Ahhh, yet again we find ourselves (or quite a bit more likely, I am the only one at this point) at the dreaded ‘Book’ assignment. Well, ‘Book #2’ to be specific, definitely the more ominous of the two. I honestly just got over the ever-present stress of having to finish the first book within two weeks of the due date, substituting it instead for the stress of being like, two posts behind. A manageable deficit, I thought. Well, you see, finishing that first book lulled me into a false sense of security, for just as I was beginning to play my game of catch-up, the second book post (this one) was already looming. Let’s be clear, by “looming” I mean two days past due, but like, flexible due dates. Not my fault. I think I may have used up all of my legitimate excuses on the last book, so for this I’ll just be honest and say I was far too preoccupied. That sounds kind of bad, or ill-intentioned, but I swear it’s not. After fall break ended, it became all too apparent how little time we have left abroad, and it sucked. A lot. As a result, I’ve been doing as much as I can to get the most out of my remaining time. Taking the time to sit around and disinterestedly read some book about the country I’m in, rather than going out and doing actual things in said country seems silly to me. Don’t get me wrong, it is classwork so I know I have to get it done, see, look at these words. I just had to prioritize, you know? I even did a few of the following blog posts in the interim, to show I’m mildly responsible at least. But alas, I digress, we’re here now.
Based on the second book I chose though, I am glad that I put off reading it. The book was La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind, by Beppe Severgnini, and while I’m not supposed to really focus on my personal feelings towards the book, I’ll say I liked it a lot more than the first one I read. The first book was Pasquale’s Nose, and it was fine sure, but it was of very little consequence. Neither emotionally nor scholastically. The Italy it described was outdated and isolated. It was pleasant enough to read, but it didn’t inspire much reflection. La Bella Figura on the other hand felt incredibly relevant. It described the Italian people and the Italian state of mind (duh) in a way that I could relate to on an experiential level. Perhaps it helped that this one was actually written by an Italian, but whatever it was, it made a difference. From the rebelliousness towards any form of regimental authority, to the mannerisms of shopkeepers, everything felt accurate. Night clubs are a common after hours activity here in Florence, and Severgnini perfectly describes “the guy over there. He moves around wearing a self-satisfied smirk, he admires himself in the mirrors, and he flashes a dazzling smile at the girls.” Now that could be any one of a hundred random guys you see in such places, but Severgnini directs him, and places him perfectly within Italy. “People abroad think (it) is an extension of the Latin-lover technique. Wrong. The Latin lover had determination. He was an actor, a lifeguard, or a rich kid. Often he wasn’t terribly bright, but the absence of self-doubt fueled his self-esteem. Today the seducer is a tortured soul.”
I have learned from my experience in Italy, that oftentimes projected flashiness and charisma is used to divert the attention, or disguise from some hidden tragedy or flaw. Severgnini verbalized it better than I ever could though. This is but one in many examples of how Severgnini offers insight into a truer Italian identity than the one many expect upon first glance, which is actually one of the things he makes clear as an objective in the beginning of the book. The reason that I’m glad I waited to read this book (maybe not the extra month or so, but in the sense that it was the second and not the first book I read) is that it provides such a comprehensive picture of the Italian and his being, that had I read it earlier, I would not have been able to appreciate how accurate it really is. Had I read this earlier, yes, I may have come to see that the Italians really are as Beppe says, but I would have also been biased. I would have looked for all of things he said, and their accuracy would not have been as striking.
In closing, I would just like to say, that while my heritage in no way reflects any Italian blood, I’ve rarely felt a closer kinship to my Tuscan compatriots than when Severgnini explains that “we don’t accept the idea that a ban is a ban, or that a red light is a red light. Our reaction is “Let’s talk about it.”