“I love your coat. Is it MaxMara?” asked the shop assistant in a boutique in London’s King’s Road. “No,” I answered, flattered. “It belonged to my great-uncle”. Giuseppe would wear the lovingly tailored camel coat 40 years ago for his solo journeys across the Balkan states. To me, it’s not just a great vintage piece – it’s a cultural legacy.
The oldies have been having a tough time of late. “Coronavirus only kills old people anyway,” is the heart-breaking kind of comment I’ve been reading on Facebook.
But in my native Italy, those old people include actors like the star name of Italian Neorealist cinema Lucia Bosè, designers like Sergio Rossi and curators like Germano Celant, theorist of the Arte Povera. Each loss is a loss to humanity, to us all.
There is no trace of the other old guard in newspapers – our grandparents. Their departure is typically reported through the numbers of the daily bulletins. Grief is experienced in the hidden intimacy of individuals kept apart by lockdown. Grandparents are the victims of this pandemic, and so are their grandchildren, who have lost their favourite playmates, with their hugs and kisses and unconditional love.
The ancient Romans had a word for the devotion the older generation inspire – pietas. They thought that respect and care towards parents and grandparents, as the ultimate keepers of knowledge and traditions, were essential to guarantee the success of the Republic. Pietas today could be defined as a deep admiration for a proud and enduring culture and for ancient values we might wish to inherit.