Troubador Interpreting Italians

Released: 28/07/2015

ISBN: 9781784622879

eISBN: 9781784626082

Format: Paperback/eBook

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Interpreting Italians

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“The primary goal of this volume is to help prepare foreign visitors for what awaits them, and to offer a deeper insight into a culture and way of life that has held so many millions in its thrall.”

Interpreting Italians is a socio-cultural travel guide designed for people whose interest in Italy goes beyond the readymade impression or the hackneyed cliché. It is a serious effort to understand what the ‘Italian temperament’ actually is, how it came to be, and the impact it has had both on Italians themselves and on the outsiders who attempt to live intimately and knowledgeably among them.

To this end, it offers a thoughtful interpretation of those aspects of Italian culture and history – furbizia and bella figura, the piazza and the casa, the role of the mother, the extravagance of the Baroque and the personal as well as architectural significance of the façade – that have at once reflected and compounded Italians’ attitudes to foreigners and to each other by examining their approaches to love and sex, religion and politics, food and the family, language and bureaucracy, regionalism and immigration, sport and the Mafia.

The book consists of eighteen concise but well-documented essays and five appendices that, in addition to an extensive reading list, provide practical suggestions to visitors relating to the preparation of menus and the selection of walking tours and excursions to sites often overlooked by the casual tourist. Interpreting Italians will be a useful aid to anyone truly curious about discovering what makes Italians tick.

5-star review from Amazon:

Offering an alternative view of Italian society from the usual gastronomic travelogue, Interpreting Italians consists of a series of essays on historical, political and cultural topics that have had a significant influence of the development of Italian mores and behaviour.

Discussions include: the admiration for furbizia, or shrewdness - something that goes some way to explain the enthusiastic support enjoyed by Silvio Berlusconi; attitudes towards the official Italian language and the various other competing languages and dialects spoken by Italian nationals; the importance of bella figura - which could be translated as beautiful appearance, except that this goes nowhere near explaining its true significance; and the symbiotic relationship Italians enjoy with tourism.

Obviously, a book like this could easily descend into meaningless generalisations but the author is always aware of that danger. He is not seeking to describe a fictional Italian temperament, merely to point to influences on the society and to try to consider their possible impact. My favourite example of this was his suggested explanation for the many different varieties of pasta:

"That pasta achieved widespread popularity in Italy during the Baroque period is more than coincidental; the vast array of pasta shapes and sizes is itself a consummately Baroque expression. Each form of pasta has its own accompanying sauce which can be mixed with other forms in any desired manner to augment not only taste but also presentation – in other words, to enhance the aesthetic appearance of food."

At the end of the book there is a series of appendices packed with suggestions for further reading and additional information about Italian history, geography and cuisine. Altogether, this is one of the most useful books about Italy I have come across.

by Brian Keaney


4-star review from NetGalley:

I really enjoyed this book. I hope to use it as a reference for when I finally visit Italy.

by Antonia Domenech


4 out of 5 stars

Interesting series of essays on modern Italy and the Italians. Addresses aspects of modern Italian culture and takes a sociohistorical perspective in many cases showing how aspects of the modern Italian's character are derived from as far back as Ancient Rome. Recommended for anyone interested in Italy and the Italians.

by John Laffan


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