. Beyond work, meaning has been lost. People began to live only by the five senses, there was nothing else, there was no beyond. In addition to the loss of work and the sense of community, there was the loss of the sense of life, which is why Mirafiori has become an existential periphery. Life is unbearable not because of the absence of things, but because of the absence of destiny and meaning.

Working-class families have been transformed, loneliness dominates: an aggregate of people that can only return to being a community if there is once again someone who calls you “comrade.”

The 2000s were childless, the neighborhood becoming less and less inhabited, with one or two people living in large houses. The connective tissue became increasingly porous and brittle; work no longer created bonds, and people lived secluded and alone: avoiding each other was the new instinct in this place, where, as Luigi Zoia wrote, one lives in the time of the death of the neighbor. The hunger for relationships becomes profound, and just like regular hunger, when it lasts too long one can no longer just go back to eating; one needs a diet of only water and sugar for days before they can get back to solid foods. The hunger in Mirafiori is atavistic, coming from far back in time, and has produced dryness down to the roots: it is no longer enough to go back to looking at each other, greeting each other, talking to each other, hugging each other.

Technology makes adults obsolete; they can no longer act as “teachers” to young people, they cannot point out paths to take that they have already trodden: there are no more royal roads, no grand narratives to follow (whether religious, political, social), no possibility of floating with the current. All paths become individual and go through uncharted territories: there are no maps anymore (previous generations can no longer help you). Families are falling apart and the world of work is not friendly to, or reconciled with, motherhood and caregiving. Low wages, permanent job insecurity, a hectic pace, loneliness and vacuous relationships form the backdrop of an ecosystem that is unfavorable to both birth rates and togetherness.

It’s something that affects everyone, not a phenomenon that only affects rushed couples, borderline parents and unfortunate situations, but one that also hits young people and even the most beautiful, connected, open, supportive families, down to the core. A virus that does not discriminate and against which there seem to be no more antibodies. Those who somehow end up making the leap to parenthood encounter formidable obstacles in the world of work, in (nonexistent) services, and they don’t so much hang on as drag themselves on. Happiness is no longer contagious, but works by subtraction, as in a zero-sum game: what you take for yourself is taken away from others. Mirafiori becomes a multitude of lonelinesses.

People seek surrogates, and pets come into the picture. The number of pets grows at an extraordinary pace, and nobody knows whether it was individualism and loneliness or the dog that came first; the fact is that the combination of television, loneliness and a dog creates new social nuclei that seem self-referential. It is a cross-sectional phenomenon involving all age groups and all family types, but the most striking one is young couples whom the British call “dink,” double income no kids. The number of families with one child is also growing, where they buy the child a dog to keep them company after the age of 3.

Nonetheless, there are those who say, “At least there are dogs, cats and television, otherwise this condition of loneliness would be even heavier.” The days follow the rhythm of sleep, tiredness, sleep. The desire to sleep clashes with the frustration at having done nothing, having spent a day without a smile, a hug, a cry, a word. No man is an island, but the periphery turns you into one. Mirafiori is thus transformed into an aggregate of people, who will only be able to become a neighborhood/community if there will once again be someone who calls you “comrade” or “brother.”

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