HERE'S HOW TO GO TO ITALY WITHOUT LEAVING HOME
Updated: Apr 9, 2020
At this magazine we have our flights of fancy. Our passing infatuations. Our mad crushes. Places that we fall for and fawn over but eventually we forget about and move on. But we also have our life-long love affairs, the destinations to which we return again and again, the cities and countries that we can never quite get to the bottom of, the places that intrigue us, challenge us, delight us, entrance us. And then there’s our relationship withItaly, which is something else entirely. Of course it is: Italy is the country that travel was invented for, the destination of the original Grand Tour, first among equals. This, after all, is a country which pretty much tops the charts at everything it does: food, history, architecture, romance, opera, people, wine, landscape, art. It isn’t merely an object of our affection, it’s why we exist.
And so to watch it suffer as it suffers now is wounding in ways that we can barely describe. The thing that keeps us going is the knowledge that this crisis will end and we will be able to return to Italy as soon as it safe to do so, and flood the place with love, help it get back on its feet, show our support by going and splurging wherever makes best sense to us: the agriturismo inTuscany, the family-run hotel in Capri, the tucked-away trattoria in Rome.
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Until then, the only thing to do is to try to recreate the experience of being in Italy as best we can, to attempt to bring a little bit of la bella figura to our locked-down living rooms. Of course this means taking imaginative flights rather than literal ones and nothing does this better than a book. It would be remiss not to at least mention Elena Ferrante’s well-thumbed quartet of Neapolitan novels, which are no less brilliant for being an obvious choice. Those who have read them and hunger for another book that captures southern Italy’s irrepressible charisma might try Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s modern classic, The Leopard, which follows the fortunes of a noble family in Sicily against the backdrop of the Risorgimento. Anyone yearning for Tuscany should get themselves a copy of Alberto Moravia’s novella Agostino, first published in the 1940s and recently republished by the brilliant NYRB imprint, which tells of a young boy’s loss of innocence as he holidays at a Mediterranean resort. Those in the mood for something more contemporary might try Enrico Brizzi’s 1994 debut Jack Frusciante Has Left the Band, which captures Bologna in all its rebellious, anti-establishment glory.