As you are doubtless aware, this month’s theme is la dolce vita, an Italian phrase meaning the sweet life. It would be remiss of us to choose that theme without referring to Fellini’s 1960 masterpiece of the same name.
Regular readers of The Displaced Nation may not be surprised to learn that I was a somewhat pretentious teenager. A thin youth, callow and pallid, I could be found most nights ensconced in my bedroom reading the novels of Thomas Hardy or writing in a notebook my own cringe-worthy poetry. However, I would sometimes, late at night, usually on a Friday, descend from my literary lair and head down to the living room where I would turn the TV to BBC2 or Channel 4 to watch some classic foreign film that I felt I ought to know about.
Though my teenage years aren’t that far behind me (the late 90s, if you must know) they exist in another epoch, a time of old media, where nobody normal blogged, where there was no twitter and there was most definitely no streaming online of every movie you could ever wish to watch. Instead my cultural endevours were rationed. The northern town that I grew up in had no bookstore (unless we rather generously classify W.H. Smith as a bookstore) or cinema, so I found myself spending a lot of my time in my local library or scanning the Radio Timesto see what (if any) interesting examples of world cinema where being shown on either of the two niche channels (BBC2 and C4). Invariably, something was being shown late most Friday nights. It was in these circumstances that I first came across Fellini’s La Dolce Vita.
I can’t in all honesty say that I “got it” when watching it for the first time that night, but on a superficial level, I loved it. More particularly, I loved the effortlessly cool, brooding Marcello Mastroianni who anchors the film. This, I reasoned, was how manhood should be, how I should live my life: apertifs in the cafes, dances at the Cha-Cha-Cha Club, a midnight wade into the Trevi Fountain with an Anita Ekberg figure, two lonely souls enjoying a fleeing moment of warmth.
So I pondered about how one goes about affecting a similar style to Mr Mastroianni. The problems quickly became apparent. My clothes came from Marks and Spencer’s men’s department and gave me more the appearance of a Mormon missionary than Italian heartthrob. Then there was the impossibility of finding in Hartlepool a Cha-Cha-Cha Club that played the music of Nino Rota — now, the Bikini Fun Bar played 2Unlimited, but between you and me that wasn’t quite the same. Most disappointingly, I had no Anita Ekberg; none of the girls in school would take up my invitation to wade with me in the duck pond in Ward Jackson Park. So the attempt to give my teenage years a Fellini spin were dashed. I couldn’t recreate the Rome of 1960 as seen through Fellini’s lens in the Hartlepool of 1998 (hardly a surprise).
But if I stopped pretending to act like I’d stepped out of a Fellini film, still I think this might have been when I was unknowingly inoculated with wanderlust — and the thought that somewhere out there is a place where cafes serve apertifs, not sausage rolls, where the club plays Nino Rota, not 2Unlimited, and where Anita Ekberg is waiting. That’s the sweet life.
STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, Kate Allison’s review of Chique Secrets of Dolce Amore, by Barbara Conelli — the book that inspired this month’s theme!
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The tantalizing promise of somewhere you blend right in… I wonder how many people begin their travels because they were looking for a place where they DIDN’T feel like the odd one out, seething with plans to escape beneath their deceptively ordinary guise of homogeneous clothes and scripted facial expression.
But isn’t La Dolce Vita (the film) supposed to be about the disparity between what life could be and what it actually is? Marcello is a kind of Dantesque pilgrim into the Underworld, looking for happiness and love in all the wrong places?
Couldn’t you have been his distant British cousin — looking for Brit Eckland and finding a giggling Hartlepool schoolgirl?
On the other hand, I’ll grant you that Hartlepool does not equal Rome. While it may have declined since Britain’s shipbuilding industry reached its peak in the 19th century, it’s not the home of the Vatican so hardly qualifies as an over-civilized society that’s now in decay.
So is Modesto a kind of 21st-century Rome, that’s what I’d like to know!!!