ITALY, September 4, 2016 – No country in the world has inspired more poets, writers, artists and vistors than Italy. But for all of its magic and charm, the incongruities that make Italy so appealing for travelers also make it maddening for getting things done.
After all there is always domani (tomorrow).
As one anonymous writer so profoundly realized, “Of all the countries in the world, Italy is the most adorned by the arts. Of all the countries in the world, she has the least need of them.”
With these thoughts in mind, here is a tribute to one of the greatest gifts to the world of travel through the expressive words of writers who knew it intimately.
In 1964, Italian journalist, writer and politician, Luigi Barzini, Jr. wrote a book titled “The Italians” which offers remarkable insights into Italian life, culture and its national character. “The Italians” reads in 2016 just as it did when it was first published.
In his book, Barzini wrote, “The pleasure of Italy comes from living in a world made by man, for man, on man’s measurements.”
Noted novelist and poet, Erica Jong, who wrote “Fear of Flying” in 1973, once asked and answered, “What do we find in Italy that can be found nowhere else? I believe it is a certain permission to be human that other countries lost long ago.”
Alice Leccese Powers, a prolific publisher and writer, created the literary anthologies known as the “In Mind” series. In “Italy in Mind” Powers noted that “Incongruity does not confound Italians. They thrive on chaos.”
Well known author Gore Vidal lived in Ravello, Italy along the Amalfi Coast for many years. Vidal had similar observations as Powers, “Italians have an astonishing ability to cope with disaster, which is equaled only by their complete inability to deal with success.”
In 1989, Barbara Grizzuti Harrison chronicled her search for her Italian roots in “Italian Days.”
Among the offerings in her book Harrison wrote, “No one has had a new idea in Italy since the Renaissance (that being one of the reasons to love it).”
One of the best commentaries on Italian life came from actor Orson Welles as expressed by Luigi Barzini,
“The Italians excessive facility to express emotions is, strangely enough, a drawback for actors. Perhaps they are too richly endowed by Nature; they have more natural gifts and talent than necessary. Their florid acting turns too readily into hamming when not under rigid control. The best spend years to unlearn what many of their foreign colleagues have to learn. Orson Welles once acutely observed that Italy is full of actors, fifty million of them, in fact, and they are almost all good; there are only a few bad ones, and they are on the stage and in the films.”
It would not be proper to list quotes about Italy without mentioning some of its most popular destinations. Barbara Grizzuti Harrison claims three of the best about Venice:
“Venice is washed in golden, unambiguous light.”
“All of Venice is a painting – which is how it exists in memory. In memory Venice is always magic.”
“Not going to St. Mark’s is like having a unicorn in your living room and ignoring it.”
Mary McCarthy wrote a tribute to the city of Michelangelo in 1956 called “The Stones of Florence.” Among her observations she wrote, “The Florentines, in fact, invented the Renaissance, which is the same as saying that they invented the modern world.”
French writer Anatole France once said of Florence, “Nowhere is Nature so subtle, elegant and fine. The God who made the hills of Florence was an artist.”
And, like Mozart and Strauss in Vienna, Barbara Grizzuti Harrison explains, “There is no such thing, for a Florentine, as too much Michelangelo.”
In Rome, Harrison captures the spirit of the national pastime of the city: “A neighborhood coffee bar is an anchor to life in Rome. Where else can one read one’s paper and observe the passing scene, write one’s letters, assured of privacy, and yet be a part of the moving whole.”
Or, from another view, Harrison also says, “Rome seems perpetually perched on the very edge of ruin.”
Writing about adjusting to living in Rome with his family, Alan Epstein wrote in “As the Romans Do” (2001), “Rome: There is no more mature place on earth, and that maturity has something to teach you. Other cities may be older, but Rome still lives in its past.”
Even famed American author John Steinbeck, who wrote 16 novels, was captivated by Italy and its Amalfi Coast: “It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.”
The same was true of Swiss artist Paul Klee who would have been remiss had he not observed the Amalfi Coast with his artistic eye: “It is the only place in the world conceived on a vertical rather than a horizontal axis.”
In conclusion, no study of Italy would be complete without mentioning food. As Barbara Grizzuti Harrison says, “One doesn’t take food home from Italian restaurants; there’s always a happy culinary tomorrow.”
Harrison also wrote that “It is no accident that al fresco, the term we use for eating and drinking outdoors, is taken from the Italian; Italian food is well suited for outdoor consumption, and the Italian temperament is uniquely qualified to enjoy the processional.”
And, of course, there is the eternal debate between the French and Italians about food, but perhaps Alan Epstein sums it up best: “Mention French cuisine to a romana, and she will wave her hand and remind you that the French were still barbarians who ate with their fingers when Catherine de Medici arrived in 1535 to marry the king, introduce the Renaissance, and teach the francesi how to cook at the same time.”
You see, Italy is indeed “a state of mind.”
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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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