Eating in Eataly with Alex Roe

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I wrote in my pre-trip post that I’m going to be seeking out “stories.”  More specifically, the stories that interest me involve people who are doing their best to make Italy a better place in their own way.  The sort of folks that strive to celebrate all the things that made the “Old Italy” so appealing to the rest of the world, while at the same time dragging “New Italy” into the 21st century for the benefit of its own citizens.

So then it might seem a bit odd that I’m beginning this trip with a stop in Milan to chat up an Englishman over Prosecco and fritto misto at the new Eataly in the posh Brera district.

eataly_milano

Photo: Vogue.it

Alex Roe appeared on my radar several years ago, even before I moved to Rome.  I was keen to learn more about modern Italy, and increase my practical knowledge beyond the well-known history and tourist itineraries.  His website, Italy Chronicles, was (and still is) highly visible and impressively prolific, churning out article after article attacking the political status quo that has kept this country firmly stuck in the past.  Many of his articles were equally harsh against the social and cultural norms, placing a proportionate amount of the blame for Italy’s problems on the shoulders of the citizens.  So yes, in the very beginning, I was bit put off by Alex, to be honest, as I felt that he had no right to be bashing his host country with such apparent vitriol.

The truth is, I’ve never met a foreigner who cares for Italy more.  Sure, lots of people “fall in love” with Italy, like a passionate affair with a mysterious stranger.  That first meandering cruise down the Grand Canal or the first gaze upon the radiant dome of Saint Peter’s at sunset touches all of us in a visceral way, and it doesn’t take much more for Italy to seduce us.

But Alex’s affection goes much, much deeper.  After talking with him for several hours, I began to appreciate just how badly he wants Italy to be its best self.  Like me and many others, he sees Italy’s enormous potential and it frustrates him to see it all go to waste.

photo 4 I suppose I should offer a more complete introduction.  Alex Roe is an English teacher, media consultant, trainer, translator, blogger, webmaster, amateur photographer and all round technology buff.  During his 20 years in Italy, he has acquired an Italian “other half,” Cristina, and their union has produced a son and a Manchester terrier.

Through the years, his website has evolved and is now more a magazine than a blog.  Italy Chronicles covers, amongst many other topics, Italian news in English, and has become an ever growing source of news, analysis and information on many aspects of Italy attracting visitors such as universities, businesses, governments and even the CIA.

You will find everything there: from news and politics to Prosecco, from bunga bunga and Berlusconi to pictures of Italy’s beautiful landscapes and buildings, as well as tips on good Italian wines to try.

Eating in Eataly

So there we were, an American and an Englishman surrounded by the very best of Italian products in an environment that, honestly, seemed more like an amusement park than a grocery market/restaurant.  Sure, there was a dizzying array of prosciutto, cheeses, pastas, wines, artisanal beers, and even household products.  But there was also a rock band playing 80′s tunes translated into Italian, flashing lights, a twisting network of escalators in every direction, like some slow-speed roller coaster for shoppers.

The question became, “Is this the way out for Italy economically?  To become a cleaned-up, sterilized version of itself?”  After all, Eataly is brand new to its namesake country.  The business found success abroad first, and then was brought back “home.”  The result is something conspicuously less “Italian,” yet unquestionably a winning formula.

The balance is a tricky one.  How does Italy move forward, grow its economy, and provide a higher standard of living for its citizens without giving up the identity that made it so well-loved in the first place?  If, by some miracle, Italy suddenly became organized, regimented, and “by the book,” then perhaps it wouldn’t be Italy anymore.  It would be, well…Germany.

Alex certainly has a better sense of these topics than I do.  For a deeper discussion of these subjects consult his website.  And if you are really serious about understanding the real modern Italy, beyond the fantasies that we all like to hang onto, then consider becoming a member of his site.  But this is the challenge for Italy today: to maximize the potential of its incredible resources, while slowing casting off the old mentality of nepotismo, furbizia, and to some degree, campanilismo.

