Venice Carnevale—Life’s A Masquerade!

by Admin 15-Jan 2013

It’s the week before Lent and the calendar says “Party!” And while Rio dances in the street 24/7 and New Orleans jazzes the blues right out of winter, Venice puts on a show that rivals the rest. If you’ve never experienced Carnevale, then be sure to bump it to the top of your bucket list ... The breathtaking, exuberant pageantry of masks, festooned boats, and centuries-old rituals draw participants and revelers from across the globe for reasons you have to see to believe.

There are so many events going on, so many traditional celebrations and pageants, that it’s impossible to describe them all — much less their origins. So, here’s our short list of what not to miss and what to look for “behind-the-mask.” Carnevale runs from Jan. 26 to Feb. 12, 2013.

The 2013 Theme: LIVE IN COLOR!
The kaleidoscopic image relates to the amazing colors that Venice emanates, from its pastel buildings to the nuanced reflections in the waters. It’s a tribute to the painters who first captured the light and colors of the city: Canaletto, Guardi, Titian, Bellini, Veronese. And it will be present in every aspect of this year’s feast, from the foods to the colorful regalia on buildings and boats everywhere.

• Saturday, January 26
The Grand Parade of Masks in Piazza San Marco. This opening ceremony is dedicated to the citizens of the city of Venice, many of whom arrive in traditional Venetian costume and a spectacular array of painted masks.

• Sunday, January 27
Parade of Boats. Thousands of watercraft, small and big, sail the Grand Canal to the fabled Canareggio district where countless food and wine stalls serve forth traditional Venetian specialty foods and beverages late into the evening.

• Twice daily
The Best Mask Contest: 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. in Piazza San Marco. Originally made of glass, today’s finest masks are made of leather, porcelain, or carta pesta (papier maché), elaborately painted and often themed with the traditional motifs: Bauta — full-faced and often worn with a black cloak; Columbina — the half-mask, usually highly decorated with gold and feathers; Medico del Peste — the bird-beak mask; and the Volto — the popular all-white mask, often worn with a tri-corner hat and cloak.

• Sunday, February 3
Volo dell’Angelo (Flight of the Angel). A tradition since the early Renaissance, an anonymous Venetian “guest” flies along a rope from the bell tower of San Marco and lands in the middle of the Piazza, greeted by throngs of masked festival-goers.

• Three times daily on weekends
The Secrets of Venice – Walking Theater Show. Beginning in the 15th century, nobles and wealthy Venetians were escorted in the evenings by a codega, a story-telling servant who lit the way home down the alleyways with lanterns. Today, theatrical actors play the part of the codega, leading the “audience” through the streets of Venice, stopping at secret places and watching other actors appear in the dark to tell tales tall and true.

• Tuesday, February 12 (Mardi Gras)
The Silent Water Parade & Closing Ceremony. Starting at the Rialto and ending at the Punta della Dogana in the Grand Canal, this moving and dazzling ceremony features a huge flotilla of gondolas and traditional rowboats, all lit with candles and bringing to life the Venice of another era.

For more information and tickets, visit the comprehensive Italian site, which translates into English.

Experience Carnevale up-close ...
... from one of Parker’s Gondole Apartments. Rented on a nightly basis, with plenty of living space, cooking facilities, and drop-dead views, each apartment makes a perfect home in the serene Giudecca neighborhood, just a 10-minute vaporetto ride to St. Mark’s Square. Take a moment to check out views from Tortuga and Gandalf

Firenze Card — Access to the Best Museums in Florence, Italy

by Mario 30-Mar 2011

The city of Florence finally released the long awaited Firenze Card that allows access to the 33 most important museums, chapels and art galleries in the city. It also provides free passage on the city's public transit system. Priced at 50 Euro, the Florence card may be purchased online and picked up at one of five collection points in the city.

