Now, Rome may seem like a big city, but those of us who live here, especially us expats, know that its actually just a small village. That’s why my intention is not pointless book bashing. I have absolutely nothing against the author or his wife, both of whom still live and work in Rome, and I commend the author for having such incredible success with this book and his Roman life. But there are a few things that I think it’s only responsible to point out if you decide to go ahead and dive into this book, since I was half-recommending it by the fact that I had it displayed on my page.
What attracted me to this book:
- Breezy, conversational style that makes you feel like you’re getting a one-on-one peek into Rome from the author himself
- You can tell the author is truly in love with his adopted city and his joy and amazement shine through the pages
- Blanket statements that are written as if some kind of eternal truth about Romans/Italians, without any citations or opposing viewpoints from Romans or Italians themselves
The hand-painted lamps from Sicily were placed on our inlaid wooden side tables that we had picked up at a little antique shop behind Campo de’ Fiori. As we smoothed out the Caucasus Kuban rug under the wrought-iron and glass coffee table that holds our vivid yellow Peking glass vases…Anyhoo, you get the idea. Luckily that only goes on for a short chapter and is forgiveable.
What I ultimately take issue with are statements that, despite adjusting for the six-year time span from when the book was first published, still have no place being put down as absolute truth, in my opinion.
Take, for example, this from pages 95-96:
- Italians certainly don’t come together primarily for love[…]the romantic kind[…]
- The males want to be pampered, well fed, and given free rein to play. The women expect to be the capo della casa, to run the household, to be able to express their emotions without restraint.
- A spouse is chosen because, all things considered, he or she would make a good partner for familial, rather than for personal, romantic, sentimental, or sexual reasons[…]
On page 98, he gives an example of an Italian female friend who informs him that when a man is found cheating (already lending credence to his claim that this is a typical occurrence), his wife “hits him on the head with a frying pan, tells him not to do it again, and domestic life continues.”
Then, for the grand finale, on page 100 he explains that "...in Italy, where men do not do housework, do not raise kids, do not get up to help with any kind of domestic chores..." the low birth rate is due to Italian women purposely refusing to have children in order to "shed the weight of domestic dependence" and "by sleeping with whomever they want, since it is clear that they never got married primarily for love..."
I find all this quite offensive. I’m not proposing to be an authority on Italians or Italian life and culture, and I’m not trying to say I am naïve enough to think that marital infidelity doesn’t exist in Italy. However, I am an American girl who came over to Rome by herself, has had several years of professional experience working with Italians, has daily contact almost exclusively with Italians, and has been in a relationship with an Italian (Roman) man for almost six years. These are the things that I feel qualify me to be surprised with such statements being presented as if they were a cultural fact.
After reading such a tirade, I couldn’t continue through the book chronologically any longer, but I started flipping through further, since it is organized in small topic-centered chapters, hoping to find one that might lure me back in. When I did, it only turned me away again, with the statement on page 214 that:
Italians are, in fact, pretty much where the Americans were in the fifties: charmed by new gizmos, earning money, and having more market choices than they ever dreamed possible. Many people are, at bottom, still bowled over by the fact that they own a car.This came across to me as incredibly condescending. Granted, the book came out in 2000, and I am not a sociologist or economist specializing in Italy; however, I arrived in mid-2001 and my personal experience has never led me to believe that Italians are coming out of some sort of industrial or economic dark age, in which they are continually amazed by what it feels like to be a car owner. On the contrary, I feel Rome is actually a perfect example of what happens when lack of a viable public transport system actually forces most people to own a car.
What compelled me to write a sort of review of this book is the simple fact that an author who presents himself as an authority on a particular subject, even if simply through personal experience, in my opinion has a responsibility to his readers when making broad statements like the ones above. Many descriptions of Roman places and customs are accurate, such as how jogging down city streets isn’t so common, or how most everything stops for holiday in August, or what it’s like during a transport strike; however, the fact remains that statements like the ones above have the power to leave the reader with a rather one-sided and stereotypical picture of Italian lifestyle and culture, and I think that is unfortunate. My personal experience with Italian friends and family of all ages has shown me otherwise, in a most positive way.
If you’ve read this far, by all means, please leave me a comment about what you think!