Italy Roundtable: The Beautiful Mess

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italyroundtableIn May 2011, some Italophile friends started a group called the Italy Blogger Roundtable. We would each choose a topic and post something about Italy on our websites every month. These articles were posted on my personal blog for a while. You can view some of my Italy Roundtable archives by clicking. After a long hiatus we have decided to revive the Roundtable and Italy Explained will become the new home for our contributions.

In honor of the new year, and all the changes in our lives since then, our theme this month is CHange.

Gloria of At Home In Tuscany, Alexandra from ArtTrav and Kate of Driving Like a Maniac are the fine ladies who were part of the Italy Blogging Roundtable. Rebecca of Brigolante is Melanie of Italofile. Links to their posts about the theme are at the end of my post.

I hope that you find this addition to Italy Explained’s regular programming schedule enjoyable. I also hope that you enjoy the work of other Italophiles.

Many people ask me how they can choose the right place to visit Italy. There is so much to see. You can pick up your must-sees the next time you visit.

Italy has been around for hundreds of years. It will be there when it’s time to go back.

Although the answer is a bit flippant, the core idea – which I am always trying to convey so people do not overwhelm their itineraries with too many itineraries – is that Italy will remain the same between your first and second visits, so there is no need to worry about seeing it all in one trip.

We all know this is false. Italy is changing. All things change.


Piazza Duomo - Milano || creative commons photo by Michele M.F.

Piazza Duomo – Milano || creative commons photo by Michele M.F.

It looks like Italy hasn’t changed much in the past centuries. The Roman Forum is not a busy main street in an immense empire. However, visitors have been visiting the same sites for generations. The “Holy Trinity” of Rome Florence-Venice remains the most popular route for travelers. We love Italy and we know that Italy will never change. We plan to visit the same amazing monuments, art, and views that tourists have praised. This is why we go to places that we know will be there.

There are always changes to cities and attractions that we love. We are reminded that Venice is in danger of sinking. This may be because the almost-finished MOSE project may have to stop. Rome’s Colosseum is one of the most famous symbols in the country. It has undergone a multi-year facelift (funded through Tod’s shoes) and the scaffolding will be taken down in 2016. 830 years after its construction, the mystery surrounding Pisa’s tower-leaning tower was finally solved. The new pope is bringing an inexorable stream of policy updates to the Catholic church in Italy, which is a key part of the nation’s identity despite it being independent. Even Pompeii is being changed, as more structures from the city were destroyed by the Vesuvius eruption in 79 CE.

It changes in ways visitors can’t see. These changes aren’t just common but also constant. They are something only residents can see. Italy’s political leadership changes more frequently than it does its bachelors. However, most tourists can’t name the Prime Minister of Italy (or any other national leader) outside their country. Even if you are only on a brief trip to Italy, the man in charge will not have much impact on your overall experience.

This isn’t meant to imply that Italy’s current leadership will always accept the status quo. Matteo Renzi (current Prime Minister of Italy) spoke to The Washington Post last autumn to express his belief that Italy needs to change.

“We have the power to change and must act accordingly. After years of economic stagnation, I believe that this is the moment when Italy can achieve the things it has waited for for so many years. How many years have Italy not spoken out about labor reforms in the past? How many years have Italy waited for constitution reform and waited to get rid of the bureaucracy? Paradoxally, the crisis is what makes it necessary to change. It is impossible to believe that the future will come without change.

While I agree with his statements, I expect his tenure to be brief (as it is with all PMs who try to move the country in another direction). Renzi seems to realize that the task he has set himself is difficult. He later said:

It is time for Italy to change. It will. It’s easy to understand, but difficult to grasp. It would be easy for someone else to do it if it was. Italy must undergo a major transformation.”

Italy is just too comfortable with the status quo in some ways. It would be too difficult to change the living standards that they think they will lose if Renzi asks. There’s so much corruption at all levels of government that it almost seems like throwing the baby with the bathwater is the only way to go.

Is Italy in dire need of radical changes? Probably. Renzi will be able manage it. It remains to be seen. I don’t hold my breath.

Tim Parks, a long-time resident of Italy, wrote in 2012: “Can Italy change?”

“When I arrived in Italy 30 years ago, there was much talk of change. It was always in the near future, but never in the immediate present.

This, to me sums Renzi’s challenge. Italians may support Renzi’s ideas when they are ideas. But putting those ideas into practice, creating “radical change” rather than just talking about it, may be one step beyond what the Italians are ready to do.

It will remain the Italy that many tourists have longed for, regardless of whether reformers succeed or fail. Italian has a phrase that captures both the grace and the grit sides of Italy’s personality. It’s a beautiful expression that I think captures these two aspects in a harmonious way. It is called “un casino”, which means a beautiful mess. Even if Italy implements the necessary changes to survive, I still hope that this beautiful mess will endure. It’s my favorite part about Italy.

Italy Roundtable: Other Voices

What are the changes my Italy Roundtable cohorts discussing? Follow me to each post. Please leave comments and share with your friends. Tune in next month to see another topic from the Italy Blogging Roundtable!

Are we connected?

Are you LIKING us on Facebook? Are you following our Twitter? We’re very friendly, so please drop by to say hello. We are always open to suggestions for future topics for the Italy Blogger Roundtable. Drop us a message on Facebook, Twitter, or comment on any of our posts.

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4 Responses to “Italy Roundtable – The Beautiful Mess”

  • Alexandra says:

    Jess, that was a great idea. You are most welcome!

  • Tim Parks’ quote is perfect. It’s possible that the beautiful history we have here makes it difficult to move forward. It is sad that people who want to make a difference in Italy move away from the lack of momentum. It would be ideal if Renzi could make a difference in politics and finances (or lay the foundations for his successor) without changing the “beautiful mess”. Let’s hope so…

    • Jess has the following:

      Another problem is that Renzi is not allowed to test the ideas. These fiscal and political differences must be resolved quickly.


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