An interesting conversation yesterday with a breed as rare as the white rhinoceros: a self-deprecating Italian. Gaspare was asking me about my conversion to Orthodoxy twelve years ago and whether one gets to choose one’s own new Orthodox name. Answer, yes. And in my case it was a very easy choice because Catherine of Alexandria’s feast day is on my birthday and saints don’t come any better than C of A.
As Gaspare reminded me, the concept of being able to take a new name is totally foreign to an Italian. Tell an Italian that in England you can change your name by deed poll every year if you want to and his head is liable to explode. It’s one of those funny things, that this most rule-bending, ducking and diving of nations is also abjectly accepting of certain kinds of regulation. Which got us on to the subject of wills.
Under Italian law you can’t disinherit your children, even for the benign reason that you want them to make their own way in the world and anyway you promised everything to the Home for Distressed Gentledogs. In Italy your kids can make your life hell and still get half of everything you leave. All they have to do is hang around, possibly till they’re 50 years old, just waiting for the sound of your death rattle.
‘And that,’ said Gaspare, ‘is why Italy has never produced an Agatha Christie. There are no dramatic moments when the will is read because its contents are a foregone conclusion. There are no resentful relations ( but maybe a few resentful dogs whose expectations have been thwarted) and one of the main motives for fictional murders simply doesn’t exist. He’s dead right. This is one of the reasons why Mr F and I got rid of our vast Italian portfolio. Specifically, we sold the country shack. The very idea that you can’t dispose of your property in the way you choose was more than our little Anglo-Saxon souls could bear.
I don’t think Miss Marple would like it either.