Did you realise that today is Italy’s national day? Neither did I.

It’s not normally commemorated in Britain but it’s celebrated in Italy on June 2 every year. It marks the anniversary of the day in 1946 when the Italian people were asked to choose a new form of government after the fall of Fascism, and opted to become a republic.

Reading about it, I learnt a new word: Italophile. It’s an easy one to guess the meaning of, considering that a Francophile is a lover of France, a bibliophile is a lover of books and a technophile loves technology. I discovered I have been one most of my life.

It began with my mum’s spaghetti bolognese. Then I spent 11 years at school and university studying ancient Italian – more commonly referred to as Latin – and have maintained a passionate enthusiasm for the language and the people who spoke it ever since.

I knew that moving to Cumbria I wouldn’t be far from Hadrian’s Wall, but I had no idea how much more evidence of the ancient Italians there would be here – with more discovered in Carlisle only last week.

Stephen Blease And 2,000 years on it feels as if they never left. Carlisle has an excellent range of restaurants, but there are far more offering Italian cuisine than any other.

And consider other aspects of our culture. If you’re someone who relies on coffee to get through the working day you can thank the Italians.

Its origins lie in Ethiopia, but its position in Europe is down to Pope Clement VIII, who reputedly tried a sip and decided to bless the coffee bean.

Classical musicians spend their lives surrounded by Italian terms like opera, concerto, sonata, scherzo, finale – or instruments like the viola, the cello, the piano, the tympani.

The terms directing how a particular piece should be played are all Italian, such as allegro, andante, largo, vivace and many more. It’s long been the international language of music.

In Europe we are forever tripping over American culture – what the French call Coca-Colonialism – from McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC and the Disney store to cinema, music and TV.

And we probably think of France as our most significant and influential European neighbour. French is the first foreign language most of us learn at school, and baguettes are readily available in most supermarkets.

But I think the significance of Italy deserves to be recognised. It’s there in our cuisine, our music, our ancient ruins, our hot drinks.

For the full experience, of course, you have to go there. Nowhere has ever impressed me quite as much as the land of good food, stylish clothes, scooters, hand gestures, music, art, 2,500 years of history and architecture and heartbreakingly beautiful dark-haired girls.

Tonight we can celebrate Italy’s Republic Day in our own way. Sit down with a cup of espresso, a glass of Chianti or a bowl of ice cream and listen to a CD of Italian opera. Personally I’m going to phone for a pizza.