Given that the Macro-region does not have its own set of universally accepted and codified emblems, it has developed a number of more subtle, discreet symbols that blend almost seamlessly into the landscape. Some of them are new and still have a very physical presence, like the electricity pylon, that monument to productivity ensured by an all-pervasive energy supply, or the above ground swimming pool, an unmistakable symbol of social bonds and simple, wholesome leisure time in the Macro-region, or the garden fountain in stone, or more often concrete, an décor item that lends a touch of panache to living or working space, and exemplifies the owner’s ability to exploit the elements to serve his needs – to quench a thirst, or cool off on a hot day.
As symbols they are not required to have a specific purpose: pylons can remain in the landscape as elements in their own right, even if the power cables in question end up getting laid underground, for example; swimming pools can be seen empty, propped up on one side, and very often fountains are not hooked up to the water supply. In the Macro-region things are as they are and their very presence lends them meaning. Which, in most cases, may escape the observer.
The most intriguing and enigmatic of these recurrent elements is undoubtedly the palm tree. Above all the specific variety of palm known as Trachycarpus fortunei, which is thought to have been imported into Europe from Japan, or Asia in general. Its proliferation in the Macro-region is due to its ability to withstand the colder climate here, thanks to the way its leaves fan out at the top of its long, hairy, phallic trunk. Yet there are also specimens with longer branches, more similar to the date palm: the Arecaceae family has more than two hundred genuses and over two thousand species, with different variations on the theme of trunk plus foliage. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when the palm began to adorn the gardens of the Macro-region, yet from East to West they are now a ubiquitous, though not invasive presence.
Their peaceful existence has now been threatened by the arrival of the evil red weevil, a particularly voracious parasite, though fortunately this has less of an impact on the Padania palm than the species present in the rest of the Italian Peninsula.
To understand why palm trees can be seen gracing corporate flowerbeds, private gardens overlooking main roads, roundabouts, traffic islands, restaurants and retail outlets, we need to dig down, into notions embedded as deeply as their roots, perhaps unconscious, yet nonetheless shared. First off, this type of plant is commonly associated with an idea of elegance: in a built environment devoid of aesthetic redeeming features, a tall and slender palm tree can evoke a primitive idea of stylistic enhancement, a touch of refinement. Yet the obviously phallic shape of the tree clearly also symbolises a force that dominates the surrounding plains, and man’s power over nature – deciding what can grow where. And this takes us to the symbolism of victory, something the palm was associated with in ancient Roman culture.
Man’s victory over the forces of the earth, and the victory of the Macro-region and its economic might over the rest of Italy: a victory over human limitations. The link with Apollo, who was born in the limited shade of a palm, is another association, invoking the sun’s presence in this land of humidity-laden fogs, where a blanket of white smog flattens the light, and fumes from cars and factories rise into the sky, filtering solar energy and impeding the inhabitants from enjoying a direct relationship with our most important star. It is easy to think that these palms are simply a manifestation of the allure of the exotic on our doorstep. With the reigning philosophy of everything everywhere, a touch of the tropics can enhance a landscape where anything, or rather everything goes. A palm tree is not just a plant, it is an idea.
“The possibility to decide what to plant and where to plant it.”
The final frontier of macroregional separatism is Palmatia: an autonomous State which is expected to flourish in the Plain, the sum of all the green areas where a palm tree is standing. Corporate flowerbeds, various-sized gardens: wherever a palm tree stands it is possible to issue a request for annexation to Palmatia, adhering thus to its legal, electoral, scholastic, medical and, most of all, fiscal system. There will be only one fiscal rate which is set at 5%, no crime will be allowed, signage will be bilingual: Italian-Palmatian. Gazebos for the petition for Palmatia’s independence will be set up very soon.
“With the reigning philosophy of everything everywhere, a touch of the tropics can enhance the landscape.”
And it is such a strong idea that sometimes an artificial version is preferable, possibly neon lit and tagged onto the premises of a local business: in these cases Padania man transcends the plant and transforms it into a concept, a talisman with the power to entice and summon his counterparts.
Be they bedraggled or luxuriant, palms have an undoubted advantage in the eyes of the gardeners of the Macro-region: they are decidedly low-maintenance and require no pruning. The allure of the palm tree is also boosted by a mixture of pagan and Christian mysticism: according to the Old Testament, “The righteous flourish like palm trees”, and the resurrection of Christ himself is inseparably linked to the palm, so much so that palm trees have their own special day, the Sunday before Easter. Continuing on a religious theme we come to another of the symbols of the Macro-region, the industrial church. With the passing of the era in which bell towers were used to mark human presence on the landscape, as the plains have been developed, so has the trend to build places of worship which have a great deal in common with the factories associated with industrial wealth.
To camouflage them and make them blend into an environment characterised by the egalitarian spread of concrete, and to give church-goers a sense of belonging: a seamless transition from place of work to that of worship. Where churches used to be a focal point of town centres, now they are merging into the landscape. There is no shortage of ambitious projects – grandiose constructions which make audacious use of concrete – but for the most part the Macro-region features a succession of cathedrals that are entirely interchangeable in architectural terms, which might just as well be factories or shopping centres. Industrial churches are the definitive triumph of the Macro-region’s utilitarian psychology, perfect slotted in alongside newly built housing estates: to prettify them, if necessary, you can always stick in a palm tree or two.