While the card is a great deal for passionate lovers of art, it may not be ideal for everyone. The moment you swipe your Florence Card at the first museum turnstile the countdown begins. The Florence Cards will expire in 72 hours and the chase is on. Remember, most museums in Florence are closed on Mondays and some are closed Sundays as well. There must be some connection between Italian museums, barber shops and this Monday closing thing that eludes me.

The Firenze Card site is easy to navigate and you will discover that the card also allows access to special exhibitions and events. In some cases you may even be able to bypass lines. A silly benefit that comes with the Florence Card is free admission, when accompanied by a valid cardholder, to a European Citizen aged 18 or under — maybe it's an inducement for adoption?

The greatest benefit will go to those who can carefully plot their entire course and slide into the last museum two minutes before the card gives up the ghost. It's kind of like fasting for days before attending the all you can eat buffet. Unfortunately, museums are not open 24 hours a day, that would be fun. If on average, museums are open nine hours a day, what you are buying is roughly 36 hours. Factor in meals, rest breaks and transit time from one to the other and the most intrepid adventurers might get to briefly visit half the places listed — that's a great deal. Then again, you can always buy another card.

My Favorite Italy Headlines

by Mario 05-Jan 2011

                                            Italy's Freccia Rossa Trains Offer Free WiFi

Easy Access Italy Internet Finally a Reality

As of January 1st, 2011 registration is no longer required to access a WiFi hotspot in Italy. While internet access was widely available, the old anti-terrorism Pisanu law required users to list an Italian  phone number, passport information, etc. as a condition of access. That law was repealed. From now on visitors to Italy will find free access to the Web unencumbered. For a guide to free WiFi Hot Spots check this link. Use the drop down named Città, to pick the city you want; under Tipologia you may narrow down the type of establishments that offer WiFi or just choose ALL for a complete list; I'd also use ALL in the Provider field. Make sure to click the GRATIS (free) button before hitting the search key. Skype users with a an IPhone or similar can even make free video phone calls back home from over the Web!

 

Italy Paper or Plastic? — Nonna's Gotta Brand New Bag

As of January 1, 2011 existing stocks of plastic bags are being phased out and plastic bags will no longer be produced or available in Italy. Choices will be confined to recycled paper or bioplastic material that's made from renewable, biodegradable sources such as corn starch. The concerns that lead Italy to enact this law were threefold: over one trillion plastic bags are produced annually in the world that can remain in the environment for up to 1000 years; countless animals including whales, tortoises and marine birds suffer needless deaths, some to the point of extinction and third, the toxic danger to humans from carcinogenic dyes, metals and other chemicals used in the manufacturing process. When polled, a majority of Italians chose reusable cloth sacks and wicker baskets over any other alternative. Who would have thought that nonna's sack would become modern day Italy's eco-friendly alternative? Pretending to know Italy and the Italians just a bit, I will wager that Prada, Gucci, Furla will shortly unleash the most stylish, must-have, market bags designed to consume just one renewable resource: your money.

 

                          Italian poppy fields are pretty to look at — the real money comes from olive oil

TOP SECRET: Not Yet Coming to a Store Near You

Of all the documents and communiques released by Wikileaks one interesting Italy related tidbit managed to escape most everyone's attention. Back on February 8th, 2010 U.S. Defense Secretary Gates met in Rome with Franco Frattini, Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs. Mr. Frattini, eager to assist the U.S.A's efforts in Afghanistan offered Italy's unique help: convert the opium producing poppy fields to the production of olives and olive oil. While at first blush the offer may elicit a chuckle, olive oil, especially the good stuff, is extremely expensive, quite profitable and possibly the only legal crop that could compel Afghani farmers to make the switch. It's been nearly a year and still no word on Italy's offer.

