By George Lynch
Granby resident Mario DeiDelori was the featured speaker at a Senior Men’s Breakfast. DeiDelori has made more than 30 trips to Italy and Sicily. His rapport with the people of Italy, his strong interest in Italian history and discovery of his personal heritage has accorded him what he refers to as a “minimal expertise” on the country and its culture. He spoke of an Italian philosophy referred to as La Bella Figura. La Bella Figura literally means a beautiful person, but more broadly it means how one looks, how one comports oneself, how one makes the best possible impression in all things; how to properly and graciously interact with others in any social or public situation.
For example, you are in the U.S. You are late for work and you want to make a quick stop and get a paper. What do you do? You approach a newsstand, grab your paper, hand over the money and leave. Not in Italy. In Italy, you are late for work and you want to make a quick stop and get a paper. What do you do? First you ask the vendor how he is doing? How is his family? How are the children? What is he having for lunch today or what is his family having for dinner? It is not unusual to ask a stranger in Italy what they are having for lunch or dinner. (DeiDelori comments, “In Italy, food is the most important information discussed second only to family”). Only after getting to know each other do you pay for the paper and depart. That is La Bella Figura.
Or, you are seated in an American restaurant. A vendor comes in to sell flowers to the patrons. Here the owner would ask them to leave. He would not want them annoying the patrons during their meal. In Italy, it is commonplace for vendors to come in off the street and sell flowers (or whatever) to dining customers. They are not asked to leave. Nobody gets excited or inconvenienced. The difference is that, in Italy, there is a time honored philosophy—everyone has the right to earn a living. Actually there is usually just one vendor per restaurant (they divide up the territory) so diners are not overwhelmed with a constant stream of salesmen interrupting their meal.
During one visit, Dei Delori with his wife and some friends, rented a villa in Sant’Agata on the mountain overlooking Sorrento. One day they decided to walk down to the town rather than take the bus. Half way down they noticed an older lady off to the side of the street, sweeping with a broom. She had an interesting look about her so Dei Delori asked if he could take her picture. (Dei Delori adds, “In Italy, everybody wants their picture taken; perfect strangers love it for some reason.”) The lady misunderstood him thinking that he wanted to take pictures from her balcony. She said, “Sure, come on up, take all the pictures you want.” Rather than explain, they followed her up to her balcony and the views really were spectacular. They thanked her, anxious to be on their way, when she says, “Oh, would you like to see the rest of my house?” She took them around the first floor and she says, “Would you like to see my bedroom? So they are walking up the stairs to her bedroom, and meet her sister coming down. The sister says, “Oh would you like to see my bedroom?” “Sure, I mean, what were they going to say?” They toured the bedrooms and got ready to leave. “No, no no! I have something for you.” She insisted they taste her homemade liqueur of wild strawberries. They drank the liquor and again said thank you. As they are leaving she says, “Come back tomorrow and I will have coffee for you—I have none today.” A perfect stranger! La Bella Figura.
Then they were on a two lane road leaving the city of Agropoli. They are driving along chatting with friends and run out of road. The road literally ends at a stoplight. They could not go forward as there were four lanes of traffic facing them. They are thoroughly confused. The two lane road going north has become four lanes all going south. There is a policeman on the corner. He stops all the traffic and approaches their car with complete equanimity. He rolled down the window and said, “Sorry officer I do not speak Italian that well.” He says, “No need I speak English.” He asked him where he was from and he says Australia. The policeman asks where he is from. He tells him Connecticut. He asks where in Connecticut and he says a little town called Granby near the airport. They carry on a casual conversation for a good three to four minutes with four lanes of traffic patiently waiting. Nobody got antsy; no horn blowing, or shouting. La Bella Figura.
Eventually, the policeman said, “You missed your turn. You have to turn around and take the next right and you will be on your way.” La Bella Figura.
The Amalfi coast is the most beautiful drive in the world and probably one of the most dangerous. The two lane roads are winding and cut into the sides of mountains; the road is very narrow; there are no shoulders. One side drops off into a deep valley. The other was bordered by a small two foot wall.
They were in a bus headed for Ravello approaching a 45 degree curve. The bus driver had to pull into the left hand lane on the wrong side of the road, to maneuver around the tight curve. He was just entering the curve when a Mercedes came down and stopped in front of the bus. A man was driving with a woman in the back seat. Their driver motioned for the Mercedes to come forward and pass the bus on the right. The Mercedes did not move. The driver was afraid to squeeze between the bus in the left lane and a small wall that bordered the right lane. Their driver got out of the bus, went to the Mercedes, got in the driver’s seat, drove the car past the bus and returned. Now they are ready to go and here comes another car which also stops. The woman driver surveys the scene and starts up slowly and then comes to a stop beside the bus. They are thinking, “here we go again, she too is afraid to pass the bus on the wrong side of the road.” That was not the case. She stopped alongside the bus, rolled down her window and plucked some flowers from the bank. Then she continued on her way. There is time to smell the roses in Italy.
One afternoon they decided to visit the San Carlo Opera House in Naples. Naples is said to have the most friendly and warm people in Italy. It is also said that being in Naples is like standing on a street corner watching 100 televisions all tuned to a different channel – no matter where you look, something is happening.
The San Carlo Opera House is the oldest continuously active venue for public opera in the world. It was closed for the season so they knocked on the door and a custodian answered. They asked if they could just peek in and look at the inside. He said, “Sure” and then proceeded to take them on a tour. He took them to see the Kings Box where kings would watch the performances. He took them up onto the stage and turned off the seating lights so that they could see what the actors would see. They rode an elevator down six levels where they watched sets being designed and built for the new season. They visited each of the other levels where everything else that supports a performance is prepared.
They were on the catwalk above the stage which was about 1 and ½ feet wide. All the lights and curtains and cameras attached to it. They were not comfortable up there.
After three and ½ hours into what was supposed to be a quick look, it was time to be on their way. They tried to give the custodian some money for his time but he refused. They asked him if there was something else they could do to show their appreciation. He said, “Yes. He would like some postcards from New York City.” They eventually stuck some dollars in his pocket and depart, and later they did send him some postcards from the city. His name was Buonocuore which means good heart, a classic example of La Bella Figura.
Mario Dei Delori Mariodei4@gmail.com 860 6537340