“Aurelio Zen – he’s a cop in a world where the pressure is always on, the danger is always there, and he is in Armani.
He can’t help it if his name keeps getting into the papers, he’s just trying to do his job, solve the crime and do it quietly. Certain people in high places might get mad. It is tricky, it is Rome where women walk on ancient cobblestones in stiletto heels and tight skirts, where cars are fast and lunch is slow. He can handle it though. He is smart, funny, daring, he lives with his mother. It is typical. He is Italian. To be more precise, he is Venetian.
His name, Zen, has nothing to do with Buddhism. He is a police detective in Rome….. the Coliseum, the Spanish Steps, espresso, corruption, murder.….”
–Masterpiece Mystery Introduction by Alan Cummings to “Zen”
My blog friend, Adri Barr of TheFrontBurner.us recently sent me a video with Alan Cummings’ introduction to “Zen” a “Masterpiece Mystery”. She explained when she and her husband heard Cummings’ description of life in Rome they burst out laughing because it reminded them of some of the descriptions in this blog.
So I am sharing it with all of you: Here is the link to the video.
And here are my posts on the topics:
Espresso – Coffee Italian Style
Italian Men and their Mothers – The Italian Super-Mamma
There are a couple points mentioned by Cummings that I have not gotten to yet….fast cars and slow lunches and men in Armani. I will put those on my blog to-do list, but in the meantime a little note on “la bella figura”.
The other day after I listened to the Cummings’s introduction I was covering a meeting between Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Before the meeting began I checked out all the plain clothes policemen. They screeched up to Rome’s Renaissance Villa Madama in fast, silver unmarked cars, braking on the pebbles in the courtyard outside and jumping out ready for action. There wasn’t much action since all they found were a bunch of hot sweaty, journalists with cameras and computers waiting. Still they made a “bella figura”. They were impeccably dressed, looking very sleek in expensive suits, and mirrored sunglasses. I wanted to snap a photo for my blog of one in particular with a dapper pin-striped suit, his mirrored sunglasses pushed back over heavily gelled dark brown curls to reveal intense blue eyes, a curled plastic wire going from his ear down to the back of his jacket for any urgent security messages. He could have been Aurelio Zen.
At the meeting I bumped into an Italian journalist friend of mine from an important Italian daily newspaper. We chatted briefly but I had little time to talk because I was coordinating the live of the press conference for AP television, plus trying to write and edit the story on my lap-top computer.
The next day the Italian journalist gave me a call and said he was near my office and would I like to pop down for an espresso. When I met him at the coffee bar, he surprised me with a little lecture. He told me I had made a “brutta figura” at the Monti-Merkel meeting. He said I was dressed like a “Massaie” – a Neapolitan housewife—and I spent all the time hunched over my computer like a child with a new electronic toy. I told him to “go to hell” that I was doing my job and my goal is to do it properly and make a “bella figura” with my bosses, not with other journalists at a press conference. He insisted, pointing out that all the Italian government ministers and press office officials were there and if I want to be taken seriously as a journalist in this country I needed to dress the part.
This brought back to me a memory from decades ago when I was a young journalist and I had to cover a press conference in Tel Aviv, Israel with the Italian and Israeli Foreign Ministers. The Italian journalists showed up in their Armani suits and ties, the women in heels and tight skirts, reeking of expensive cologne and perfumes. The Israeli journalists, men and women, showed up in shorts, Birkenstock sandals, sleeveless shirts with some hairy armpits showing and a few had not bothered with deodorant. Just a few minutes into the press conference an intense verbal battle broke out between the Israelis and the Italians over the translation. I stood back in utter amazement. Here were two cultures with opposite attitudes towards dress but with the same Mediterranean style of arguing—loud and full of gestures.
But back to my brutta figura. I thought I was dressed rather nicely for the press conference, but I certainly was not thinking about impressing anyone.
Italian columnist Beppe Severgnini recently wrote a book called “La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind.” His definition, “La bella figura”, the beautiful figure…. It means making “a good impression”, in an aesthetic sense.
I went back to Luigi Barzini’s classic “The Italians” to try to understand this better. He noted, “In other parts of the world substance always takes precedence and its external aspect is considered useful but secondary. Here, on the other hand, the show is as important as, many times more important than, the reality. This is perhaps due to the fact that the climate has allowed Italians to live mostly outside their houses, in the streets and piazza; they judge men and events less by what they read or learn, and far more by what they see, hear, touch and smell.”
Well Blog Readers…that’s it for today. I need to go out and get to work on my bella figura!! I will start with a tight skirt, some stiletto heels a potent perfume and try my luck on the ancient cobblestones. Maybe I will bump into Aurelio Zen….as Adri says he’s awfully ”easy on the eyes.” Or heck, maybe I will just go get a gelato.