La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind (英語) ハードカバー – 2006/8/15
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You won’t need luggage for this hypothetical and hilarious trip into the hearts and minds of Beppe Severgnini’s fellow Italians. In fact, Beppe would prefer if you left behind the baggage his crafty and elegant countrymen have smuggled into your subconscious. To get to his Italia, you’ll need to forget about your idealized notions of Italy. Although La Bella Figura will take you to legendary cities and scenic regions, your real destinations are the places where Italians are at their best, worst, and most authentic:
The highway: in America, a red light has only one possible interpretation—Stop! An Italian red light doesn’t warn or order you as much as provide an invitation for reflection.
The airport: where Italians prove that one of their virtues (an appreciation for beauty) is really a vice. Who cares if the beautiful girls hawking cell phones in airport kiosks stick you with an outdated model? That’s the price of gazing upon perfection.
The small town: which demonstrates the Italian genius for pleasant living: “a congenial barber . . . a well-stocked newsstand . . . professionally made coffee and a proper pizza; bell towers we can recognize in the distance, and people with a kind word and a smile for everyone.”
The chaos of the roads, the anarchy of the office, the theatrical spirit of the hypermarkets, and garrulous train journeys; the sensory reassurance of a church and the importance of the beach; the solitude of the soccer stadium and the crowded Italian bedroom; the vertical fixations of the apartment building and the horizontal democracy of the eat-in kitchen. As you venture to these and many other locations rooted in the Italian psyche, you realize that Beppe has become your Dante and shown you a country that “has too much style to be hell” but is “too disorderly to be heaven.”
Ten days, thirty places. From north to south. From food to politics. From saintliness to sexuality. This ironic, methodical, and sentimental examination will help you understand why Italy—as Beppe says—“can have you fuming and then purring in the space of a hundred meters or ten minutes.”
Praise for Beppe Severgnini
La Bella Figura
“Don’t read this book—unless you have the courage to let Dottore Severgnini carve up your well-worn stereotypes about Italy. La Bella Figura proves that twenty-first-century Italians are more complicated than we thought. Sort of like Europeans. And Beppe loves them all.” —Howard Tomb, author of Wicked Italian
“The book on perplexing Italians . . . Severgnini’s most systematic probe of the Italian psyche yet . . . A keen observer of human nature, [he watches] his compatriots with amused insight . . . Laugh-out-loud funny.” —International Herald Tribune
“A Bella Laugh . . . This wonderfully funny and perceptive book . . . now finds its way to the country that inspired it. What a pity it took so long to get here, but what a joy that it is here at last. Ciao, America! is fun from first page to last, pure and simple.” —The Washington Post
“It’s not easy to walk the thin line between Tocqueville’s Democracy in America and Dave Barry’s Only Travel Guide You’ll Ever Need, but this memoir manages to do so admirably.” —Booklist
“Severgnini is a master . . . Ciao, America! is a sardonic tale of cultural bewilderment, an incisive peek into the mundane obsession of our American existence that makes the commonplace seem not only insane but extremely funny.” —Publishers Weekly
“A delightful read, full of wonderful anecdotes that capture the eye-opening absurdity of life in these United States.” —Chicago Tribune
“It would be difficult not to like this delightful book.” —Library Journal
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"hear of my discoveries, happy or sad. So always make the most of people you will miss, while you have the chance. I"
Start reading this book for free: http://amzn.eu/4VWaLzt sums up a lot about Italy
It is an attempt to demonstrate that the foreigner's image of Italy is very different from the real Italia of the natives. In a nutshell, "Italy is a soft drug peddled in predictable packages such as hills in the sunset, olive groves and raven haired girls. Italia, on the other hand, is a maze. In Italia you go round and round in circles for years. Which, of course, is great fun."
Excellent start and intention: it is much more than pizza, Mafia, corruption of public administration, Berlusconi and his bunga bunga parties, and of over paid football and film stars clad in Armani, Ferragamo, Dolce & Gabbana, as featured in the columns of world press.
Though focusing on certain key tourist hot spots since the past Grand Tours of the rich: Milan, Florence and Tuscany, Rome, and Naples, Severgnini's ten chapter day tome is not a traditional tourist guide. As in earlier works he uses a day or a place to examine and explain customs, habits, behaviours and mannerisms of his people: the noise in an Italian airport, at stadia, the purpose of long distance rail travel, the innuendoes of night life, the language and unwritten rules of headlights and motoring, the Italian piazza, the garden - ie where Italians act in public as animals at the zoo, and then compares that with the closed, private world of the changing bambini-less Italian family, and introduces us to "mammismo", mother-fixated over-grown children, a unique sacrosanct national institution, which recently Cristina Odone of the Telegraph (17.02.14), an Italian living in the UK, sagely distinguished with our less developed, mild version of "mummy's boy" . Severgnini also takes one to less known areas: the island of Sardinia, and to his own much loved home town of Crema, close to Milan, to emphasize that Italia is still a young nation of 100 different, distinct, and very proud centres, proud of their histories, where the NGA should know that the warm hearted barber and friendly kiosk attendant might still be more reliable sources of local events and gossip than expensive satellite surveillance equipment.
