20 REASONS TO LOVE ITALY
No one needs an excuse to head to Italy… but here are 20 good ones!
According to 20th Century cultural historian André BerneJoffroy, “What begins in the work of Caravaggio is, quite simply, modern painting.”
He was born in 1571 in Milan, where he learned his craft as a painter. He was hypersensitive, fiery, troubled and homosexual in a time when it was outré. After being involved in a brawl he was charged with murder. He fled, and was eventually presumed to have been killed circa 1610.
His oeuvre was dramatic, too, pioneering the chiaroscuro technique – a significant tonal contrast between light and dark. The result, evident in such breathtaking paintings as Bacchus and Sleeping Cupid, is an ultra-realistic representation of the subjects’ physical and emotional states.
2. STUNNING COASTS
To experience la dolce vita in Italy, head to the coast. There’s the golden or snow-white sands and lush vegetation of the beaches of Sardinia; the islandhaven of Capri in the Tyrrhenian Sea with its waterfront houses and variety of fascinating fauna – blue lizards, cuttlefish, peregrine falcons; or the Unesco World Heritage-listed Amalfi Coast, a paradise of quaint towns and villages perched on cliffs, overlooking the dizzying turquoise of the Mediterranean.
3. PIER PASOLINI
Hailing from Bologna, Pasolini is remembered as a groundbreaking film director but was also a distinguished journalist, novelist, poet and intellectual.
His earliest films followed a neo-realist style before he developed a more personal, expressionistic aesthetic. Some of this cinematic trademarks included handheld camera, the use of natural lighting and nonprofessional actors.
During his lifetime he was regarded as a contentious figure; an openly gay man with Communist leanings who tackled taboo subjects. Homosexuality features in Teorema (1968), Arabian Nights (1974), Salò, Or The 120 Days Of Sodom (1975).
Salò was released three weeks after Pasolini’s murder. While there’s still conjecture about who was responsible for the brutal crime, Giuseppe Pelosi was convicted. Depicting sexual violence, torture and ritual murder (metaphors for Fascism), Salò remains a controversial film to this day, banned and censored in many countries.
When Giovanni Alessi established his company in Valle Strona (the Italian Alps) in the 1920s it manufactured kitchen utensils from chromium, silverplated brass and nickel.
Since then, the brand has evolved, pioneering the use of plastics and resins as household materials and collaborating with a plethora of acclaimed designers including Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Joseph Hoffman and Philippe Starck to become a collectable Italian design brand. Alessi strives to create highquality, mass-produced items that combine cultural aesthetics with functionality.
While visiting Florence (Fiorenza) in 1817, French author Stendhal was so overwhelmed by the city that he experienced a rapid heartbeat, giddiness, hallucinations and fainting! These symptoms are today called Stendhal Syndrome – which occurs when an individual is confronted with such sublime magnificence it plays havoc with their senses! When it comes to grandiose splendour, this city has it all: impressive palaces and churches, such as the Middle Ages-constructed Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore; one of the most iconic bridges on the planet, the medieval stone Ponte Vecchio; and museums such as Galleria degli Uffizi, which houses a handful of Botticelli’s masterpieces (Primavera and The Birth Of Venus) and the Accademia Gallery. Inside is Michelangelo’s five-metre marble sculpture of David (circa 1501-1504); depicting the intrepid Biblical hero before he fought Goliath; it is surely the greatest interpretation of the naked male form that’s ever existed.
6. DANTE’S VISIONS
What’s your worst nightmare? Trump being re-elected? Missing Drag Race? Well, Dante Alighieri’s vision of hell, as described in his magnum opus, The Divine Comedy, involved being lost in a dark wood while assailed by three beasts (representative of a trio of sins). This long narrative poem – over 14,000 lines – comes in three parts: Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso.
Born in Florence in the 13th Century he was a soldier, pharmacist and politician at various times. The Divine Comedy was written in the common tongue – considered revolutionary at the time. It became a significant influence on Italian literature and the imagery evoked on its pages inspired many artists.
7. THE OPERA
This grandest of art forms was invented by Jacopo Peri in Florence around 1597 when, in an attempt to revive the Greek tragedy, he penned Dafne.
