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Globalization and Its Discontents: Or, What Happens When Two English Misses Meet the Ligurian Peasantry in Annie Hawes's Extra Virgin

Globalization and Its Discontents: Or, What Happens When Two English Misses Meet the Ligurian Peasantry in Annie Hawes's Extra Virgin
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  Globalization and Its Discontents:Or, What Happens When Two EnglishMisses Meet the Ligurian Peasantry inAnnie Hawes’s  Extra Virgin GRACE RUSSO BULLARO T RAVEL WRITING IS ENJOYING WHAT HAS BEEN CALLED A RENAISSANCE (Fusell 1). A quick glance through the Amazon Web site willshow that there are countless books that relate authors’ ex-periences in foreign lands; and many of them have proven to be best-sellers. In one respect the reasons for this resurgent popularity may bemysterious. Now that travel has become accessible to the largest publicthan at any other time in history, why are we still interested in ex-periencing its pleasures and the encounter with foreign cultures vic-ariously? On the other hand, we could argue that the ubiquity of theInternet has sparked this unprecedented interest. We have never beenso open (or should we say ‘‘vulnerable’’?) to other cultures, and thanksto all the talk about globalization and its discontents, so curious aboutwhat happens when cultures collide, gently or not-so-gently.Annie Hawes’s  Extra Virgin  is a travel memoir that, using humorand sardonic wit, documents one such collision over the span of twentyyears, as she and her sister, two young Londoners looking for an easybut glamorous (so they think) summer job on the Italian Riviera,are hired as rosiculturists in the little backward village of Diano SanPietro 1 in the province of Imperia, region of Liguria.Initially giving every evidence of having been beguiled by the glitzyimages of the Riviera propagated by the media, they are quickly dis-abused as they learn that ‘‘Glamour . . . was not the outstanding feature The Journal of Popular Culture , Vol. 40, No. 2, 2007 r 2007, Copyright the Authors Journal compilation r 2007, Blackwell Publishing, Inc. 199  of the village of Diano San Pietro. As far as the crusty olive-farminginhabitants of this crumbling backwater were concerned, the Riviera, amere two miles away, might as well be on another planet’’ (3). Shortlyafter their arrival in the village, and despite the idiosyncratic residents,they buy a  rustico , what in former times had been a stone hut in thehills used by peasants who lived too far away from their olive groves tomake the trip to their village home every day. Annie and Lucy settle infor the long haul, leaving San Pietro only for a few months every yearin order to earn enough money in London to see them through the restof the year in the hills of Liguria.The rusticity that they experience, not to say primitivism in both amaterial and ideological sense, encompasses all aspects of their exist-ence as they are taken into the bosom of the closely knit communityand made privy to the attitudes and practices that the villagers holdabout the world, both near and far. The encounter with Diano SanPietro is already a culture shock for the two urban Anglo-Saxon ‘‘girls.’’But it is not this clash that Hawes will document in  Extra Virgin .Rather, it is what occurs in San Pietro itself, as the ‘‘outside world’’slowly but steadily encroaches on a community that we are told has notchanged in decades, and perhaps even in centuries. And this is despiteits proximity to the Riviera extolled by the travel brochures andeagerly sought by the young women with its images of ‘‘Mediterraneanfleshpots, sparkling seas, bronzed suitors with unbearably sexy accents,wild nightlife . . .’’ (4).The reality of this little corner of Italy is that of a ‘‘grimly fascin-ating folk,’’ where women wear ‘‘an apron, a calf-length tube, anklesocks, and slippers,’’ and men flaunt a ‘‘faded blue trouser held up withstring, [and] the aged singlet vest . . .’’ (4). Furthermore, ‘‘A large andwell-worn handkerchief always protects the head . . . knotted in thecorners’’ in many and varied ways (4). Of course it is not only sar-torially that these people have been left behind; their way of dressing issymptomatic of their entire existence. Diano San Pietro is virtually atime capsule, the last bastion against globalization, cultural homogen-ization, Americanization, Anglicization, and all the other imaginednightmares of cultural purists. In the course of the next twenty years,however, the young women will witness ‘‘the immense strides civil-ization is making up our hill’’ (190) and how it transforms their hamletinto an integral part of the ‘‘global village.’’ This will come about as aresult of various internal and external forces, but mostly due to the 200  Grace Russo Bullaro  creation of the European Economic Community. In the end San Pietrowill be modernized or globalized; the difference between these terms isstill to be determined. Not surprisingly, as a result it will suffer thepains and enjoy the benefits of its new status.The transformation provides a fascinating glimpse into the processthat characterizes all such transitions. Indeed, one of the significantpoints to keep in mind is that it matters little whether the villageportrayed by Hawes is factually depicted or not as one of the lastremnants of preglobalized culture, because its relevance lies precisely inits ability to serve as a model of the ways in which the transition occursin similar communities on the personal and collective level. It is onething to read abstract statistics and socio-economic studies that detailit for us, and quite another to experience the immediacy of the char-acters’ day-to-day experiences.However, in order to fully profit from the illustration that  ExtraVirgin  will provide for us, first we ought to briefly explore the veryconcept of globalization, attempt to define it, and highlight someof its salient features, because the abandon with which the word isbandied about may have created some serious misconceptions anddisagreements about its definition. A fairly neutral, yet comprehensivedefinition is offered by Ali Mazrui who declares it to be a set of ‘‘processes which lead toward global interdependence and increasingrapidity of exchange across vast distances’’ (3). Globalization comprisestrends in multinational business practices, the so-called communica-tion revolution, political alignments and cultural exchanges, and gen-erates much debate about homogenization and hegemonization(Isomura Hisanori 1–3). 