Column Outside the Box / by Thomas Masuch — 17 September 2021
When I decided quite a few years back to visit Pozzuoli – a small southern Italian city where the emperors of Rome once spent their summer vacations – I strapped on a backpack and boarded a train in nearby Naples. It started out in the right direction, but ended up making a wide arc around my destination on the northwest edge of the Gulf of Naples. I eventually hopped off the train at a station in the middle of nowhere and resigned myself to covering the last few kilometers on foot. As I was trudging down the road, a beat-up Fiat Panda pulled up alongside me and rattled to a stop. The man behind the wheel was Pino, a fisherman who had seen his share of summers. Featuring shorts, well-worn flip-flops, and a shirt full of holes, his overall appearance wasn’t much more impressive than that of his vehicle. After we got to talking about Italy, its history, and the country’s southern regions, Pino asked me if I knew where I’d be spending the night what I denied.
We stopped at a bar for an espresso and then drove along the coast to Cape Miseno, a picturesque rock formation that’s just a stone’s throw from the islands of Procida and Ischia. There, Pino stopped at one of the nicest hotels in the entire region and parked his Fiat right out front, where it definitely stood out among the other guests’ luxury sedans and their dark tinted windows. “You can stay here tonight,” he said. For a moment, I was rather worried about my vacation budget, which was meant to last me another week. “It’s all right; I know the owner,” Pino added, as if he had read my mind. He left me to get settled in but returned the same evening for dinner – pasta and finest seafood, which we enjoyed at a restaurant called Giardino degli Aranci (the Orange Grove). When I checked out two days later, the bill really was about what I would have paid for a B&B.
The thing I’ve always found fascinating about Italy is this unique combination of openness, hospitality, improvisation, and indulgence – not to mention the understanding that things aren’t always as they seem. I’ve never been to another country where I’ve encountered the same intense lust for life coupled with the pursuit of perfection, be it in the arts, the local cuisine, or the simple enjoyment of the finer things in life. I’ve often wondered how people manage that intensity on a regular basis: Do they have to rein it in in their daily lives, or does it just burst forth on another level? The well-known Italian rapper Fabri Fibra may have the answer. In one of his most famous songs, he describes Italy as a land of irreconcilable differences. It’s a place that somehow represents la bella vita, grand theaters and galas, high fashion, fancy cars, gun-toting mobsters, and homemade pasta all at once. For Fabri Fibra, it’s il paese delle mezze verità – the nation of half-truths.
That same level of intensity and perfectionism is something I’ve seen in many Italian companies, as well, which often combine a pioneering spirit in the realm of business with considerable expertise in design and engineering. At the same time, though, I’ve had a number of conversations with people from such organizations who have told me about the country’s frustratingly opaque bureaucracy. It’s no wonder that entrepreneurs tend to describe good tax advisors as “magicians”.
Despite their considerable abilities and keen sense of innovation, however, some Italian AM firms remain significantly underrepresented in the media. While start-ups with millions in backing (particularly from the United States) are constantly making the rounds in specialist publications and other channels before having sold a single machine, their counterparts in Italy – several of them pioneers in AM production – are still only familiar to those in the know.
Perhaps this edition of our magazine will help change things a bit in that regard. Italy has also been chosen as the partner country for Formnext 2021, which is sure to give the country’s AM industry a further boost in the eyes of the rest of the world. Plus, the event may have a few unexpected encounters in store for those who attend!
- Outside the box