"74 years old? Really?!" I can hear you say. Italy's name after all conjures up a wealth of images of antiquity and heritage. Yet the Italian state is a mere spring chicken: national unity under the Italian Kingdom did not take place until 1861 and Rome itself was not annexed until 1870.
It is neither of these dates however that holds the status of national day of Italy. That privilege falls to 2 June, the Festa della Repubblica, i.e. Republic Day. This public holiday celebrates the momentous day in 1946 when Italians — including for the first time ever women as well as men — cast their votes in a referendum to decide whether their country, ravaged by World War II and fascism, should return to be a monarchy, or become a republic.
So on Tuesday 2 June, while New Zealanders head back to work after Queen's Birthday, Italians will be celebrating the 74th birthday of their modern statehood (and yes, as an Italian-Kiwi, I do find this fortuitous juxtaposition rather ironic). This year, because of Covid-19, the parades and official receptions held throughout the country are unlikely to take place, but Italians will get to enjoy even more spectacular demonstrations than usual by the Frecce Tricolori.
In honour of the Italian community and the many Italophiles in Christchurch, my colleague Helen and I have compiled a list of handy resources for those who remember or dream of Italy.
Helen's Italian resources for beginners
The Italian language would have to be the most romantic of the romance languages. How much nicer does “Arrivederci, alla prossima” sound compared to ‘Goodbye see you next time’ and even a walk dazzles that little bit more when described as a ‘passeggiata’. I have tried (and failed admittedly) to master this beautiful language, and even though I haven’t got there yet, it is a joy to learn and (nervously) try to speak. Below are some great library resources I used when attempting to learn the language, as well as some excellent books on Italy and Italian heritage. Who doesn’t want to learn about Italy’s remarkable culture by viewing beautiful works of art, cooking from its exquisite cuisine, and reading about its fascinating history? If this sounds like you, read on to start your ‘bella avventura’!
Here are some entertaining and informative reads on Italian history, culture, language, art, and cooking that will have you itching to experience more.
A Florence diary
If you are looking for a taste of Italy, then this vivid account of Diane Athill's visit to Florence in August 1947 is a delightful pick. Athill truly makes you feel as though you are there with her, viewing architecture, trying local cuisine, and enjoying the the vibrancy of this thrilling city.
The pursuit of Italy
This sweeping history of Italy tells the story of the peninsula with fascinating anecdotes, and great insights from its varied citizens. From Virgil to Verdi, from the Medici to modern political figures, this is an enlightening and engaging panorama of a nation.
Italian complete language pack
There are many great resources out there to help you learn Italian but this was a real stand out for me. Broken down into easy to follow sections, this resource eases you into learning the language, and just asks 15 minutes each day of your time to master the essentials
Michelangelo and the Sistine chapel
Meet one of Italy's most celebrated children, and examine one of its most iconic art works, with leading art critic Andrew Graham Dixon. This unique portrait of an artist, and his most gruelling and ingenious work, transports readers back to a fascinating moment in the history of the Italy and of art.
Great museums of Italy
What better way to learn and celebrate the heritage of Italy, than with an exquisite tour through Italy's finest museums. Take a journey through eight of the nation's greatest museums, including Galleria dell'Accademia and National Archeological Museum, without leaving your living room.
The food of Italy
This beautifully photographed cook book will have you cooking your way through Italy, and picking up essential tips and tricks for authentic ,mouthwatering Italian cuisine.
Eating my way through Italy
Go on a journey with Elizabeth Minchilli through the regions of Italy, to sample the nation's most beloved and varied food. From pizza in Naples to truffle hunting in Umbria, these wonderful stories of Italian food and their significance in various regions are also lovingly accompanied by recipes, reflections, and tips for great Italian food.
The land where lemons grow
You may be thinking about now that you've had enough of the books indulging my foodie cravings, but really, this pick is so much more than a story of food. Atlee weaves a gripping cultural history of Italy, following the geographical and historical journey of the citrus, from ancient Rome through to the nineteenth century, from the shadow of a Sicilian volcano to tables around the world.
A small place in Italy
Eric Newby’s memoir of building a new life in the foothills of the Italian alps is an enchanting look into the Tuscan way of life. Filled with wonderful anecdotes of local characters, wine making, and the Newbys' adventures in building a new home (out of a worn-out farmhouse), Newby’s evocative writing will make you feel you too have adventured in rural Italy. The follow up read to this would have to be Under the Tuscan Sun, the memoir of a woman who bought and restored a villa in Tuscany
Explore the breath-taking gardens of Italy with Britain’s favourite gardener, Monty Don. From the luxurious gardens of emperors and popes, to horticultural wonders in the south, this volume is a feast for the eyes and the soul.
Love & gelato
If you are more of a fiction fan, why not try a novel set in Italy? This novel follows the story of Lena, a sixteen-year-old fulfilling her mother’s dying wish that she go to Italy to know her father better. Armed with her mother's old diary, Lena retraces her steps and in the process learns much about Italy, her parents, and herself.
Italy boasts amazing writers, from Dante to Ferrante. Why not enjoy some of Italy’s literary heroes and try out this 20th century classic? Set during the reunification of Italy, the leopard tells the story of the charming and wealthy Sicilian Prince Don Fabrizio, and the fascinating array of nobility, peasants, and politicians who surround him.
Mango Languages is a language learning website and app that can aid you tremendously when beginning your learning journey. Free and easy to use, this is a great way to hear spoken Italian and get to grips with the basics of the language.
There is a huge range of free videos videos, both for adults and kids, that can aid you in not only learning Italian, but also in learning more about the Italian culture.
Vanessa's picks for Italians and fluent Italian speakers
If your Italian is fluent, there is much to enjoy in our eResources. Our OverDrive collection includes a variety of interesting eBooks, including a scattering of non-fiction and of titles translated into Italian:
If magazines and newspapers are more your thing, you can't go past PressReader. You can choose from 74 newspapers and 96 magazines, including Il Corriere della Sera, La Gazzetta dello Sport, Gente, Starbene and Donna Moderna.
What are your recommendations?
Buona Festa della Repubblica!