Le Cinque Terre — A Slightly Different Ending part 3

by Admin 09-Nov 2010

As we approach Monterosso, I’m more than happy or at least my feet are to see the entrance to this village is not up a steep cliff like the last. The town is divided into two sections. The medieval hamlet on one side and what is called New Town on the other. A pedestrian tunnel connects the two as well as Monterosso’s Fegina beach which is the largest stretch of sandy beach in the Cinque Terre and one of the biggest tourist draws in the summer/fall months. Walking along the promenade circling the harbor we head into the older part of town for lunch. Piazza Garibaldi, the main square of the village is lined with shops, cafes and restaurants, all jam packed with tourists. An array of festive pastel colored houses with little, rod iron balconies and matching shutter and window boxes seem to tower wistfully above the raucous square. 

Wandering up a narrow lane leading out from the square we find a smaller piazza several blocks away and a restaurant called Il Pozzo. With its charming patio filled with flowers and wooden tables covered with different colored checkered table cloths, Il Pozzo turns out to be an ideal spot to sip a glass of sciachetrà, a sweet white wine this region is known for and to people watch. The food is good, although I notice the specialty is pretty much the same specialty of every Cinque Terre restaurant we pass. I try it anyway and have no complaints. It’s called Spaghetti Al Vulo (Spaghetti with Clams). The wait staff is friendly and of course speaks English.

After lunch we skirt by the crowds wedged into each shop and head for the beach and another gelato. Large and sandy, Fegina beach is dotted with umbrellas and lounge chairs for rent by the hour. The water is almost as warm as the sun. A small warning, be careful you don’t doze off and miss the boat, the train station is quite a hike.

Vernazza — Photo courtesy of our friends Paulo & Giovanni at Maranatha.it

According to the ferry guide, Vernazza, our last stop, is the most characteristic and charming Cinque Terre village. The lively harbor where we dock is the size of a postage stamp, the piazza is lined with restaurants and shops. The now familiar crayon colored houses rise above the square. Crowds of tourists swarm the streets, ebbing in and out of the same trinket stores as in the earlier towns. The village is very pretty, the explosion of color between the houses and the flowers can’t help but to make you smile and take lots of pictures. But from what I see these villages are fairly interchangeable and at least at this time of year they are overrun with mostly American tourists. After a last sip of sciachetrà we brave the crowds, pick up our share of take home trinkets, board the ferry and head off into a magnificent sunset on the way back to Rapallo.

The Ligurian Sea — Photo courtesy of our friends Paulo & Giovanni at Maranatha.it

When I first mentioned my intention to spend a day in the Cinque Terre I was immediately barraged by friends, fellow travelers and well wishers with advice on how one day in the Cinque Terre would never be enough. We should plan at least two full days, three even better. As picturesque as the Cinque Terre villages indeed are, they are far too commercial for my liking. Mobbed with tourists, the largest contingent being from the United States, I can vividly recall hearing far more English than Italian as we shuffled in herds oohing, sometimes in unison, at whatever pretty sight drew the eye of a lucky individual at the outer edges of the throng. 

I’m glad I saw the Cinque Terre and happier that we spent the majority of our time exploring the rest of the Ligurian coast. In retrospect, with so many tourists concentrated in the Cinque Terre, the rest of Liguria seemed far less crowded. Spending just one day in the Cinque Terre turned out to be the right amount of time for me.

Bobbie Lerman, Parker Villas Senior Travel Advisor

Le Cinque Terre — The Perfect Approach part 2

by Admin 02-Nov 2010

The double edged jewel of Sestri Levante — Photo courtesy of our friends Paulo & Giovanni at Maranatha.it

By Bobbie Lerman, Parker Villas Senior Travel Advisor

Twenty minutes later we pull into the picture perfect harbor of Sestri Levante to pick up half a dozen more passengers. Surrounded by a gorgeous landscape of sea and mountains, the original part of this ancient fishing village is actually on a peninsula, with the beautiful Baia del Silenzio (Bay of Silence) favored by Percy Bysshe Shelley on one side and the Baia delle Favole (Bay of Fairy Tales) aptly named by Hans Christian Anderson on the other. We are definitely coming back here.

