An Italian “Bucket List”: #50

I’m often asked what I think are the “must-dos” for lovers of Italy, so I’ll be counting down 50 items on an Italian “Bucket List” – please tell me what’s on yours!

50. See the Palio in Siena.


Twice a year, in July and August, the breathtaking medieval Tuscan town Siena goes wild for its palio, an ancient horse race that each neighborhood (contrada) wants desperately to win. The whole city becomes a mix of fan frenzy and festive competition – I made it there once, in 2002, and will never forget the awesome pageantry.

The Burden of Beauty

If you haven’t already, please see THE GREAT BEAUTY (La grande bellezza), the new film by Italian director Paolo Sorrentino – and winner of this year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Film! Many consider Sorrentino’s film to be the cinematic heir to such masterpieces as Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, another probing look at Italy’s “sweet life.”thegreatbeauty.poster.wp

As you can see from this publicity poster, The Great Beauty explores the presence of Italy’s monumental culture and beauty in the present day – how their incredible power can be overwhelming, even paralyzing, in an Italian society intensely anchored in the past. In my book My Two Italies, I discuss how (if!) a Renaissance city like Florence can have a “modern” afterlife [read more here]. Sorrentino’s film also asks us to think about how Italian culture and art, so justly celebrated throughout the world, can be a burden as well as a blessing to the Italian people, who are surrounded everywhere by glories of the past that can sometimes crowd out the present.