"An Italophile's delight." - Ross King, NY Times Bestselling Author of Brunelleschi's Dome
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On the surface, the phrase, la bella figura, or the beautiful figure, summons images of beautiful Italian people: Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni.
But it is so much more than that.
La Bella Figura is at the essence of understanding Italy’s heart: her people and their desire to please.
Italians are famous for going out of their way, often to extraordinary lengths to present themselves and everything they do in the most beautiful possible way: because beauty is really the only thing that matters after all is said and done.
Oscar Farinetti, the founder of the Eataly Empire said, “La bellezza ci salverá.” Beauty will save us.
I agree with that sentiment.
Why is beauty so essential to the Italian character?
First, Italy’s natural beauty: its coastline, olive groves, vineyards, marble topped mountains, cypress trees that dot the emerald landscape like exclamation points seem to go on for as long as you can gaze at it.
Despite centuries of war and bloodshed, the natural beauty of the land has always been the silent witness to history, emerging from the human violence with its resplendence intact.
Italy’s natural beauty has an eternal quality to it. One can see olive groves and green hills as if looking over Leonardo’s shoulder as he paints it.
Mark Twain said, “The Creator made Italy from designs by Michelangelo.”
Inspired by this fountain of natural beauty sprung forth the Renaissance, the rebirth, where the Divine was sought in humanity.
What Italy produced during this period has imprinted the idea of la bella figura on the culture forever.
Beauty above all else. And everybody there has pretty much signed on.
There is no better place to people watch than during the passeggiata – the evening stroll in and around the local piazza.
It is a marvel to notice how people are dressed. That is one of the main things that of course, the idea of cutting a beautiful figure produces.
But do not think for a moment that this means closets of Italians are stuffed with an abundance of expensive clothing, shoes and accessories.
For la bella figura is not about quantity. It is not about having more. It is about having the absolute best and knowing how to wear it.
That is genius.
It is diametrically opposed to American culture, where more is better. We have it wrong.
And there is another place to see la bella figura in action. To the table.
Setting the table, getting ready to enjoy a meal with friends is no trifle.
It is intentional. And the intention is to create a beautiful experience. Wines, ingredients, the season – all call for thoughtful choices.
Old but beautiful linens, the right wine glass, the essential serving dish, the right grate on the cheese – all add up to making la bella figura.
This is one of the reasons Italians are so welcoming when it comes to food. Please have more. We want to please you. We want you to be impressed.
And we are!
Life in Italy is not easy. There is more bureaucracy here than you can imagine. Things don’t always work well, efficiently or on time.
But, when beauty is at the heart of everything you do…when it is the single most important element when you are living life with your friends and family – it softens the hard edges of stress, it reconnects us with our spirits, opens up the heart to this moment.
Because that’s all there is, so why not make it beautiful?
“Beauty is a form of Genius―is higher, indeed, than Genius, as it needs no explanation. It is one of the great facts of the world, like sunlight, or springtime, or the reflection in the dark waters of that silver shell we call the moon. It cannot be questioned. It has divine right of sovereignty. It makes princes of those who have it.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
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