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The Amore, the Merrier

January 25, 1998|ANNE BEATTS | Anne Beatts is a writer who lives in Hollywood

This just in: The latest estimates from Italy's National Institute of Population Research indicate that at the current rate of population decline, 150 years from now there will be no more Italians.

To some people, that might be cause for rejoicing. F. Scott Fitzgerald, for instance. He once said, "I now know why the French love France so much--I have seen Italy." And if you've ever had your clam sauce peppered with stray bullets in Little Italy, or felt a clammy hand that doesn't belong to you touch something very personal that does belong to you on a crowded bus in the Piazza di Spagna, or even just eaten some bad clams in an Italian restaurant closer to home, you very well might tend to agree with F. Scott, who evidently preferred cognac to grappa.

But stop and think for a moment. No Italians? Where would we eat? And what? Sure, there'd still be plenty of designer pizzas available, courtesy of an Austrian named Puck. But in every blink-and-you-miss-it small town in America, no matter how benighted, there's always an Italian restaurant where you can count on getting something good to eat, especially if you remember to stay away from the seafood and order the manicotti. Take that away and the town dies, turns into nothing but a wide spot in the road. It's an even bleaker vision than "The Last Picture Show."

No more red sauce is bad enough, but what about no more hand gestures? Imagine an America where all the people walk around with their arms at their sides, unable to express their emotions, like people trapped in a Henry James novel. The traffic death toll would definitely mount. Consumed with road rage, motorists would crash into one another in some crazy game of bumper cars, deprived of the safer option of releasing tension by simply giving other drivers the bird.

True, to look on the bright side, the inhabitants of New York's Lower East Side would no longer have their sleep patterns disrupted during the San Gennaro Festival by tourists trying to win doomed, live-until-you-get-them-home goldfish or gigantic fluorescent bootleg Barneys for their kids or girlfriends in thoroughly rigged games of chance, accompanied by the endless repetition of "La Macarena" from miniature made-in-China stuffed gorillas.

There'd be no one left to buy those red, green and white "Kiss Me I'm Italian" buttons, or T-shirts reading "We Found It, We Named It, We Thought It Was India." No more Guidos. No more budding Buttafuocos in see-through Spandex mesh muscle shirts. No great loss.

But what about the sad fate of the upscale auto showrooms and car detailing specialists that market and care for every Italian boy's favorite manhood-extender, his luxury automobile? No more Italian Stallions, no more chariots. Not to mention the countless leg-waxing and moustache-bleaching salons that would be forced out of business. Can our nation's economy withstand the loss? Frankly, I doubt it.

What about Italian design? Who else would create all those gorgeous low-slung uncomfortable chairs and chrome-plated household objects that are so aerodynamically sleek they look like they're about to take off into space unassisted? How could we prove how hip we are once we could no longer select them as wedding gifts?

As for fashion, without Armani, no agency in Hollywood would know what to wear. And speaking of Hollywood, where would anyone in show business be without the Mob? I'm not talking about rumored connections to Frank Sinatra, Wayne Newton or Lew Wasserman. I mean the Mob as a plot device.

Now that the former Evil Empire has collapsed into a bunch of ramshackle Third World countries with unpronounceable names that may or may not have nuclear capability, believable movie bad guys are in short supply. Without the Mafia (which we all know doesn't exist), screenwriters would be in big trouble. That's why it was necessary for Mario Puzo to invent it.

And what if there were no Italian actors or directors? Without John Travolta and Nicolas Cage, "Face / Off" would be faceless. "Big Night" would be "Little Afternoon." Worst of all, there'd be no Leonardo DiCaprio. And get ready for "Godfather IV" starring Jeremy Irons. Directed by Gillian Armstrong.

Don't forget, Cupid was Italian. Without Italians, romance would die. Our Puritan blood would run cold and freeze over. As for the cavil that Italians make lousy lovers, I had an Italian boyfriend, and I can assure you that there's no truth to the rumor that Italian foreplay is two finger snaps and a downward point--or not that much truth, anyway.

Actually, I think Cupid was an Italian waiter. Whenever my sister and I need a little morale boost, say, when we're recovering from the flu, we choose an Italian restaurant for a little dose of "bella signorina, carissima." We always leave burnished and shining from all the attention. I'd hate to give that up.

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