Buona Notte, Fellini

By Rick Steves

Halfway through a busy sightseeing day in Florence, I sit down for lunch with my Italian friends, Roberto and Manfredo. The phone rings and the old woman with tinted hair next to us pulls a phone from her shopping bag. I tell my friends, "It's difficult to find Fellini's Italy these days."

Roberto says, "Fellini's Italy is dead. I don't like this Fellini image of a poor Italy with old women dressed in black. I'm tired of the question 'Does your grandmother wear black?' I say, 'Yes, even her underwear.' Movies promote this traditional, quaint la dolce vita image. It's time to show today's Italy."

I ask, "But what about il dolce far niente?"

Manfredo cuts in, "Today it's not 'the sweetness of doing nothing,' it's the sweetness of enjoying a prosperous lifestyle...a secure job, going home for lunch. Here in Italy you cannot survive without longer hours, more work. Fifteen years ago Florence was a desert in August. Now, no more long August break — 'Ferragosto'' is little weekends and maybe a week around August 15. Before, even restaurants closed for a month of peak season to hit the beaches with their families."

"With less leisure time, you want maximum dolce. Italians," Manfredo continues, "They lost the sense of fun without spending money. They buy the status symbol. They spend their lives working like slaves to get a second home by the seaside and a mobile phone. Look at these young people." Manfredo points across the table to chic students. "They dress like models. The Italians are narcissists. If they are not like the magazine image, they are nothing. They lose the pleasure of the simple things. They talk money in the restaurants — on their cell phones."

"It is a battle," Roberto says, "Italians are stressed people."

I say, "It sounds like America."

"Yes, we are following your style. The Greek people and the Spanish are not following. The Spanish people...they work like slaves but they have incredible energy to have fun. The Greeks are just crazy. They don't think what will be tomorrow. 'Live for today' is a southern mentality, like Sicily and Africa: 'If I normally make €200 a day and today I make €400, I don't need to work tomorrow.'"

"The tourists can do the Fellini thing," Roberto says. "Take your own rhythm, try just to catch the atmosphere. For the modern Italian, Italy is not a painting or a sculpture. It is good living, yes. But it is fast."