Born in Rome on August 13, 1963 I spent the first eighteen years of my life in Perugia my mother’s home town, while my father continued to work in Rome for ENI (Italy’s national oil company). This divided family and the extensive traveling I did since I was a small child set me up on a path of uprooted-ness that would eventually lead me to live for and settle in Los Angeles right after high school.
In 1994 I completed my PhD in history at UCLA and since then I have taught European cultural history and Italian Studies in American universities: first OSU, in Columbus Ohio, then USC, in Los Angeles, and finally UCSB, in Santa Barbara, where I currently teach and direct the Italian Program. That is my fun! As for work, I take care of our Topanga compound: 2 acres of land, 2 houses, 2 airstreams, 3 tenants, 4 dogs, 5 cats, 1 wonderful wife, and 1 spectacular step-son. I just can’t decide which is work and which is fun. I just know my life is nothing like that of the average academic: it is full of, and fulfilled by communion with nature.
The dream of becoming a film-maker; or more precisely, the ambition to make historical films that would give Americans a ‘historical consciousness’, since they had nothing else that spoke to them of the permanence of the past. In the process of living in this city-state of eternal adolescence I came to question much more the roots of our historical sense of time and learn to live in the circulation-time of Los Angeles. We should stop calling it a city. Better think of it as a post-organic entity in which all human matter enters in a system of circulation dominated by inorganic screens (windshields, computer screens, movie screens, screenings etc…). But all this is now quite far from me: I live in Topanga, which means ‘where the mountain meets the sea’ in the language of the Native Americans that lived here not so many generations ago. And you can still feel their presence on what are probably sacred grounds. The rattle snakes that cross our property every Summer, and the coyotes that make their presence known almost every night, remind us of the presence of these noble ancestors of this land. And they also tell us that if the Big One where to come and destroy human life in the post-organic ameba we call Los Angeles, in a few months nature would cancel any trace of our having been here and the snakes, the mighty hawks, the mountain lions, and the coyotes would reign again undisturbed.
The night I walked barefoot for several miles in the space between the lanes of Santa Monica Boulevard (before they eliminated those traffic islands) from the beach to West Hollywood after a party where I had admittedly drunk a bit too much, but had also consciously decided to defy the law of circulation that made the ‘freedom’ associated with Los Angeles feel over-determined, superficial, fake. The rush of true freedom and happiness I experienced that night is still vivid in me.
We love our airstreams. They complete our life style in Topanga with the promise of traveling and the beauty of the most elegant object ever designed in this nation. And during the Great Depression, airstreams saved thousand of families from homelessness and destitution, They prove to us that there is a soul beneath all the crap in which the American Dream has been draped for the past half century.
I like it’s arbitrariness, lack of guidelines, randomness. In some way it does reflect something of Los Angeles even if it is an Italian turned New Yorker who came up with it.
Wow, if I were to really answer this question, I would need pages, for, you see, I teach Italian culture—hence I am a super Ambassador—but what I teach my students is to be very weary of the ‘naturalized’ notion of Italian style. So, in a way I see my role as trying to explain to my friends and Americans the mythic substance of their ‘Italian dream’. Italy is no longer a nation for me, or my nation, but an imaginary global destination. To go visit Italy, to own Italian fashion or design is to experience ‘distinction’ in the dreary democratic world of fashions and homogeneity. It gives access to the experience of “having style” in a world in which everything is just “in style.” But this is not something I teach with pride. I do not identify with this naturalized notion of Italians having style. In fact I see it as the result of an endemic aestheticization of politics that has put in the hands and minds of too many poets, journalists, and even cruise-boat entertainers the task of “making Italians” from unification to our present. The global identification of “made in Italy” with the idea of having style has given us a ‘pass’ after the end of world war 2 as “bravi italiani” but, in so doing, it has nourished our historical amnesia towards our endemic Mussolinism, the enormous consensus enjoyed by Fascism, and our criminal colonial past. I do my job as ambassador of Italian culture by writing and teaching about the constructed nature of Italia-stile.