The Thinking 

The Intimacy and Civility of a City Square

October 27, 2012


THERE is a brief essay at Tradition in Action by the late Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira on the Santa Maria Formosa Square in Venice in the 18th century. From the piece:

This small world assembled around a square is ceremonious and distinguished, yet it is also marked by a note of intimacy. It reveals the spirit of a society where men, far from being dissolved in the anonymous multitudes, tend to create organic and distinct groups that escape the isolation, anonymity and desolation of the individual facing the masses.

In this square, so picturesque and human, so distinguished and so typically sacral with the radiating presence of the small church, the different classes live together harmoniously. How it differs from some of the immense modern squares, where on the mare magnum [enormity] of asphalt and lost in an agitated mob walking madly in every direction, men can only see the cyclopean skyscrapers that dishearten them.

—– Comments ——

Vincent C. writes:

De Oliveira’s essay brought back a memory that has been indelibly etched in my mind for over two decades, although it took place in the late 20th, not the 18th, century. The location was also different, albeit in the same country: it was not Venice, but a town in Tuscany, which exhibted the characteristics that are mentioned here: the harmony of site and people, the balance of the human and the supernatural.

My wife and I had been traveling by car through Tuscany, and at one point, we decided to stop in this town – it may have been near Arezzo – to have dinner. It was late Saturday evening in June, and the weather was perfect.

As we entered this “paese” of memory, what first struck me was that the older people were part of the town’s raison d’etre, for they were clustered in the town square, in front of the church that dominated it. I remember clearly that I smiled as I drove by the older women who were knitting, and, apparently, in serious (from the look on their faces) conversation; the men, who were playing cards – with the necessary expresso at their side – seemed to be actively engaged in the subject of their discussion, and the children who played in front of the “vecchi” (old people) clearly thought that this was the way God intended life to be.

I have always wondered if that experience could be duplicated today, including the town where it happened to me. I like to think that it could.

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