In this consummate portrait of the Italian people, bestselling author, publisher, journalist, and politician Luigi Barzini delves deeply into the Italian national character, discovering both its great qualities and its imperfections.
Barzini is startlingly frank as he examines “the two Italies”: the one that created and nurtured such luminaries as Dante Alighieri, St. Thomas of Aquino, and Leonardo da Vinci; the other, feeble and prone to catastrophe, backward in political action if not in thought, “invaded, ravaged, sacked, and humiliated in every century.” Deeply ambivalent, Barzini approaches his task with a combination of love, hate, disillusion, and affectionate paternalism, resulting in a completely original, thoughtful, and probing picture of his countrymen.
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Luigi Barzini, was born in Milan, Italy, in 1908. After completing his studies in Italy and at Columbia University, he worked for two New York newspapers. He returned to Italy in 1930 to become a correspondent for Corriere della Sera. In 1940 he was confined by the Fascists. With the Allied liberation he returned to publishing and founded Il Globo. Subsequently he served as the chief editor of several newspapers and magazines. His books include Americans Are Alone in the World (1958), From Caesar to the Mafia (1971), and Peking to Paris (1973). He died in 1984.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
THE PEACEFUL INVASION
Italians are pleased and perplexed. Every year since the end of the war they have seen the number of foreign visitors to their country increase at an incredibly rapid rate. The phenomenon has now reached unprecedented, practically inexplicable, and almost alarming proportions. In the 1950s the tourists numbered eight, ten, twelve million yearly. A little later, only yesterday, they were fifteen, seventeen, nineteen million. They have now passed the twenty million mark, a proportion of more than one tourist to every two and a half Italians, and the total is still growing. It appears that, if circumstances remain favourable, the travellers will reach thirty million within a decade, and will eventually match and even surpass the number of native inhabitants in the peninsula. Nothing daunts foreigners. Nothing frightens them. Nothing stops them. They arrive in a steady stream, by all forms of transport and even on foot, by day and night, from the sea or via the Alps. What is but a small trickle in the winter months grows in the spring to the size of a stream, and, in April, May, and June, turns into a monsoon flood, breaking all dikes, covering everything in sight. It begins to recede in September. It never completely dries up.
People come from all parts of the five known continents, from the old established nations of Europe and America and from the newly founded ones in Africa and Asia. The largest number come from the north, the vast, democratic, bourgeois, industrial north of Europe and America. Some now also come from Russia, in some ways the most northerly of all countries, organized parties of sightseers, behaving like military units traversing a dangerous territory inhabited by treacherous natives, as diffident and self-contained as Xenophon's Greeks marching across Asia Minor. Russian tourists all wear the same box-like clothes, as new as those of provincial newly-weds, and ankle-length raincoats. They look well-fed, self-satisfied, and well-behaved. They appear eager to acquire as much culture, in all its forms, as rapidly and cheaply as possible. They have a disturbing resemblance to the diligent German tourists at the beginning of the century, the solid subjects of William II.
There are many travellers who, in order to obey the urge that drives them south, abandon their own countries, whose delights and tourist attractions are being advertised and celebrated all over the world. What do they seek that is better than what they left behind? Not many Italians willingly travel abroad in any direction, north, south, east or west. They always feel more or less exiled and unhappy in alien lands, and honestly believe the attractions of their homeland to be most satisfying. They are the first victims of the famous charm of Italy, never satiated with her sights, climate, food, music and life. Familiarity never breeds contempt in them. Neapolitans, for instance, after many thousand years, still gaze with the same rapture on their native landscape, eat spaghetti alle vongole as if they had never tasted them before, and compose endless songs dedicated to the immortal beauty of their women and their bay. Those Italians who travel abroad are, as a rule, the privileged -- Milanese industrialists and Roman princes who have adopted foreign ways, cabinet ministers, diplomats, newly-weds -- and the disinherited who go looking for work. They are usually all equally homesick abroad; the rich and the poor look for caffè espresso, a good Italian restaurant, wherever they go, and sigh for the day of their return.
At the high tide of the tourist season, from early June till late September, visitors fill every empty space available in Italy. Trains, buses, boats, restaurants, churches, museums, Greek and Roman ruins, chapels, concert halls, historic landmarks, and famous belvederes, whence romantic landscapes (two stars in the guide books) can be admired, are packed to capacity with foreigners. One literally finds them everywhere, often at one's table, unknown friends of friends, sometimes even in one's bathroom and bed. They also fill a couple of universities, Perugia and Urbino, set aside for them, where they study the language, imbibe the Latin sun-drenched culture, make love, go swimming, and feed themselves cheaply on pasta, olive oil, tomatoes, and garlic. American universities sometimes hold summer sessions, in art appreciation, history of civilization, and related subjects, in some ancient villa on a hill-top near Florence with a view over the whole city, or a palazzo on the Grand Canal. Swedish and Norwegian workers' clubs have purchased wooded strips of deserted Italian coastline, where they have built their own club-houses and recreation centres.