Thanks again to Alex Roe for taking time to discuss the many joys and woes of both Italy, and…Eataly.  Ciao!

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Comments

  1. Joan Schmelzle says:

    Hi Rick,
    Another interesting post, but one that has managed to increase my frustartions–not with you or your blog, however. I have just tried twice again to subscribe to Italy Chronicles. I have tried this several times before. But again I have failed. I click subscribe, fill in the USD price given and click submit and nothing happens. I do read some of his articles in conjunction with “Italian Reflections Daily,” which I receive, but every time I do the only thing I can figure out to subscribe nothing happens. Also none of my email attempts have worked either. Ah well. Thank goodness for you and several other blogs about my favorite country!

    • Hi Joan,

      Alex of Italy Chronicles here. Thanks for attempting to sign up. Not sure what the problem is. Very odd. I’ll take it up with the people who manage the subscription system. Don’t know why your email attempts have failed either. Will look into that issue too.

      Best,

      Alex

      • Joan Schmelzle says:

        Hi Rick,
        If you can without a lot of trouble, I’d appreciate it if you sent this on to Alex Roe.
        I still cannot manage to subscribe. Today I even tried to create an account with tinypass instead of just with Chronicles. That didn’t work either. I was sent to Chronicles payment page and this time was told $10.11 was an invalid amount even though that is the amount given. Ah well.
        Thanks

  2. I thought Eataly began in Torino in the old vermouth factory. We went there several years ago when we were in Torino for Slow Food. I was in the Bologna store today and I have visited the enormous one in New York. I like the concept. I love the traditional delis too, but it is interesting to see a new twist on an old style.
    I love Italy and I think it could remain true to itself while becoming more efficient. We certainly don’t want it to become regimented, but better organized can’t hurt.
    I will subscribe immediately to Italy Chronicles

  3. We will be getting an Eataly here in Sydney, Australia soon when a suitable site is found – I look forward to it. Or maybe not – I’ve just read this story (link attached) on a new concept for Eataly: a “theme park”. Yikes. http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/03/21/eataly_theme_park_the_problem_with_the_disneyland_of_food_is_its_marketing.html

    • To be honest, I really enjoyed it. But at the same time, for reason, I also felt a bit guilty about liking it. In any case it’s a great place to shop for authentic products.

    • To be honest, I really enjoyed it. But at the same time, for reason, I also felt a bit guilty about liking it. In any case it’s a great place to shop for authentic products.

  4. Alex is also very supportive of new bloggers like me! He gave me a lot of useful tips on how to get my blog off the ground. Great post, Rick! Enjoy your tour of Italy!

  5. As an Italian living abroad I couldn’t agree more with the article, I also feel that the intrisical limits of the Country have historycally been (and still are!) one of the main drivers for creativity.
    I am an engineer and, from my perspective, have seen the different approaches to the same job and it’s quite amazing to notice the diversity of the results, basing on the nationality.
    Working with so many Americans I have noticed their tendency to codify and standardize practically every aspect of a given job, to the point that they become dumb-proof and sometimes rather boring (or dumb?).
    British engineers tend to be very accurate and rigorous, but you can always find a spark of madness in their works, and this is something I absolutely love!
    Italians engineers? All our jobs tend to be quite unique, no standardization whatsoever, you can’t find two identical projects, there is always something to add or something new to try (with the amusement and the horrified expression of the German engineers!).
    But this is also a limit that affects the quality and consinstency of the outcome, again pro’s and con’s..

    Paradoxally, sometimes you have to detach from what you are observing to fully grasp its true essence, and you two guys have certainly developed this unbiased perspective on Italian affairs, thanks, I find your blogs so refreshing!

    • Dario, thanks so much for your kind words and for adding to the discussion. Indeed, your example illustrates my point better than I did! As you say, there are always pros and cons to any approach and it’s wonderful when we can all appreciate and learn from another’s way of doing things. Ciao!!

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