The Secrets of Italy: People, Places, and Hidden Histories
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One of Italy's best-known writers takes a Grand Tour through her cities, history, and literature in search of the true character of this contradictory nation. There is Michelangelo, but also the mafia. Pavarotti, but also Berlusconi. The debonair Milanese, but also the infamous captain of the Costa Concordia cruise ship. This is Italy, admired and reviled, a country that has guarded her secrets and confounded outsiders. Now, when this "Italian paradox" is more evident than ever, cultural authority Corrado Augias poses the puzzling questions: how did it get this way? How can this peninsula be simultaneously the home of geniuses and criminals, the cradle of beauty and the butt of jokes?
An instant #1 bestseller in Italy, Augias's latest sets out to rediscover the story-different from the history-of this country. Beginning with how Italy is seen from the outside and from the inside, he weaves a geo-historical narrative, passing through principal cities and rereading the classics and the biographies of the people that have, for better or worse, made Italians who they are. From the gloomy atmosphere of Cagliostro's Palermo to the elegant court of Maria Luigia in Parma, from the ghetto of Venice to the heroic Neapolitan uprising against the Nazis, Augias sheds light on the Italian character, explaining it to outsiders and to Italians themselves. The result is a "novel of a nation," whose protagonists are both the figures we know from history and literature and characters long hidden between the cracks of historical narrative and memory.
they began to make an uproar. But she said, in a slow and tranquil tone, “Respect my white hair; I am not only a school-teacher, I am also a mother”; and then no one dared to speak again.12 In M. Nigra Garigliola’s Buon Cuore (1906), schoolmistress Cromi becomes schoolmistress Dorati, and the new version sounds like this: “Signora Dorati, the oldest of the schoolmistresses, has one son in the loony bin, and her other son wants to become a priest. As she entered there was an infernal uproar; the
Napoleon died on May 5, 1821, aged fifty-one. His widow, who had reached her thirties by then, wrote a very realistic funerary ode for her late spouse: “He was the father of my son and—far from having abused me as is generally believed, he granted me every respect. When all is said and done, that is the most one can ask for from an arranged political marriage.” Three months later, on August 8, 1821, Marie Louise finally married the father of her other two children. Theirs was a secret,
Although such declarations are often laborious, drawn up step by step, and sometimes at the cost of much blood, it is curious that Italy has never really had one. In truth, there have been a few attempts, but they were sporadic, short-lived, and quickly stifled: remember Naples in 1799, and Rome in 1849. Think what you will of Napoleon, who displayed no shortage of deplorable aspects. Even the cold calculation by which he ceded Venice to Austria understandably raises disapproval. Yet it was
liberty, its leaders have often arbitrarily used it and abused it; major civil liberties, the ones that guarantee individuals’ rights, have for long periods—our present day included—been neglected and even denied. I conclude this book fully aware of having skipped over many stories and places that are just as important as the ones I chose to include. The omission of Turin especially weighs on me, as it is one of the country’s most significant cities, for reasons both historical and otherwise.
intelligence in the countenance of man since I passed the Alps …*” The asterisk leads to an equally revealing note added by his wife, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, who edited the volume this letter was published in: “These impressions of Shelley, with regard to the Italians, formed in ignorance, and with precipitation, became altogether altered after a longer stay in Italy. He quickly discovered the extraordinary intelligence and genius of this wonderful people, amidst the ignorance in which they