As we chug along the coast the ferry guide announces our arrival at the first of the three Terre villages approachable by sea in 40 minutes. Riomaggiore, the furthest away being the first stop. My first glimpse of Riomaggiore is of a small horseshoe shaped harbor with a tiny dock. Several other ferries loaded with tourists were lining up ahead of us like airplanes taxiing for take off. Looking up I spot yellow and rust colored houses rising from the black jagged coastline. The buildings sit atop each other with nary a hairs breadth of space between them. At the pinnacle are the ruins of what appears to be an old castle. My first thought is how pretty. As I glimpse the more than 100 steps I need to climb to the village...

...my next thoughts are I’m glad I quit smoking and I should have worked out more before attempting this.

At the top of the winding stone stairway we pass beneath Riomaggiore’s archway into a small half-moon shaped piazza with streets snaking out and upwards into the village. The houses and storefronts are as vivid and colorful as they appeared from below. Adding to the riot of color, window boxes and pots filled with flowers are set on ledges and postage sized patios fill every open space available.  However, wall to wall tourists fill the narrow cobblestone lanes in front of me. The going slows to a crawl. I wonder: “How we will be able to move through this crowd?”

Lined with shops displaying an dizzying array of touristy glitz we thread our way through the maze of streets following a sign nailed to the corner of the nectarine colored house. The arrow points up to the Church of Saint Giovanni Battista. Since it’s too early for lunch and the throng of people and the din thinning the higher up we walk we decide the hike up a connecting labyrinth of alleyways and staircases might be worth it. It is. The old Gothic church is lovely. A short distance away we spy the ruins of the castle. Here we enjoy the heart stopping panorama over the Gulf of Genoa before making our way back down to the gelato shop on our way back to the ferry.

Within moments of re-boarding we are off to the village of Monterosso, 20 minutes away for a three hour stopover. That’s enough time to do some exploring, have some lunch (my stomach’s growling) and maybe get in some sun and beach time. I’ve been told the beach is what this village was known for.

Coming up: Le Cinque Terre — A Slightly Different Ending part 3 (conclusion)

A Cinque Terre Journey — Part 1

by Admin 02-Nov 2010

By Bobbie Lerman, Parker Villas Senior Travel Advisor

This past August I spent a week on the Italian Riviera, a region of Italy I had not visited. Apart from the abundance of gorgeous seas, charming villages, pastel colored houses and outstanding seafood, one of the main reasons I chose the region of Liguria was to visit the Cinque Terre. I had heard about this heralded attraction on the eastern corner of the Ligurian coastline from fellow travelers and clients for years. The five villages always garner rave reviews as one of the most quaint, picturesque and romantic spots in Italy. Authentic, charming, a wonderful place to kick back and relax while watching the world go by was the consensus I most often heard. All of the characteristics I look for when choosing a travel destination, a perfect choice to spend at least one full day, maybe two or three I thought ...

Our home base in the small town of Bogliasco turned out to be all of the above and more. Perched on the Ligurian coast 12 kilometers east of Genoa, this enchanting village with a pretty cobblestone promenade winding its way past rainbow colored houses and pebbly beach coves is a spot I highly recommend. That is, if you seek the more authentic and decidedly non-hectic rhythm of Italian village life. I thought if the Terre villages turn out to be anything like Bogliasco, I might seriously need to relocate.

For our day planned in the Cinque Terre, the first matter we needed to figure out was how to get there. At this time of year there are four options open to us: we can go by car, train, a combination of train and hiking or by boat. I’m not much of a hiker and with a canopy of cloudless blue skies, an equally clear and calm turquoise sea and temperatures in the mid-eighties by day, my husband and I decide a boat ride would be the most enjoyable.

