King Victor Emmanuel II, united Sardinia, Sicily and all the other city-states in Italy in 1861. An era of parliamentary government came to a close when Benito Mussolini established a Fascist dictatorship in the early 1920s. His disastrous alliance with Nazi Germany led to Italy's defeat in WWII. A democratic republic replaced the monarchy in 1946, and Italy began an economic revival. It has been at the forefront of European economic and political unification, joining the Economic and Monetary Union in 1999. Despite persistent problems including illegal immigration, organized crime, corruption, high unemployment, sluggish economy, and low incomes and technical standards of southern Italy, compared to the prosperous north, Italy continued its renaissance to the world.
In January 2002, the euro became its sole currency. Although Italian is their official language, German is predominantly spoken in parts of Trentino-Alto. French is spoken in Valle d'Aosta, and in the Trieste-Gorizia area Slovene is spoken. Italy's long coastline invites tens of thousands of illegal immigrants from southeastern Europe and North Africa. Their religion is mostly Roman Catholic with Protestant and Jewish communities scattered about, together with a growing Muslim immigrant community.
This boot-shaped country exports engineering products, textiles, clothing, production machinery, motor vehicles, chemicals and minerals, to name a few. It has a diversified industrial capitalistic economy divided into a developed industrial north, dominated by private companies, and a less developed welfare-dependent agricultural
south with 20% unemployment.
I lived in Rome for over a year while studying music and Italian, working for West Film typing contracts for Clint Eastwood for his spaghetti westerns, and translating titles of his films from Italian into English, such as: "For A Hundred Thousand Dollars I'll Kill You;" "Hang 'Em High;" "Fistful of Dollars;" etc. I paid no attention to him because he came by the office in dusty jeans, and besides, at the time, I was dating an Italian count from Bologna. Attilio insisted they "did not use tomato sauce on their pasta like they did in the south." Who needed Clint Eastwood? We were busy running around in his red BMW. I was busy learning Italian. Italian style. We ran around this city of popes in his red BMW taking photos of all the fountains as he educated me on the history of his beautiful country. We spent a glorious month together in Sardegna, while he submerged himself in the Golfo di Cagliari waters searching for Atlantis as I scorched my skin in a bikini.
The region south of Rome on the Amalfi Coast is a lovely drive. You pass quaint little towns such as Pozzuoli, where Sofia Loren comes from, and of course, Napoli. But its beauty has a rival up the Ligurian Coast in charming towns such as Portofino, La Spezia and Santa Margherita.
Cortona GrapesOpera - my passion! How I annoyed my teacher, Dr. Capilongo, who did not approve of my zipping around Rome on the back of Attilio's scooter. "You will dry out your throat with all that dust!" He would yell at me when I cracked on a high C. I think I saw every opera written by Verdi, Puccini and my favorite (because I sang coloratura) Rossini. Along with other students, I sat in the "piccionara" (the pigeon roost) with the other conoscitori of classical music. While the connoisseurs in the audience booed the divas when they did not sing properly, and the audience in the front rows shooshed them to be quiet, we applauded to silence them as we couldn't hear the singers. One thing Italians are not - and that is reserved. They are a boisterous, fun-loving, opera-mad, opinionated and friendly people who love to eat.
Ponte Vecchio FlorenceWhenever I need to reconnect with any of my five senses, I fly off to Italy to feast my eyes on fine art, magnificent architecture full of history, hear fantastic opera, and smell the flowers in Tuscany or Napoli; touch the expensive tapestries and leather in Florence, and taste their delicious pasta and wine everywhere. As an incurable romantic I spend as much time as possible in Dante's country to reinvigorate my muse.
My one claim to fame? I once sat on Luciano Pavarotti's lap. I was singing in the chorus of The Miami Opera Guild, when he made his American debut with Joan Sutherland in Lucia di Lamermoor. After the performance we all went to a friend's house in Coconut Grove as Luciano wanted to prepare a pasta dinner for us. While relaxing and talking he said: "vieni bella - sit!" At the time, he was not so famous but was well-known for his crazy antics. The night before his debut he had been put in jail for pinching a woman's bottom. Acceptable in Italy, a slappable offense in Coral Gables. The impresario, Dr. DiFilippi, had to rush to rescue him otherwise the understudy would have had to perform, and who knows where Luciano's career would have gone! However, with a voice never missing high Cs, I imagine he would have done equally well.
Never a dull moment with my Italian friends who were always part of my adventures.
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