Some observations about Italy
By Rick Olivares
What is my vision of Italy?
Ancient Rome. Pizza and pasta. Espressos. Vesdas. Spaghetti westerns. Pretty women. And yes, the Mafia.
For some reason there are also those pictures of rustic settings of small alleyways and narrow cobblestone streets with a small fountain and a grotto. I had that image ingrained in me from some old magazines handed down from me by my grandparents.
Visiting Italy — Rome, Naples, and Venice… well, it is like I stepped into those pictures that firmly imprinted themselves into my mind after all these years. And any time you come face to face with something you’ve only read about as a youngster, the experience can be almost... spiritual. And colossal.
The Colosseum…. built between 70-80 years before the coming of Christ…. to see it still standing left me in awe. The Germans and the ancient Egyptians aren’t the only people who know how to build things to last. The Romans are definitely right up there. Now to step inside, I couldn’t help but wonder how many people perished to satiate bloodthirsty emperors. The next door Roman Forum was just as impressive. Again, I tried to picture in my mind what transpired in these places. Simply thinking about it can be overwhelming.
However, Italy has left me with some impressions to add to my preconceived notions.
Things I noticed in Italy (and not in any particular order):
- The SUV is not a choice of vehicle among locals. The smaller the vehicle - perhaps to better navigate the small streets - the better.
- The Converse Chuck Taylor is the popular show of choice after the more fashionable sandal and leather or fur boot. First noticed this in the UK then in France and now Italy.To borrow that line from the seminal Converse commercial — “they’re everywhere!” A timeless choice in a timeless country.
- They love their food here and cooking is something they take seriously. Sure there are the ubiquitous fastfood chains but if Italians had their druthers, they’d prefer their own fine dining. Furthermore, the really good restaurants feature genuine Italian chefs. Now if you want to eat outside the ristorante, be careful to not use the words “al fresco.” The appropriate term is all’aperto that means “to eat outside.” The former refers to spending time behind bars. Now when you do eat all’aperto, make sure you don’t eat anywhere near a ledge lest some pigeon nestle atop and drop some bombs at you later.
- Football rules. In Naples, you go into almost every pizzeria or ristorante, you will find pictures or jerseys of football players. At D’Agostino’s, a kid with a Juventus jersey entered and the waiter said, “We don’t serve your kind in here.” Of course, it was a joke. But only maybe because the kid was from England. During the Rome and Lazio derby a few weeks ago, the streets were cleared as hooligans from both sides rumbled in the streets even if it was close to midnight!
- The lack of malls. Thank God for the old ways where people buy from the shops around the corner. The mercatos. They hang out at the coffee shops and piazzas. Venice, with its labyrinthian streets doesn’t even have a mall. Even the most unlikely of side streets has its own shops.
- The urban decay is more damaging than Father Time does to those ancient Roman ruins. Graffiti is everywhere — Rome, Naples, Venice, and even outside the Vatican City! I used to think that the Bronx and Brooklyn were examples of the decline of Western Civilization but I know believe the dishonor goes to Italy. At least Banksy had style. Here is Italy, it is a major eyesore. A blight even!
- There are scammers everywhere! What I don’t get is why they allow vendors inside the Vatican and the Termini? I even bumped into several Filipinos who work the Vatican area! I asked one of them why he choose this profession and his reply was, “If the others do it why can’t they have their own slice of the pie as well?”Well, as the saying goes, “When in Rome…"