Magazine article Geographical

The Italians

Magazine article Geographical

The Italians

Article excerpt


by John Hooper

Allen Lane, 20 [pounds sterling] (hardback)/11.99 [pounds sterling] (eBook)


Summing up an entire nation, comprised of millions of people, is a perilous pursuit and John Hooper does not always avoid the pitfalls. We hear, for example, that Italians are 'fatalistic' and 'naturally theatrical', that they possess an 'instinctive distaste for radical change' and that there is a 'very Italian talent for dusting life with a thick layer of stardust'. These are very broad brush strokes but, to be fair, Hooper's book questions stereotypes more frequently than it regurgitates them. It is also brimful of fascinating tales and is written with great affection.

Hooper clearly knows Italy very well and he suggests a number of cultural paradoxes or tensions. Italians are depicted as prizing their individuality but they also adore communal initiatives: they 'prefer to go their own way, but they often end up in the same place'. They object to laws they find unpalatable but have a habit of following informal social conventions. The fundamentals of the national psyche, whatever that term denotes, also come under scrutiny.

Many Italians are extremely proud of the peninsula's past--not least the Roman era and the Renaissance. This is understandable: 'what other people of comparable numbers can lay claim to such an extraordinary catalogue of achievements?' The roster of spectacular painters, architects, and writers is extensive. At the same time, however, what we now refer to as Italy has endured a tumultuous history, littered with invaders and occupiers.

This produced some positive results, not least Italy's linguistic and culinary diversity, but, according to Hooper, we should not ignore a more complex legacy. 'Resentment' and 'vulnerability' apparently coexist with self-confidence, and an 'ambiguous view of foreigners' prevails. We are also informed that memories of earlier, uninvited disruptions account for later resistance to innovation. However hot it gets, Italians are reluctant to invest in air-conditioning and sales of dishwashers are surprisingly low. Even the traditional Italian way of playing football is notched up to bred-in-the-bone caution, though this has begun to change. …

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