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Monday, January 14, 2013

Un Americano a Roma

In one of the most famous scenes in postwar Italian cinema, Nando Moriconi (Albert Sordi), a Roman infatuated with everything American, sits down to what he understands to be an appropriately American feast: white bread, jam, and mustard, with milk poured over it, mumbling in some combination of dialect and American syllables as he assembles--and tries to eat--this concoction. 

Then, shoving the dish aside, he turns to real Italian food--a flask of Chianti and a huge bowl of spaghetti that he refers to in the film as "maccheroni." (According to my local authority on things Italian, Buffalo pizzeria owner Gino Pinzone, the word
"maccheroni" has two meanings: macaroni as
Americans know it, as in "macaroni and cheese,"
and an older, Italian meaning: any "pasta," including spaghetti). 

The 1954 film, directed by Steno (Stefano Vanzina) is Un Americano a Roma (an American in Rome).  It was filmed in Rome.  In the film, Moriconi lives in via Santa Maria in Monticelli.  It's the door on the right in the accompanying photo. 

There are other scenes in the film that have captured the Italian imagination, including one in which Moriconi threatens to throw himself off the Coliseum if a way isn't found to send him to America.  Because of the many references to Kansas City in the film, that city granted Sordi honorary citizenship.  But it's the food scene, and especially that bowl of macaroni, that have come to represent the film to later generations. 

While we've never been fans of Sordi's work--we prefer the anguish of neo-realism to wacky comedies--we're well aware of his reputation, especially in Rome, and especially in Garbatella, where he grew up, and where one day we found a tribute to the prolific actor, painted on a wall. 

We couldn't resist purchasing the poster of the maccheroni scene, which is available at any of the dozens of stands that cater to tourists.  And we began to notice the image, or similar ones, in restaurants and bars.

On the one hand, they're just come-ons, designed to put tourists at ease with an iconic image that spans two cultures and whose presence suggests that the place doesn't take itself too seriously. 

On the other hand, the film represented by that image has a larger meaning, or meanings: it stands for an era of postwar American world hegemony, before Vietnam forever changed the anti-colonial image of the United States, before world competition and de-industrialization, when most everything American was admired and desired, when the United States could do no wrong (or at least not as much).  And it stands for an era of mutual affection between the two countries, when America beckoned to Italians and Italy to Americans.

RST is a product of that era.  In 1962, your correspondents found themselves in Rome, brought there by a college foreign-campus program that was one consequence of the golden age of Italian-American relations.  It's 50 years later, and we're still at it.  Pass the maccheroni.


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