lo’e and call their own in Huxley’s? Oh, certainly, as a matterrnof practical convenience there were, in the world of my )’outh,rnthose called husbands and wives, there were children and familyrnfriends, there were e’en some conurbations called cities, andrnone or tv’o genuine dreamers in them. But there was no waiterrnin the cafe whom voii saw een’ morning, there was no cabdri-rner with whom you exchanged momentary confidences, therernwas no little seamstress girl to whom you could take vourrntrousers to be hemmed, and then fall in love with and run awayrnto Rio. Challenging as it is for a writer, I do not want to dilaternunnecessarily on these random situations, each of them merelvrnone of the countiess cells that make up the whole miraculousrnorganism we know as freedom. It ought to be clear bv now thatrnlife in freedom, as well as the literature that reflects it, is madernup of billions upon billions of such trifles, which are actually relationships.rnMy nearly 30 years of expatriate existence, first in America,rnthen in England, and finalh’ in Italy, have shovwi mernthat the world we think of as free—or at least non-totalitarian —rnis totalitarianizing itself at air ever-increasing pace. The oasis isrnbeing blown over by sandstorms, and one feels the harshness ofrnthe sirocco even in Venice. The other dav, the waiters at the barrnI go to e’erv morning had to put on identical hair-covering capsrnas a matter of European Communitv law. A week before, therngondoliers got into a nast}’ fistfight with some Malays sellingrnelectric toys outside a traghetto station b- the Rialto. And the littlernseamstress girl from Burano now wants to go and study computerrnprogramming, as though the combined populations ofrnMelbourne, Liverpool, and Delhi could not be trusted to providernthe major airlines with an adequate number of clerks.rnOur world is not standing still; it is moving in the direction ofrntotalitarian sameness. The old political institutions, such as thernHouse of Lords, are falling, while the political institutions thatrnare now emerging, such as the European Commission, are designedrnboth to catalyze the trend and to consolidate it.rnFor the last thousand years, Europe has lived between hvornpolitical tendencies, one centrifugal, with fragmentation as arnpossible result, and the other centripetal, toward likely consolidation.rnThe first was known historicall) as feudalism; the second,rnasabsolutism. But in our own lifetime, and that of our fathersrnand grandfathers, the stakes, as a gambler woidd say, haernbeen upped. Absolutism now means something more radicalrnthan it did to the authors of the Magna Charta —it means totalitarianism.rnFeudalism now means something less drastic thanrnit did to William Morris. It means the life I still find in Italy, althoughrnit is vanishing here, too, even in Venice. Whatever inrnlife is worth living for—that is to say, whatever there is in lifernthat bears any relation to the genitive forces that produced Europeanrncivilization, and our literature in particular—can be describedrnas vestigial feudalism.rnConnected to its last vestiges by potential relationships, by actualrnplaces and place names, by natural beauty, and by the stilllivingrnhistory of every stone, I am cured of the gambling impulse.rnI can live my life in a cit}’ square, and feel the adrenalinernof the unknown and the unexpected coursing through my veinsrnas if I were part of a game for the highest stakes imaginable. Butrna short airplane flight and I’m in London, sitting with friends inrna fashionable Japanese restaurant in an equally pricey Americanrnhotel, and the evening stretching before me is like one ofrnthose dead certainties of mv youth, and I can tell in advancernwhether the blonde in Voyage is, or is not, going to sleep withrnmy Lebanese friend that night, and whether the brunette inrnPrada is going to get her cocaine in the end.rnYou may say: Andrei, you mix with the wrong people. Not so,rnbecause the whole ethos of a totalitarian—or, in this case, totalitarianizingrn—society is that everybody is more or less after thernsame thing. The thing mav shroud itself in proclamations ofrnlibert)-; espouse equal rights, sexual freedom, and Japanesernfood; redefine itself first as McDonald’s hamburgers, then as tenrnounces of bread, and finally as nine grams of lead. What is importantrnhere is that its very sameness be, as it were, always thernsame. Thus, everybody in New York would like to live on FifthrnAvenue, and those who don’t are those who can’t afford to. Fullrnstop. Can you imagine how eccentric, how criminally eccentric,rna ver- rich New Yorker would have to be to decide to movernto Queens?rnYet, when I first came to London 15 years ago, there was notrnone single book everybody felt obliged to buy, not one restaurantrnwhere eerybody wanted to go, not one place everybodyrnwished to have as the return address on their letters in the wayrnKensington and Chelsea are now. People lived everywhere,rnrich and poor, fashionable or not. The drunk whom I used tornask to wash the windows of my first house in London had beenrnborn in Ma fair, next door to Winston Churchill. And this is, ofrncourse, exacti’ what you still find in Italy, that social and physicalrnjimrble of 1630’s Milan as described b- Manzoni, thatrnwhole carousel of life all of a sudden knocked down by thernplague. The grocer is rrext to the great palazzo, the gondola repairrnshop is next to the great church, the poor carpenter is nextrnto Gucci, and the consequence is that relationships flourishrnstill.rnI have no space to talk politics here, to persuade m’ readersrnthat my conviction that totalitarianism is the destiny of Europernand of all mankind is not based merely on my observation ofrncasinos and cafes, but rather on my analysis of the future of Russiarnand China on the one hand, and on the West’s almost totalrnblindness to that future on the other. The creeping advance ofrnglobal totalitarianism is the modern equivalent of the greatrnplague described in J Promessi Sposi. What it promises is, abovernall, the total unraveling of the absurdly rich and indescribabk’rnbeautiful texture of life created by Christian Europe duriirg thernlast millennium. It promises the disappearance of the humanrnrelationship—as well as of the relationship between people andrnthings, and eentually of the people and of the things themselvesrn—as the blood of life, the substance without which neitherrnthought, nor conscience, nor literature are possible in anyrnmeaningful sense. It promises a world populated at best by automatonsrnand at worst by scavengers, by the corpse-removingrnmonatti described by Manzoni, minus, perhaps, the distinctivernbells they wore on their feet.rnIf the hero of 1 Promessi Sposi had not come across one ofrnthose bells in the road by accident, the novel’s denouementrnmight ha’e been very different: Renzo might not have found hisrnbeloved Lucia. In 1630, in a world scourged by an old-fashionedrnplague, there was still room for chance. I fear that 30rnyears hence, in the year 2050, there may be no room for that atrnall, not even in the unpredictably crooked streets of my belo’edrnVenice.rnI do not want to live in that world. Until the plague turnsrnpandemic, I am determined to seek out the places least affectedrnby the contagion of totalitarianism, which many in the Westrnmistakenly think of as progress. I can afford to do this, with thernmone’ I save by not gambling. crn20/CHRONICLESrnrnrn