The Pleasures of Italy

The Pleasures of Italy

Oberto Gili From Milan to Rome, from Florence to Naples Oberto Gili
Oberto Gili From Milan to Rome, from Florence to Naples
Oberto Gili
From Milan to Rome, from Florence to Naples, Gini Alhadeff profiles style insiders who effortlessly embody la dolce vita—something she knows a little about herself—and asks them to reveal a few of their favorite local restaurants, shops, and more.

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!"


Luisa Beccaria

Designer/Milan

"The older I get," fashion designer Beccaria says, "the more I like to return to places I already know." Her base is Milan, which she calls "a pocket city," and "an open-air office." "But in twenty minutes you can be at Lake Como and have dinner at Harry's Bar [1 Piazza Risorgimento, Cernobbio; 39-031/334-7057; dinner for two $97]. In America you'd need a private jet to change scenery that quickly." Her delightfully spare new boutique, Luisa Beccaria (1 Via Formentini, Milan; 39-02/81-417), is painted the palest of pinks.

Milan Favorites Beccaria loves to go out in Brera, Milan's Greenwich Village. She recommends L'Oro dei Farlocchi (13 Via Madonnina; 39-02/860-589), a small antiques store; Obika (28 Via Mercato; 39-02/8645-0568; dinner for two $66), a very new mozzarella bar, where the waiters and waitresses tend to be the sons and daughters of the clientele; Pasticceria Marchesi (11A Via Santa Maria alla Porta; 39-02/876-730), one of Milan's oldest cafés, for coffee and a cornetto; and Latteria di San Marco, (24 Via San Marco; 39-02/659-7653; lunch for two $60) for very simple good food.

Claudio Nardi

Architect/Florence

Nardi's minimalist transformation of the now legendary fashion boutique Luisa Via Roma (19–21R Via Roma; 39-05/283-621; luisaviaroma.com) in the 80's helped attract an international (and now, an online) clientele. Nardi is about to turn the place on its ear again: a new space, scheduled to open in June 2008, will feature a vast glass terrace. Another project in the works is a Palazzo del Profumo, the renovation of an ancient palazzo that will include a museum of fragrances and a restaurant. Nardi recently converted the industrial warehouse where he once had his studio into one of Florence's most innovative hotels, Riva Lofts (98 Via Bandinelli; 39-055/713-0272; rivahotel.it; doubles from $265), run by his 30-year-old daughter. The rooms are spacious and uncluttered. "It took four years to design it and to collect objects and furniture from antiques fairs and flea markets," Nardi says.

Florence Favorites Nardi is a regular at the restaurants Alla Vecchia Bettola (32–34R Viale Ariosto; 39-055/224-158; dinner for two $70) and Trattoria 4 Leoni (1R Via dei Vellutini; 39-055/218-562; dinner for two $85), in a neighborhood full of artisans' workshops, not far from the hotel. And in Borgo Pinti, he likes the lively La Giostra (10–12R Via Borgo Pinti; 39-055/241-341; dinner for two $96).

Eduardo Cicelyn

Museum Director/Naples

This blue-eyed Neapolitan is a prince of contemporary art in Italy—the founder and director of the newly opened Museo d'Arte Contemporanea Donna Regina, or MADRE (79 Via Luigi Settembrini; 39-081/562-4561; museomadre.it). Set in a renovated 17th-century palazzo, the collection is an illustrious grouping of American Pop (Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons) and Italian Arte Povera, along with rooms commissioned from important living artists—local hero Francesco Clemente made frescoes for two of them. The 14th-century Donna Regina church that gave the museum its name is also on site. MADRE's whitewashed vaulted restaurant, Madre E Vino (39-081/1931-3016; dinner for two $90), has just started serving dinner on Friday and Saturday nights.

This blue-eyed Neapolitan is a prince of contemporary art in Italy—the founder and director of the newly opened Museo d'Arte Contemporanea Donna Regina, or MADRE (79 Via Luigi Settembrini; 39-081/562-4561; museomadre.it). Set in a renovated 17th-century palazzo, the collection is an illustrious grouping of American Pop (Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons) and Italian Arte Povera, along with rooms commissioned from important living artists—local hero Francesco Clemente made frescoes for two of them. The 14th-century Donna Regina church that gave the museum its name is also on site. MADRE's whitewashed vaulted restaurant, Madre E Vino (39-081/1931-3016; dinner for two $90), has just started serving dinner on Friday and Saturday nights.

Naples Favorites For Cicelyn, the best part of Naples is the centro storico, the Old Town surrounding the museum. He recommends the 29-room hotel Costantinopoli 104 (104 Via Santa Maria di Costantinopoli; 39-081/557-1035; costantinopoli104.com; doubles from $290) and the bar Intra Moenia (70 Piazza Bellini; 39-081/557-1190; intramoenia.it) across the street. The bar's owner also publishes books on Naples.


Lorenza Sebasti Pallanti

Wine Producer/Tuscany

In Chianti—more specifically, in Ama, near Gaiole—Pallanti and her family live surrounded by olive groves, vineyards, and contemporary art. Here they make a fabulous wine, Castello di Ama, named for the estate, which is also home to works by Anish Kapoor, Carlos Garaiçoa, Daniel Buren, and Giulio Paolini, among others. The sculptures and installations are the result of a continuing series of yearly commissions, and, Pallanti says, "they make the place more beautiful." The permanent installations—including a new one by Bulgarian artist Nedko Solakov called Ama Doodles—can be visited by appointment. Castello di Ama, Località Ama, Gaiole, Chianti; 39-0577/746-031; castellodiama.com.

Tuscany Favorites Sebasti loves Chiasso dei Portici (1 Chiasso dei Portici, Radda in Chianti; 39-0577/738-774; dinner for two $85), a restaurant in a town near the estate, run by two women who bake their own bread and make their own pasta. For a day's outing, she suggests Monterchi, near Arezzo, to see Piero della Francesca's fresco Madonna del Parto (1 Via della Reglia; 39-0575/70713).

Franco, Antonio, and Carla Sersale

Hoteliers/Positano

It would be worth traveling to Positano just to meet a galantuomo (gentleman) like Franco Sersale, dressed in white linen trousers and shirt, sitting on the terrace of his hotel, Le Sirenuse (30 Via Cristoforo Colombo; 39-089/875-066; sirenuse.it; doubles from $684). The rooms here feel like someone's house, with objects assembled over time. That is the key sensibility of the place—that it did not happen overnight. Sersale's son Antonio runs the property with his wife, Carla, and they all present themselves as modestly as the rippling waves that come ashore at the beach below the hotel.

 

Positano Favorites The Sersales like Don Alfonso (11–13 Corso Sant'Agata, Sant'Agata Sui Due Golfi; 39-081/878-0026; donalfonso.com; dinner for two $275), where chef Alfonso Iaccarino—who also has a restaurant at the hotel—"combines Neapolitan cooking with nouvelle cuisine lightness." Next 2 (242 Viale Pasitea; 39-089/812-3516; dinner for two $138) is a lively meeting place, and Music on the Rocks (51 Via Grotte dell'Incanto; 39-089/875-874) is a "fabulous discothèque on the beach." A number of restaurants are accessible by boat: Lo Scoglio a Marina del Cantone (Nerano; 39-081/808-1026; dinner for two $110) is "the best for style, atmosphere, and quality of food." The family also recommends La Conca del Sogno a Recommone (9 Via San Marciano, Nevano; 39-081/808-1036; dinner for two $138), where you can sit outside, and Da Adolfo (40 Via Laurito; 39-089/875-022; lunch for two $124), where the specialty is grilled mozzarella on lemon leaves.

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