The first time I realized that Italy was not only the place I was born and raised, but also one of the most beloved countries in the world for food, culture, art and fashion, was when I left. I knew Italy was beautiful (I have eyes...) but I never realized how much. We know we live in a very nice place and we realize that other countries like it, since we see tourists everywhere. But the impression is that they see Italy as a sort of a must-see amusement park and we're only part of the furniture: they come to see what our better ancestors did, not to hang out with us (like they do when they go to cooler places like, for instance, New York. Italy is not cool: it is unbearably beautiful, it is a thing of the past).
This syndrome we suffer, which I'm going to call the ugly-girl-in-a-handsome-family syndrome, is our history's fault: how can we pick up after what the Romans, the Renaissance men and the Italians in the '60s did? This girl in the handsome family has a show-off neighbor that she considers her cousin (the French with their "we have better food, better wine and better fashion" motto) and on top of that a great-grandfather who ruled the known world in ancient history, a grandfather regarded as a unparalleled master in arts and beauty who invented the Renaissance and a father who was cool and created the Dolce Vita and the "Made in Italy" (things the ugly girl is still living off). Who are we to deserve anything? We walk on our streets and we're constantly reminded of how great we were: we live in a museum that shows us our past but doesn't help us with our future. Our past weighs on us.
We're not only the ugly sister: we're also the stupid one, the lazy, the modest one. In fact we have an expression in Italian that I find really fitting: "Italy is beautiful; too bad the Italians live there." We say that of ourselves!
They say we are a united nation only during the soccer world cup (every 4 years), but we are all very clear on what "being Italian" is: it has a broad, maybe vague meaning (something to do with sloppiness, laziness, slyness and a general untidiness of manners and thinking), but it is there. "That's so Italian..." said by an Italian person sounds like an insult. We're not happy with ourselves.
So this is my point: Italians have a definite lack of self-esteem: we think we're much worse than the others. Is it because we were first conquerors and then got invaded by everybody else for centuries? On March 17th we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of our unification. There is a lot of talk about what exactly we should celebrate: what are we? We have 21 regions, an enormous variety of local food and produce and dialects and habits, we have soccer rivalries, historic rivalries, recent racist tensions and underneath it all, "too bad we live there, otherwise Italy would be a very nice place." What is there to celebrate?
I think that we should celebrate the fact that we made it so far. It's not much, but it is a start. Right now there is crisis and confusion, but confusion can bring great changes, new beginnings. What I wish on this March 17th for my country is to be able to soon celebrate a new beginning, something more important than yet again our history, something we don't have anymore: the return of free press and the abolition of internet censorship. That would be something to celebrate. According to the Freedom House's inquiry of last year, Italy is the 72nd country in the world when it comes to free press and it has been declared "partially free". This is something to be ashamed about. Let's fix it, and then we'll have something to celebrate.