Earlier this summer when I was in Rome I concocted a scheme by which I could move to Italy and make a living selling tee shirts that said, "I survived crossing a street in Rome." Then I calculated the benefits of living an Italian lifestyle (great food, friendly people, naps in the middle of the day) with the costs of daily life in Italy (trains that may, or may not, let you out at your stop) and decided to return to the US. Beppe Severgnini, a Milanese journalist, explains the paradoxes of Italian life in his new book, La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind. Severgnini's argument is that Italy prefers beauty to, say, a functioning judicial system. Indeed, as anyone who ventures beyond the standard tourist circuit can see, for all its enchantments and G8 membership, Italy is a bit Third-Worldy around the edges. Severgnini documents the frustrations and joys of la vita Italiana in a series of vignettes ranging from the cliched (Italians' casual attitudes about stop lights) and the insightful (the strengths and weaknesses of Italian flight attendants). He can be glib, but he's a (mostly) clear-eyed observer of his wonderful, exasperating country.