The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, Its Regions, and Their Peoples
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A provocative, entertaining account of Italy's diverse riches, its hopes and dreams, its past and present
Did Garibaldi do Italy a disservice when he helped its disparate parts achieve unity? Was the goal of political unification a mistake? The question is asked and answered in a number of ways in The Pursuit of Italy, an engaging, original consideration of the many histories that contribute to the brilliance―and weakness―of Italy today.
David Gilmour's wonderfully readable exploration of Italian life over the centuries is filled with provocative anecdotes as well as personal observations, and is peopled by the great figures of the Italian past―from Cicero and Virgil to the controversial politicians of the twentieth century. His wise account of the Risorgimento debunks the nationalistic myths that surround it, though he paints a sympathetic portrait of Giuseppe Verdi, a beloved hero of the era.
Gilmour shows that the glory of Italy has always lain in its regions, with their distinctive art, civic cultures, identities, and cuisines. Italy's inhabitants identified themselves not as Italians but as Tuscans and Venetians, Sicilians and Lombards, Neapolitans and Genoese. Italy's strength and culture still come from its regions rather than from its misconceived, mishandled notion of a unified nation.
police seized 11 million objects for sale in their city as Murano glass which were in fact fakes made in China.25 Yet the pessimism was not only induced by comparisons with what was happening abroad. That economic dynamism which had characterized the 1960s had been replaced – at any rate in public schemes – by lethargy, corruption and indecision. Any large project in Sicily, the construction of Palermo’s ring-road for example, was now likely to need a quarter of a century to complete. It had
interest or a nation to be liberated but as a possession of his own, a fief to be exploited for the aggrandizement of himself and his acquisitive family. In 1793 Georges Danton had persuaded the revolutionary government in Paris that France’s borders should be its ‘natural frontiers’ – the Rhine, the Alps and the Pyrenees – even though these contained the whole of the Austrian Netherlands (the future Belgium) as well as other Habsburg territories and Savoy. For France the most important of the
sempiternal pre-eminence, the best opera house before 1860 was usually the San Carlo. While the Bourbons did not personally enjoy going to the opera, they spent a lot of money on their theatre, providing the best orchestra and many of the best singers. It was the favourite Italian venue for both Rossini and Donizetti. Around 1840 the great operatic revival seemed in danger of petering out. Bellini, perhaps the most talented of the composers (and the one most admired by Wagner), had died in 1835
an independent Nice.13 Fortunately for the great man’s reputation, the plan was thwarted by a summons to Sicily and a journey to immortality. Oliphant went by himself to Nice, where he noticed that the polling station he visited was devoid of ‘no’ voting papers. In that city those voting for annexation by France outnumbered those against it by 100 to one, while the ratio in Savoy was more than 500 to one. As in Emilia, only pressure and manipulation could have obtained affirmative majorities of
expedition off, but two days later, apparently convinced by Crispi that the rebellion was still active, decided to go ahead after all. As soon as one of his lieutenants had seized two steamships in the harbour of Genoa, he dressed himself up in the outfit he had picked up in South America – red shirt, pale poncho and silk handkerchief – and set off with his ‘Thousand’ volunteers across the Tyrrhenian Sea, a voyage that propelled him and them into legend and into comparisons with the ‘three