At the end Severgnini's British guests sent back an end of trip SWOT report split between the Italian positives and negatives: the strengths, "G"s for genius, guts, gusto, and generosity, and the weaknesses, "I"s, intelligence, intuition, intention, and intimacy: among which includes the country's refusal to change and drift towards modern innovative initiatives, such as e-commerce, and whenever they are accused of a vice rather than trying to remedy the fact they do nothing, justifying their failing as something not unique.
A country, the author notes, which proudly had Botticelli amongst its greats, has recently had Berlusconi, an industrialist who like a captain of a ship promised to lead his country into safe havens, but instead behaved like an African despot, made his life, and his own cabin comfortable, and left the rest to swim to the rocks or fight off the sharks.
Until his book appeared the people, like the dying Venetian maritime Republic in the eighteenth century, could fall back on living for the day, on good food, on hedonism at religious, sporting, and TV leg show carnivals, with the good weather keeping up the depressed spirits for eight months of the year. It was the same foreigners' mythical search for buried treasure of Italy and finding Italia; the hopes of the locals with the realities, discovering they are living in a hellish heaven, or of a hell colonised by angelic souls - Severgnini stops mid way to please the one and only, himself, as an "offbeat purgatory", and gets a laugh, too!
As an Italian, was the comment that going round the maze-like world a real fulfilling experience? Surely not. Maybe for a sociologist, or a journalist like himself it is diverting, because it is part of his bread and butter; it is also part of the self, Italian me first, syndrome, that he criticises about Berlusconi, and admits it is rare when Italians come together as one - when the Azzurri beat the best on the soccer field, or when with "uncivil civic spirit" motorists flash their headlights to warn others that the police are around the corner making checks.
A book can be praised / criticized for what it has, just as it can for what it leaves out. It was commented, even if in passing, that Italians are not racist. They have realised almost after 40 years that they can be patriotic and nationalists, without being Fascists. Even before the world financial crisis racism and chauvinism were slowly moving their ugly heads above the parapet, and since the growth of youth unemployment feelings have hardened. The image of the young Italian on the front cover, confidently lying across his Vespa like a Greek god, is now a little dated.
True, one or two generations ago Italians exported immigrants, but the country has never witnessed, much less experienced a multi-coloured invasion as they have had in the last 15 years of different coloured faces (Africans, Chinese, and Indians), whites (Albanians, Macedonians, Rumanians), and nomads (Roms). In the case of the Chinese, not only are they replacing old local skilled artisans in the main shoe, clothes, leather workshops of Tuscany, manufacturing cheaper identical products, they are actually taking over shops in many main provincial centres, whereas lists of bankruptcies of small and medium companies, the traditional dynamic power of the economy, as well as suicides of failing local managers, have been doubling since 2010. Locals, as in Greece, are falling prey to frightened extremist voices; young graduates, like their unskilled grandparents, are now forced to take their chances by flying out to other lands.
In 2008 Severgnini believed Italy did not have a role model like Columbus leading all to a new promised land. Now that person may have appeared in a puff of smoke, as Pope Francis. It will, however, take more than a puff, a Francis, or a swallow to make a summer, or simply first having a will and then finding a way to change the vices of an ingenious, perfect, chosen race in order to fuse the vision of Italy with Italia. One past foreign visitor to the country, I recall, used to say he liked Italy, but pity about the Italians, as if he could distinguish the people from their culture.
Beppe Severgnini's words will inform the less informed outsiders. They won't convince all his people who may feel that as an Anglophile he is behaving like a smart alec, an Italophobe, and laughing at them at their expense. More so, as he knows what Italians are missing, he leaves one to guess his real preferences. Neither will he convince English speaking ex-pats in the know, much less those like the present reviewer with roots in the two countries.
As his previous volumes, La Bella Figura is well written, informative, a little over-witty in parts, and a little too harsh in others, but may leave the locals and those like myself asking was it a study of the country by an Italian, or the journey of one among the crowds of millions of Italians. It is, indeed, a face of millions, or the one and only right one. A good product makes a bella figura - the joy of all Italians, a poor one -the unmentionable brutta figura, is best forgotten.