So, yesterday I shared with you five things which on a daily basis make me have one of those ‘Only in Italy!’ moments that I have read about in books and seen in films for many years before taking the plunge and actually moving to live here 14 months ago.
Well, living in the bel paese is often akin to immersing yourself in the most glorious written word or in a full technicolour dream. The bonus though is that all is, actually, real! The beautiful houses with overhanging wisterias, the tiny balconies with forged iron railings and numerous pots with plants in bloom, the curving streets which are so romantic in the early evening dusk, the colourful pottery, the dramatic castles, the endless sandy beaches, the fresh seafood, the antique ruins, the art, the music, the language… Well, you name it!
Every cliche you have heard of Italy (or read about or seen in pictures and films) is true and then some. It is lovely living here. Well, most of the time. Like 98% or, if I have to be really honest, like 93 to 96% of the time.
Now, of course, there are some things which were slightly more difficult for me to adopt, like having to have our washing machine in the garage, not being able to buy proper Bulgarian feta cheese (yes, London was great in that respect) and having to wear a plastic glove when picking fruit and veg in the supermarket. There is also the rather clumsy banking system to contend with. For example, paying bills by direct debit was the easiest option in the UK and it didn’t cost us a penny, but here in Italy we were being charged 8 euro for this, so we had to start paying our telephone bill by credit card and all other bills in cash and in person in the companies’ local branch.
But, the thing is, no matter how good or bad things are, the human condition is to get used to them. So, I recently realised that, yes, no matter how much I resisted it and how much I tried to keep my outlook fresh, I am now more or less used to things in Italy as they are and not even the skin-tight and super skimpy swimming trunks Italian men choose to wear on the beach can make me raise a shocked eyebrow anymore.
Yet, there are still a number of things which, day in and day out make me pinch myself and proclaim ‘Yes, I am living the Italian dream!’. So, after sharing with you five of them yesterday, let me close the circle by sharing five more.
Enjoy and let me know your thoughts!
Yes, I know ‘uniquer’ is a strange word (it, apparently, exists)! But, how else to describe the cyclists I witness taking their chances on the road every day?! They beat even the Italian drivers hands down in terms of their lax approach to their own life and the safety of others.
Let’s be positive though and start with the good thing. Which is that Italians seem to love their bicycles. They call them ‘bici‘ for short (well, don’t laugh now, but this is pronounced just like the word ‘bit**y’ in English) and have a special place for them in their hearts.
Young and old have bikes and ride them every day to school, work or just down to the shops. It is a great way to stay active. A familiar sight on the streets of Vicenza are whole families riding their bikes – from the little toddler to the octogenarian nonna. Often mums will have one or two hard plastic seats attached to the back and/or the front of their bicycles for the children to stay comfortably in and get used to the idea of moving around by bike.
And now the interesting part begins. Helmets are rarely worn, signal lights often are missing and as for high-vis jackets at night, well, they are a nice thought, but not always a reality. Plus, people seem to prefer all black or, at least, dark clothing, especially at night. So, they are hard to spot. Sometimes, very hard.
And now for the fun bit. Well, it is totally fun to see, unless you are a driver. The notion that you can ride your bike with just one hand on the handlebars seems to be perfectly acceptable here. The other hand is usually engaged texting, calling or scrolling through a phone, holding a handbag across the shoulder and/or, certainly my very favourite, holding a very large golf-sized umbrella above the cyclist’s head when it rains.
My husband swears that once he saw a lady reading a book whilst riding her bike and I believe him.
As for appearing out of nowhere, cutting in front of a moving car and other such shenanigans, well, they are par for the course. Only this week we witnessed a cyclist who was telling a driver what he thought of him, whilst parked in front of his car on the road and creating a long tail of cars all round the roundabout and the adjacent streets. All because the driver apparently didn’t let him get through or something.
We have also seen bicycles mangled on the road after accidents. So, no matter how funny it is to see a cyclist with a colourful umbrella in hand speedily advancing down the wet road, no matter how admirable it is that everyone here is active, it would be nice if safety is given a bigger concern than it currently is.
Stylishly Dressed People
I have told you that for the last two years before moving to Italy, we lived in charming Chatham in the English county of Kent. Well, house prices in London were (and still are) through the roof and Chatham being on Rochester’s door step and connected by a high speed train to the British capital seemed like the commuter’s dream.
What I hadn’t bargained for though were some local customs which, once you had lived there for more than six months, started to appear perfectly normal (and this is when I knew we had to get out!). Like, for example, going to the shops in your onesie was considered the done thing. Then those thin leggings came into fashion. You know the ones – they are black, but when you stretch them over your thighs, they are a bit see-though.
So, people were wearing them in droves with a short top, leaving everyone in their wake to admire their underwear and, to put it politely, their body confidence, too.
What a discovery it was, freshly arrived in Italy, to see people out and about in their Sunday best even on a week-day. From old ladies carefully coiffed and with perfectly applied lipstick to young ladies in designer culottes, life in Italy is one long passerelle.
