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Ironies in Italy: A Reflection

Written by Lisa Hagen

Italy is filled with life’s little paradoxes.

For example, Italians drive super fast, BUT eat really slow.

Case in point.  Today I was nearly killed several times by speeding motorcycles, fiat automobiles, as well as a little kid on his bike.  If something has wheels, the Italians have a need for speed.

On a return trip from a hike this afternoon, a motorcycle cruised by me at a speed no less than 90 mph, only to be followed by a tiny BMW that was right behind him going something close to 80. I’m  fairly certain  I saw a grey-haired man driving behind the wheel. 

 Twice on my approach into this walled-city, three teenagers on their motorized velos swooped around me while I froze stiff against the stone wall, flattening myself as much as possible to get out of the way.

 Just a few blocks later, a boy about eight or nine almost took me out on his bicycle when I rounded a corner and surprised him. 

 Italians like speed.  No wonder it is the birthplace of the Ferrari.

 They like speed, that is, until it is time to eat dinner, or drink a cappuccino, or enjoy a scoop of gelato.  Then the Italians shift into low gear. 

 Dinner around here just gets going around 8:00 or 8:30 or maybe even 9:00 or 10:00 if you’d like.  And even then, once it gets going it involves a minimum of three courses – starter course, pasta course, and then the meat course…of course!  That doesn’t even begin to consider the possibilities of wine pairings with each course or the inevitable temptation of dessert.

 Time investment?  You’ll be set back at least 2 or 2 ½ hours and that’s if they recognize you are American and speed it up a bit. 

 The Italian coffee experience works much the same way.  No one orders a tall, skinny macchiato to go.  No one even thinks about ordering anything to go.

On several occasions I’ve watched  people slide into an Italian bar, order a small shot of espresso or café, take two or three sips, and then slip back out the door within three minutes or less.  That’s even quicker than getting through the drive through at McDonalds for a McCafe Latte.  The Italians don’t seem to mind that they don’t have time to drink a whole cup.  And it certainly doesn’t occur to them to try to “speed it up” a bit by drinking it on the run.  Ironic for a people that can’t seem to slow down on the roadway! 

 But that’s not the only irony that the Italian culture presents. 

The Italians notoriously value family.  How many jokes have you heard about Italians and their mothers?  From the experiences we’ve had here in Cagli with the locals, it sounds like those jokes may not be far off.  The average Italian lives with his/her parents well into their late 20’s or early 30’s.  Many Italians prioritize living near their immediate family and take care of their parents into their retirement years.

 But Italians also don’t get married.  And they don’t have kids.  Their birth rate is less than one child per person which currently puts them in a negative population growth rate. 

Ironic.

Despite the many paradoxes; however, Italians have captured my heart.  Despite the cultural differences, I sincerely hope that when I return to the states I will be able to hold onto some of the things I’ve come to value the most about my time here in Cagli.

 I hope I will eat more gelato. And eat it more often.

 I hope I will slow down, worry less about my “to do” lists, and take time to visit with friends –at length—when I run into them in public places.

 I hope to remember what it felt like to be without language and to feel like a minority.  I hope I will remember how powerless I felt when I couldn’t read a menu or a bus schedule or a road sign.

I hope I remember how heartbroken I was when I couldn’t understand an elderly women I was photographing  in the street window  as she gestured and tried to tell me her life story.  Her desperate search for her wedding picture, framed and yellowed from exposure, substituted for my miserable apology . “Mi dispiace, no copisco Italiano” ( I’m sorry, I don’t understand Italian.) I hope I remember how disappointed I was that language separated us, even though our life stories did not. 

 And mostly I hope I will become increasingly discontent with being a tourist rather than a global citizen.

I hope I will think more bravely about how I want to travel in the future.  I hope I will be less content to stay at the Fairmont Hotel in Paris and much more interested in spending a month studying French in Provence or teaching English in Cambodia. 

 I hope I will return from this trip not the same person I was when I left 17 days ago.


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