This story takes place in July in the early 70s. I’m a little child, visiting Holland with my parents. We are at Hoogeveen, in the north of the country, and in our hotel there is an anniversary celebration. We make friends with some of the guests. Italian tourists are scarce in Holland: everyone is kind and friendly, but they look at us perplexed and curious.
‘In Holland we do this, in Italy we do that; We Dutch like this, we Italians like that’… We engage in a sort of competition to get to know each other more and more, until my father decides to ‘win’: ‘Yes, ok, whatever, but in Italy we have the sun’.
Silence. The Dutch fall into another dimension, they shut up and think. Eventually one speaks and the others gather behind, curious, to look at us properly. ‘Is it true that you have always the sun?’
My father – a man I do not recall ever having seen sunbathing – looks at them, nods and says only ‘Yes’.
For this handful of Dutch people, centuries of healthy and prosperous protestant civilisation stops all of a sudden. They have the sun. But not always. Hardly ever, to be honest. And they know that hard work, honesty and entrepreneurship will not change things. Only in Italy the sun always shines.
Honestly, things are a little bit different. It’s not true that in Italy the sun always shines. On the contrary, there is a possibility that cloudy days are more frequent than bright ones. But we ‘wear’ the sun better than anyone else, and that is absolutely true.
Because we do not tan: tanning is something that suits leather goods. Moreover, we do not sunbathe: sunbathing is so silly. We bronze ourselves. We force the sun to turn us into something that cannot be easily destroyed (only poetry seems to win bronze, as Horace said, referring to his poems: ‘Exegi monumentum aere perennius”, I have built a monument stronger than bronze’). And there’s only one way to bronze oneself: ‘prendere il sole’, that literally means ‘taking the sun with you’, dominating it and owning a part of it. Plain and simple.
Anyway there are differences among us. Being a SFP50-man myself, I have prepared this guide, to use when you come to Italy in order to understand who you are dealing with.
- The Natives: their tan is ingrained (we could say ‘The Force is with them’, as the emperor Palpatine or Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back once said). Ski instructors and beach lifeguards belong to this category. They are all already perfectly tanned when you have only just started your holidays. Either they are “sun-jedis” or you need to begin the process earlier.
- The Professional: ‘holidays’ for them means ‘tanning’. They spend their day on their sunlounger (or strutting along the seashore, as the reflection of the sun enhances the tan!), by night they quietly await the following day.
- The Amateurs: they pretend to ignore the sun and when they lay on their lounger they read a book or a newspaper. Reading is such an unusual activity for an Italian they may be professionals in disguise.
- The Grandmas and Grandpas: they worry about other people’s sun, first of all their grandchildren, whose parents (often professionals) have neglected them. Their motto is ‘Go in the shade, otherwise you’ll get burned’.
- The Sun-victims: they are workers who are forced to work under the scorching sun (peasants, builders, drivers); some parts of their body – such as arms and forearms) are incredibly tanned. They are an endangered species.
- Kids: years ago they used to look glazed by the enormous quantity of sun cream their parents used to spread over them. They were, as they are today, mainly uninterested in the issue of tanning.
- Hipsters: they’d rather have a super fair skin, to protect the quality of their tattoos. This is a growing category.
- The Cursers: they are the unavoidable victims of sunburn. They are not cursers by birth, they become cursers, generally after having said ‘Ok, ok, now I’ll put some sun cream on’.