Apr 14, 2006

LACCO AMENO, Ischia – Italy: I descend a cliffside in three-inch heels. This stunt draws a few whistles, but not one person scolds me – as Americans are wont – "you can't walk in those."

In fatti, I can. And do. Sometimes a bit more slowly, granted, but with style. Bella figura.

The concept begins with grooming, but runs far deeper; it's about living graciously ... dressing well, savoring food and sipping fine wine in a gorgeous setting. Luxury plays a role, but not always lucre.

That's where America's McMansions and Humvees fail. Ostentation is an ugly word in any language. As Allie Fox, the mad genius in Paul Theroux's novel Mosquito Coast, insisted: "it's all cheeseburgers, Charlie."

Of course, Italians aren't immune to crib-pimping, bling-flashing ghetto-fabulousness. Many sport the Eurotrash version, all giant sunglasses, Gucci knockoffs and yacht trips to the Greek isles. But even such indulgence seems slightly tongue-in-cheek.

For every Michelangelo, this nation has produced a Mussolini. Dichotomies no longer ruffle its feathers.

Which is a good thing: glammed for an interview, I hop a bus that promptly breaks down. In any other country, I'd feel like a moron – or a streetwalker – bumbling about the verge in a little black dress.

But not here, no. It's just another day in bell' Italia.

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