A shrinking economy, the downward spiral of the deficit, a debt in the area of 137% of GDP, ‘lo Spread’ above 170 basis points, the alarming rate of ‘disoccupazione’, especially amongst the young, the growing fear of investor’s confidence or lack thereof, the addictive personality of Matteo Renzi and his compulsive promise-laden rhetoric on a budget reform; a combination of extra spending and tax cuts, a clash with regional authorities, a need for electoral, judicial and labor market reforms, the shadow of Berlusconi, the decibels of Beppe Grillo, the tragedy of Lampedusa. It could make for a dire picture of this Bel Paese.
But Italy would not be Italy if there was not another picture. And there is.
La Fornarina is housed in the Palazzo Barberini in Rome. It is, compared to the more seemly La Donna Velata in the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, an intriguingly seductive painting and has, since its first public appearance been subject to much speculation.
I had not thought of Margherita until a recent visit to Mantova.
Located in Lombardy, city of Virgil, Baldassare Castiglione, Monteverdi and the Gonzaga family, city of exile for Romeo, Mantova is now, together with Sabbioneta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Boasting the Piazza Sordello, the Palazzo Ducale, the Bibiena Theatre, the Palazzo Te, Mantova is also home of the iconic pumpkin, of tortelli di zucca, risotto alla pilota, luccio -pike – in salsa, the crumbly sbrisolona torta, and various types of mostarda, originally a side dish prepared with sour apples and pears, sugar and mustard liquid.
Culture and cuisine. What else?
In Mantova, a guide book is better left behind. The city is small and welcoming. Cultural sites and culinary delights are abundant. A Saturday market, pasticcerias, fornerias, gelaterias, trattorias, a corner bar, an old albergo. And despite dusty corridors, redundant, often sulky museum guards and piles of unsightly non collected trash – a distinct neo-European inner city feature – Mantova, like so many other Italian cities epitomizes something forgotten about this Bel Paese and reminds us of what Italy once was, occasionally is and could, once again, be.
Granted, the present-day baker’s daughter does not sit for the contemporary Raphael. Seldom this sensual, rarely exposing their breasts, still, the salesladies at the fornerias and pasticcerias present us with something nobody will ever tire of.
A passion for a product. The knowhow of a delicacy. Talent and skill.
A mixture of melancholy and perfection. Kind, pleasing and pleasant. Certain in its heritage, confident in its expertise.
Like La Fornarina. Similarly tempting, irresistibly flirtatious, the indistinguishable image of simplicity and perfection.
A Bel Paese. Like we read it, dream it, desire it.
A heavenly antidote to the direness.
Se non è vero, è ben trovato.