Mark's Reviews > La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind

La Bella Figura by Beppe Severgnini
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's review
Jan 24, 2009

Read in January, 2009

I really enjoyed Severgnini's smart-ass sense of humor and wit. He's an Italian David Sedaris. He makes fun of and adores Italians at the same time, meanwhile pointing out all their contradictions, anxieties and passions in very Italian, self-effacing way. He says of Italians that they make fun of everything because they respect nothing, and he is not different. Like a comedian/anthropologist he dissects everything from the modern Italian family structure to the meaning of the Vespa and the telefonino (cell phone) to car language -- "a short toot of the horn means 'Hi!' a long one 'I hate you' and flashing lights means 'I'm after you!'"

He explains the difference between our concept of Italy and the Italian concept of Italia, if there is a unifying one. "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. Which of course is great fun." Italia is alive, hard to understand and fascinating it its contradctions and sensibilities. Italy is steeped in a romantic notion of the past, it is a museum.

I recommend the book to anyone who is interested in Italy or Italians.
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