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The Pleasures of Italy

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Photo: Oberto Gili

Fabrizio Mosca

Film Producer/Rome

One of Italy's youngest and most passionate movie producers, Mosca is French-Neapolitan by birth but a Roman by adoption. He started his adult life in London as a "yuppie banker," he says, but his predilection for "the unexpected" led him to film—making documentaries in Africa, Pakistan, and India, then producing a feature, I Cento Passi, which was nominated for a Golden Globe and a David (the Italian Oscar) in 2001. This year, Mosca produced Emanuele Crialese's Golden Door, which won the Venice Film Festival award for Best Director; he is now working on a film called Galantuomini, by young Anglo-Pugliese director Edoardo Winspeare, whose family castle in Puglia sits on the very tip of Italy's heel.

Rome Favorites Mosca likes to have drinks at the Hotel de Russie's Stravinskij Bar (9 Via del Babuino; 39-06/3288-8830; hotelderussie.it; drinks for two $30) and recommends the pizza at Ristorante Al Passetto (14 Via Zanardelli N.; 39-06/6880-3696; dinner for two $68).

Italians have a word—sprezzatura—to indicate their belief that style must be unconscious and that talent must appear effortless. You have sprezzatura if you are naturally able to perform extraordinary deeds, come se niente fosse, as if there were nothing to it. The mayor of Venice, Massimo Cacciari, for instance, has no difficulty being a skillful administrator and one of Italy's leading philosophers at the same time.

I had some early master classes in Italian style and sensibility. When I was 12 and traveling in Japan, the architect Giò Ponti placed a natural pearl in the palm of my hand—we were in the hall of Frank Lloyd Wright's Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. Ponti's daughter Lisa, who ran her father's architectural magazine Domus, had an elaborate set of white luggage that consisted of slightly angled boxes with satiny steel closures. I remember being impressed. Nanda Pivano, a writer and herald in Italy of the American Beat Generation, sent me hot-pink patent leather Mary Janes, knowing my feet were too big for Japanese shoes. Years later, when I was in boarding school in Florence, she sent me poems by Jerry Rubin and The Tibetan Book of the Dead, which Allen Ginsberg had sent her, to translate into Italian, accompanied by letters scented with Guerlain's Mitsouko. When I went to have lunch with the Pontis, the family myths were paraded: how Giò had put risotto on his head to amuse the grandchildren and how his glamorous wife, Giulia, had once brought back a suitcase full of potatoes from Venezuela to give her friends as souvenirs because she liked their shapes.

 

When I worked for Giorgio Armani in the 80's, his code word for style was grinta. It sounds, in Italian, a little bit like what an animal does to show power, baring its teeth or its claws. Armani was not interested in prettiness or even "elegance," but in a show of strength—grinta.

It takes grinta to transform disaster, and that's what the maverick contemporary-art dealer Lucio Amelio did when he invited Beuys, Warhol, Rauschenberg, and Basquiat to show in Naples, and organized the exhibition "Terrae Motus" (Earth Trembles) after the earthquake of 1980 killed 3,000 and left 30,000 in the city homeless. Self-taught, an interpreter by profession, flamboyantly independent, with a strangely rasping voice, as if there were a movement of lead pellets in his throat, Amelio would startle men with the question, "Are you normal or do you go with women too?" He influenced an entire generation of artists and curators. One is among the group of style-setters I profile on these pages: Eduardo Cicelyn, who masterminded and directs the recently completed Museo d'Arte Contemporanea Donna Regina (MADRE) in Naples. ­Cicelyn's wife, Lavinia Brancaccio, an art historian from an old Neapolitan family who teaches underprivileged children, told me Neapolitans believe you should sip espresso all day long so as to always have its taste in your mouth.

The word sprezzatura conveys an Italian's greatest compliment: that whatever one's talents, they are well-hidden, or at least understated. But that shouldn't always be taken literally: as the performance artist Luigi Ontani—who had himself photographed in 1970 as a young Bacchus on a velvet settee, wearing nothing but a bunch of grapes on his face, and nowadays sports three-piece sherbet-colored silk suits—says on his answering machine, "Viva l'arte!"

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