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La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind [Paperback]

Beppe Severgnini

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Book Description

June 12 2007
Join the bestselling author of Ciao, America! on a lively tour of modern Italy that takes you behind the seductive face it puts on for visitors—la bella figura—and highlights its maddening, paradoxical true self
You won’t need luggage for this hypothetical and hilarious trip into the hearts and minds of Beppe Severgnini’s fellow Italians. In fact, Beppe would prefer if you left behind the baggage his crafty and elegant countrymen have smuggled into your subconscious. To get to his Italia, you’ll need to forget about your idealized notions of Italy. Although La Bella Figura will take you to legendary cities and scenic regions, your real destinations are the places where Italians are at their best, worst, and most authentic:

The highway: in America, a red light has only one possible interpretation—Stop! An Italian red light doesn’t warn or order you as much as provide an invitation for reflection.

The airport: where Italians prove that one of their virtues (an appreciation for beauty) is really a vice. Who cares if the beautiful girls hawking cell phones in airport kiosks stick you with an outdated model? That’s the price of gazing upon perfection.

The small town: which demonstrates the Italian genius for pleasant living: “a congenial barber . . . a well-stocked newsstand . . . professionally made coffee and a proper pizza; bell towers we can recognize in the distance, and people with a kind word and a smile for everyone.”

The chaos of the roads, the anarchy of the office, the theatrical spirit of the hypermarkets, and garrulous train journeys; the sensory reassurance of a church and the importance of the beach; the solitude of the soccer stadium and the crowded Italian bedroom; the vertical fixations of the apartment building and the horizontal democracy of the eat-in kitchen. As you venture to these and many other locations rooted in the Italian psyche, you realize that Beppe has become your Dante and shown you a country that “has too much style to be hell” but is “too disorderly to be heaven.”
Ten days, thirty places. From north to south. From food to politics. From saintliness to sexuality. This ironic, methodical, and sentimental examination will help you understand why Italy—as Beppe says—“can have you fuming and then purring in the space of a hundred meters or ten minutes.”

Frequently Bought Together

La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind + La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language + Italianissimo: The Quintessential Guide to What Italians Do Best
Price For All Three: CDN$ 41.59

