The concept of vacation in Italy is so ingrained in our collective imagination that, at the first openings after the lockdown, we already began talking about where we would spend the summer. As if most of us hadn’t been stuck in a sort of inactive limbo, where the only things to tire us out were our own thoughts and unsafe Zoom connections, certainly nothing active. And yet, instead of turning to boring and distressing chatter about how we would manage in the later stages post lockdown, a whole discussion arose about where and how we would spend the weekends and the upcoming holidays, in which houses or places, with a camper or tent, or rented, visiting friends or visiting relatives. Even more, they were projects or fantasies conceived with a considerable amount of satisfaction, almost with relief, at avoiding for once holidays abroad, the fatigue of airports, large and expensive journeys. A way of feeling virtuous for the imminent rediscovery of our own country, less crowded with tourists, less busy, more beautiful and comfortable than ever.

It must be said that between the rights enshrined in the Constitution (on work and gender equality) and the achievements of contemporary society (broadband internet, air conditioning and heating, satellite channels) there is an unofficial but clearly perceived right for us Italians to our summer vacation and all that comes with that.  Cinema has often focused on our culinary beach specialties, fried or roasted pasta and fish, cockles and rice, potatoes and mussels, cooked foods because our meals are certainly not only made of sandwiches, as in the Nordic traditions of the newly defined “frugal countries”. The Romans have a magnificent term for those who take frittata and baked pasta to eat on the rocks or on the sand: they are the “fagotti” (bundles). A name coined after the war, when there were still no seaside restaurants or even thermoses, coolers, plastic wrap or tin foil, but still people went to the sea making bundles of dishcloths that contained the family meal. The most classic of the classic films that tell of those glorious popular holiday seasons is from 1951, The Passaguai family, with Aldo Fabrizi (the knighted actor Peppe Valenzi) who takes his wife and children to the beach in Fiumicino (a beach town near Rome), invariably equipped with lasagna, eggplant parmesan and watermelon. In 1977, Sergio Citti came out with the film Casotto, a wandering plot with an incongruous Jodie Foster, still a teenager, which nevertheless clings to memory for the monumental scenes of eating, in the shadow of the aforementioned “casotto” (little cottage), a shack resting on the sands of Ostia. While American cinema provided us with images of athletic surfers and curvacious lifeguards, here the beach and its seductions still revolved around lunchtime, when both battered “bundles” and rich scions of society posed the question, each in their own way, over the “deadly” theme of what and how to eat.

The spectacular images on these pages, the work of celebrated Italian photographer Massimo Vitali, tell the story of the moments of vacation which precede or follow mealtime. Vitali captures us in the various tensions of our holiday curiosity, ranging from soaking in the turquoise waters of Lampedusa and Tropea to roasting on the rocks of the Apulian coast, to a cultural outing to the Roman Imperial Forums and to Venice, up to the high altitude concerts of the Val di Fassa, an annual event that has become essential for lovers of live music in the vivid, pungent air of the peaks. Vitali is however, par excellence, the photographer of Italian beaches. He made it an art form recognized by curators and collectors from all over the world. His overexposed photos, as if bleached by light, the geometries of bodies lying in the sun or tucked into the sea, are the epitome of our summers. Despite the crowding of the beaches he portrays, the idea he suggests is not crowds, chaos, or malaise, as in certain summer shots by the sadistic British photographer Martin Parr, with the grotesque display of socks, bellies, sunburns, ridiculous beachwear, in an aesthetic error that devastates the otherwise evocative landscape of summer. Vitali’s images, on the other hand, express geometric elegance and a cheerfulness of colors in swimwear and clothing, like flowers blooming in the blinding glow of the summer heat wave. Despite the crowd, there is still the elegance of beauty enjoyed peacefully and happily. There is a benevolent view, which makes us feel a part of those photos: we too would like to be among the tourists portrayed as dots in the height of Italian well-being, without negative thoughts for the future, abandoned to sweetness and beauty.

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Camilla Baresani, “Viaggio in Italia” in La cucina italiana, pp. 114-123.