a curious Yankee in Europe's court

blog about living in Europe, and Italy

Rome yesterday (Trajan’s Forum)

Posted on the September 29th, 2014
Rome yesterday

Trajan’s Forum, Rome

 

Sunday afternoon (Sept 28, 2014) near Trajan’s Forum in Rome. Best time of year to visit Rome? Now.


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Musing about Beppe Severgnini’s “100 Reasons we are happy to be Italian”

Posted on the July 9th, 2014

This is an annotated Beppe Severgnini.

And what might that be, you may well ask if you’re not up to date on Italy’s culture today.

Severgnini is one of Italy’s most celebrated journalists and satirists. He writes a column for Italy’s top newspaper, Corriere della Sera, he is an Op-Ed writer for the New York Times, and earlier in his career he was the correspondent from Italy for the Economist. In 2001, he was awarded an OBE from Queen Elizabeth. There’s much more to Severgnini’s resume but if I don’t stop now I’ll have to send him a bill.

You may or may not know that all is not as well as it might be in Italy at present in terms of economic rosiness. I leave you to search for the details on your own, but I can tell you that the eloquent hand wringing of many Italians has increased to the level of Lady Macbeth and her spot removal problem. And not infrequently these Italians are blaming themselves for the hard times.

An example: Recently while out to dinner with some friends at a neighborhood trattoria specializing in fresh fish dishes, I heard one of them mutter between bites of the delicious roasted Rombo overlaid with a crosta of potato she had ordered, “How can we Italians be so good at food and so stupid about politics?” Her fellow country folk at the table immediately made noises of agreement.

In a recent Corriere column, Severgnini chose to provide some inoculation against this outbreak of nationwide self-flagellation. He titled it “100 Reasons we are happy to be Italian.” He offered it as “a list from the heart” to counterpoint the gloom-mongering. It’s a good list, especially for those who are fans of Italy and its inhabitants. But for the many who haven’t the time or patience to read a hundred of anything, I’ve pared the plaudits down to my favorite five.

Here they are, with their original numbering from Severgnini’s list:

5. Because no one else is so skillful at turning a crisis into a party

7. Because we have good taste. We instinctively recognize beauty

9. Because we’re interesting. Tourists, business travelers and Angel Merkel are never bored with Italians around.

28. Because we have our head in Europe, our midriff exposed and our feet dangling in the sea

88. Because we love exceptions and occasionally remember there are rules

And now my annotation.

Numbers five, seven, and nine are self-evident, in my opinion, so much so that if subjected to a planet-wide referendum on their validity they would probably get a happy nod of approval from all the tourists who’ve visited the country. But numbers twenty-eight and eighty-eight may merit some commentary.

Regarding twenty-eight, I submit to you that it is wonderful primarily because you need to be an Italian to know what it means. But the metaphor is interesting, and I’m happy to accept Severgnini’s word that the declaration is true.

As to number eighty-eight, I can here offer the perspective of a former Californian, married to an Italian, and resident in Italy for 13 plus years. Not long ago, husband and I were chauffeuring two friends from San Francisco from their hotel in Rome to a seaside restaurant for lunch. Though the fact isn’t indispensable to this anecdote, one of these friends is a Superior Court judge. So that may be why he mentioned wryly at one point that during the previous 20 minutes, he had ticked off five stop signs that my husband had breezed by without even slowing down.

Which brings me to the second half of Severgnini’s number eighty-eight statement – “…and occasionally remember there are rules.” In the US and in some other parts of the Western world, as we all know who live or are from there, the stop sign is sacrosanct (perhaps too much so — the Italians I know find the four-way stop a particular source of hilarity). And if that slips your mind too often, a police officer will soon remind you, or at the very least your fellow drivers will.

Not so in Italy, generally speaking. For many drivers, I’ve noticed, most stop signs seem to be invisible considering the zero effect they have on slowing forward motion. In my first years here, I often tried (futilely) to elicit some illumination from my husband about this habitual disregard of the stop sign. What was most confusing to me is that sometimes he does observe stop signs. So what is the determining factor in this behavior?

Finally after some time passed I had my answer, though it arrived via intuition rather than via spousal comment. I realized that the stereotypical belief that Italians don’t observe rules isn’t true. Rather, as Severgnini points out, they “occasionally remember there are rules.” What he doesn’t mention, though — a reality I now accept with resignation as we continue to fly by stop signs — is that only Italians seem to know precisely what these rules are.

In this regard, I’ve decided to add one one more favorite from Severgnini’s longish list, number 92:

Because governing Italians is like herding cats (but cats have more personality than sheep).

Yes, and what would the world be without cats?

(Here’s the link to the full list: “100 reasons we are happy to be Italian” May 16, 2014, Corriere della Sera).

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