By and large, a performance involves singers and musicians enacting a dramatic work that’s an integration of a text (libretto) and musical score in a theatrical setting. Some notable Italian composers are Monteverdi, Puccini, Rossini, Vivaldi and Mozart’s alleged nemesis, Salieri. These lung-busting extravaganzas are a live music must-see and a step back in time.
8. THE JACUZZI BROTHERS
It’s hot, steamy and full of fun (if it’s full of men).
The Jacuzzi company was founded by seven brothers (Giacondo, Giuseppe, Francesco, Rachele, Valeriano, Gelindo and Candido) in 1915 to manufacture wooden propellers for the aviation industry. When this plan didn’t take off, they changed tack and invented baths with hot hydrotherapy jets.
9. HIGH FASHION
Italy’s roll call of innovative fashion houses with inestimable flair includes Versace, Armani, Moschino, Iceberg, Missoni, Prada, Valentino and Feraggamo.
Dolce and Gabbana (Domenico and Stefano), who started their luxury brand in 1985, have also made a gigantic splash in this sophisticated milieu. However, the pair, who were an item for decades, have courted controversy by criticising invitro fertilisation and surrogacy declaring: “We oppose gay adoptions. The only family is the traditional one.”
In 1686, a Sicilian fisherman, Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli created a machine that produced this delectable substance, which is a mixture of cream, milk, sugar, and fruit and nut purees.
What makes it yummier than similar desserts in other parts of the world is that, generally, it has less air in it, giving it additional flavouring.
Gelato (meaning frozen) is so popular in Italy that there are an estimated 19,000 parlours nationwide. If you were brought up on vanilla, enjoy the broader flavour sensations of amarena, cocco, pesca and panna.
11. THE SEXY LANGUAGE
Italian is a Romance language that evolved from Vulgar Latin and has a lilting, rhythmic flow that produces round, fruity, sensual sounds. For example, expressions such as sei bellissimo (you are beautiful); dammi un bacio (give me a kiss); and potrei guardarti tutto il giorno (I could look at you all day) can make one weak at the knees.
The Italians are not famous for their small, squidgy balls – but maybe they should be! These tasty morsels are soft dough dumplings, rolled out and cut into cork-sized pieces. They can be made from breadcrumbs or potato or semolina or wheat flour. Thought to be Middle Eastern in origin, brought back by Roman legions during their expansions, traditionally, gnocchi is served as a first course alternative to pasta.
13. PORN STARS
The thing about porn is that if the money shot is not on the money, you feel short-changed. Never fear, you’re in safe hands with Italo-studs! Perhaps it’s their long cultural history of naked male flesh in art, their natural capacity as performers or simply their masculine beauty. Search Francesco D’Macho, Alex Marte (pictured) and Carlo Masi for starters.
15. LEONARDO DA VINCI
It’s no surprise that da Vinci once stated, “Learning never exhausts the mind.” There’s rarely been a person who has utilised their intellect more. Born in 1452 in Florence, the illegitimate son of a notary, it seems there was no subject this phenomenal polymath could not turn his attention to: architecture, anatomy, cartography, engineering, music, writing, the list goes on.
Not much is known about his early life other than that he spent some years as the artist Verrocchio’s apprentice. It proved to be the ideal grounding as he went on to conceptualise the helicopter, the parachute and military tank.
Then there are the glorious paintings: Lady With An Ermine, and her of the inscrutable smile, The Mona Lisa.
Of course, Leonardo was gay. In 1476 he was accused of sodomy which, in Renaissance Florence, was punishable by death. He fled to Milan where he completed The Last Supper and invented a new form of fresco painting.
A boy nicknamed “Salai” (the Devil) was part of Leonard’s household for many years. He was described as a liar and a thief but was nevertheless kept on as a servant and model. He posed for Leonardo’s Bacchus and John The Baptist. Among Leonardo’s sketches is a pictured captioned Salai’s Bum with erections on legs running towards it. It is thought, however, that these sketches were drawn by Salai himself, not Leonardo. But it does suggest an intimacy between them. Salai inherited The Mona Lisa on Leonard’s death.
A battered corpse that’s been dispatched with a razor blade or some other sharp instrument; some sexy, blood-soaked lingerie; possibly even signs of torture, yet no immediate suspect.
