“The pernicious charm of Italy”, EM Forster called it in his comedy of manners, A Room with a View. He came, he saw; Florence conquered. It’s a familiar tale for English people down the ages. Keats, Shelley, Byron, Browning: the romantics all went to the land of lemon trees (Goethe, vielen Dank) before buttoned-up Forster, and they were also spellbound.
A beaker full of the warm south. Keats’s line has become a cliché. Yet we recognise it for a good reason. The attraction of opposites, if you like. Not all English people are buttoned-up. Not all Italians put pepper on their strawberries. But there’s something in the difference, and that’s a good place to start.
You mean you haven’t had pepper on your strawberries? Until this week, in a trattoria a stone’s throw from the Arno, neither had I. Now you feel such a fool if you don’t. Taken with pineapple and lemon ice cream there’s really nothing...
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