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I am often asked for books, films, music suggestions which I feel express a certain “Italianita'”. One such recommendation is Sprezzatura : 50 Ways Italian Genius Shaped the World (D’Epiro, Pinkowish; New York, Anchor Books 2001). Sprezzatura refers to Italian ingenousness and the art of making such genious look effortless. A sort of “voila’, I give you the Ferrari.”or “voila’, here, have a road (the first roads were created by the Romans), an archway (likewise), a beatifully tailored brocad e gown, a state-of-the-art kitchen,a perfect cup of coffee”, need I go on? So why, then, should I be at all surprised at what you see pictured here. What seems like an everyday sheet of A4 paper is actually an act of modern sprezzatura. Not as impressive as the art-made-to seem-simple to which Baldassare Castiglione referred in the 16th century or to which D’Epiro and Pinkowish refer in their book but oh-so-Roman.

The other day I had some business banking to do and went to the national headquarters of Italy’s largest bank where we hold our business account. If you’ve never been to Italy, you don’t know that all jewelers and banks in Italy are protected by triple-glazed, automatic, bullet-proof, metal-detecting doors. One pushes a button to be admitted to the anti-chamber, the door shuts behind you and, unless you are packing metal, a second door opens in front of you, inviting you in to either deposit, withdraw or – in the case of the jeweler – spend your money.

At the bank, if you are packing metal (and that means wallets, keys, telephones, lipstick cases) many times a voice will come on as the streetside door re-opens, inviting you to go back and deposit your goods in a locker outside. Most often banks employ guards who have magic buttons to push, opening the second door for you and waving you ahead without having to leave your handbag outside. Our bank used to have one. I often wondered if they could tell the good from the bad instinctively and, therefore, waved the good ahead and stopped only the bad or if they were actually on a first-name basis with the bad. I figure now that we have no more guards outside our bank, maybe it was the latter.

So, now, having no one to wave me through, the voice inevitably tells me to turn back and depositare oggetti metallici in the lockers at the entrance. And I do.

I then have to pray I get a teller I know and not one of the new ones (my bank likes to ‘rotate’ tellers; just as you get used to them all and learn a few names, even, they’re off to a new branch and you’ve got a new batch to get to know. I can’t help thinking that the reasoning is similar to that behind getting rid of the guards.) If I do not get a teller I know, he’ll ask for id. I then have to say it’s in my purse in the locker outside and, after having waited my turn with no fewer than 5 people ahead of me, he’ll say I’ll take the next person in line while you go get it. And out and back in again through the automatic, triple-glazed, bullet-proof, metal-detecting doors I go.

The other day I went through all of this and sat waiting for my teller as he prepared 2,000.00 euro in cash in a variety of bills for me while inquiring as to why my id card said USA if I was born in Vermont which is in Canada. I’ve been here long enough to know not to engage.

Instead, I ask for an envelope since handbags are forbidden and I have nowhere to stash my cash. And, there, before my very eyes, Italian genious: his right arm reaches slightly over his shoulder grabbing a piece of plain, A4 paper from the printer. The left reaches for the stapler in the drawer next to the cash. He folds the paper in two and, just like we used to do in Vermont when making pretty holders for our Valentine’s Day cards, he staples up two sides of the piece of paper and hands it over to me, “voila’, an envelope for your cash”.