Man in a Suitcase
It’s nonsense to say you’re off to Italy on holiday, says Tim Magee. It’s a country of too many parts, with characteristics too diverse to bundle into one entity. That’s its charm …
There is no such thing as Italy. Doesn’t exist. I don’t care what they say – it’s not a country. Most countries have little differences that seem big to them and small to outsiders, but saying you’re going to Italy is like saying you’re going to America. Which America? Alaska or Honolulu?
I rarely plan to go, always assuming Italy will be there waiting for me in later years, but thankfully keep ending up back there through work or the generosity of friends. That has meant staying in little residential apartments in Alghero, voluptuous villas in the Tuscan hills, three-star superstars in Rome, hotels run by concierges in Florence, and everything from a caravan on the Amalfi cliffs to what might be the world’s greatest hotel by Lake Garda. In just over a year last year that meant too many aqueducts and tunnels to Bologna, Lombardy, Liguria, Florence, Venice, to Shakespeare’s Verona and Mantua, The Sopranos Naples and the leftover bits of di Lampedusa’s Sicily, and the more I saw, the less I bought it as a country.
It is just too diverse, too big, and probably too young. Italy is still relatively new. There are turtles older than Italy, a new project in a very old neighbourhood, a barely cobbled together boot with invisible borders built from money, culture and one-upmanship. Italy is a symphony of once warring city-states, a North African kingdom where crime is still a tourist attraction, an old Spanish island colony and a dishevelled coastal beauty abandoned by some very long-term French lodgers, and the bin men.
To northern Italians, the south is the Wild West. Italians south of Rome secretly covet the north, but call it Austria. Everyone except the Sicilians calls Sicily Africa, and Sardinia may as well be on the moon.
This story appears in the May issue of The Gloss. Find more features like this in next issue, out June 4