What the Italian teachers wanted was no violence

Sunday, October 30th, 2022

Edward Luttwak is an enfant terrible at 79, David Samuels says:

David Samuels: Edward, you are a Washington fixture, surrounded by a flourishing mythology that suggests among other things that you are a Romanian vampire who was raised by the Mafia. So let’s get it straight.

Edward Luttwak: I was brought up by parents who, at no point, believed that they were Romanian. They were living in Romania, and quite happily. The part of the world that I came from is the only province in the whole of Europe where there was no Holocaust. In Banat, where we lived, nothing happened.

My parents were international people. In 1938, they went on honeymoon to Bali because KLM introduced service to Bali, so they went. My mother’s family’s house, in Timisoara, is a main tourist attraction. It’s called the Baruch Palace. So my mother’s family were people who had palaces. My father had rented the house where we lived. He didn’t own it. He owned warehouses and railway wagons. I actually saw one in Yugoslavia, in 1963.

My father lost everything, and he arrived in December 1947 to Naples. He then went to Palermo, Sicily, because he figured that Palermo is the only place in the world where he, as an international trader, would be able to become a millionaire in three years, which happened. The reason is that he was well-informed. He read that the British had created the National Health Service and the National Health Service distributed orange juice to pregnant women. They’d been to London. He knew there weren’t too many orange trees there.

So they went to Palermo and bought the green oranges on the tree. When they were ripe, they shipped them to London. He became very rich, very fast. Then, unfortunately, he developed an insane passion for a new technology called polyvinyl chloride, PVC. He went to Milan to set up a factory to electronically meld PVC.

He was not wrong.

I know. But he was very wrong for me because I loved Palermo. The Milanese children would make fun of me. I would break their noses.

Dalya Luttwak (Edward’s wife, an artist, who grew up on a kibbutz in Israel): Edward, Edward.

David Samuels: Tell me for three minutes about your upbringing in Palermo, who your classmates were.

Edward Luttwak: We lived in the best part of Palermo because my parents, being Central Europeans, had a total need for opera and classical music. There’s an opera house and a concert hall. They brought over the world famous violinist Yehudi Menuhin and other such people. We lived right there.

Many families around us were all aristocratic but they sent their children to boarding school in Tuscany, so they wouldn’t speak the Sicilian dialect. But my parents loved Palermo and they were not going to send me away. The only people who were both rich and nonaristocratic were the Mafia bosses. So I grew up with the Mafia bosses’ children.

Already, by the age of 6, we knew that we couldn’t fight each other because if one wins, then the older brother comes. If the older brother comes, then fathers, then eventually guns might come out. So we already knew all about deterrence and power politics.

Did you make the mistake of assaulting any of the Mafia bosses’ children?

No, no, no, no. We all knew what to do and how to do it. We formed a gang, first of all. Our gang had to control our street, so nobody from the other gangs would come in. Now, there was a socioeconomic gap between us and the others, because aristocrats lived there. In fact, just two years ago, I was in Venice and went to see a childhood friend, the prince Alliata, who runs a foundation that owns an island there. He has a Botticelli in his apartment. I was at Alliata’s house when his father died over Monte Carlo while flying his own plane. All of this was my world in Palermo.

It was a paradise, also because Mondello Beach is right there. The place where they invented ice cream in the 12th century, because there’s snow on the mountains every winter, which they would bring down store in ice wells. It was a place where there were Arabs, Byzantines, Jews, all kinds of people. After centuries, it still had that atmosphere.

So from that paradisiacal place, they sent me to Milan, which was cold, rainy, and gray. They spoke Milanese. I spoke Sicilian. I broke noses. I got kicked out of school. Then I got kicked out of a second school.

My parents then had no choice but to send me to boarding school in England. I didn’t speak a word of English, but my mother knew it well because she had taken English as a third language in Timisoara. She was a woman who did nothing but read books and play tennis. As I say, her family’s house, the Baruch Palace, is one of the main tourist attractions in Timisoara. It’s a spectacular building.

Anyway, they wrote, “He doesn’t speak English, so we don’t know if he’s intelligent or even educable, but it’s all right, Mrs. Luttwak, he can take care of himself.”

What the Italian teachers wanted was no violence. What the British teachers wanted was no running off to teacher crying. Since I could take care of myself, I was fine there. I learned English. Then I went into the school’s British Army Cadet corps, and so forth.


  1. Bomag says:

    I wonder if such Italian culture remains anymore, or has it been subsumed by the iPhone and demographic changing migration?

Leave a Reply