The main purpose in my writing this blog is to help any other U.S. American, or anyone from another culture, to understand what pitfalls one may experience. There are just as many wonderful things about being here, versus being in my home country. But the one thing that I do not want to do is portray this false idea that living here is perfect. I have always told my friends and my kids for as long as I can remember – it’s all about one’s priorities. This life (in Italy) aligns better to my personal priorities; it doesn’t make it a perfect life. But I’m happy with it.
So, allow me to tell you about the benefits of such a traditional culture.
Last week was Easter, and like it was once upon a time in the States, everything (damn near everything) was closed. Families actually started celebrating on the Friday before (Good Friday). I’m not a religious person, but having been raised Catholic, and being in a Catholic country, I’m familiar with the religious holidays and their significance. It touches me to hear the church bells ring everyday, more during the holiday seasons, and to see the extent to which the locals celebrate. In fact, last Friday, as I was out on my balcony chatting on the phone, I heard singing. It was around 10pm. Down the street, there was a road block and police escort for a religious “walk.” Words are escaping me right now, but you get the idea (see picture above). It was peaceful, and the energy was calming.
Family and food seem to be the basis of contentment here. The simplicity makes the quality of life, for me, so worth all the cultural hiccups that I encounter. Almost every day, my landlady has her grandkids over to play and/or they stay the night with her. The grandparents role (perhaps more specifically, the grandMOTHER’S role) is to be just as involved in their grandchildren’s lives as the parents. It’s something that has not been my personal experience at all. It’s very sweet.
And the kids play. There are specific parks scattered around the city for kids to play. Play is very important and the parents make sure they play. My landlady’s grandchildren can often be heard downstairs in the back driveway, playing. There is no grass; it’s all concrete. But the have their bikes and there are balls and a few other toys and they play. They don’t whine about being outside. Sure, they like their devices at home, but those are strictly monitored (this may not be representative of all Italian child-rearing but it’s what I have seen). I wish I spent more time with my kids. I hope I get to be such a presence in my future grandchildren’s lives!
I mentioned food is one of the main tenets here. They are so serious about food! And for good reason – the quality and flavour of the food is undeniable. Unlike what we call “Italian food” in the States, the food here is simple and rather plain. They have pasta daily and it is only touched with a sauce (versus our version of having some pasta with our sauce). Traditional Pizza (a Margherita) has a thin layer of tomato sauce (fresh), a little mozzarella, and that’s it. And, damn! It’s really good without 100 toppings! One of my friends was telling me today that when Italians travel, they expect food to be a disaster. They lower their standards. I thought that was hilarious! I was trying to explain to him that US Americans can have any type of food they want at anytime, so we expect the same variety everywhere. (I have to take an hour bus ride to have Thai food. And there is ONE Indian restaurant in Verona that Indians say is worthy. Bigger cities have more options of course).
Lunch in Verona is a serious thing. Many places close between 12:30 – 15:30 for lunch. People go home for lunch. And, pasta is the typical meal. The moms that stay home will cook, or the grandmothers will. I have seen my students come home from school to an amazing lunch cooked by their grandmother, who comes over just to cook and then leaves. It’s rather impressive.
Traditions here can also be uniquely regional. Some are countrywide, but many are unique to a specific region. In Veneto, for example, they celebrate a saint’s day in November (I can’t remember which one) by eating cooked chestnuts and drink wine. It’s delicious! Despite the saint’s day being the same throughout Christendom (Catholic specifically), how it’s celebrated and if it’s celebrated varies across Italy.
There are other traditions that I think are antiquated and irritating, but this post is about the good stuff. I have no doubt I’ll have a rant about sexism at a later date . . .