‘The Monocle Book of Italy’ is our grand tour of the nation’s best design, business, food and fashion. Here its editor, Chiara Rimella, holds forth on the challenges and charms of cataloguing her home nation’s best bits.
Summarising a nation’s character is a hard thing to do. It gets particularly tricky with a country such as Italy, where people are fiercely territorial. You know all those dishes on the menu at “Italian” restaurants abroad? Well don’t you dare order a carbonara outside Rome, or a cannolo anywhere but Sicily. Regional differences matter profoundly. Italians often snigger at the myths that they have themselves helped propagate – the Vespas, the pasta, the wild gesticulating – sometimes unaware of how much they then play into the stereotypes that maintain the perennial popularity of this place. Italy feels comfortingly familiar to many: its global diaspora has created soft-power embassies in the form of delis, pizzerie and tailors.
On the ground it’s dazzlingly diverse, from the German-speaking peaks of the Dolomites to the crystalline waters of the Amalfi Coast. Over the years, monocle’s reporters have zoomed in on stories of businesses, buildings and people, skirting around what, for all of their rich differences, makes them unmistakably Italian.
Perhaps it’s a sense of commitment and emotional investment that represents the national psyche best. You can see it in the way that a waiter will proudly deliver the dish of the day to your table, or in how a cobbler will return an expertly resoled brogue. It’s the fundamental reason why Italy’s furniture and fashion industries have conquered the rest of the world: people here care about a job fatto bene – done well (even if punctuality isn’t always a factor). They care about living generously, eating good food every day and wearing their best outfit to work. The endearing chaos that governs many facets of life (from ordering a coffee to queueing endlessly at a post office) is born out of unwritten rules that are, in fact, the opposite of nonchalant. In this book we have dug deep to try and understand what makes this country tick, and revisited the things that have made so many fall in love with this warm, charming, riotous place.
Images: Sara Magni, Bea De Giacomo