04 July 2010

LIFE: This Italian Life

SARONNO, Italy - As I sat on my balcony this week with my feet up, sipping lemonade, I started thinking about the things I love about living in Italy. I realized it wasn’t one big thing that captured my heart, but many little things. If you think about it, it’s never the big things that draw people to something. I mean did you ever hear anyone say they pulled up stakes and moved here because of the Coliseum in Rome, or that they simply couldn’t bear to live another day without the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Me neither.

Trevi Fountain, Rome

Maybe it started when I lived in Rome. Every Saturday I would leave my apartment on the Via della Vite, cross Via del Tritone and go up Via della Stamperia to a small street market near the Trevi Fountain. At a certain point I would be greeted by a John Hamm look alike who would smile and bow ever so slightly and say: “Buon Giorno Contessa.” With no real language skills I would stammer something back and continue on my way, but I ask you, who would not want to start their day like that?

I love the way Italians live with their art.

Oh this, yes, well yes it is a 16th century bla bla bla.” And then the conversation about where to go for pizza continues for there are many incredible masterpieces stuck here, there and everywhere that are a normal part of everyday life.

A Green Grocer in Puglia
I love my green grocer when she tells someone looking for zucchini in January to come back in April. Of course you can find zucchini in January but zucchini grown who knows where and tasting like who knows what.

I love the fact that Italian orthopedic surgeons go to Africa every year and perform hundreds of operations on little African kids, free of charge and they don’t tell anybody about it. I love that there are still church missions in this world staffed by Italians giving their all in the name of humanity.

I love the way hospital patients drift down to the hospital bar in their pj’s for a coffee or a grappa and a smoke. I love the fact that hospitals want your friends and relatives to be with you and help you when you are sick. After all, what are friends and relatives for?

Friends Forever
And speaking of friends, the day my friends Tracy and Daniele got married in Savona there was a wicked storm and the road to the restaurant where the reception was to be held was closed. That meant no reception and that would never do. We talked the barman into opening the bar in the Savona City Hall, selling us some champagne, giving us glasses and throwing in some nibbles. Instant party. Try that in NYC.

I love the shiny brass name plates on the buildings. You rarely see names scribbled on scraps of paper stuck between two pieces of plastic to indicate this month’s occupant is….

I love the absolute differences between the sexes. I love the way Italian men look at women – even if it is a little unnerving at times. I love the way Italian women start talking faster and pull, ever so slightly on their husband’s arm whenever a pretty girl walks by. He can look, but why make it easy for him.

One Way to Keep His Attention
I love the bars, the big bars, the little mom and pop bars, especially the old historic bars in the center of most cities. To sit and have a coffee in the CafĂ©’ San Carlo in Torino, or Covo in Milan is to be part of the drama being played out in those places at that time.

I love the sense of history that seeps through your shoes as walk down the streets. Quarto dei Mille? Oh, it’s called that because that is where Garibaldi set off for Sicily with his band of one thousand Red Shirts in his drive to unify Italy.

I love the names of the streets. Via Gabriele D’Annunzio, Vicolo Simon Boccanegra, Piazza Camillo di Cavour. It’s like walking around in a history book. Piazza Savonarola? Oh yeah, he’s the 15th Dominican friar and prophet of doom that they burned after they hung him back in 1498.”

I love the fact that Italians make up the rules as they go along. I remember forgetting my passport on a trip up to Switzerland and reporting it to the Italian police when they came on board the train in the border town of Chiasso. “Signora,” they said, “you are leaving Italy, that is a problem for the Swiss border guards.”

Don't Worry, Be Happy
“Yes,” I said, “but on Sunday, when I have to come back? I have to go to work on Monday.”

“Ah, Signora, you worry too much. Just sit down, be calm and pretend we never had this conversation.”

So I did. I continued up to Switzerland, had a great time with my friends, came back into Italy, no passport, no hassle, no problem.

Yes there have been problems over the years, mostly having to do with trying to get a work visa, but there was never any doubt in my mind that I had made the right choice. I knew from the beginning I was in the right place, and while this isn’t a new list, it is still all true.

A version of this article was published in The Informer Magazine, No. 103.

1 comment:

  1. I just happened to come across this piece tonight when I was looking for a Garibaldi quote. Didn't find the quote but found this and it made me both happy & sad. Happy because it resounded for me with my own Italian experiences and brought up good feelings; sad because I didn't move to Italy but dreamed of it. Here I am, in Philadelphia no less (not my hometown). But with Italian citizenship status now and my son graduating from high school in a year, there is still hope. Now back to writing my article.