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (June 12 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767914406
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767914406
  • Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 13.4 x 1.7 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 204 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #148,824 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Severgnini—Italian newspaper columnist and author of the pesce-out-of-water memoir Ciao, America!—must have wanted to emulate Luigi Barzini, author of the 1960s classic The Italians, in this somewhat tepid sociological look at his countrymen. Severgnini writes pleasantly enough (and Giles Watson's translation is smooth, for the most part), but his observations are anything but sharp. He organizes this overview as a kind of geographical "tour," with a chapter about car sex in Naples and another on the Italian countryside in Tuscany. Sweeping statements, such as "Italians have the same relationship with food that some Amazonian people have with the clouds in the sky—one glance and we know what to expect," abound, and they have the ring of truth, but they're rarely backed up by supporting anecdotes. In today's shrunken world, jokes about how Italians love to see half-naked women on television ("The new Italian icon is the Semi-Undressed Signorina") and abuse their cellphone privileges simply aren't new. The collection ends with the hoariest of devices: a letter from an imaginary American friend who has taken Severgnini's tour and reminisces about the beautiful "girls" in a Milan disco. Barzini, too, often wrote in generalities, but he had the advantage of coming first. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Severgnini attempts to plumb beneath the mask (the title's bella figura) that Italians present to the world, especially to tourists, to reveal the truth about modern Italian minds and hearts. He begins with the Italian "apartment," the place most Italians call home. For him, this is a cramped, well-guarded portion of real estate where one has little room for oneself and where one is constantly vigilant against neighbors' predations. He rails against Italian men's sexism and women's lack of serious opposition to discrimination in the workplace. Severgnini's Italians prefer bank tellers to impersonal ATMs. His Italians delight in talking about other people's money while maintaining secrecy about their own finances. He longs for equivalent reticence when Italians travel by trains, where, thanks to the cell phone, they share their most intimate secrets with their compartment mates. Severgnini holds -American-inspired Italian shopping malls in special contempt for his fellow countrymen's manic shouting at one another across their walkways, confusing modern mercantile halls with their ancient piazzas. Mark Knoblauch
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.3 out of 5 stars  39 reviews
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Divertente, ma un po noioso.... Dec 7 2006
By Jamie Thome - Published on
I read this book after I heard Beppe Severgnini speak about it in Chicago; while reading, I realized that he'd already mentioned the best things in the book during his talk. The book was interesting, and funny, and I wish that I had read it prior to a trip to Italy, but I was slightly disappointed that there wasn't more to it. He's a very funny man, however, and if you're at all familiar with (or interested in) the ways of the Italians, you'll get a kick out of it.
68 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This was great in Italian - Don't miss it in English March 28 2006
By Hank n Tennessee - Published on
I read the Italian language version (La Testa Degli Italiani)before my family's trip to Italy last summer (my family is Italo-American). Severgnini was European Journalist of the Year last year, writes a wonderful daily letters column in Corriere della Sera entitled "Italians" which is available on- line at [...] and has written other delightful books about his travels in America, England and Germany. There is no better person to explain, with sharp insight and great good humor, the marvelous complexities and contradictions of this amazing country. With its shining successes, its glaring faults, and its self critical population, few countries are so delightful and so maddening at the same time. Read and enjoy. Then go to Italy and see for yourself! You'll never regret the journey.
31 of 37 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Awkward format but an incisive and comprehensive dissection of Italians Sept. 5 2006
By Andy Orrock - Published on
While dining in a favorite restaurant recently, I congratulated the Italian proprietor on his country's recent well-deserved World Cup triumph. "Yeah," he replied, shaking his head, "it was just too easy...I'm really not sure what they can do in 2010 because it's just too easy for us now." I scanned his face for any hint of his pulling my leg (are we talking about the same tournament here?). There was none.

That's the type of Italian bravado and confidence that Beppe Severgnini conveys to his readers in "La Bella Figura." [Typical passage: "We are the consummate professionals of culinary consumption...The French know what they're talking about, but they're sliding into affectation...Note that I'm talking about all Italians...There is a spontaneous gustatory proficiency that cuts across social classes, age groups, income brackets, education and geographical boundaries."]

Now, there are some good things in here, as the other reviewers here can readily attest to. My lukewarm review stems from the fact that the book's awkward format never grabbed me. Severgnini's schtick here is that he's taking us (figuratively) on a ten-day tour so we get lines like "that's the ocean there in front of you...that sand you see was the city council's idea.' Cute idea, but it got old and grating very quickly.

However, if you can get past the clunky presentation, the Italophile in you will be rewarded with an incisive and comprehensive dissection of the national character.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I normally don't bother... Nov. 25 2009
By B. Barclift - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I normally don't take the time to write reviews, but I felt I needed to do so this one time. My wife and I have made several visits to Italy. We rent a car and travel on our own. What great experiences we have had. I do not hold myself out as an expert on the subject of Italy, but I am enthusiastic. After reading Bepe Severgninni's musing on the Italian character, I thought it would make a perfect gift for a like minded friend. Upon seeing a number of negative reviews on this website, I thought I would post my five stars and write this comment. This book is not a travel log, it is not a reference book. But, if you have a fascination with Italy and its complexities and contradictions La Bella Figura makes for a most pleasant read.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It Resonates Aug. 27 2006
By Ty - Published on
Bepper Severgnini captures the hearts and minds of the Italians in this book. It is a great read that anyone planning a trip to Italy should read. If you enjoy this book you'll also love ELEVEN DAYS IN AUGUST, a delightful little memoir by Amatore Mille that deals with his relationship with his Italian grandparents as they sell Italin sausage sandwiches at the Wisconsin State Fair. Both books will make you glad you're Italian or wish you were!

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