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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Random musings from the road: Italy

Some random thoughts and observations after a couple of weeks on the road in Northern Italy (and two and a half months in Italy in total) from my traveller's notebook:
* Italians are the most cultured people in the world - barely a conversation passes with the Italians we meet without mention of a great composer or musician, of an art movement or artist, of architecture and photography, of food and wine. Caravaggio is much more likely to to come up in conversation with an Italian than Kate Moss, grapes more than gossip. The only celebrity name to cross any lips has been George Clooney, but then he's an honorary Italian anyway.
* Italians are the most civilized people in the world - the more we observe and compare the everyday life of the locals with the behavior of tourists on holidays, we're convinced of this. While the Italians drink wine with meals, including lunch, tourists sip cans of Coke. While the Italians order several courses and savour a meal slowly, tourists stick to one dish or settle for a slab of pizza. While the tourists wander the streets at night in Birkenstocks and shorts, the Italians dress up or, even when they're dressed casually, look as if they've dressed up. While the Italians sit on a park bench and read a book, the tourists text messages home on their CrackBerries.
* Nobody knows how to live like the Italians - they start work late (compared to most Western countries), they take several hours off in the afternoon for a long lunch and siesta, they return to work in the evening for a couple of hours, then they head out to meet friends or family to socialize over dinner or drinks. They work to live rather than live to work. What's not to love about that?


Sean McLachlan said...

Spaniards are similar, which is one of the reasons I like living in Madrid. It depends on the Spaniard, though. While you can get a lot of conversation about culture, you'll get a ton of chatter about football (soccer). And everyone constantly talks about redesigning their apartments. There's a lot of new money here, so there's a lot of crass showing off of "wealth" but in general the people are quite nice to deal with.

One question about Italy: why are they so advanced culturally and so damn immature when it comes to politics? Not that they're the only ones, but still. . .

The Bohemian Bahamian said...

Must. Live. In. Italy. Forever.

Nomadic Matt said...

Well, I don't think there is anything wrong with drinking a coke with lunch!!! but I do agree that italians savor food much more than other people do. We could learn a bit from them on that!!

Anonymous said...

While visiting my second home, Paris, I always make my way to the Italian markets and always meet the most knowledgeable men and women, as well as the the warmest smiles in Paris. I love Italy and Italians!


- Susan - said...

Hi Lara,
nice observations!
However, I have never seen an Italian reading a book in a park! (They watch too much TV for my (German) taste)
How is the guide about Calabria doing? Publishing Date?

Davide said...

Thank you for these nice comments on Italians. I work in the hotel of Ravenna where you have been few days ago. I have the chance to meet about thirteen thousand people every year from all over the world and I have developed a good sense of understanding who I am talking to. It seems you have this gift too.

Leanne was in Italy now in Australia said...

I must say a lot of what you write is true about Italians...but the bit about seeing them sit on park benches reading books - well that I have never really seen and I live here!
They are more likely to be chatting or texting on one of their many mobile phones. Italians love their mobile phones possibly more then anyone.

Just came across your site so look forward to reading more!

Anonymous said...

Italian food is certainly the way to go. I lived in Barcelona and the food was terrible. They deep fry everything and food is so greasy. Very poor. Italy is a different story. Tuscan food is my favourite.

Lara Dunston said...


Apologies for not responding to all of your comments - we've been on the road, which means early starts, long days and late nights!

Sean - so agree with you re Italians and politics - might have to post on that one, I think. I have a theory or two.

Tamara - as much as I love Italy, don't think I could live here full-time - I have developed a love-hate relationship with the place on this last trip. At 3 months it was the longest stint we've ever done at once, and we're kind of glad its over. I think it's the kind of country I need to do a couple of months at a time. Might have to post on that too!

Sorry, Matt, but I'm not a fan of Coke - good for hangovers but little else, as far as I'm concerned - and the only food that should even be eaten with a can of Coke is a burger. But a pasta? Or any *real* food. That's surely a crime!

Sicily Traveller, I agree that Italian food is wonderful - I love all the regional differences too. But I love the food in Barcelona - I'm a huge fan of tapas (or pinxos as they call them there), but also the more experimental/inventive restaurant. It's not *all* fried. Like anywhere you need to know where to go, but I think you're right, it's much harder to find a bad meal in Italy than it is in some cities. Now, Sicilian cuisine is one of my favorites. Yum!

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Suzie & Leanne - perhaps now that I think about we didn't see so many Italians reading books in Calabria (your homes), but believe me, they're reading them *everywhere* in the rest of Italy, especially the North where we've spent the last two months. Indeed, Milan boasts some brilliant bookshops and every park in that city, and other Northern Italian cities, is filled with locals reading books as they tan themselves. We spent a lot of time at each of the Lakes and there in particular you'll find Italians reading on park benches, from young couples canoodling between page turns to old couples discussing what they're reading.