Almost ten years ago, Tommaso and Giusi Auriemma moved North from their small home town of Afragola in the Italian south in search of a better life. They found it in Milan - for a while. But the rampant inflation that is the major characteristic of "la crisi," Italy's on ongoing economic recession, has thwarted their desire for a better life.

To visitors from abroad, the Italian economic cri's is nearly invisible. As in other Western countries, there are no bread lines or mass unemployment. Downtown shop windows sparkle with attractive goods and are crowded with potential customers.

But hundreds of thousands of Italians from low-and middle-income households have a similar problem to that of the Auriemma's. The "via crucis" that began with the 1973 oil crisis and which has altered their lifestyles in ways large and small is not yet over.

In recent months, the Italian government has made substantial progress on the inflation front, bringing down the rate by which prices have been rising from 26 per cent to slightly more than 12 per cent.

Nevertheless, a widespread sense of "la crisi" still pervades most lifestyles here. The economic miracle in the late 1950s and early 1960s had convinced Italians that economic wellbeing and all its luxuries was to be theirs permanently.

They were unprepared for the near fatal blow that the oil crisis was to strike at a country with practically no energy resources or raw materials of its own.

A prime candidate for inflation, with the excessive demand resulting from the earlier industrial boom and from a massive public deficit, Italy has had to choose in recent years between deceleration and increased unemployment on the one hand and reacceleration and it accompanying inflation on the other.

This has been a bitter pill for most Italians to swallow. In 1977 - with inflation still riding strong - they chafe at having to give up products and services that only 20 years ago would have been considered unattainable luxuries by most.

Tommaso and Giusi auriemma left Afragola in 1963 when he, a bricklayer, was unable to find work in Italy's impoverished South. Like thousands of other Southerners, they decided to move to Milan where Tommaso was hired by the Pirelli Rubber company.

After a brief unsurge in consumer purchases in 1976, following the country's first decline the year before, Italians are again buying less, according to the National Federation of Merchants.