Made in Italy: Diversity

(Edited by A.M. Zdrojewski)

Perhaps it’s the kilometres of coastline, a boundary of dry land that overlooks the sea and delimits Italy on three sides - 7194 kilometres of rivieras and shores in a country that extends to its maximum length of about 1200 kilometres from north to south and its maximum width of about 530 from west to east. Perhaps it’s the fourth edge of the boundary, the Alps, that in 300 B.C. didn’t prevent the elephants of the legendary Hannibal from descending into the plain and surprising the ancient Romans as they were having breakfast. In one way or another, the morphology of the boot in the Mediterranean Sea has been characterized for quite some time by a predisposition to openness. To permeability. There’s an embedded instinct in Italy’s geography that says: sooner or later, something will come from there.

It is no coincidence that this instinct for curiosity is written in our own history and deserves to be preserved. The myth of our foundation is one of the exiles in search of new land, of the people who came by sea from Troy. Throughout the centuries we’ve been maritime powers, a civilization of sea migrants and inhabitants who know that somewhere not too far there is always a sea - even when they live in the mountains. And of all the places, imaginary and real, ports are the ones that most vividly and directly represent and nurture the predisposition to openness. Or better, port cities. Because port cities are like jewels: rings that extend outwards, where the port embraces the water, to welcome and hold a precious gem that has yet to arrive.

From the Alps and the sea, of course, also belligerent guests would arrive at times, but even the elephants that shocked the ancient Romans ended up animating the shows at the Colosseum. Things we’ve never seen can be frightening at first glance, but a predisposition towards openness can help us recognize in their intimidating singularity, something of inestimable value. Something that allows us to take a step forward along the path of who we can become. Something generative.

Obviously, the ancient Romans didn’t have our sensitivity for animal rights, and yet the elephants on show at the Colosseum represent one of the many ways in which, even two thousand years ago, Italy attracted other cultures and traditions to welcome them and thus develop. Cosmopolitan Rome, with all the dialects of the ancient world and the daily rituals from around the globe, and cosmopolitan Italy with its present-day metropolises and towns, where future meets past. And if Italian cuisine is loved in every corner of the planet, don’t we owe that to the fact that various ingredients and traditions are easily contaminated and combined in one dish? And when we’re inspired by its taste, isn’t it true that these ingredients and traditions end up making the taste even finer to the point of defining a way of thinking?

Italy is inclined to geographic and cultural diversity because it’s a port, it’s a ring that awaits a precious gem, it’s a mountain range from which elephants descend, it’s a forest-land with cork oaks under the blazing sun and edelweiss living at 3,000 meters above sea level, it’s a natural habitat where human beings coexist with octopuses and wolves, tunas and ibexes, it’s a plate of couscous accompanied by a glass of wine made from grapes grown on the foggy plains. And when diversity is a geographical and cultural predisposition, social inclusion can become an increasingly natural gesture. Because inclusion, a word so crucial today, is not a mere concept, it’s a gesture. An action. It means making space. Making space in an environment or a system to welcome something that, apparently different, may turn out to be a gem that will make the jewel unforgettable. Welcoming is not always easy, but it can be easier if we keep in mind that the Italy of today is the result of the predisposition of those who saw another world entering their own when watching the elephants descending from the Alps. Appreciating what enters the harbour, being fascinated by the stories of sailors, discovering, in things and people, other worlds that are already part of our own: this is what it’s all about. And remembering that, with the courage of being open, the opportunity for a better, more equal and harmonious world lives and thrives. When a story enters the harbour and someone is there to listen, that story grows, street by street, square by square. And in that story, there is our human ability to redesign the world in which we live and make it even better.