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Zen and the art of being Italian

Friday, 22 February, 2013

We round out our week of all things Italian here with a recommendation: Zen. No, not the school of Mahayana Buddhism that originated in China during the 6th century and which became famous in the 1970s when it was briefly associated with motorcycle maintenance. Rather, our Zen is Aurelio Zen, a fictional Italian detective created by the late, lamented crime writer Michael Dibdin.

Although your blogger has been a long-time admirer of Italy and has visited the country many times, it was only through reading of Dibdin’s murder mysteries that the true nature of contemporary Italian society became clear. The books are filled with vice, la dolce vita, politics, passion, omerta, commerce, history, humanity, food, wine and love of place. Zen teaches the reader that Italy is not a modern nation-state, but a set of city-states living in constant familial rivalry with each other. But despite the fragmentation, the sum of the parts is still a force to be reckoned with. Reuters headline this morning: “Global shares, euro tumble on economic concerns, Italy vote.”

BBC Scotland and Left Bank Pictures produced three dramas based on the Dibdin books. Shot in Rome, they starred English actor Rufus Sewell as Aurelio Zen, and Italian actress Caterina Murino is Tania Moretti, his colleague. Eccellente!

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