Beppe Severgnini, an Italian journalist who spent many years in England and the US, has written a small collection of books on the subject, including La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind. He writes, “Italy is far from hellish. It’s got too much style. Neither is it heaven, of course, because it’s too unruly. Let’s just say that Italy is an offbeat purgatory, full of proud tormented souls each of whom is convinced he or she has a hotline to the boss. It’s the kind of place that can have you fuming and then purring in the space of a hundred meters, or the course of ten minutes.”
If the following pieces of Italy were slips of paper that I could fit into a manila folder, the tab would read: Offbeat.
- The 2001: A Space Odyssey air lock at the local post office. This contraption is closely related to the package window, familiar to residents of New York City and other safe places. That relative is common at such institutions as the pawn shop, the liquor store, and the post office. Like a magician’s puzzle box, the package window has interdependent, bullet-proof sliding doors designed to foil terrorists and to confound postal service employees and customers. Here in Codogno – and I suppose elsewhere across the Italian postal landscape – the package window has become a customer door: a glass-enclosed closet that a you must pass through to conduct business with PosteItaliane. On each end of the portal there is a glass door that opens with an appropriately space-age hushed foosh, sliding into a cavity in the wall. But here’s the rub. The door in front of you will not open until the one behind you has closed, leading to a moment of suspended disbelief, pocket existentialism – will I be left here for all to mock? Will everyone know that I am not worthy to send mail? Will the oxygen in here run out before Bruce Willis and his crack team arrive to save me? Or maybe that’s just me.
- Italians eat horse. There I said it. As with a tongue twister, perhaps my brain will adapt to this idea through frequent repetition. I have recently learned that not only do many Italians eat horse, certain cuts and preparations are highly prized and priced.