Italy: La dolce vita

Samuel Johnson, the superlative English wordsmith, once said: “A man who has not been to Italy is always conscious of an inferiority.” His American counterpart, the equally commanding master of prose, Mark Twain, shared a similar appreciation of the European country’s seductive beauty: “The creator made Italy from designs by Michelangelo.” Bella Italy.
It certainly exudes gravitas. This is not to be confused with haughtiness, which is easily done; ever is there a fine line between self-assurance and arrogance. The dynamic country therefore does not possess an air of superiority, but what it does radiate is an unmistakeable confidence, a sort of stylish composure in everything it does and everything it stands for.
This sizzling poise is the product of three centuries of artistic and intellectual fermentation between the thirteenth and sixteenth century, which took Italy out of the shadows of the Middle Ages and thrust it into the modern age. It led the way for the rest of the world.
The Italian Renaissance marked the beginning of a wider European cultural paroxysm, marked as an epoch where man began to take control of his destiny, liberate himself from primitive and insular ways of thinking and living, and set in motion the free, democratic and enlightened world we inhabit today. This, we call civilisation, a derivative of civilised, the antithesis of being a philistine.
From Machiavelli’s politically innovative thesis The Prince to Andrea Palladio’s influential architectural sensibilities to Sandro Botticelli’s huge leaps forward in the field of art, Italy excelled. High culture has remained important ever since, modern day masters coming in the form of the mesmeric composer Giacomo Puccini, the supremely intelligent filmmaker Federico Fellini and the grand novelist Umberto Eco.
With an appreciation that life is more than just work, Italy’s artistic environment, which is deeply embedded in the country’s DNA, also extends into fashion, food and domesticity. Haute couture is a matter of life and death, food is almost so divine it’s rude to not eat well and socialising, being gregarious, inviting and discursive is part of the norm. This is the kind of life that awaits British professionals moving to Italy, where they join around 30,000 other expats who are living la dolce vita.
Professionals heading to the beautiful country at present do so during a period of profound change, seen by many commentators as an absolute break from the pottered rule of Silvio Berlusconi, which was best characterised as constantly fluctuating. This has been Italy’s fate since reunification in 1861, characterised by an inability to rule with a decided majority. Coalitions therefore have been the norm, and though this has not resulted in “stability” in comparison to other European nations, it hasn’t exactly been detrimental to political and social life.
For example, Italy currently has the tenth biggest economy in the world and the fourth largest in Europe, thanks largely to a diversified industrial framework that has two distinct arms. Geographically defined, the north is home to a busy private sector, whereas in the south, work is based more around a modest agricultural industry.
Fuelling economic growth is the production of exceptionally high-quality consumer goods, which enjoy both high turnovers domestically and internationally. This sector remains at the core of the country’s economy, helping it stay afloat during these testing times.
As such, even though Italy felt the pinch with the fallout from the financial crisis in 2008, Italians have always enjoyed a decent level of living. Part of the reason for this is that certainly since the 1950s, the country’s financial sector has long been an advocate of sensible banking, tending to be more cautious than speculative.
It would be wrong to say the markets in Italy are risk averse. It’s a cultural thing that filters down into households. Most people have higher than average savings, which also means low household debt. If you don’t have the cash, then you can’t spend money.
Italians are more than content with the products of their rich history, which is to say that even a modest life in Italy is enjoyable because satisfaction is derived from the little things that make all the difference.
That would be a double-espresso then, with a cake maybe; a passionate argument about art with friends, and a typically Italian lunch, so sumptuous, plentiful and varied, a banquet fit for a king or a queen. All of which are enjoyed alfresco.
“You may have the universe if I may have Italy,” stated the Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi. Hear, hear.