Spaghetti…and other sweeping partially-true assertions.

I’m currently fighting my way through “Two Nuts in Italy“. It’s…horrible in its predictability, awful in its banality. It’s the sort of book that puts the “eye” in “Italian”, and the glottal-stop in “Italy”. Rick Steeves was mentioned repeatedly in the first part of the book. Chief among the reasons I don’t just chuck it against the wall: I ordered it through interlibrary loan and wasting the gas would kill me.

Tha gist: a middle-aged teacher from Texas writes about her three-month Odyssey winging it in Italy with (mostly) her daughter. It started losing me six pages in when the author quoted the following from Wayne Dyer:

Good morning!
This is God.
I will be handling all of your problems today.
I will not need your help, so
Have a miraculous day!

Holy shitcakes, but that’s some hard-to-take bollocks for so early in the morning.

Anyways, in the book thus far Tuscany was visited, tomatoes were smelt, the American rat-race was commented upon, dah-do-run-run. Besides making me jealous at how some folks seem able to fall ass-first into daisies whilst I’m more of a nettle-thicket in a ditch man — true story — the book reminded me of nothing so much as Beppe Severgnini’s comparision of Italy versus Italia in “La Bella Figura“:

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.

As they struggle to find a way out, many newcomers fall back on the views of past visitors. People like Goethe, Stendhal, Byron, and Twain always had an opinion about Italians, and couldn’t wait to get home and write it down. Those authors are still quoted today, as if nothing had changed. This is not true. Some things have changed in our Italy. The problem is finding out what.

Almost all modern accounts of the country fall into one of two categories: chronicles of a love affair, or diaries of a disappointment. The former have an inferiority complex toward Italian home life, and usually feature one chapter on the importance of the family, and another on the excellence of Italian cooking. The diaries take a supercilious attitude toward Italian public life. Inevitably, there is censure of Italian corruption, and a section on the Mafia.

By and large, the chronicles of love affairs are penned by American women, who display love without interest in their descriptions of a seasonal Eden, where the weather is good and the locals are charming.

Word. I mean, I just got to the bit in the middle where the crazy guy in Siena tries to drop them off at an insane asylum for the night, and even that was horrible. Not the situation, but the writing — she described the scene as some kind of psychic struggle wherein Signore Pazzo was putting tha gris gris on her and giving her the agita. Oy vey.

The fact that she ended up defending George Bush to the nutcase wasn’t terribly endearing, either.

Even Severgnini’s words on the subject are too overwrought, too poetic, I think. It all comes down to “there is no land of milk and honey,” there is only what there is, not a felt fable stapled onto a drywall life.

A couple of years ago, I thought my Italian friend’s story about crying in front of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus because it was so beautiful was borderline insane, until I walked where the Doge padded around in his, I assume, slippered feet — although the Doge probably didn’t have a English language self-tour mike clamped to his ear and a zip-locked wad of cash sweatin’ it up in his shoe.

The same friend’s stories about unemployment, and nepotism/patronage, and mind-numbing beaurocratic nonsense — well, those stories are true too.

Is there something about us Americans that believes bedtime stories are real, more so than other folks? Is it that we’ve got two weeks tops to spend and airfare ain’t cheap, so bigod we’re gonna have an experience? Is it that we’re an inch deep and a mile wide (only not so much with the wide thing) and can only view the world in slices, like the square talking to the apple in Flatland? From The Xenophobe’s Guide to the Americans:

Americans are friendly because they just can’t help it; they like to be neighbourly and want to be liked. However, a wise traveller realises that a few happy moments with an American do not translate into a permanent commitment of any kind. Indeed, permanent commitments are what Americans fear the most. This is a nation whose fundamental social relationship is the casual acquaintance.

Maybe nobody’s “like” anything. Dunno. Seems that maybe if you’re looking for an experience like Shirley Maclaine walking to Santiago, you’re missing the point, or getting conned — the Camino oughtta be where-ever it is you’re at. If that’s not getting too treacley-Oz.

Ma all’ays said I shoulda been born before the Great War.

In closing, I find it just wonderful and much more closer to the bone that there’s a word in Italian for the concept “crazy cat lady”. From “The Seasons of Rome,” by Paul Hoffman, pg. 105:

For their livelihood, the stray cats depend almost exclusively on the charity of a gattara. A specific Roman character, a gattara is a woman, often elderly, who has chosen to take care of one of the many tribes of homeless cats scattered around the city, delivering to it a daily supply of fish heads, chopped liver expressly bought at the butcher’s, or spaghetti and meat sauce. The idiom lacks a term gattaro for male benefactors of the cat republics, although I have seen a few of them in action, too.

If “Two Nuts” gets better, I’ll let you know.

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  1. Matmos says:

    It didn’t get any better. One brief shining moment in which the author described a drunk guy walking in on her in bed (his roommate had lent her the room thinking he was away for the day) was more than offset by the author referring to herself as a “food slut“.

    Jumping Jesus on a pogo stick.

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