It is his first night in the new house and Sergio wakes up around three because he’s thirsty, then can’t get back to sleep. He could get a drink of water in the bathroom, but he doesn’t want water, so he decides to go downstairs to the kitchen. He gets his glasses from the bedside table. He is not yet sure enough of the way to walk in the dark without bumping into things or tripping up, so he holds onto the chest of drawers near the bed. He reaches the open door and by the time he gets into the hallway his eyes are already getting used to the dark: he doesn’t turn on the light so as not to wake his wife, who is in bed, or daughter, asleep in her room. He walks carefully down the curved staircase leading down to the lounge. Cold stairs, in pink granite.
As he descends he can see the standby light on the TV, the blue light on burglar alarm and the glow of the street lamp in front of the house that filters through one of the windows.
The shutters are open but there are security grates. He crosses the lounge more confidently, heading for the kitchen at the other end, guided by the light from the electronic clock on the oven, near the sink. He heads for the fridge. He opens the door, stands in the cold air, and takes out a bottle of coke, and a glass from the top of the cupboard. He drinks, burps quietly and goes back across the living room towards the wooden door that leads to a small hallway with another door, fitted with a crash bar. He digits a code on the panel to deactivate the alarm and pushes open the door. In front of him lies the factory, faintly lit by the row of windows at the top. It’s all brand new: after creating the office space beside the main entrance, where his wife and daughter will work, and the warehouse area along the other short side of the rectangle, the machinery has been installed in the middle. It took three days to complete the move and a million and a half euros to build what he had been working towards for twenty years, from when he left his job to set up his first machine shop in a garage that used to belong to a car mechanic. At the age of 48 he has finally finished work on his house and his metal working business next door, going from no employees to eight, including one of his brothers-in-law and his future son-in-law.
Sergio is one of the men who made the Macro-region. In his veins flows the industrial blood that fuelled one of the million and a half companies that flourished in an era of unprecedented economic growth. He was born after the war, and started work at the age of fourteen, sweeping the floor in his uncle’s workshop. After a year he began using the lathes, and since then he has never stopped, and certainly isn’t going to now, now that he has built his own little kingdom around his domestic fortress, complete with garden, flowerbed and car park on the inner road that runs alongside the housing estate overlooking the fields to the south. On the other side, towards the North, are the foothills of the Alps, just past a row of factories, warehouses and wholesalers. To the east and west there are other houses, some detached, others semi-detached. He knows that he will never leave this place.
The Macro-region that Sergio knows is a clump of industrial hubs that generate more than six hundred million euros of GDP a year, just under 40% of Italy’s gross domestic product. The Central area of the Macro-region alone produces half of the wealth of the whole area, and combined with the Western side, it saw the creation of the main axis of economic growth between Milan, its capital and Turin, its deputy capital, as early as the nineteenth century. The real seismic shift of the post-war period took place in the east of the Macro-region, which went from rural poverty to riches in the space of a few decades, at a speed that left its inhabitants reeling. While the central and western areas of the region now focus more on the tertiary sector, the east continues to have a higher percentage of industrial concerns. And even after this lengthy recession, all three areas continue to have one thing in common: not one sector, from agriculture to retail, industry to finance, has escaped the smothering grip of prosperity. There’s no oil: in the Macro-region the gold rush was created using the available resources: space, time and labour, i.e. hard graft.
Crespi d’Adda is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the workers’ village built alongside the plants. The entrepreneur Cristoforo Benigno Crespi started to build it around 1870. It is located in Capriate San Gervasio, in the Central Macroregion, and is a rare example of industrial archaeology. It was recently acquired by the building contractor Antonio Percassi, wishing to revive it.
The Macro region is an organism fed by small and medium enterprises
And graft is exactly what Sergio has done: he has worked so hard to get to the point of drinking his glass of Coke that night that he can’t even say how he managed it. The Macro-region is an organism powered by small and medium-sized businesses, and while Sergio’s company has grown, it remains small. His work was based on the work of others, in an intoxicating, collective contagion, and now he is worried about his daughter’s future, wondering whether she will have the same hunger, the same drive, once she has graduated and has to take on the company full-time. One day, maybe, without him. Sergio never needed to think about it, caught up in a whirlwind of work, work and more work; with other people; before other people; more than other people. Sergio can see that she occasionally gets distracted, so he has got the ball rolling by buying her a house in the centre of the village. She’ll live there when she gets married, just a stone’s throw from the company and the family. His wife is furnishing it, bit by bit, starting with the kitchen and part of the living room. It’s almost like playing house… there’s no-one living there just now, but when it’s needed it will be completely ready.
The accountant has told Sergio how to keep his company on an even keel: if he keeps his undeclared takings down to around 40%, he shouldn’t run into any problems with the tax man. Money has to go round though, and he’s thinking about buying a quota of the housing estate set to be built around the new school. The local council needs an injection of planning fees, and is ready to convert a number of fields into a residential area: if it all goes through, it could take up to five years, and at the end he would have another four flats to add to the empty one in the town centre and the villa he lives in. Which should be enough. Property is a recent interest for him, and calculating that he spends very little on himself, it could be said to be his only indulgence.
Max undeclared takings not to run into any problems with the tax man
Apart from his German-made car, which is however seldom used, as he doesn’t really have anywhere to go. His wife and daughter can continue sharing the Italian brand runabout.
When you ask Sergio if he knows what the Macro-region is, he narrows his eyes as if making fun of you. He knows he is rich alright, but he also knows he has to work to stay rich. And he knows that the Macro-region is rich, but he thinks it deserves it. He, for example, allows himself a week’s holiday in August every year to go mushroom picking in the mountains. Every year he enjoys the August holiday fireworks, the Thursday market in the village down in the valley, and trekking, bent double, through the woods on the days that mushroom picking is allowed. He sets off from home on a Saturday afternoon, after a last morning of work in the company, and returns the following Saturday evening, to avoid the Sunday traffic. His version of the Macro-region is actually more of a micro-region, a living and working space that is no more than three kilometres square, with the addition of his holiday spot around a hundred kilometres away.
A micro-region in the Macro-region, where self-made Sergio is master of his own destiny: he made it on his own and is never going to quit, not even for a second. He has his own space, his own little portion of the region: he laid the foundations himself and built the walls up to the roof so that people could see it, and know that he had taken it, that it was his, starting with those who work in the vicinity, every day except Sundays, but sometimes Sundays too, and in turn have access to their own little portions of the Macro-region. He knows it, they know it, and those outside of that little kingdom know it too. Looking north Sergio can see the foothills of the Alps, while to the south he sees the plains area where his parents grew up. The thing he is most attached to, apart from his daughter, is the villa and factory that he has just finished building. Indeed it is already such a part of him that he can get around without turning the lights on. Once he gets back into the house after visiting the factory, he does put the light on, and decides to make a coffee: he may as well get dressed and have breakfast. Given the time, he can get ready to start work.