Mark Twain once wrote:
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
Well, not much prejudice will be left in me when, in a few years, I will reach a moment, where I will have lived longer abroad than in Italy, my home country.
Having spent a long time lately hearing languages I do not understand, eating food I would not be able to cook or struggling to absorb cultures that do not resonate in me, a light and mellow nostalgic feeling brought me to question myself on the meaning of being an Italian far from Italy, today. Seen from Asia doesn’t Italy look like a small boot, caught in the middle of its walk between Central Europe and the doors of Africa and Middle East? And still, even from a distance, how vivid is this beautiful country in my heart, how much it permeates the way I speak, move, live my life!
So, I asked myself: “what is it like being Italian?” and the first answer that came to me, when I finished sipping my espresso was: “it is simple”. No need to overthink it. Italians are loud, lively, seductive, unreliable, full of passion and everybody will expect you to be like that. Just conform to expectations and they will be happy. They will probably go back home and tell their friends they met a real Italian and he was just like in the movies. Being Italian gives you an extra boost that can make people a bit happier and I am not sure Germans have similar stuff in their toolbox, for example.
But if you scratch the surface a little, the reality is bitter-sweet and Italians know how to suffer, as well. To make it simple, our Greek cousins were stranded on our coastline long ago and found landscape and climate enjoyable. They brought with them an unequaled aesthetic taste that Romans managed to corrupt and sublimate at a slow pace, in the millenary cycle of Empire rise and fall. Armored with genius, Romans ruled the world and after the Empire slowly succumbed its own contradictions, the soft spot they left in the middle of Europe teased appetite of people from everywhere, who arrived or left Italy to plunder, trade, paint, love, write, sail, plot, play music, build cathedrals, conquer. After all this simmering of arts, ambition, passions, Italian people were born uneven, attracted by good and evil in a symmetric way; our eyes relentlessly chase sin, beauty and other unreachable ideals, like in a Piero Della Francesca perspective.
“After all this simmering of arts, ambition, passions, Italian people was born uneven, attracted by good and evil in a symmetric way; our eyes relentlessly chase sin, beauty and other unreachable ideals, like in a Piero Della Francesca perspective”
The French expression “pourriture noble” could be translated into “noble decay” and designates a bacterium exploited in winemaking to produce some of the sweetest and most delicious wines. Italy is undergoing a noble decay process for centuries now, and cycles bring us ripe fruits such as Renaissance and more sterile periods.
“Italy is undergoing a noble decay process for centuries now, and cycles bring us ripe fruits such as Renaissance and more sterile periods”
So, this is it: for those who want to grasp how tragic and beautiful Italian public life has been in recent past, I have put together faces and images that are a hymn to tragedy and creativity, to Italians we love and admire. To those that from time to time, still managed to awaken our weary pride and distracted us for a moment from our important occupations, like flirting or cooking spaghetti ai frutti di mare!
If I shot a movie on Italy, it would be like this
Starring: in order of appearance
Architect Renzo Piano
Director Claudio Abbado
Sprinter Pietro Mennea
Giorgio Armani, an icon of style
Songwriter Fabrizio De Andre’
Legendary Vespa Piaggio scooter
Writer Dino Buzzati
Writer Umberto Eco
Milo Manara sketch
Writer Italo Calvino