Sunday, 18 December 2011

Viva l'Italia! (But mind your bottoms, ladies!)

Place Garibaldi, Nice.

Every nationality has its own quirks and characteristics. The Irish are famed for their songs and their storytelling; the French for their individuality (it is the reason there are so many political parties in France); Americans for their work ethic; Germans for their lack of humour (a little unfairly that one); and the British for their stiff upper lip and their understatement. (There is the story of the jet airliner crashing headlong into the sea from 30,000 feet, passengers screaming and praying, and the Englishman looks out of the window as one of the engines falls off and says: “The captain seems to be having a spot of bother”.) And there’s the Italians….

Italians are famed for their passionate and excitable natures (naturally!), and also for having the dubious distinction of being the goosing champions of western Europe, inspired perhaps by their recent prime-goosing minister Signor Berlusconi. If the European Union were to ever appoint a Minister of Sex, no contest, il Berlusconi is the one.

Italians are also a naturally expressive people. You can see it in their language which is so accentuated that you have really to open your mouth wide when you speak it. For this reason Italians speak with LOUD voices, so it follows they should be expansive too in their gestures when they speak. Mussolini, for instance. You may not have agreed with his politics, but he knew how to wave his arms around.

It must be the Latin temperament and the hot sun that makes them so effusive. On a busy street in Rome I once saw a motorcycle carabiniero come tearing along at 50 miles an hour, then suddenly turn his machine 90 degrees and come screeching to a halt in front of the oncoming traffic from the direction he’d just been travelling. No sooner had he stopped than he was off his bike and bringing the traffic to a complete stop. You can bet your life they don’t do that in Reykjavik.

I really like Italians. Ask them a question and they reply with a monologue that’s rambling and impossible to understand, but at least it’s not a grunt or a grumble, or worse, the discouraging word. There used to be a song about it - ‘Where never is heard a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy all day”. In the Nineteenth century they left Europe in their millions, not to escape the pogroms or the famines or the poverty, it was the discouraging word these huddled masses were fleeing from. Italy isn‘t completely free of it, of course, no-where is, it’s still there, along with its co-conspirators in low-mindedness: the half-baked look and the obsession with trivialities. But with Italians, at least, it’s not quite so institutionalised. 

I once stayed in a hotel in the musicians’ quarter of Nice, so called because the streets and squares are named after European classical composers, and was more than pleased that most of the guests staying in the hotel were Italian. Nice, in fact, is a popular holiday destination for Italians. At one time it was even an Italian city, when it was called Nizza. And one of the city’s most famous sons is Giuseppe Garibaldi, Italy’s national hero, who was born there on 4 July 1807. His name is commemorated at Place Garibaldi.  

So Viva l’Italia! But mind your bottoms, ladies!

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