1. Things don’t always work in Italy the way they should. The ATM at the bank, for instance. It’s down a lot, especially when I’m really strapped for cash and in need of an emergency cappuccino. They say the wifi connection is slow, but I have my suspicions. In Italy, the afternoon pausa pranzo, or break, is observed with near-religious reverence, and if that means a bank employee can’t be bothered to reset a modem because he has to walk back to the house for a coffee, a cigarette, a home-cooked meal and a nap, you’re out of luck.
2. Every other day here is a national holiday, which means all the stores are closed. Stores are also closed daily for that pesky pausa pranzo, 1pm to 4pm, and on Thursdays for no reason other than they want to. You never know for sure when a store might be open, but for Italians, it’s fun to keep the foreigners guessing.
3. Italian pop music is ghastly. And Italian pop is all that’s played on Radio Subasio—and Radio Subasio is all that’s played in every coffee bar in or around Rome. Italians LOVE a power ballad, which is always wildly over-emoted, features the same three chord progressions, and is usually sung by some shockingly old pop singer from the early part of the last century.
4. Noise. Italians celebrate it. Marching bands, squalling babies, blasting car horns, blaring televisions (especially soccer matches)—but in Italian, even normal conversations sound like yelling. This serves to remind me of what a sadly repressed person I am, which is why I’ve learned to yell along with the rest of them and to swear volubly in Italian. It’s pretty impressive, to tell you the truth. I can teach you.
5. Italians don’t do good junk food. Most potato chips taste as though some clueless but well-intentioned individual took wood pulp, salted it, and then stuffed it in a bag covered in bad English. Crik Crok, for instance. Famous Italian potato chip company. Their national slogan? “Snack is fun”. It’s on everything, including their display cases. No one could be bothered to see if the English was right or not. Because #Italy.
1. It’s so beautiful here, you are tempted to remove your eyeballs, polish them on your T-shirt, and then pop them back inside your skull just to make sure you’re seeing things correctly. Twenty or thirty lesser countries were sacrificed in order to make just one Italy. Whether it’s the ancient artifacts, the old churches, the priceless paintings, the ramshackle farms, the clear-water beaches or the quaint seaside villages, you are never the same after you set foot on Italian soil.
2. The Italians are so patient with my attempts to speak the language. I can understand Italian, but I’m not a fluent speaker yet. Unlike the French ***COUGH*** your average Italian is kind and helpful even when you’re blithely mangling the tongue of Dante. Writing in English all day definitely hampers my efforts. But to be fair, Italian is a bitch to learn. Think: Times Square meets the Spanish Inquisition. It’s both a beautiful and expressive language, one that requires many florid-sounding syllables strung together in a way that promotes the use of hand gestures, which are needed to speed things along.
3. The food. In Italy, oranges taste like oranges. Grapes taste like grapes. The difference between what food tastes like here versus what it tastes like in the States is shocking. When I go back to Texas, I always smuggle a little fruit in my purse—and LIE ABOUT IT ON MY CUSTOMS FORM because hell, yeah, I’m that kind of badass—and give the fruit to people who’ve forgotten what fruit is supposed to taste like. Their reaction is always the same: “Holy crap, is that fruit? It’s DELICIOUS!”
4. Italy holds constant reminders that you are going to die one day, and that’s because you are rubbing shoulders with history every second that you’re here. When you gaze upon an ancient aqueduct that has existed for over a thousand years and has been seen by millions of people who are all dead now, you tend to value what time you have left. This death thing is why Italians are not only fatalistic, but seek constant religious and sexual confirmation with people who are not necessarily their spouses, just to remind themselves that they, at least for now, are alive.
5. There are hardly any chain stores in Italy, which really struck me (coming from strip-mall Texas). What you will find are a gazillion tiny coffee bars run by families. And the coffee in most of them, as you can imagine, is divine. The Italian middle class is still kicking here, thanks in large part to the compulsive thrift and mattress-stuffing money management of Grandma and Grandpa. Houses are multi-generational and it is customary for children to live in them until … well, forever, actually. A forty-year-old man who lives with his mamma is not considered too hopelessly dorky to date. Mamma still cooks for him and does his laundry. Family is both the strength and the curse of Italy. If you find yourself in a bit of an Italian pickle, family is there to bail you out. If you find yourself in trouble with the Mob … well, that’s another kind of family.
I love this life. I love the church bells. As I sit here writing this in my little she-shed on top of the terrace, those bells are ringing now. I love the stuff that makes no sense to a non-Italian. I love the idiosyncrasies and even the dysfunctions. Italy is one of the most important love affairs of my life, and I am so happy to be able to share it with you.