18 August 2013

LIFE: What I Love About Italy Redux

CHIAVARI, Italy – As I sat back with my feet up, sipping lemonade this week, I started thinking about the things I love about 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 to Rome because of the Coliseum, or that they simply couldn’t bear to live another day without the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Me neither. 
Trevi Fountain, Rome
For me, this list of things I love 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 also love the way Italians live with their art.

“Oh this fountain, yes, well yes it is a 16th century masterpiece by bla bla bla,”  they will say and then the conversation about where to go for pizza continues for there are many incredible masterpieces stuck here, there and everywhere.
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 from Gaslini Hospital in Genova 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. It’s all arranged through anonymous church missions 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 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. The bar in the Savona City Hall, where Tracy and Daniele  got married was closed, but we managed to talk the barman into selling us some champagne, providing us with glasses and throwing in some nibbles as well. 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….. . And the two names on those brass plates? The husband’s and the wife’s. 
 One Way of Keeping His Attention

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. 

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 Café’ 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 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 right, he’s the 15th Dominican friar and prophet of doom that they burned after they hung him back in 1498.” And the best part is everyone knows who’s who.

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. 
 Don't Worry, Be Happy
 “Signora,” they said, “you are leaving Italy, that is a problem for the Swiss border guards.”
 “Yes,” I said, “but when I have to come back? I have 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 I know it now for while this isn’t a new list, it is still a true list.


  1. Thank you for a post that made me nod, smile and shift your experiences to what I've discovered living in Veneto. I 'idem' all said.

  2. Phyllis, I loved your article about living in Italy. It made me want to pack my bags and move. The time I spent in Europe was overwhelmingly joyous. Italy gave me a sense of belonging, being warm, comfortable and unpretentious. Your article gives me that very feeling once again. The pictures you posted are endearing and I will spend the rest of the day thinking of why I should move to a beautiful land. Thank you!