2 In our exploration one thing becomes immediately obvious: glo-balization is not a monolithic concept. Indeed, there is no consensus onits very nature, on whether it is beneficial or nefarious, a ‘‘new curse’’ orthe latest version of a phenomenon that has always been around. Weknow that it inspires a great deal of fear, hatred, even violence, aswitnessed by the anti-G8 protests held in many cities. 3 There is nodoubt that some people believe it to be an evil and they recoil at thethought of one homogenized global culture, especially one under theaegis of the United States. The  Manifest   of the  Forum on Globalisation and Cultural Diversity  encapsulates these fears when it states that ‘‘Everyculture is unique and irreplaceable.’’ Indeed, it goes on to make thecase even more forcefully when it declares that ‘‘cultural diversity is a  Ligurian Peasantry in Annie Hawes’s Extra Virgin  201  fundamental human right and countries should ensure its observance,preservation and promotion’’ (3).In ‘‘The Culture of Liberty’’, Mario Vargas Llosa summarizes theantiglobalization position of the G8 protesters in Seattle, Davos,Bangkok and Prague as the belief that the disappearance of nationalborders (for example, the result of the establishment of the EuropeanUnion) and the proliferation of multinational corporations will inev-itably ‘‘deal a death blow to regional and national cultures’’ along withall their traditions, customs, myths and other components usuallyunderstood as ‘‘culture’’ (67). The scenario envisioned by the antiglo-balization activists amounts to a dystopia in which all peoples will‘‘become no more than twenty-first century colonies—zombies or cari-catures modeled after cultural norms of a new imperialism . . .’’ (VargasLlosa 67) that will rob them of their language and value system. Thiswill occur through the domination of national markets by giant media,entertainment and informational multi-national corporations.It is not surprising that the evil imperialistic force named mostoften is the United States (Vargas Llosa 67). It is common nowadays tohear people speak of the English-speaking ‘‘imperium’’ that stretchesfrom the United States to Australia and all the Anglophone places inbetween. There are people who have built their reputations and careerson such protests. One example is French farmer-turned-activist JoseBove, whose invective about the spread of American 4 cultural influencehas even helped to shape, directly or indirectly, political platforms andgovernment policies (Tardieu 1).As compelling and rooted in the real world as these fears are, how-ever, they are not universally endorsed. The dystopic vision of theantiglobalization protesters is heatedly refuted by the many critics whopoint instead to the benefits that globalization brings to all nations,especially the developing countries. The most obvious of these ismedical technology. Furthermore, In-Suk Cha points out that as aresult of the global communication network, intellectuals have beenable to band together to exert influence for change and bring im-provement in human rights on a global scale. He goes on to add that,‘‘this trend is cited by some historians and critics as nothing short of miraculous . . .’’ (1). And let us not forget that globalization freespeople of geography so that whether you are born in Alaska orZimbabwe you can participate in the same global culture and enjoy itsmany rewards. Moreover, experts remind us that the revitalizing mixes 202  Grace Russo Bullaro  that are occurring all over the globe are producing new and valuablehybrid cultures (such as ‘‘Amexica’’). These positions, both positive andnegative, are all represented in  Extra Virgin , as various characters livethrough the changes that the meeting of different lifestyles bringsabout and offer their own particular views on their impact.These two extreme positions are mediated by those who attempt toredimension the entire phenomenon by reminding us that globaliza-tion is neither new nor exclusively detrimental, it merely represents theinevitability of change that all living organisms and entities, individ-ual or collective, are subject to. Those people who would deny thisreality hold ‘‘a static conception of culture that has no historical basis’’(Vargas Llosa 68). The Roman Empire, for example, exerted a hegem-ony over the ancient world that parallels that of the United States overthe present one, and that inspired exactly the same kind of fear andgave rise to the same kind of rhetoric and protest (indeed, armedrebellion) that we are so familiar with today. Religions have also servedas globalizing forces over the millennia (Tardieu 1). Amartya Sen re-minds us that a millennium ago, the printing press, the crossbow andthe rotary fan were in extensive use in China and eventually reached theWest as a result of globalization (Cha 8). The primary difference,however, between ancient and modern examples of the globalizationprocess is a matter of scope and scale. It is thanks to the ubiquity andvigor of the media in its many forms that the process is occurring at anunprecedented speed and scale and with what appears to be an un-stoppable force (Tardieu 1). The Internet, CNN and Reuters, not tomention icons of popular culture, have infiltrated households fromAlaska to Zimbabwe, and are a part of our daily lives. Any attempt topin down one definition or one view of globalization, then, is not onlyfacile but futile.Finally, before embarking on our exploration, it is worth distin-guishing between modernization and globalization. Vargas Llosa, ac-knowledging that all countries experience the process that results inthe loss of ‘‘local color’’ and all that this term implies, argues that thisis not due to globalization. ‘‘Rather,’’ he declares, ‘‘it is due to mod-ernization,’’ of which globalization is the effect, not the cause (68). Thissuggestion, echoed by other critics, bears credibility and I believe thatit accurately reflects what we see in  Extra Virgin .Neither modernization nor globalization is relevant to the SanPietro that ‘‘the girls’’ initially find. There has been so little change  Ligurian Peasantry in Annie Hawes’s Extra Virgin  203


Mar 18, 2018


Mar 18, 2018
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