Friday, November 23, 2007

Italy - The Armpit of Europe???

Do you ever have those encounters that just tick you off so badly that you can’t get it out of your head? I had ones of those a few days ago and now it’s time to let it go. I am hoping a little venting here will do just that…

I met a friend for caffè at one of my favorite places in Sarzana (which also happens to be a favorite village of mine here in Liguria). Even as we were chatting, I couldn’t help but notice how nice Piazza Matteotti looked just beyond my friend’s head. How nice to enjoy a bell caffè, enjoy the view and a friend, all in Bella Italia. And then it started.

I know this friend has never been happy here in Italy and did not move here by her own choice. Well yes, because everyone has a choice, but hers was based on her husband being in the Italian military. So I understand it can be even more challenging for her than me who made the choice on my own. But there is a point when you either need to accept things the way they are or jump ship. In our conversation which was about them possibly moving back to Alabama where she is from, this friend made the most absurd and disturbing comment to me:

“Italy is the armpit of Europe.”

Yes, you read right and I imagine most of your reactions are as mine, a bit in shock and speechless. When I was finally able to get something out of my mouth I said, “But it’s beautiful here”.

“And that’s it.” The fastest, snappiest response I could have had.

I wish I could have been more eloquent from there but my only response was, “Then it’s probably a good idea that you do move (back the to the states).”

I continued to sit there for another half-hour listening to her bitch and complain about everything and anything Italian. This friend talks A LOT and it is hard to get a word in edgewise anyway, but my shock, or maybe disgust, left me without words to defend my Bella Italia. I left our little get together feeling as if this friend had just told me she’d seen Luigi cheating on me. Ok, drastic thought, but I am trying to make a point of just how much it hit me. And so I have spent days mulling this episode and now have some thoughts of the whole scenario…

When you live here, actually immerse yourself into the culture, it is very different, even difficult at times, especially when you are used to the organization and precision of the States (in my case). It is no longer about “sitting on the terrace with a glass of Chianti and watching the sunset over the Tuscan hills”. The beauty of Italy can actually become a beast!

When it takes you 7 trips to the questura, 3 to the communist club (that’s another story in itself) and 9 months to get your permesso di soggiorno based on marriage, that can be frustrating. When you wait in what you think is a line for the bathroom only to have 5 people cut in front of you, that’s annoying. When you know most people work half in black (cash) so that they can hide money from the government’s ever growing greedy tax hands, that’s just sad. And I can go on. There is an endless list of things in Italy that can make one disillusioned and disappointed in living here…at times.

BUT for every one of those, there is the gorgeously rewarding flipside. So I am going to start a list here of my reasons for why Italy is NOT the armpit of Europe. I am sure I will add to it as time goes on and please do feel free to add on your own in my comments area:

1. 2500 years of history (good, bad, scandalous, heroic, but always interesting) that shaped western civilization
2. The fact that most kids have read some of Dante by the time they are 14
3. The marriage between food, wine and life - you can’t have one without the others
4. Importance of family and actually meaning it
5. The rumble and glistening of olive trees when you can’t decide if they are green silver or lavender
6. Donatello, the master of near every medium of art including wood, bronze, gold, marble & paper
7. The passagiata, the afternoon stroll is the prefect way to start your evening and work off a big pasta lunch!
8. The crystal clear, pristine sea water in the bay between Portovenere and Palmaria
9. Dogs being allowed in dressing rooms in department stores
10. Hot, fresh Focaccia - sorry but it just cannot be duplicated in the states like it is here
11. Isola Bella near Taormina, Sicily
12. How a caffè latte can brighten up your whole day (not with that friend though)
13. “Pianeta Mare”, “Linea Blue” & “SuperQuark” - these informative shows on history and the sea put Mutual of Omaha & National Geographic to shame!
14. The smell of jasmine and wisteria EVERYWHERE in spring
15. Learning when what produce is in season
16. Turning the corner and finding another 1000 year old street or chapel
17. Looking up and realizing that’s not snow, it’s marble!
18. The milk, it just tastes way better, fresher here
19. Learning when what fish is in season and what fish are better “surgelato” (frozen)
20. Seeing the Pantheon for the first or 100th time, it never seizes to amaze me
21. Mastering walking in stilettos on 500 year old cobblestones
22. Chocolate from Modica or Lucca
23. Discothèques opening till sunrise
24. HEBA Morellino di Scansano - one glass is never, never, never enough
25. The voices of Pavarotti, Francesco Renga & Zucchero
26. Being able to jump in the car and drive to no where and still have seen a lot
27. Trains, even when they are not on time, it’s still such a convenient way to get around
28. Weekly markets: whether it’s food, clothes or junk, nowhere does the saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” means so much
29. La Twingo, best damn car I have ever owned!
30. Italians can do wonders with little space – it is amazing what you can fit into a 600 square foot home!
31. Nonnapappera, Grom, Vestri, La Piazza and Antica Delizia: gelatos from these grand establishments cannot be duplicated
32. My husband (ok that one is really biased)
33. The novelty of Variety Shows - ok, they may be cheesy, but even with the half dresses dancers there is something almost “old fashion” about them
34. Morning swims in Grotto Byron
35. Alessandro del Piero - the man who can still bring “class” to the game of soccer
36. The amazing variety of fantastic reading glasses by top designers
37. The bidet - once you know what it’s for and how to use it, you’ll never want to be without one
38. All the great stuff you can get at the “Farmacia” with or without a prescription
39. A strong respect for elders and their stories
40. The marble lavandina - chopping counter, sink and place to dry your dishes all in one
41. The smell of roasted chestnuts on the city streets during the fall
And so on, and so on, and so on....

Thursday, November 22, 2007


After 4 years of living here, we finally have started the tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving in Italy (one day early as one of our friends was heading back to the states on the real day). Lui and I headed to Monterosso al Mare, where our dear friends, Paula (American) and Angelo (Italian) hosted a lovely dinner filled with all the trimming as we say. The food was “just like Mom’s”, the setting simply festive, and the company absolutely perfect.

A big GRAZIE to the Thanksgiving group!

On the ride home I started coming up with a list (always a list with me, you know) of what I am grateful for. But it’s so long, it would be impossible to write in a blog. So let’s just say, I am thankful I am who I am, with whom I am with, with the life I live and the fact that I have learned to wake up every morning grateful for that day ahead of me. HAPPY TURKEY DAY TO ALL!