Tony is getting married tomorrow, and is getting ready to surprise his bride by serenading her from beneath her window – a romantic tradition which goes back to the Middle Ages.
Meanwhile Italy is adjusting after a political earthquake. Its first female prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, was elected on a platform of a return to traditional family values. She promotes a vision of the Italian woman as a devoted mother and upholder of Christian beliefs.
Italy has the lowest birth rate in Europe, with a birth rate of less than 1.2, compared to 1.6 in the UK, 1.64 in the USA, and 2 in France. At this rate, Italy’s population could reduce by 16 million over the next 50 years. Traditionalists fear for the status of the family, and reactionary Catholic campaigners are pushing back on abortion rights. They have considerable influence among doctors, who can refuse to perform an abortion based on conscientious objection. Seventy per cent of doctors in Italy refuse on that basis.
Italy is famous for weddings, and many couples come from around the world to celebrate a fairytale wedding here. Yet, among Italians, less and less people are getting married, and those who do are getting older. Less than half of Italians celebrate a traditional wedding in church. Two thirds of young people (18-34) still live at home with their parents, and it is difficult to leave home. These ‘failure to launch’ youngsters are called bamboccioni – ‘big babies’ who refuse to cut the cord.
This is even more prevalent in the impoverished south of the country where one in two young people are unemployed. Without a home of their own or enough money to afford a hotel room, their clandestine trysts are often limited to the back of a car.
We meet a tailor who equips his clients with the perfect made-to-measure elegance necessary for seduction, and we meet hopeful young men practising their chat up lines on the street corner.
While the birth rate is the lowest in Europe, Italy is a world leader in plastic surgery, where 15% of adolescents have already gone under the scalpel, and it is of course famous for its glamorous TV presenters.
But Italy remains the most romantic country in the world for many, who flock to Verona to see the balcony where Juliet looked down to see her Romeo. Despite the political divisions and controversy, the enchantment of romantic Italy is as strong as ever.
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