We were at Desert Rhino Camp when the daughter of an obviously very well-to-do family from Milan declared across the dinner table: “When other people think of Italy all they think of is pizza, pasta and the Mafia.”
Hmm, not really I thought, but held the thought. The next day we endured a bone jarring 12-hour game-drive search for the desert rhinos and to pass the time (each time the Landy stopped to negotiate another boulder), I jotted down thoughts.
To fully appreciate the title, you should be familiar with the Monty Python sketch in “The Life of Brian” – What Have The Romans Ever Done For Us? I read it out at dinner the following night to great applause from the Italians.
WHAT HAVE THE ITALIANS EVER DONE FOR US?
By David Bristow
You gave us the arch, the aqueduct and dome,
And for those we are eternally glad;
You give us Firenze and Venice, Milano and Rome –
Cities greater than any other nation has, or has had.
When Septimus Severus ruled Leptis Magna
And other Roman ruins from Morocco to Libya,
And Julius Caesar marched, triumphantly, down the Appian Way
They created an empire that defines much of Europe today.
You gave us the Renaissance to break the Dark Ages
From Giotto to Bellini became the cultural sages;
Michelangelo’s glorious dome and Della Porta’s cupola,
Botticelli’s Venus born in a shell with the winds to guide her.
But it was Leonardo with his art and his machines
Who created our present from his futuristic dreams.
Then you gave us real food and Campari with bitters
Aglio olio, cannelloni, ravioli, formaggio;
But you also gave us some big hitters –
Rocky Marciano and the Yankee’s DiMaggio.
For the mornings you gave us cappuccino
And for the evenings double espresso,
Then we’d go to the movies to see Pacino and de Niro;
Reruns of old classics became the dreams of old men
Featuring Gina Lollobrigida and Sofia Loren …
To show off we drive a Ferrari, Maserati or Lambo
Or for the aficionado maybe a Lancia Montecarlo;
While the hip and happening ride a Vespa
As they race in the fast lane and live the dolce vita.
We look at our photos and memories we cherish,
Our visits to Lake Cuomo and the canals of Venice;
Remember the crazy horsemen of the Palio in Sienna
And on to Monza to see the brilliant young Aryton Senna.
In the Eternal City we discovered spaghetti al dente
And one evening we stumbled across the Comedia del Arte;
We were surprised by the scale of Saint Peter’s, the delicate Pieta,
The vibrant nightlife and the afternoon riposo, or siesta.
We ate pasta pomodoro in a piazza in Pisa
And pizza margherita in a side street of Napoli;
Remember the night we made love in Palermo
It was like a scene out of Dante’s Inferno.
But who can forget the Vatican state,
The Pope, the cardinals, the bishops and prelates;
Or the priests and nuns who ruled our schools with their sermons
till we thought they were not angels but educational demons.
These days as we sit with a book by Umberto Eco, and a glass of good grappa,
Or sip a Chianti while we watch the news after supper,
About the latest farce by Berlusconi with a sweet ratafia
And the rise of the Chinese and Russian Mafia.
It is no longer the Sicilian dons who we fear,
But these new global gangsters bring us to tears.