ITALY – SOME LAST THOUGHTS

Mantova, as seen from the lake boat

Last month’s trip marked our 7th visit to Italy since we were married there in Verona in 1988. The pictures speak for themselves but here are a few casual, decidedly unscientific observations from our travels: 1) Italians love their dogs and take them everywhere, even to grocery stores, restaurants and cafes. 2) Along with dogs and children, they cherish artists as gifted, special beings whose work elevates us from the base grasping of the marketplace. 3) Like Americans, Italians have adopted technology, especially smart phones. Yet they seem to spend less time online that most of us, and more time actually talking, which makes sense, given their generally garrulous nature. 4) As a writer, I was happy to see that Italy still has lots of book stores. For them, Kindles and iPads haven’t replaced real paper books – yet. 

outside the Duomo, Modena

5) As with phones and tablets, there are also more fast food restaurants, particularly McDonalds. In what could be a related issue, the natives seem to be getting heavier. Not grossly overweight like too many Americans, just a little paunchier than we remembered. 6) The old church based standards of ‘proper’ behavior are on the wane if not dead; kids dressing less modestly, the girls showing more skin and the boys affecting a ‘gangsta’ look, albeit with droopy, tight, skinny jeans! In several towns we saw young couples making out on the cathedral steps. In years past, such brazen public displays would have garnered a stern ‘disgraziato!’ from the elderly, black clad  ‘signore’. No more.7) Sadly, grafitti is on the rise in once pristine small towns like Brescia and Camogli where it’s not uncommon to find tagged-up walls and buildings. Guess the desire for ‘recognition’  at any cost is worldwide. 8) Along with burger joints and tagging, there are now more immigrants, too. While the beach towns held mostly Italians and tourists from the UK, France, Germany and the U.S., immigrants from Eastern Europe, Africa, and the Middle East now call cities like Bergamo, Brescia and Milan home. Having lived in NYC and L.A., two great ‘melting pots’, it seems normal to us. Not so much for the Italians, who grouse that joining the EU was ‘un disastro’. 

playing with my food in Marina Di Pietrasanta

On a personal note, while some people flock to Italy hoping to become more urbane,  sophisticated, and alluring (read Luigi Barzini’s 1964 classic The Italians), for me the opposite takes place. Instead of morphing into a suave, stylish casanova in the vein of Marcello Mastroianni, I channel Roberto Benigni. I trip on sidewalks, stumble over thresholds, spill soup and gelato on my shirt and slacks, drive down one-way streets, going the wrong way. I routinely ask directions to churches, hotels and museums – ‘Scusi, signore. Puo dire mi dov’e…’ while standing directly in front of the location, prompting WTF! stares and chuckles from the natives, who gape at me as if to say, “Poor thing, he looks normal but I guess he’s not quite right”. It’s humbling, but also great fun. 

lunch @ Trattoria Ermes, Modena

I wasn’t alone; Eugenie had her ‘aha!’ moment, too. For years, she told anyone who’d listen that her dream was to live in Italy, where ‘family’ and ‘connection’ still matter. During our sojourn, she suddenly realized that she already has those things here at home, where she’s surrounded by loving friends and relatives. While living in Italy would be fun for a while, without the anchor of work or family we’d just be ‘the American couple’  who stop by every morning for coffee and pastry,  strangers yearning to be ‘in it’, but never truly being ‘of it’. A great observation from a great trip. Ciao!

Camogli
Eugenie’s Italian sportscar

Abbey of San Frutuoso near Camogli

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