There are sultry days in July and August when the cities, emptied by the natives, are almost completely taken over by the swarms of dusty and perspiring foreigners. During the siesta hour, when even the carriage horses sleep under their straw hats, the relentless tourists finally slow down. They bivouac everywhere. They recline on park benches, kerbstones, the stone brims of fountains, or ancient ruins. They place their heads over their crossed arms on café tables for a siesta among the empty bottles, the dirty napkins, and the recently purchased souvenirs. They then really look like a tired and bedraggled army after a fatiguing battle, who have occupied a city abandoned by their fleeing enemy. They have conquered. The place is theirs.
I am not talking here of the minority, the experienced foreigners who know why they come to Italy and what Italy is. Many have come here before and know their way about, others have never been here but somehow know what to do and what they want. They all avoid the heat and the dust, seldom visit the obvious places but, when they have to (the obvious places are often the most desirable), they go at convenient hours, when the crowd is away and the air is cool. They wear ordinary clothes, the same as everybody else. Some are in love with nature, others with art, culture, archaeology, or music. Some like meeting people and making friends, others discover little-known beaches or unexplored islands. There are those who make lengthy detours, to see some little-known masterpiece, and those who like food and wine and know the trattorie which only few natives and no foreigners have yet discovered. There are many who speak the language well. These easily disappear in the background. They do not interest me here. There is nothing peculiar about them. I am talking of the vast majority of tourists, the millions driven by some unknown urge.
They are so punctual and numerous that their mass arrival, in the eyes of ordinary Italians, appears as irresistible as a natural event, as ineluctable as the seasonal return of migratory birds, swallows, quails, or partridges, driven by instinct; or as an anthropological phenomenon like the migration of nomadic tribes seeking green pastures for their herds. The impression is heightened by the fact that many of these travellers look somewhat alike to Italian eyes. They dress in garishly-coloured clothes, much as the members of the ancient barbaric hordes once did and as the Gipsies and Berbers still do. A great number of Germans, Scandinavians, Britons, and Dutch have pink skins, which the sun seldom succeeds in tanning a decent brown but reddens to the tender colour of prosciutto or covers with freckles. They perspire freely in the heat, under their nylon shirts. They wear barbaric sandals. They have dark glasses over their eyes and their heads are bare or covered with cheap straw hats on whose brims are printed or embroidered the names of cities, sanctuaries, beaches, islands, or other famous landmarks.
There is something mysteriously significant about the behaviour of many of them. A mild frenzy takes most of them and transforms them once across the Italian border. It resembles the irresistible excitement which captures some living organisms and makes them forget themselves and everything else, when, like salmon going upstream, they obey some deep and secret impulse of Nature; or the intoxication, the gentle and sweet delirium, which makes all honeymooners quietly mad everywhere in the world and honeymooners in Italy doubly so, both because they are on their honeymoon and they are in Italy. Like all newly-weds, in fact, many ordinary travellers seem deliciously drunk with new illusions and hopes. The sedate professional man, the sober shopkeeper, the loyal employee, the rigorous scientist, the stern educator, the tidy housewife, the bespectacled spinster, the innocent maiden, the virtuous wife, the resigned husband, all behave as they probably never dared to behave before and as they probably would not behave publicly in their native habitat. More exactly, they behave as if they had shed the rôles assigned to them and the personalities bestowed on them by Nature, because such rôles and personalities had suddenly become repugnant and alien to them; or as if all the rules of the game of life had been changed or suspended. Some seem strangely deprived of all, or part of, their customary discernment, of their powers of control and discrimination, and of the scepticism, diffidence, prudence, suspicion, and fear necessary for survival in most countries. They get into all sorts of scrapes. They make friends with all sorts of people. They look at all things with indulgent and dewy eyes, apparently ready to love, admire, understand, or, at least, excuse and forgive almost everything, the good, the bad, the indifferent, the repugnant. They are often easily swindled, but many do not always mind if they are.