There are a variety of seasonal boats and tours operating from various villages along the Riviera through mid-September. We chose the Tigullio-Super Cinque Terre tour which leaves Rapallo every weekday morning. The dock is located along Via Lungomare Vittoria. You’ll find their little white booth in the center of Rapallo’s seaside promenade. If you get lost, look for the tourist office across the street. The boat leaves precisely at 9 AM. Plan to be gone all day, not returning to Rapallo until close to 5 PM. The price of a ticket is €30.50 per person.

We quickly snag a topside spot where we are able to enjoy the fresh sea air and the spectacular views as the ferry heads into the Ligurian Sea. Clean, spacious, with comfortable seating and a well stocked bar serving good espresso, tea (Earl Grey), homemade snacks, and much to my husband’s joy, a variety of gelato. Anticipating our first look at the Cinque Terre we settled back to enjoy a relaxing cruise down the coast.

Our first stop is the small fishing village of Lavagna. Pulling up to the dock to pick up a few more people, we are immediately drawn by the picturesque harbor. Ringed by mountains the town rises from a thick ledge of ebony black stones. Colorful homes in bright canary yellow, tangerine and sparkling white reach up to the sky. From the ferry guide we learn this marble-like stone is the town’s main export used nowadays for making high end billiard tables. From a friendly Italian couple sitting in front, we learn that Lavagna has remained an undiscovered haven well worth a trip on its own merit.

Leaving Lavagna, the ferry hugs the rocky coast and within minutes we pass an array of blue and white striped umbrellas set on what I discover is the longest uninterrupted sandy beach in the region. 

Stay tuned for: Le Cinque Terre — the Perfect Approach Part 2

The Other Tuscany — The Mysterious Abbey at Monte Oliveto Maggiore

by Mario 15-Jul 2010

Ley lines, earth energy vortices and power centers are not often associated with Italy. These terms are usually linked to places such as Sedona, the Pyramids and Stonehenge. Nonetheless, a secluded medieval abbey in southern Tuscany seems to rest on exactly such a spot.

According to locals and expats living in the Tuscan region of Le Crete, the area surrounding the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore abounds with inexplicable positive energy. Inhabitants appear to live longer than the average, enjoy excellent health and everything that either grazes or grows is similarly improved. It is not uncommon to see centenarians, still in good health with all original parts, including teeth, nonchalantly tending fields. Back in the 80s studies corroborated, at least in part, this high level of good health and longevity enjoyed by the inhabitants. The olive oil does taste better and the ground yields a bit more of whatever is planted.

Abbey monks, in accordance with age-old recipes continue to transform simple herbs and berries into quite enjoyable liqueurs that seemingly restore ailing kidneys, digestive systems, urinary tracts and colons. If magic potions are not your cup of tea, you may be tempted to freely taste some of their organic wines, extra virgin olive oil, spelt, honey or Sambuca. The Olivetan monks, a separate branch of the Benedictine Order, have lived here since 1319. Not the same monks mind you. No one lives that long nowadays no matter how much elixir they imbibe.

Aside from the lure of longevity, the Abbey at Monte Oliveto Maggiore is a fascinating day trip. As you venture across the drawbridge into this monastic enclave the past embraces you. A wide avenue beyond the gatehouse leads to the impressive Gothic façade of the church. The route is marked by botanical gardens on one side and tall whispering Tuscan cypresses on the other. The tower, library, apothecary, cloisters and church are adorned by works of many Renaissance masters including: della Robbia, Signorelli and Sodoma. You may sample some of their art work here — click on the links at the bottom of the page for more.

Visitors are welcome to tour the abbey compound. It is open daily from 9:15 am to noon and from 3:15 pm to 5 pm in winter or 6 pm during summer. The luckiest visitors are those that can get me to the church on time. Each morning at 7 am the Mass is celebrated with Gregorian chants. At at 6:15 pm the monks are singing their vespers and the rosary. Try to get here early or stay on to enjoy another magical mystical tour at the monastery of Sant'Antimo. This part of Tuscany is filled with enchantment, remains uncluttered by mass tourism and makes a great base for exploring much of central Italy. My next post will reveal some of the interesting hill towns that surround these abbeys.

