La Bella Italia truly has never been as beautiful as it is now, with the eternal wonder at how so much art, style, culture and deliciousness can be contained in one place. A place that differs in look and feel, accent and food from nearing town to mountain valley and which feels like a hundred different realms in one territory.
A beloved place, Italy is more than a country – it is an idea to be found in a bittersweet Aperol Spritz glass of vibrant orange with ice clinking inside where it is completely acceptable to drink and eat an aperitivo before drinking wine and eating more at dinner. It is the experience of a deep dark espresso served ‘al bar’ – perched on the countertop served by a waiter in a white jacket and black bow tie, preferably with a large moustache and knowing grin as he says “prego, Signorina” even though I am clearly more of a Signora these days. It is a desire to escape on a buzzing vespa where any beach cove or rock can be reached, turquoise waters below and stripey umbrellas lined up above with the “cocco bello!” seller waving and weaving in between tanned bodies. Oh and a gelato in the heat? That was invented in Florence during the Renaissance too, it’s not just paintings, sculptures, frescoes and half of the world’s art treasures housed here you know.
Italy from a distance appears steeped in history, a place whose dwellers scantily acknowledge the legacy of the Romans and everything that came after them, accepting that a heritage of an antique urban palazzo or an old country ruin is just meant to be there amongst them. From afar it looks like a place of passion – the hand gestures and loud conversations about the football results; the appreciation of beautiful stylish clothes, sometimes worn more in a peacock way by men than by women; the heartwrenching Italian ballads and operatic warbles wafting from cool cars always badly parked.
The great beauty – la grande bellezza – is that Italy has always been loved because the reality of it is even better than the perception of it. To me, Italy is a curly wurly plate of spaghetti – a pile of deliciousness which even with a deceptively simple sauce is gratifying and leaves you wanting more. The intertwined knots of strands are politically bureaucratic incredulities; the ubiquitous parmesan a sprinkling of stardust which makes people and places magical at heart level. At the base of it all of course is a love of family, of togetherness, of sharing, of enjoying, of dolce vita living – much of which happens ‘a tavola’ – gathered around the dining table with hand gestures served as well as food. Handpainted plates as souvenirs from restaurants in different regions are a visual feast in themselves, a nostalgic reminder of a trip once taken and a dish once eaten. Il Paradiso here is at your fingertips and on your lips. Buon appetito.
Betty Soldi is an internationally accomplished calligrapher and graphic designer working with the worlds’ leading retail brands and luxury labels. Born into a Florentine family which has been handmaking fireworks since 1860, her unique calligraphic skills merge graphic design with old type, modern colours and unique antique touches to produce branding, bespoke objects, packaging and stationery.