Sunday, October 12, 2008

Lunedì Letterario

La Bella Figura
An Insider's Guide to the Italian Mind
by Beppe Severgnini

This book presents a tour of Italy that is partly geographical and partly conceptual. Over the course of 10 days, reader is taken from from Milan to Tuscany to the far south: Sicily and Sardinia. But the places are merely excuses for little essays on beaches, restaurants, cellphones, airports, condominiums, piazzas, gardens and offices.

An examination of traffic signals is an example of Severgnini's guide to the Italian mind. He explains that in Italy, red lights come in many varieties. A rare few actually mean stop. Others, to the Italian driver, suggest different interpretations. At a pedestrian crossing at 7 a.m., with no pedestrians around, it is a “negotiable red,” more like a weak orange. At a traffic intersection, red could mean a full red, but it might, with no cars coming, be more of a suggestion than a command. It all depends. The red-light mentality explains volumes about Italy and the Italians. We think it’s an insult to our intelligence to comply with a regulation. Obedience is boring. We want to think about it. We want to decide whether a particular law applies to our specific case. In that place, at that time.”

I found this book to be full of insights that help me understand the Italians around me.

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