Pane, amore e fantasia

Sure, my sample is skewed (in fact it's somewhat of a leaning tower), but I do think young Italians today, like generations before them, demand to know what happened to the promise of security after dutifully completing University in the shadow of marble statues.

After bidding farewell to the halls of the Università degli Studi di Firenze and the shady portici in Bologna where students flock to drink Spritz and talk about immigration law, I've seen more and more of my Italian friends looking to Western Europe, the United Kingdom and US for the right to dream again, a tale as Italian as Aperol itself. Of course, many more have stayed home to try to come to terms with the last volatile ten years, but watching an Italian struggle to understand the form and content of a British sandwich while recalling the regional idiosyncracies of bread at home makes me wonder what it would take to pull my friends and others like them back to Italy.

I've written about my love of Italian films before and spent considerable time trying to understand the inputs that make a Calabresan accent or the Molisan relationship with solid rocks and mountains differ from the notion of being Roman or a 'just barely Swiss' in Como. This is in part because I've opted for an Italian as a sidekick, but mostly because I enjoy celebrating how people identify. No Italian identity fascinates me more than the one claimed by Sicilians. That island of seismic demographic in-and-outs; Norman and Arabic Sicily, the island geologically predisposed to being given the boot. Gesualdo Bufalino has described the Sicilian sensibility as markedly distinguishable. You may or may not buy into his Orientalism:

Sicily has had the fate of finding itself, over the centuries, as the link between the great Western culture and the temptations of the desert and the sun, between reason and magic, between the storms of feelings and the heat of passion. Sicily suffers from an excess of identity, and I do not know whether this is good or bad. Every Sicilian is ultimately an unrepeatable incarnation of psychological and moral ambiguity."

Perhaps it's the ambiguity -- as a person who has never lived in any one place for longer than a few years -- that draws me to neither-here-nor-there-but-nevertheless-present Sicily. Designer, Domenico Dolce, one half of Dolce & Gabbana, hails from the island and claims to breathe 'the Sicilian way' into the label's designs. I've never been a very big fan of D&G's work, or perhaps I have not, until now, had the tools to understand the Italian dream the two designers have been weaving for so many years. However this summer I finally looked up and felt something.

Photographer, Giampaolo Sgura took the brand to new heights with his S/S 2012 work -- accentuated by Dolce and Gabbana's ornate designs -- in a campaign featuring Monica Bellucci, Bianca Balti and Bianca Brandolini D’Adda. It was a visual triumph which seemed to follow me from London through my summer vacation in Croatia. I couldn't escape this image in particular. What is it about the imagery? Simple: an inter-generational summer, much like I've seen on the Adriatic coast in Abruzzo. The joy of living; the pleasure of real meals, health and vitality. I was smitten with the styling, the Italian-style aristocracy (remember this?) with its baubles, prints and embroidery, and delighted to see a more subdued campaign, also photographed by Sgura launch for winter 2012 this week; a caricature of the false promise of summer and prosperity.

Dolce and Gabbana recently showed their first Couture line, Alta Moda, in Sicily in July. I'm curious to see where the brand will go over the next few seasons, and if the emotional direction is part of a larger reevaluation of what truly constitutes the heart and soul of Italy and the secrets Sicily will never share. I know for sure that three key ingredients are love, bread and fantasy (says the girl who kindly asked her Italian partner for  'a Talented Mr. Ripley sort of summer without the heinous crimes') back in June. We're living through a crisis so violent one could argue that fantasy is the last thing Southern Europe needs. But what D&G are on to is the tendency ambiguity has to enable fantasy, and like the Sicilian sensibility, the bedeviled fate of perpetually having to find yourself.


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