By Hannah Smith
Italia: the country of beauty, good weather and questionable politics. As far as art is concerned, this is the country which gave us Michelangelo (which is actually his first name you know, I mean you really know you’ve done well for yourself when you’re just known by your first name, don’t you?) and the infamous Statue of David which can be found in Florence (both the real one in the Uffizzi gallery and a much visited replica). It’s the country which gave us frescoes in abundance. The country where your neck aches from looking up at so many beautifully painted ceilings. The country which literally throws duomos and Cathedrals at us, temples of beautiful architecture and sculptures housed inside palace-like churches – the Cathedral at Amalfi is simply incredible.
Countless people have witnessed the art which Italy proffers, they’ve compared photos, Googled the artistic genii behind the creations. But is this really what this country offers us when we think of art? Now, that is not a question to be interpreted in a bored, ungrateful manner in the slightest. Quite the opposite in fact. Indeed Italy is the country where Art reigns proudly, and rightly so. Yet just thinking about ‘Art’, in the traditional ‘painting, museum’ sense, as is often the common conception of the word, really does only get you so far in this country, which teams with beauty, and has art seeping into every part of life.
Italy is also the country which gave us pizza and pasta, and good job too. Food is in fact one of the domains in which Art takes on a whole new meaning as far as Italy is concerned: it leaps centre stage to perform a monologue all of its own. In Italy food isn’t something which sustains you, although obviously it does that too, it is the chance to allow your creativity and artistic flare to flow, on a twice-daily basis.
Preparing lunch with friends this summer in the Italian countryside, one of our party remarked that we were to have nectarines for dolce after our meal. The beautifully sweet fruit is delicious enough, especially in 40C+ heat, where it most definitely trumps chocolate gateau or lemon cheesecake. But this is Italy, where the chance to add artistic flare is omnipresent. So our simple ‘nectarines’ for pudding became ‘Nectarines soaked in Prosecco, drizzled with sugar’ and delicious it was too. Try it, I dare you.
But if you really do need cooling down, then ice cream is the natural port of call. The colours, textures and variety which a gelateria boasts in Italy really is a sight to behold. With at least ten (minimum) flavours on offer, from amaretto to straciatella (kind of like vanilla chocolate chip) to amaretto, ice cream beneath the glass counter is like a work of modern art. Only better, because you don’t just have to look at it, you can taste it too: you don’t know art until you’ve seen and tasted Italian Ice Cream
And really you only have to get an Italian talking on the subject of food to realise that painting is an apt metaphor for the culinary ways of the country: the material you use does not necessarily have to be in plentiful supply, just of very good quality. “But is it good quality cheese?” an Italian friend recently remarked at a picnic, as she sceptically eyed some Cheese-topped, garlic- bread she was being offered a sample of. And like any work of art, the artist creates work to be appreciated by others; “If I had to eat alone, I just wouldn’t eat!” announced my same, lovely, food-loving Italian friend indignantly. Food, like art, is a serious business. In Italy, food is art.
As well as painting and sculptures, another typical measure of art is often music. But again just looking at Italian music seems too much of a superficial way to evaluate the countries artistic value: Pavarotti was wonderful, Fabri Fibra, not so much (google the latter, an Italian rapper, if you really want). And this is where the Italian Language steps in. Italians do love to chat, wherever, whenever and about whatever, that stereotype certainly rings true. But the real art is to be found in the flexibility of their song-song like language. Adding prefixes and suffixes to change the nuance of a word gives you your own unique way to be creative with the language: ‘Giulia’s are affectionately known as Giuletta, ‘Anna’s are known as Annina – adding ‘etta’ or ‘ina’ to the end of a name is a way of making it sound cute and friendly. Parola (meaning ‘word’) is perfectly harmless until you add ‘accia’ to the end of it – the suffix which connotes something bad – and with that the parolaccia is born, the Italian for ‘swear word’, or literally a ‘bad word’. But what if it is only a little, bad word? Simple. You just add the ina suffix on as well: parolaccina. Even better, what if you are talking about a large person, a grosso, who is actually really very large, larger than large? Enter the suffix ‘-one’, used to make something larger than it is, and the Italian word grossone, or ‘fatty’What they lack in subtlety they certainly make up for in creativity those Italians. In fact the language has such a rich, deeply vocalic quality that even the oddest of phrases are rendered seemingly artistic. On encountering a teenage boy, who kindly offered us a spare crepe (sooner or later at least it seems that it always comes back to food…) he had just made, whilst standing in nothing but his underpants, his response to justify this obvious lack of clothing had a poetic, intriguing sound, totally at odds with the bizarre situation it was borne out of (his friends had stolen them as some kind of joke, in case you were wondering).
So go to Italy, see the Scrovegni chapel and the other art work which the tourists flock to, but be sure to just get lost there; spend time listening to the people, even if you don’t understand exactly what it is they’re saying, appreciate this spontaneous music they make when they speak. Admire the beautiful clothes the Italians so proudly wear (well, those that haven’t had their trousers stolen anyway!) and find the art which flows everywhere in this culture. For starters, get yourself to a bar and try aperol spritz, a unique Italian cocktail in the most interesting orangey, yellow colour, always accompanied by bread or crisps of some sort – this is Italy after all! And with that, I’m off to cook some gnocchi….