My parents are entirely to blame for my love of Italy – we have travelled to Italy every year since I was tiny, and they have stayed in Venice twelve times and counting. They are totally fixated by it. It wasn’t surprising, then, that I embarked on an Italian degree, spending a year at the University of Pisa with a two month stint in Venice. In Pisa, I lived with six Sicilians, and learnt more about Sicilian culture and language than the Northern dialect and culture of Pisa! I can recall a memorable train journey down to Siracusa, the gentle jog jog on the tracks, the vintage carriage with black and white photographs of a bygone era and long, worn leather seats that we slept upon, watching the scenery change from Northern European to Moorish, arid, dazzling sunshine and lemon trees in the station. I hadn’t expected the overwhelming hospitality of the Sicilians – I was invited to dine with no fewer than six families. My friend Alessandra, with her beautiful auburn hair, explained there were a huge number of red heads on the island, Francesco invited me to spend the day at his fathers tuna factory – I had visions of the huge sides of tuna being stuffed with wads of money or drugs – all the while being ferried from one place to the other on the back of a Piaggio scooter. We hold the record for six people on a scooter at once. I didn’t pay for anything, “Sono un' amica di Francesco” – “I’m a friend of Francesco’s” was met with a nod – and “don’t worry, we’ve got this covered.” They packed me back on the train a fortnight later laden with tuna, oil, sunflowers and a glow of happiness. Later I became a tour guide in Tuscany which cemented my love for the landscapes, people and food. I struggled with the language at first, but finally conquered it and began dreaming in Italian.
What really appeals to me about Italy, and Sicily in particular, is the lifestyle. For all its corruption, inequality and chauvinism there is an enviable relaxed feel about life. Shops are closed on Wednesday mornings (just because they can), they close for long siestas, they are not in a rush, family is still at the centre of life, and the passaggiata is still the most important part of the day. It brings the community together, you can show off your new handbag, your new dog or new boyfriend. Italians are incredibly vain, men are powerful, fashion is foremost. There is an undeniable charm – Italy is on our doorstep, yet the culture is quite different from our more reserved and modest version.
That’s not to say I haven’t had some bad experiences in Italy (I’ve been mugged by the Leaning Tower, experienced racism in Rome with my Chinese friend, encountered arrogance, rudeness) but screeching along the cobbled streets of Sicily on a scooter – happy memories for me!
|Sarah in Bologna - not on a vespa this time.|
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