Tuesday Obituary: Patty Burghy

Tuesday Obituary: Patty Burghy

by Sahar Tavakoli

Out of it wast thou taken: Patty Burghy has died. Born 1981, the potato-based mascot sold the farm in Casalecchio di Reno, Bologna at age 25.

A complicated existence in a complicated time, Patty seemed forever caught between frying pan and flyer. Her public debut came in the form of a series of television adverts for Burghy, a fast food sandwich shop (or panineria) that, like many others of its kind, had first emerged as a one off in the San Babila quarter of central Milan, and which had since become a chain. She was a part of the Burghy Band and, alongside bandmates Willy Denty, Mr Burghy (no relation), and Freddy, she promoted herself as tasty, convenient, and simple. Elsewhere, the period of political violence known as the Years of Lead was entering its 27th year and the prime minister, Arnaldo Forlani was being asked to explain his relationship with shadow-government organization P2. Patty, though, was more red carton than Red Brigade, a figure to chew up rather than chew out.

Television came with its own perils. This was the era of Mediaset, a group of television networks owned by Silvio Berlusconi, who, though by this point a real estate developer, publisher, football club owner, and politician, would never in his life gain the title of feminist. Nor was solidarity to be found among peers. Denty, frontman of the Burghy Band, was recorded on numerous occasions attempting to eat his fellow performers. In the eyes of the future prime minister as well as in those of the toothy mascot, Patty was simply a snack.

But she was also an icon. The paninerie of San Babila had birthed a subculture that would spread across the country. The paninari were the Italian imaginary of American excess. They wore Levis and Timberlands but paired them with Moncler and Stone Island puffers. They slung brightly patterned Invicta brand backpacks over their shoulders and went for Ferris Bueller style joyrides in their parents’ luxury cars. With a supersized torso and one lock of chip curled over her forehead, Patty fit right in with these new kids on the block. Between sips of soda, the paninari chewed up the Tuscan dialect and spat out new slang, telling Boccaccio to kissettoni their arses. The sometimes-vowel ‘y’ was the hippest letter in the alphabet and Patty Burghy already had two. 

In 1986, Carlo Petrini (then leader of an activist organization known as the ArciGola, though better known as the figure-head of terroirist organization Slow Food) gathered supporters to protest the opening of a McDonalds near Rome’s Fontana della Barcaccia. This was one Spanish step too far, an act of reverse-Columbus that Rome needed to fortify itself against. The ArciGola effort would end up backfiring. In obscuring anti-American sentiment in the language of conservation, and doing so at a time when McDonalds was already struggling to get a foothold in the Italian market, Petrini et al succeeded only in turning the public away from non-traditional food, such as those embodied by the Burghy Band. This injury to domestic paninerie was then exploited by McDonalds who acquired their now devalued licenses and who replaced their restaurants, one by one with their own brand. The last Burghy was located in the food court of the Shopville Gran Reno mall in Casalecchio di Reno, it became a McDonalds in 2006.

For the last two years, the Municipality of Milan has been updating the tram tracks outside of my apartment building. Mostly, this has involved ripping up the existing tram stop*, surrounding the area in temporary fencing, and then leaving the area to rewild for 8-10 months before coming back and starting anew. It's been a messy, noisy process, but otherwise uneventful. A few weeks ago, however, this process of Municipal fund–shifting unearthed a rare gem: an only slightly rusty button of Patty Burghy. It’s stuck to a magnet on my fridge for now but I plan on reinterring her soon, for dust she art and unto dust shall she return.

Patty Burghy is survived by ‘Hungry’ Jack Cowin who tried to bring Burger King to Australia only to find that the name was already trademarked, and by Paolo Bory, whose ‘y’ is the result of a clerical error rather than affectation, and who first told me about the paninari.

Sahar Tavakoli writes The Stopgap’s late news (10 letters). 

Tip Sahar