Life is always a challenge for an ex-pat living in Italy. There is a constant struggle with the language, continually being reminded of an outsider by snide remarks and condescending quips about your accent. Yet ex-pats develop a thick skin and put up with many frustrations so we can soak up the beauty, way of life, history, art, architecture, orgasmic cuisine, fashion and the flamboyant nature of Italy.
As a writer, I am perpetually mesmerised by the stories I discover living in Italy, from bizarre news items to surprisingly bad Italian television. The Italian language is always surprising me with its depth of expression, richness and nuances.
I’ve been living in this country for nearly twenty years, and I can honestly say I’m still very much learning the language. My young son is working his way through the labyrinth of Italian grammar, history and literature. Sometimes I don’t feel compitent enough to help him.
I still hear new words and phrases that I have to ask for their meaning. Italian is so vibrant, its evolving everyday, absorbing a lot of English jargon yet putting its own spin and pronunciation into them.
Everyday is an eternal struggle with the language for me. I cannot understand the array of masculine and feminine endings. Why and how are objects classified masculine while others are feminine? I have no idea how Italian will be able to handle new pronouns for our LGBTQ friends when it is stuck within this binary classification.
I’m afraid I’ll never grasp how the different articles are melded together to create a grammatically correct sentence. I’ll also never master the historical past tense, conjunctive, or future tense, which means my conversation will forever be limited to the present or past simple. Unable to fully express my opinions on historical events or what lies in the future. In Italian, I’m eternally condemned to be stuck in the present tense!
Despite Italy’s corruption, crumbling infrastructure, high taxes, nepotism, cronyism, a convoluted legal system and positively archaic bureaucracy, which has made grown men weep, the country remains one of the most inebriating places in the world. Italy is idealised, loved and made fun of in equal doses. I often have to pinch myself to remind myself that this place is real; there are so many contradictions and extremes that I sometimes feel like I live on another planet.
Italians miraculously manage to make Italy one of the most ‘liveable’ countries in the world. Italians are the most resilient people. They are warm, generous, vibrant, and despite any problems, they manage to live their lives with a passion, vibrance, colour and panache’ which is commendable.
My son is growing up in Italy and knows very little about life in my native home of Australia apart from short visits to his grandparents. Thanks to Covid it’s been two years since we’ve been to Australia and I fear he’s forgetting a lot of what he had discovered from his almost annual visits to Oz.
My son’s growing up with soccer cards and players names swirling around in his head. He listens to Italian rappers and already slicks his hair back with gel. He will grow up with the same friends from kindergarten to middle school, and some may even accompany him through high school.
Despite having an Australian mother, he is becoming typically Italian. It’s a beautiful thing to witness, as at this point, he is brimming with personality and being taken care of by an extended small-town community of teachers, students, bus drivers and locals who have seen him grow up before their eyes. He is still too young to understand the more serious problems or be disillusioned by them.
Italians are lovely, honest, down to earth, funny and flirtatious. Italy’s celebrities, on the other hand, are on another planet. They are like characters from a convoluted sitcom or Spanish telenovelas, adored by the everyday population.
Once Italy falls in love with you as a celebrity, they will always be in love. Famous Italian stars that come to mind include singers like Adriano Celentano, Mina, Ornella Vanoni and Patti Pravo. They have been around for decades and are still adored by the public.
Not only singers but also television hosts like game show legend Mike Buongiorno who dominated the television and advertising landscape until he died in 2009.
The t.v comedic duo of husband and wife Sandra Mondaini and Raimondo Vianello, began performing together in the 1960s and had their weekly sitcom until 2007. They passed away months apart from one another in 2010 and were mourned by the entire nation.
There are hundreds of examples of people who have become famous in Italy for one reason or another. Because of their personality and charisma, they become a beloved part of the Italian household, practically until their deaths.
In Italy even an electoral campaign is more like a popularity contest rather than a political debate of various points of view and opinions. As a trained journalist, I am surprised at the lack of journalistic training. There are no schools of journalism or organised cadetships; it’s all about networking and political recommendations.
Most newspaper journalists are academics, resulting in the newspapers being the most convoluted and complicated thing you could ever read, and the t.v news is filled with lousy journalism.
The television news is presented as gossip; the press is regularly tricked by fake news and is dominated by public witch hunts. Often high profile crimes are triled by the media and associated lobby groups. These concerns are a part of a general worldwide trend, but it has always been like this in Italy.
Italy’s flamboyance is all around, and it is a fascinating circus to behold. I often have to pinch myself to make sure it’s all real. Italians are constantly reinventing themselves, shifting and changing according to the situation which is in turn reflected by the chamelionic nature of popular culture.
As someone who has been living amongst and with Italians for 20 years, I am persistently mesmerised by Italian celebrity culture. At times I feel like an anthropologist exploring and anaysing a newly discovered ancient culture.
Unfortunately, some famous Italians don’t easily translate outside of Italy, so I’d love to share some with you in a series of portraits dedicated to the many flamboyant Italians I’ve come across during my time living in Sicily.
I want to think a little of their energy has rubbed off on me too. An Italian’s insane passion for life and living in the moment might be the secret to living a happy, long life.
Every once in a while, I will share an Italian personality, known here in Italy and who can only ever exist as a celebrity here in Italy.