Any expat in Rome will tell you that they’ve heard the question a hundred times: “What is life in Italy really like?” The common assumption is that we’re all buzzing around on Vespas, attending operas, and eating pasta at every meal. My blog has always been an honest attempt to address those perceptions and offer a more realistic picture, for better and worse. But before I get into the “meat” of this post, I’d like to share some really cool news.
I was recently nominated by Italy Magazine as one of the top (English-speaking) bloggers in Italy! It’s an incredible honor…I’m pretty sure that Italy Magazine is the largest publication on all things Italian. They are to Italy what Sports Illustrated is to sports. No joke.
In fact, I was short-listed in two categories, “Best Living in Italy Blog,” and “Best Overall Blog for Lovers of Italy.” There are some other real heavyweights among the nominees, including people who write for the New York Times, the Associated Press, and National Geographic Traveler. My humble little blog is the proverbial “David” in the fight, but honestly, I’m thrilled just to be nominated.
If you’d care to help me in this contest, you can do TWO things:
1) Go to the links and VOTE. One click will get you to the page, one click to vote. Super easy–NO form to fill out. You can vote for me in both categories, which would be great, but I think that I have a better chance in the “Overall Lover of Italy” category…fewer nominees, less competition—at least that’s my theory. Here are the links:
2) SHARE this with others! Post it on your Facebook status, email it, Tweet it, Pin it, etc.
Thanks so much for supporting me in this effort. If I can pull this off, it will really increase my exposure in the blogosphere and hopefully lead to bigger and better things. And if you don’t vote for me, watch out…I’ll be sending the malocchio your way!
OK, now for the regularly scheduled blogging…
What is it about the sweet life in Italy?
A couple month ago, I was interviewed by Anthony Capozzoli on his excellent radio show, How to Tour Italy. One of the questions that he asked was, “What’s the objective of your blog?” It was a great question, and it made me think, because I don’t know if I’ve ever stopped to define it. I enjoy touching on a variety of topics that, when combined, give an overall impression of life in Italy. And I try to create a balanced forum on which to discuss Italy and Italian culture.
The folks who read my blog have diverse backgrounds, with very different experiences encountering Italy. In fact, about 15-20% of my readers are Italians who obviously know their country very well—better than I ever will. Then some of my readers are Americans or Brits who are enchanted by Italy, but have never actually stepped foot inside the country. So it’s always a challenge to find something that engages everybody.
But that’s really what I want to do, engage readers by focusing on little details that somehow illuminate the bigger picture. There are plenty of Italy guides out there and lots of other blogs that will give you the museum hours or tell you where to find the top gelaterie. I love those blogs (you can find some them on my “blogroll”) and I refer to them often myself, but that’s not really my style of writing.
I’ve had a couple of posts that have irritated a few people. I always try to avoid stereotypes, but some generalizations are occasionally needed to create a talking point. Yet people still take exception, which is fine, as long as they present their counterpoints in a way that will add to the discussion. And several times, commentators on my blog have changed my mind about certain issues, so I’m always willing and eager to expand my own understanding.
That discussion sort of segued into Anthony’s next question which was about separating the reality from the myth of living in Italy. The timing was interesting, because I had just re-watched “La Dolce Vita” after having seen it about 15 years ago—in other words, before I had ever been to Italy. What I saw the second time was a completely different movie than I remembered. (I wrote in more detail on this topic in my recent post on Italian Cinema.)
But for example, the iconic scene of Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroiani splashing around Trevi’s Fountain was actually a brief, fairly insignificant scene. And yet that’s what we all remember about the movie. Indeed, Fellini was being ironic, or even sarcastic, when he chose a title for his film. He was commenting on a “sweet life,” that everyone thought they wanted, but was always just out of reach, largely inhibited by their inability to communicate with one another. (And this was before social media!)
For visitors to Italy, none of this matters—everybody ought to enjoy whatever “la dolce vita” means to them while on their two week vacation. But for newly expatriated Americans, it can be an uncomfortable wake-up call about a month into the adventure. After a few nasty encounters with public employees and one transportation strike too many, you might start to question why you left the “sweet life” in the US.
However, if you stick around a little longer and push through all the aggravations and inconveniences (large and small) of fighting the bureaucracy and an unfamiliar cultural mentality, then you might start to enjoy the “semi-dolce vita” even more than you’re original idealized version of Italy. That’s how it was for me. Small victories at the post-office feel like the achievement of a lifetime. You learn the art of “arrangiarsi,” how to get by (with a little help of an Italian mentor—Jessica, in my case). Now you’re starting to really understand what life in Italy is all about, for better and worse. And you’ll appreciate it all the more for your efforts.
Listen, I won’t lie, the politics are a mess and the economy is in a free fall. There have been a couple of articles in the New York Times lately about this heartbreaking tragedy. But Italy has survived worse. Rome was sacked by the barbarians and has been corrupted by popes and politicians throughout its history. It has endured Mussolini and two World Wars. And yet it still stands.
But we should also mention that expats, no matter how long they’ve been in Italy, will never feel as frustrated or angry as the Italians do about their broken system. We always have the option to go home, and the emotional impact of watching your country fall apart is something that we don’t have to face. In this way, I don’t think it’s wrong to say that foreigners are often able to “appreciate” Italy more than the Italians can.
So if all of this is true, why has Italy remained so appealing to so many people from every corner of the globe? It continues to be a top tourist destination (if not the top) even as more and more of the world is opening up to mass tourism—and despite the political and economic mess. No matter what, people just can’t get enough of Italy, it seems. (For the record, neither can I).
I believe it’s because Italy offers, and has always offered, an abundance of the things that touch our humanity at the deepest levels: art, food, music, beauty, family, and a tangible connection with human history. And even some of the negative things—corruption, greed, jealousy—because that’s part of being human, too.
Orson Wells said it even better:
“In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed…BUT they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love; they had five hundred years of democracy and peace…and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”
I think that sums it up pretty good.