Illux by Leo Cardini
There is something about Peter Pan that moves me. It may be the way he knows how to wink. Or how he can laughingly fly into a sword fight. Or perhaps I'm simply struck by the very genius of him, comforted and reassured by the immovable conviction that he does exist-the way all lovely qualities exist-when humanity strives to be something worthy.
It did not occur to me until today that my deepest love for Italy may stem from the bit of Peter Pan I've always found in it. The country has quel certo non so che, that special flair, that breeziness its people share when they've set their minds on giving. To put it another way, Italians have never been cold folk whose hands are too stingy and numb to do anything but wear wool mittens. Whether it's un saluto or due baci, sharing quattro chiacchere, providing un piatto di minestra or una parola buona, giving has always felt paramount to this culture: In Italian, the word dare, just wasn't enough, it needed donare as well-to give something as a gift. Or perhaps I've always found Italians generous because, to me, conversation is life's most encouraging gift and here, talking has always been a way of life, or better said, a requisite for quality living.
When it comes to verbal exchange, Italy has loads of notable expressions. For small talk, there's parlare del più e del meno, to talk about ‘more and less.' For the bold, no-nonsense truth, you need parlare senza giri di parole, without putting ‘turns in your words.' Other frank truth-tellers may get a sick thrill from the phase parlare senza peli sulla lingua and it's rather revolting translation, ‘to speak without hair on your tongue.' But of all the ways there are to speak, the most rewarding, I find, is simply parlare a quattr'occhi.
‘To speak with four eyes' means speaking face to face. But, like all things that involve the gaze, there's something more private about it. The premise is obvious: look someone in the eyes and you show them your insides. Look someone in the eyes, and you have a shot at capturing his personal truth. Then, on another level, it can't be by chance that Italians mention the eyes rather than the whole of the face: communication is visual, heck, everything is visual, and we're in a context where even talking is a sight worth staring at. Happily, seeing is relatively easily with the central streets as narrow as they are. It may be the fault of geography: physical closeness while speaking is a requisite in a country that's as slim as Italy's tight boot.
But geographical justification or not, things are changing, for the world has become globalized and ultra-connected. So sadly, in un solo clic, we seem to have severed centuries of real cultural ties. Just yesterday, in the city, it took me all day to find someone who looked happy to speak to me, even without my being equipped with an iPad or cell phone. Finding a soul willing to pry his gaze away from whatever virtual world he had fixed his eyes on was like finding a starfish in the desert. It was one of those days when you think or fear or realize that somehow, Peter Pan has grown up. The rascal's grown up and he has a pirate's future ahead of him.
In other words, I had what Italians now call un flash, a moment of realization, however simple and banal it may sound: Italy is not what it used to be. This much-loved country of flesh-and-blood communicators has taken a turn, and folks look increasingly disgruntled to have a flesh-and-bones persona vera materialize before them in something other than a virtual form. I've felt this way in other nations before, where technology grew faster roots, but never in Italy-never ever before in Italy.
I don't know if you feel it, too-the flattening of cultural identity as the world becomes globalized rather than staying far and wide. As far as culture goes, I see the advent of globalization and mourn the quick, unnoticed death of national idiosyncrasy. Perhaps you agree. Or maybe you'd much prefer a humanity where the whole world speaks in Tweets.
Either way, how I would love to talk to you about it a quattr'occhi, up close and on the lookout. We could go down by the loggia, or somewhere equally lovely, and for the whole of an hour, let ‘why?' and not ‘wi-fi' be the focal point of our in-person exchange. A quattr'occhi, just you and me. For four eyes are better than two for those who still somehow yearn to see him. Lui, voglio dire. Quel certo non so che- quel certo Peter Pan.