La tavola/il tavolo

“The role of the table in Italian life is relentlessly emphasized in advertising of all kinds and even reflected in the grammar of the language.

Il tavolo is the word for the physical object, whereas la tavola— the same word but in the feminine— is untranslatable into English.

Its connotations encompass the meal and its preparation, quality, consumption and— most important— enjoyment.

Il tavolo is a piece of furniture on which to rest plates and cutlery.

La tavola signifies an experience in which china and glass, knives and forks play only a very small and functional part. When, for example, Italians want to describe the joys of good eating and drinking, they talk of i piaceri della tavola.

Hooper, John. The Italians (pp. 96-97). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Assumption Day, a national holiday

Assumption of Mary / Ferragosto in Italy

Every year many Italians observe Assumption Day, also known as Ferragosto, on August 15. This national holiday celebrates the Catholic belief that God took the body of Jesus’ mother Mary into heaven at her death.

Colorful wooden statue of Mary.
A statue of Jesus’ mother Mary, who is honored in Italy on Assumption Day.
© van Ouwerkerk

What Do People Do?

Ferragosto is a widely celebrated national holiday in Italy during the summer. It involves processions of people carrying the statue of Jesus’ mother Mary in many towns and cities.

One of the days of the Palio di Siena, or Il Palio in the city of Siena in Tuscany is held on August 16, coinciding with Assumption Day. This event involves a horse race around the Piazza in the city. Firework celebrations also take place on evening of Assumption Day.

For many years, many Catholic churches in Italy celebrate Ferragosto, or the feast day of the Assumption of Mary. Many churches in Italy believe that August 15 is the day that God assumed the Virgin Mary into Heaven at the end of her life.

However, its origins date further back to pre-Christian times when August 15 was a Pagan holiday. The Catholic church later adopted this date to commemorate the belief of Mary’s assumption into heaven.

An important point about Italy:

…which is that all sorts of things are immensely complicated.

To wit:

“The Italian legislative corpus,” remarked the authors of a recent study,  “has long represented a labyrinth even for the shrewdest legal practitioner because of its complexity and its sheer volume.” No one knows for certain how many laws there are.

In a typical act of showmanship, Calderoli arranged in 2010 for a bonfire on which he claimed to burn 375,000 laws and other regulations that had been nullified by his department. The oldest was from 1864. Estimates of the number of statute laws in force at the time of Calderoli’s appointment varied widely, from around 13,000 up to 160,000, excluding those passed by regional and provincial legislatures.

The government declared that, as a result of his ministry’s work, the tally had been reduced to around 10,000. But that was still almost twice as high as in Germany and three times as high as in Britain.

If the law in Italy is complex, then the way in which it is enforced and implemented is, if anything, even more so.

For a start, there are five national police forces. Apart from the Polizia di Stato, there are the semi-militarized Carabinieri and Guardia di Finanza (a revenue guard charged with curbing tax evasion, detecting money laundering and patrolling Italy’s territorial waters).

Then there are the Polizia Penitenziaria, whose officers guard the prisons and transport prisoners, and finally the Corpo Forestale dello Stato, responsible for patrolling Italy’s forest and national parks.

In addition, there are myriad provincial and municipal police forces.

Altogether, Italy has more law enforcement officers than any other country in the European Union. The scope for overlap, rivalry and confusion is considerable.

There are four layers of government in Italy— national, regional, provincial and municipal— any relatively large project will almost certainly require approval at more than one level and, in many cases, at all four.


Pirandello is a quintessentially Italian writer— perhaps the quintessentially Italian writer— forever gnawing away at the boundaries between reality and fiction, madness and sanity, past and present. The audience at a Pirandello play is repeatedly disconcerted and misled. Apparent certainties are undermined. Ostensible facts prove illusory. His works are, in short, very much like the experience of living in Italy.



Hooper, John. The Italians (p. 42 & 54). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.





Italy: with an inherited superego of high merit

The sociologist Giuseppe De Rita has argued that their past has endowed Italians, like many Greeks, with something rather more than just self-confidence: an innate belief in their superiority.

“I’ve never thought Italians were racist in the classical sense of the term,” he once told an interviewer. “They are, on the other hand, convinced of being superior because of a superego linked to the history they have behind them. At all events, they feel themselves to be more intelligent, brighter and better.”

I can imagine there are many Italians who would scoff at some of that. If you live in some benighted village in the wilds of Basilicata, or in a public housing project in one of the industrial wastelands of the Po Valley, I don’t suppose you think of yourself as heir to the traditions of Augustus and Leonardo.

But the sense of pride that De Rita described can certainly be detected among the Tuscans, the Venetians, the Romans and many others. What he said about Italians believing themselves to be smarter— more sveglio (“ awake” or “aware”), more in gamba (“ bright”)— than others is unquestionably true.

Hooper, John. The Italians (pp. 28-29). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

What is that special something about Italy?

“In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace— and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

Said by character Harry Lime, in film The Third Man, screenplay by Graham Greene