These are just a few of the elements to expect in this genre of Italian-produced, murder mystery/horror thriller film. Giallo literally means yellow; the name derives from a series of cheap paperback whodunits with yellow covers that were all the rage in the 1950s and ’60s. Movie-wise, the peak was the ’70s when directors like Dario Argento, Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci took delight in cramming their gorefests with eroticism, kitsch, the supernatural
16. SOPHIA LOREN
“Sex appeal is fifty per cent what you’ve got and fifty per cent what people think you’ve got,” Loren once said.
Now 83, the actress remains enigmatic. Born in Rome in 1934, her celluloid career started in the 1950s with minor roles in Quo Vadis (1951), Era lui... sì! sì! (1951) and Girls Marked Danger (1953), among others. Hollywood stardom beckoned later in the decade courtesy of a contract with Paramount Pictures.
Her brooding beauty, absorbing performances, nuanced ardour and faultless timing in several romantic comedies helped Loren take home a couple of Oscars – for Two Women (1962) and Marriage Italian Style (1964).
17. CINQUECENTO (FIAT 500)
Toddlers, Paddington Bear and koalas are meant to be cute, but so is this two-door marvel. Built by that powerhouse of Italian manufacturing, Fiat between 1957 and 1975, these little maestros (2.97 metres in length) were envisaged as cheap, practical about-town motors.
Originally with just a 479cc twocylinder, air-cooled rear engine, don’t expect this little baby to be bombing along the autostrada anytime soon – its top speed is just
Not to be confused with the Fiat
126 (the Bambino) or the earlier model, the Topolino (Mickey Mouse in Italian); and not as a sexy as Italy’s other famous brands, Ferrari, Maserati and Lamborghini – but 100 times cuter!
18. ROMAN RUINS
Along with Greece, Italy offers a unique window into Ancient civilisation. When the Roman Empire finally disintegrated, it left behind a skeleton of archaic buildings and monuments. These include the immaculately preserved temple of all temples (and still in use as a church) Pantheon; the Colosseum, the brick-faced amphitheatre where gladiators spilt the most vital of fluids; Pompeii, an archaeological site like no other, buried under 5 metres of ash and pumice when Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD79, but rediscovered in the 1500s; and Emperor Hadrian’s villa outside Tivoli with its exquisite gardens, pools and artefacts including a marble statue of his deified lover, Antinous.
19. CALCIO (SOCCER)
Sturdy thighs, tight shorts, sweaty bodies and wads of petroleum jelly. Sounds like the ultimate gay fantasy and, well, it kinda is… it’s Italian soccer.
The Italians excel at the beautiful game, il bel gioco. The national team, the Azzurri have made it to four World Cup finals (a record only bettered by Brazil), and the country has turned out countless winners of the various elite European competitions – the UEFA Champions and Europa Leagues, etc.
Legendary players include Roberto Baggio, Paolo Maldini, Paolo Rossi and Dino Zoff.
20. PRIMO LEVI
No matter how often we read about it or see images from it, it’s almost impossible for most of us to imagine the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps. Italian Jew, Primo Levi (pictured) detailed his internment in Auschwitz from February 1944 to January 1945 in numerous writings: the books If This Is A Man (1947), The Truce (1963), and Moments Of Reprieve (1981); and the essay The Drowned And The Saved (1985).
Born in Turin in 1919 and trained as a chemist, he was deported to Auschwitz at age 24. He survived the Holocaust but, sadly, died of suspected suicide in 1987, perhaps still traumatised by his experiences. The Guardian said, “His moving memoir of Auschwitz is one of the great books of the 20th Century.”
Despite his books and numerous interviews, little is known of him. Biographer Carole Angier observed, “The man who loved and spoke to the whole of humanity found private, emotional life impossibly hard.”
Caravaggio’s Boy With A Basket Of Fruit.The Amalfi coast.Pasolini directs a scene from Salò.Alessi’s famous egg cup.
Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia Gallery.
Versace Menswear on the runway.
Salai, depicted by Leonardo as Bacchus.
Sophia Loren in Marriage Italian Style, 1964.
Alex Marte soaps up his Cinqucento.
Statues of Antinous are still popular today.