One in an occasional series of interviews–with wannabe Italians or expatriate Italians–who try to “live Italian” wherever they are.
I was born and grew up in the shadow of the Duomo in Florence until, at the age of 30, I was imported to Wisconsin as a souvenir by my American wife, who was living in Florence. I remember seeing her one day crossing Piazza Santa Croce and thinking she was the cutest girl ever–and I still do. So here I am in Milwaukee. Next year will mark my 30th in the U.S. which means I’ve had three decades of training and working on the “bella vita.”
La vita é bella? Yes of course la vita é sempre bella, but one needs to work at it and make sure that every day there are reasons to feel that the “…vita é veramante bella…” I think one needs to know how to pause (. . . in your head at least if you cannot otherwise) and appreciate the small things that bring Italy closer. Things which remind me I am not that far anyway, things which allow me to detach, disengage, slow down. It can be a caffé at the right time, a quick call to a friend, reading the news or listening to radio from Italy. Working at a university, travel is something which happens and I make sure it happens enough so I can visit Italy and reset my system. The most important things are not things at all, but rather a state of mind.
Q: Living “Italian”. . . Is it a good lifestyle or the best lifestyle?
A: I do not think it is a good life style (living “Italian” in Italy is stressful.) I do not think it is the best one (I am sure there are healthier ones.) I think it is the only one.
A: Because to vivere “Italian” implies (as for other Mediterranean societies) many social interactions during the day. These casual extemporaneous connections–some good, some bad–are the condiments that add some spice to life. Even superficial chats with strangers at the bus stop, at the newsstand, or at the market are opportunities to give an “emotional valence” to what would be otherwise routine. Sharing personal stories and family problems with friends, colleagues, and neighbors is a way of lessening the burden. After all, the word privacy in Italian does not exist.
Q: What does “living Italian” in the U.S. mean to you?
A: Being able to switch. Switching from living the U.S. life in the U.S. to the Italian life in the U.S. and to the Italian life in Italy. Accepting that change is inevitable after so many years in the U.S. Switching can last seconds or days. The secret is to switch without becoming schizophrenic. Feeling out of place or misplaced sometimes is okay.
Q: What nurtures your Inner Italian?
A: Being able to talk on subjects with Italian friends without being considered critical, offensive, politically incorrect, crude, rude, or insensitive because of the different cultural values.
Q: What Italian movie, or movie set in Italy, do you most like? Why?
A: Tea with Mussolini. Possibly not a great film, but my mother had a small part in it at 82 years of age. The plot was reminiscent of her life in many ways.
Q: If you could live in one place in Italy for the rest of your life, where would it be and why?
A: Anywhere where olive trees grow.
Q: Last Italian meal. . .what would it be?
A: The company would be the most important ingredient of the meal. The setting would be the second. The food would be the third. And if I could do the cooking with my friends, I would be in heaven already.
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How do you nurture your Inner Italian? Share your comments.
Sharona, I LOVE this interview feature… especially because I’m fascinated by how native Italians retain that sense of “la vita bella” in our crazed and hectic American society. So glad that Piero’s managed to do it without becoming schizophrenic! I shall try to use some of his tips to make it work in my own life.