In the meantime... Cent'anni (a common Italian toast wishing you 100 years of life)

Restaurant Review — Vegetarian Paradise in Milan

by Mario 15-Jun 2010

One of my favorite restaurants in Milan I discovered thanks to an Alitalia flight crew. Consider this: Italians know how to eat; Alitalia crews travel all over the planet seeking the best for less; befriend these crews on your next outing and one may share a jealously guarded restaurant recommendation for your next destination.

La Vecchia Latteria is a tiny, vegetarian only, lunchtime gem hidden right before your very eyes. It sits on Via dell'Unione, 6 — literally steps from Milan's famous Duomo. Mom cooks, debonair dad serves and entertains and their daughter, a freshly minted psychologist, conducts evening relationship building sessions over mom's scrumptious parmigianas, souffles and croquettes. There are even vegan choices on the menu. What's more, the prices are ridiculously low — especially for being in the heart of Milan.

Tiny means tiny. Not only is the place small, the tables and seats are tinier still and packed together. I guess vegetarians don't take up much room. The portions on the other hand are generous and incredibly delicious. Truly, I had no idea the place was "vegetarian only" until I got into a conversation with Giorgio Notari, the owner, about his volunteering to keep the restaurant open a few nights a month to kick start his daughter's practice. I was finding it hard to marry a dish of linguine with olives and capers to a dose of group therapy. In Italy one can always expect the unexpected.

Everything is fresh, nothing is frozen, dessert is magnificent and the menu changes daily. La Vecchia Latteria is closed on Sundays and only open until 5 pm the rest of the week — unless of course, there happens to be a group session on how to control binge eating. Good luck.

The closest I could come to a Web site was their menu in Italian.

To my Alitalia friends, I apologize for passing on one of your secret haunts. After all, a man has got to eat and Giorgio and his wife Teresa deserve all the praise they can get.

The Italians part 3 — Who Are They, Really?

by Mario 18-May 2010

If instead of humans the Creator had emptied a barrel of monkeys on the Italian peninsula, would the Duomo have been built, would Dante’s Inferno have been penned and would David have been hewn from stone? No offense, but Italy with its bounty of natural beauty is so conducive to expression that must I beg the question: Are the achievements of Italy’s people due to them or the land?

"So blessed with natural beauties and riches that it is clear that when Nature formed it she took delight in accumulating all her blessings in a single spot." Pliny circa 70 ad

On the other hand, Italians scare me. Italy is a member of the G8 and one of the most advanced countries in the world. That Italy is able to maintain this position in spite of a) half of their GDP is al nero which translates to: in the black or under the table; b) creativity is stifled by an oppressive government that regardless of which side in in power, it constantly finds new ways to tax productivity and innovation and c) much of what is pilfered from the Italian people supports a massive, growing bureaucracy that enriches itself by unnecessarily complicating the lives of working people. Now imagine the full creativity of this people unshackled. While I’m sympathetic to their plight, I am equally relieved that they remain under a velvet gloved iron fist. Never mind the G8, Italians unleashed would probably dominate the whole planet in short order and where would that leave the rest of us?

For anyone who reads Italian find a copy of La Casta by Antonio Stella and Sergio Rizzo. This hard hitting book names names and completely  unmasks Italian politics. La Casta clearly demonstrates what happens to societies when citizens allow politicians to serve themselves. Surprisingly, even The New York Times wrote an interesting review on this Italian language best seller: The Caste: How Italian Politicians Became Untouchable.

