LEADING ARTICLE:On the whole, we'd rather be in Italy can shun our evil eye with ease

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The Independent Online
BEASTLINESS, we notice, has broken out against the Italians. The excuse this time is the destruction by fire of the Fenice opera house in Venice. Contemplation from these shores of so melancholy a happening has not been tempered by sympathy and friendly condolence. Instead, there has been a gleeful outpouring of old complaints against our fellow, transalpine Europeans: chaotic, feckless, and, when not chaotic and feckless, hugely corrupt. Confident predictions that the Fenice will never rise from its ashes are matched only by mutterings about a windless night and worse.

Attacks on the conservation failings of the Italians have broadened into wholesale unfavourable comparisons with their sturdy predecessors, the Romans; there has even been a suggestion that young Italian men are losing the will to ride scooters and shout passionate amorousnesses at passers- by. It is not hard to identify the root of all this: envy. Italians have Rome, Florence, Venice, Verdi, Versace and pasta; Britain has Bristol, Manchester, Bradford, Britten, Marks & Spencer and pot noodles. Small wonder that, according to a survey published last week, Britons watch the most television in Europe, Italians the least. Italians play beautiful football and can wear overcoats draped over their shoulders without looking ridiculous. And they have ease, which Britons, the great uneasy, resent above all. For their part, the Italians remain untroubled by this continuing trickle of disdain, confining themselves to Europe's most expressive sigh; or, at worst, as Norman Lewis discovered outside Naples, holding on to their vital parts to ward off the evil eye of the Britisher. Conservation? They have rather more to conserve. Corruption? Enter Lord Justice Scott with report. Constant changes of government? If only.