La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind by Beppe Severgnini
BOOK REVIEW by John Tucci
“Being Italian is a full-time job. We never forget who we are, and we have fun confusing anyone who is looking on.” So, starts the book La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind by Beppe Severgnini.
Beppe Severgnini is one of Italy’s best-known journalists. Among his many assignments, he is a columnist for Italy’s leading newspaper Corriere della Sera and a contributor to Time magazine, The Financial Times, The Economist, and The New York Times.
The Italians Mr. Severgnini refer to in this book are not the Italians you find on The Hill, but the genuine domestic articles you find all over today’s Euro Italy. In the book, Mr. Severgnini expounds even further, “Your Italy and our Italia are not the same thing. Italy is a soft drug peddled in predictable packages, such as hills in the sunset, olive groves, lemon trees, white wine, and raven-haired girls. Italia, on the other hand, is a maze. It’s alluring, but complicated. In Italia, you can go round and round in circles for years.”
Accordingly, this book may a wonderful way to pass the time between the meals and the naps while you are on board the Alitalia jet traversing over the Atlantic Ocean on your way to Italy.
Mr. Severgnini hopes to deliver a tour of the modern Italy that takes the reader behind the seductive face Italians put on for visitors—la bella figura—and highlights its maddening, paradoxical true self beneath the surface of la bella figura.
Mr. Severgnini organizes this book as a kind of geographical “tour,” of thirty places in 10 days with chapters about observations set in different locales such as Naples or another on the Italian countryside in Tuscany. Mr. Severgnini’s places are rather high-concept observations of highways, restaurants, churches, the beach and television.
At the end of the day, you again wonder how did the same culture that created Michelangelo also create Silvio Berlusconi, but Mr. Severgnini maddeningly come no closer to the solution of this perennial riddle.
Yet, for those of us composed Italian in DNA and/or spirit, as Robert Browning ably noted, “Open my heart and/You will see/Graved inside of it, ‘Italy’”
As such, books about our cuginos in Italia can warm our heart.