Melting Pot — Italy has attracted us for a long time. In part one I mentioned the Greek hero Aeneas first setting foot on Italian soil on the heels of the Trojan war. According to legend, the first post diluvial settlement was founded by Ham, one of Noah’s three original sons, who upon spotting a verdant peak rising above the receding seas left the ark and settled there. That settlement was Cortona, mainland Italy's highest hill town. Cortona was named after Crano, another of Noah’s sons who ruled as its first king. The legends recount how Dardanus a descendant of Noah’s line eventually left Cortona and founded Troy. Many centuries later when Troy fell to the Greeks it was Aeneas, a direct descendant of the same Dardanus/Noah line that escaped to Italy and founded Rome. Cortona is known as the grandmother of Rome. During the Roman era, the Italic tribes composed of Etruscans, Umbri, Samnites and others both near and far were all assimilated. The expansion of the Empire drew in even more peoples from across the known world. All roads led to Rome. Since then everyone who could come to Italy by guile, force or fortune did. Phoenicians, Greeks, Saracens, Gauls, Normans, Vikings, Celts and a host of others who up to this very day continue to seek (and find) an earthly Nirvana in Italy.

 What eventually unites all of these diverse cultures is commonly called Campanilismo. The word roughly translates into the bond one has to the nearest bell tower. Whether that bell was Guelf or Ghibelline (papist or secular) mattered not at all. To this day, the power of Campanilismo transcends any allegiance to flag, race, religion, king or country. Unlike the French who seem to be French first, an Italian's first allegiance is to that close knit community within earshot of the hometown bell. This reality is what keeps drawing visitors to Italy time after time. No matter where you travel in Italy, the food, architecture, dialects, customs and wine all change from one valley to the next. Starting with Barolo from the north to Primitivo to the south, Italy has over 400 different varieties of wine, far more than the rest of the entire planet combined! This unceasing competition between hundreds of nominally federated city states now known as Italy is what drove Italian creativity to unsurpassed levels.

By the Middle Ages, the competitive nature of Italians perfected banking and statecraft well ahead of other cultures. Cities such as Venice and Genova were classified as empires in their own right and Macchiavelli literally wrote the book on political intrigue. Even while the superior craftsmanship of Italian armor was highly prized among Europe's elite, Italians took a different view of war. Life in the vineyards was good and Italians did not want to perish on a battlefield. Opposing Florentine and Sienese armies, during their incessant wars, would take to the field in resplendent regalia, parade around in formation, make some feints and return home in time for supper with nary a casualty. On the other hand, one might easily picture a German knight brandishing an Italian made sword declaring that he would rather die than yield. When it came to foreign invaders, barbarians who honored death more than they loved life, Italians developed another strategy: "Forgive me sir, are you the leader of this brave and mighty host? Would you care to rule here? Follow me. I'll personally lead you to our beautiful palace. Don't worry, if this throne is too small or large, my cousin is a master craftsman who will customize it to a perfect fit. If your excellence will excuse me, I must now take leave to oversee the preparation of a royal banquet in honor of your presence. Will 8:00 pm in the grand ballroom be too early, your majesty?"

 Italy assimilated both conquerors and beggars until they became indistinguishable from the Italians. No greater tribute could an outsider bestow on a culture than the adoption of its language and customs. The inverse was also true. A people who grant the unifying gift of language, art and tradition are infinitely more vibrant and resilient than a closed or separatist society. When the Black Plague reduced Europe's population by a quarter, new waves of immigrants arrived to take over scores of empty villas, farmhouses and castles all along the sunny Italian peninsula. Now those villas are for rent by descendants of foreign squatters who became fully Italian and inhabited by foreign renters who dream of staying on. Throughout history Italy has been a true melting pot. The Italians are us — the lucky ones who made it their home. The Creator, it seems, did empty a barrel of monkeys on this uniquely shaped country in the Mediterranean Sea, and did so over and over again. Some reached its shores by ark, raft or warship others crossed mountains on the backs of elephants but one way or another they all came. The Duomo was built, the Divine Comedy was written and the David was eventually freed from a block of stone.

