Why Not To Cut Your Spaghetti
Explaining Italy to foreigners (by a foreigner)
“If you can’t spontaneously detect (without analyzing) the difference between sacred and profane, you’ll never know what religion means. You will also never understand what we call art. You will never understand anything.”
— Nassim Taleb
Imagine you’re in Italy. You are invited to dinner and you cut your spaghetti.
With the same knife you cut it, you will be stabbed. “Rightly so” will the gazzettas print the next day. The stabber will get a promotion, become governor of a province or get a pizza named after him (or all three). And you? If you survived you will be prosecuted and brought to trial. In court, hands cuffed and the grim frowns of the spectators upon you, you might ask the judge: “But what did I do wrong?”
Judge: “You cut the spaghetti.”
You: “What is wrong with cutting spaghetti?”
The judge will have no answer, he’ll probably shrug his shoulders and sentence you to exile. You might be wondering why the judge cannot give an answer to such a simple question. In fact, no italian can — I have tried. Or why you can’t put salad on a Pasta Amatriciana — *I have tried*, and almost got stabbed.
The mistake we foreigners make, is that we confuse the sacred with the profane. While we marvel at their art, eat their fabulous food and sip their soothing wine, we debate what makes this country so beautiful, and we debate what would make it better. As if it could actually be described in words; as if a written recipe would be sufficient to replicate nonna’s marvelous dish cooked in the local tavern.
Have you ever been invited to an italian’s home for dinner? Try it, taste it. It will blow you away. If you then ask him how he did that, he will only smile and shrug his shoulders, almost apologizing, as if saying “it wasn’t me”. But then who was it? Is it the culture, the landscapes? It is their aesthetic mindset (la mentalità estetica). Italians don not classify in good or evil, they classify in beatiful or ugly (bello o brutto). Remember the guy who betrayed Julius Caeser? Yeah, he was ugly. Go to Italy, rent a car, drive wherever you want. Actually lose yourself. It does not matter where you land, every town is beautiful, in its own colours, its own smells and food. If one town smells like spring, another smells like summer, and a third may smell like spring in autumn. You don’t know that smell? Go to Italy I said.
Reserved for centuries, the dead who constructed the city, who kept a stern eye on it always being beautiful, their spirits are always there. It is the farmer, the architect, the wonderful nonnas who adore beauty. It is scarred in there face, just look at them and you will smile. The Renaissance was born here (and it will be reborn here again — more on a later post), this is not a coincidence.
Religion is not meant to be understood. Art is not meant to be understood. Have you ever asked a grammar professor to teach you poetry? I hope the word “brutto” just crossed your mind. Italy is opaque. Being italian is reacting spontaneously — with no need for explanation.
I would like to say that Italians are the angels who guard us from bad taste. From bad eating habits and cities like Manchester. Every time a german wears sandals with socks, an italian dies.
But the angel analogy is already reserved for the irish by Steven Pressfield. I go a step further. Comprehensive beauty is art, incomprehensive beauty is magic. And because Italians make it every day, they are magicians. When the day greets they wake up in style. The morning light is paint flooding her room, so she arranges herself to make the most beautiful spectacle of the colors she is given. With this attitude she drinks her coffee. She smokes and walks and talks with holy elegance. Ask her how she does it, and she will only shrug her shoulders. It is normal for mortals to believe they can somehow replicate the magic of wizards, but not everyone is fit for Hogwarts. So we are only left to stun in awe and trust their spontaneous marvel.
So why is it wrong to cut spaghettis? If you are still looking for an answer, you didn’t get it.
Thank you for reading.