Most of these visitors from Northern Europe drink vast and indiscriminate quantities of wine. They drink, with equal good-natured enthusiasm, anything at all: costly vintages from famous vineyards, raw wines still smelling of sulphur and wooden staves, sweet and syrupy wines made for people who know little about such things. It is, for some curious reason, the first thing Germans and Austrians do, as soon as they cross the Brenner pass on their southward trip. They stop the car at one of the many wineshops which line both sides of the valley road, just beyond the border, as frequent as the petrol stations. Each osteria has a wrought-iron hanging sign, a terrace in the quivering shadow of a leafy pergola, checked table-cloths, waitresses in dirndl, everything designed in a tasteful fairy-story style, a style which is a mixture suited to the geographical and psychological spot, half German and half Italian, half Walt-Disney-Tyrolean and half Il Trovatore or Palio-di-Siena-Medieval. On the Brenner road, German and Austrian tourists behave as the Americans did under prohibition, when they rushed for the first bar across the Canadian border. There is no obvious explanation for this phenomenon. There is no scarcity of cheap wines, local or imported, in Germany and Austria. Perhaps these people are trying to quench not a physiological but a psychological thirst. This may be an unconscious magic rite; they drink wine as if it were a potion necessary to acquire a new personality, or they drink it as one drinks champagne on New Year's eve, on the stroke of midnight, to celebrate the crossing of a spiritual border and to inaugurate new hopes and a new life.
With equal indulgent enthusiasm, these summer visitors indiscriminately enjoy all kinds of doubtful attractions, things they probably shunned at home. They listen with the same breathless rapture and delighted smiles to the best opera singing in the world at Rome, Milan, or Spoleto, and to wheezy village bands, to impeccable Vivaldi quartets and to tinny dance orchestras. They eat the dainty food of famous chefs with the same pleasure with which they devour gross peasant dishes, mostly composed of garlic and tomatoes, or fisherman's octopus and shrimps, fried in heavily scented olive oil on a little deserted beach. They buy vast quantities of souvenirs to take home, smart things they cannot find elsewhere, cheap trinkets made in Japan, costly masterpieces, tawdry imitations.
Many try to speak Italian. A few creditably manage this in a short time. Others think they do. Things seem, of course, more significant and enjoyable when expressed in the native language. A spade is only a spade, a Shaufel but a Shaufel, but a badile cannot help being a pagan, Mediteranean, intoxicating badile. Some study lists of words phonetically spelled in handbooks. Some pick them up in random conversations. They also try hard to gesticulate wildly as they speak. They usually manage it in the style of amateur comedians playing an Italian character. They laugh loudly and converse with everybody, the people at the next table, travelling companions in the trains, the waiters, the beggars, the street singers, the cicerones, anybody in sight, with the same good-natured lack of discrimination with which dog lovers pet any dog.
The men, many men at least, those of all ages who have a natural bent for that sort of thing, admire and pursue Italian girls. It must be said that the Italian girls and young women, for reasons nobody knows for sure, are now more disturbingly beautiful than they have ever been in men's memory and perhaps in history, certainly more attractive and desirable than the models of the most famous statues and paintings in the past; Botticelli's 'Venus', Titian's 'Sacred Love', and Raphael's 'Fornarina' would not make anybody turn around in the streets. Italian girls are more attractive, and approachable, not only than in the past but also than in many other countries today. Feminine beauty, before the war, like prosperity, seemed to be a privilege reserved to rare local cases, but widespread among many foreigners, especially Americans. Smart Italian young men of the time anxiously awaited the disembarking of the American girls in the spring, well-shaped, well-washed, well-dressed, and incredibly long-legged, who always looked as if they really arrived from another and younger world. They were healthy, witty, free, and unafraid. Now our women, too, have somehow surprisingly acquired long and shapely legs; they have lovely and pert faces, overbearing breasts, thin waists, and harmonious behinds like double mandolins. But, more than this, they have simple, unembarrassed, friendly manners: they can say tender words with heart-breaking candour or, at times, prettily pronounce unprintable ones.
Foreign men, it is true, have always pursued women in Italy. The courtesans of Venice and Rome during the Renaissance were much appreciated. The Carnival season in Rome and Venice was for centuries merely an excuse to chase masked girls through the streets. Now the hunt has acquired a more determined, almost desperate, character. Many visitors are fascinated by the girls to the point that they often lose all powers of coherent speech and judgment: they are bewitched by the girls' sinuous and provocative walk, their inviting and hospitable ways, their smart clothes which often look as if they are sewn on them, or, more especially, their tiny two-piece bathing suits. Foreign men sometimes follow some specially provocative specimens in the street like hungry dogs following butcher boys delivering meat. Striking up an acquaintance is not always difficult, in a caffè or on the beach. Many men easily, too easily perhaps, find their way to some girl's bedroom. Some of these always fall deeply in love. They earnestly want to get married. They want to bring back a living souvenir of the land of sunshine and amiable ways to their gloomy countries. At the end of every summer, there are men who threaten suicide (a few kill themselves), for the love of a beautiful woman, wit...
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Book Description Peter Smith Pub Inc, 1964. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # P110844661465
Book Description Peter Smith Pub Inc, 1964. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. 1ST. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0844661465