Archive for the ‘Living in Europe’ Category

A picture is a poem without words.” -Horace

A revolution has been brewing for almost a decade on the Piazza Navona, one of the most famous and historic squares in Europe. Millions arrive to see Bernini’s magnificent Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (The Fountain of 4 Rivers) and to stroll along the road, hoping to acquire an original picture of a Roman scene painted and signed by the artist in front of them. Now the tensions are high: real artist are pitted against counterfeit ones.

Art is not a thing, it is a way.”- Elbert Hubbard

I can’t intelligently speak to the political or economic ramifications of the most recent decree approved by the City of Rome to regulate painters and street artists on the piazza.  What I can say with certainty is that I believe society is obligated to defend those among us who have the ability to suspend reality and, with a brush in hand, transfer it onto a canvas to make a thing more beautiful – to make l’arte. George Bernard Shaw said it best when he wrote,“Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.”

Performance Artist

In 2005, the Mayor and Council approved a ban prohibiting any type of commercial activity in the center of Piazza Navona. It was declared that permits would no longer be issued to paint in the city. Then came a resolution to govern the artistic profession, but nothing came of it. Nearly 6 years later the absence of rules means anyone (real artists and fakers) can enter and do what they want. The result has been a dilution of creativity and a strengthening of chaos and clutter. The legitimate are at a disadvantage to the counterfeiters who defraud tourists by peddling reproductions passed-off as originals. But why should the artists, some of whom have been on the Piazza since the 1960s, pay the price for the City’s failure to control those who bring urban decay to this beautiful place? Why should the people who have promoted all that is good about the Eternal City and have contributed to its charm and mystique now be threatened with displacement? Leonardo is turning in his grave!

No heirloom of humankind captures the past as do art and language.” – Theodore Bikel

What is at stake on the Piazza Navona is the keepsake of a city. Art has defined Italy since the renaissance and just like the oxygen in our atmosphere, civilization and Rome need it to survive.

Photographs by Toni DeBella and Massimilliano Balletti

Paintings by Massimilliano Balletti

by Toni DeBella


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The opinions expressed herein are those of the author (me) and may not reflect the opinions of the reader (you). There is absolutely no assurance that any statement contained in this article is true, correct or reliable. The opinions are based solely on observation and personal experience.  The foregoing is presented from the point of view of the author (me).  …”usate il sale in zucca” (an idiom loosely translated means “take it with a grain of salt”).***

The Grass is Always Greener

2012-04-25 13.54.32I want to begin by saying that I’ve done it, you’ve done it, we’ve all done it at one time or another. We really must stop doing it: expatriates sitting around moaning and groaning about how things function (or don’t function) in Italy.  First of all, can you imagine how we must sound to Italians within ear-shot of our tasteless and unflattering belly-aching? Openly criticizing the country and people who have welcomed us into their “home” is not only impolite, it’s incredibly tacky. We made a choice to leave our native land and relocate to another, did our research and knew what to expect when we took the leap.

An analogy to illustrate my point: George Clooney has infamously left a long line of beautiful starlets in his wake. Elisabetta Canalis is out and now you are George’s new girlfriend. He is so charming, handsome, rich and powerful. You attend red carpet events on his arm in Versace, appear on the cover of People magazine and spend long weekends on Lake Como with “Brangelina”. Of course he eventually dumps you and deep-down inside you’re not surprised – this is who he is and what he does. Expats in Italy…we knew what we were getting into – Italia is who she is and what she does – let’s lighten up and stop complaining already!

We Aren’t in Kansas Anymore

It’s an exercise in futility to compare our homeland to Italy.  Italy is different – isn’t that one of the reasons we decided to pack up and move in the first place? Heinz ketchup, Mexican food, peanut butter – the list of things from home that you can’t get in Italy is as long as my arm (and vice versa, I might add).  I’m guilty, I admit it.  I’ve been a “mule” for friends – bringing  back suitcases full of taco seasoning, ranch dressing, vanilla extract and ibuprofen. Comforts from home are really lovely to have, nevertheless we should try to be more adaptable and use the products available …conform, fit in, go native!

Talking Points

This one is so obvious, I shouldn’t have to say it: speak Italian. When we live abroad of course we gravitate towards a crowd with a common culture and background. I try not to use my English-speaking friends as a crutch to avoid Italian proficiency because I know that I can never, ever form lasting and deep relationships with Italians if I don’t speak their language.  Unfortunately there is only one way to accomplish this…open our mouths and talk.  My Italian is substandard to say the least and I make errors constantly.  I once told a man that my grandfather was born in “coglione” (which means “testicles”).  We both laughed until we cried.  May I recommend the “Italian by Osmosis” system?  Watch weird Italian television, read the local newspaper, listen to pop music on the car radio, try telling a joke in Italian and above all, be willing to feel awkward and sound stupid.  Italians are very gracious and will appreciate the effort.

Home is Where the Heart Is

Photo by W. Klein

It seems to me that life is full of wonderful opportunities to evolve and expand our horizons.  Living abroad is something that takes a certain kind of daring individual with lots of resilience and an open heart.  Make fun of yourself and the absurdity of it all.  Relax, enjoy, grin and bear it and REJOICE…you live in Italy for God’s sake!

***No actual expatriates were harmed in the writing of this article.

by Toni DeBella

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