“In the heart of every man, wherever he is born… there is one small corner which is Italian, that part which finds regimentation irksome, the dangers of war frightening, strict morality stifling, that part which loves frivolous and entertaining art, admires larger-than-life-size solitary heroes, and dreams of an impossible liberation from the strictures of a tidy existence.”
Luigi Barzini

Luigi Barzini's book The Italians is a must read for anyone interested in learning more about this collection of peoples known as Italians, their origins, accomplishments and mindset. For a more light hearted view of the Italian pysche, pick up a copy of La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind by Beppe Severgnini.

The Italians part 2 — Who do they think they are?

by Mario 10-May 2010

Genius is the first operative word. Most Italians I’ve known view themselves as a highly creative lot with a nothing-is-impossible attitude. Their creativeness and adaptability is well documented in Arturo Barone’s book: Italians First — An A to Z of Everything First Achieved by Italians. The author, with whom I’ve had interesting conversations, is quick to note that he purposefully limited his research to achievements made in the last 1000 years. "If one were to document everything the Italians were responsible for since the dawn of time there would hardly be anything left for the rest of the world to claim." Tuscany alone gave law to the English, science to the Germans, taught the French how to eat — almost, and then went on to electrify the world with its art, literature and architecture. Arturo’s book is filled with startling breakthroughs by Italians in science, medicine, mathematics, economics and more. Italians do not view their excellence as limited to food, cars, fashion, art and song, and with good reason. 

Carpe diem — No one group appears as ready to seize the day with as much gusto as the Italians. Their madcap driving habits and mercurial cars exist for the sole purpose of reaching a destination quick enough to get back to the enjoyment of life. "They found a country [Italy] which is still to us, as to them, an earthly paradise; where, amid superb cathedrals and palaces and beautiful walled cities, dwelt a race that numbered life itself amongst the grand arts. The love of beauty for its own sake.” St. John Lucas  

Bella Figura — The art of looking superb is in the genes even when wearing jeans. To fully enjoy life you must not only look the part, you must possess the knowledge to be able to do so. Regardless if one is a judge or a janitor it is critical to possess proper manners, elegance, know the right people, thoroughly understand politics, sports and be a consummate connoisseur of food, wine, art and fashion. Making a brutta figura (cutting a bad figure) is akin to committing social suicide. When Italian males are first introduced they look at each other’s watch, shoes and make of car. Those three items will usually determine on which rung of Italy’s social ladder they belong. Italians can also spot each other amidst a sea of foreigners as tourists typically lack either the elegance or panache that sets Italians apart. "Everything you see I owe to spaghetti." Sophia Loren 

High DramaNessun problema and un attimo (no problem & just a moment) are common mantras. Since Italians reluctantly work in order to live — and not the other way around as in some other cultures (hint, hint)— Italians enjoy fun things first, followed by long winded meetings to posture, pontificate and preen. Work should be left to the last possible moment just before embarking on the next holiday. This modus operandi insures continuous opportunities to appear frantic. The more frenzy and drama can be carved out the more important one seems to be. When pinned down, cutting a bella figura rarely applies to work and thus a simple, evasive: no problem or it only takes a moment — never knowing when or if that moment will come — suffices to push off most deadlines for yet another day. "A man who has not been to italy is always conscious of his inferiority." Dr. Johnson 

Passion — Whether it’s about cars, the opposite sex, food, sports or something as seemingly insignificant as a simple wave of a hand, everything an Italian does must be done with passion. “When I was young, I kissed my first woman, and smoked my first cigarette on the same day. I have never had time for tobacco since.” Arturo Toscanini

Stay tuned for part 3 The Italians — Who are they, really?
Hint: “It’s not impossible to govern Italians. It is merely useless.” Benito Mussolini

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Welcome to our Access Italy blog, a mosaic of eclectic, but practical, information; fascinating cultural insights; and unique commentary on a wonderful way of life only the Italians could have designed.  more....

 

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