Fashion favours dark muted tones, there is always a scarf artfully knotted around the neck, strings of pearls are a never failing accessory and whilst getting a haircut, men customarily have their nails polished and buffed, too.
Sometimes, I admit it, it does get a bit boring, as everyone seems to follow the same style book to the dot, but it is a small price to pay for not having to see another pair of leggings again.
Now, for all their amazing art and subliminal artists, Italians seem to be very bad at graffiti. I don’t know why. It is very rare to come across a beautifully designed or edgily executed modern fresco on the walls of houses, churches, palaces and train stations here.
It is mostly a jumble of black lines twisting and zigzagging up and down, like the graffiti-maker had just gotten hold of a spray can in his/her hands for the first time and like a toddler, eager to try their brand new water colours, he/she simply waved his/her hands this way and then the other way leaving a terrible mess on the wall for someone else to clean.
But graffiti don’t seem to be cleaned here or if they are, they get re-applied with never-ending enthusiasm.
Why would you have the impetus to deface a majestic centuries-old building with some sort of illegible doodle?! I wish I knew. I wish I could see the artistic value in it. Perhaps the Italian youth is like: ‘Oh, see, we have so many of these, what-you-call-them?!, old buildings, innit?!, so let’s make them, like, modern or somefink’.
In fact, the only good graffito which I have come across so far is the one pictured at the start of this blog post. It was great to find it on the wall of a house in the stone village Arqua Petrarca – famous as the resting ground of the great Italian poet and humanist Petrarch.
The graffito had this energy streaming from it, made you smile and looked so out of place, yet so uplifting among the old stone houses.
Do more of these, please, and less of the jumbled ones which only make the streets marked by them look run down and scary.
Yes, every city has its urban pets. Mice in the tube and rats by the train stations come to mind when thinking of London, for example.
The urban pets I have encountered in Vicenza so far though are of a different kind. Some are cute, like the family of tiny bats which comes out to play after dark in our garden and we can glimpse them in the ring of light of the street lamps catching flies and mosquitoes.
Some are not so cute though and, obviously, I need to vent a little about them.
Let’s start with the lizards. They are everywhere. Running alongside you on the low fence walls, quickly crossing your path and hiding in the flower patches along the streets and, even, once, I swear, I saw a lizard coming out of a postal box, which led me to never open ours for almost a year, delegating this task to my husband instead.
He thinks lizards are cute. In fact, he had a bearded dragon lizard long before we met. He has politely explained to me that I need to restrain myself from screaming every time I see a lizard passing by, so that I don’t scare off our little daughter. Obviously, he is right. Do I want her to have the same phobia as me. Not really!
So now I pretend lizards are cute, too. But deep inside I know where I stand.
Now, off to my second least favourite urban pet on Italian soil.
Honestly, they are such a bane. Even now, in November, they are still out and about wanting blood. Coming from Bulgaria – a hot and wet climate in summer – I have had my fair share of encounters with them. Still, nothing could have prepared me for the onslaught of mosquitoes here in Italy. They are vicious and their bites sting for ages. If you scratch and, believe me, you can not not scratch, the bite turns into an angry red swell right under your skin.
We bought it all – creams, sprays, special lamps to keep them away, we have mosquito nets on the windows, too. Nothing seems to help 100%.
I realised how deeply running the problem with mosquitoes here is, when in a toy shop I came across a doll. It was a doll with mosquito bites all over her face and, included with it was a pretend cream for the child to apply on the bites and a mosquito swat for the child to start getting trained in mosquito annihilation – a useful life skill.
Play as a learning tool achieved new heights for me – if people need dolls to explain to their children that it is normal to have mosquito bites and to train them how to deal with them, we are not getting rid of mosquitoes in Italy any time soon, it seems.
Apparently we are lucky! Very lucky or so we are told by people who have lived through it all. We managed to move to Italy after ticket machines for queue management had been introduced through the whole country.
They are everywhere, these machines. From the hospital to the market, from the shops to the council, from the post office to… No, they don’t have them at public toilets yet, come to think of it.
I make light of it, but the ticket machines are really useful. You press a button, pick your ticket, take a seat (if available) and then you wait for your number to come up on the screen at which point you can progress to the counter and do what you need to do. Civilised or what?!
Some ticket machines offer different options too, for the different services offered by the establishment, so instead of all waiting in one large long queue, everyone gets directed to the right place in a smooth and organised manner.
Before the introduction of the ticket machines, it was, apparently, free for all. I base this on accounts of people who had witnessed it and who had had to endure queue jumpers, bad attitude and rudeness whilst waiting to be served.
So, in that respect, I love ticket machines. They may make life in Italy feel a little less spontaneous, perhaps, but yet so random still, especially when you see your first ticket machine propped by a large market stall and people politely pressing the button and taking their tickets before buying a kilo of apples and half a kilo of grapes.
Well, this is it! The second part of my 10 things which remind me that I am in Italy. Now, that I finished writing it, so many more wonderful and weird things come to mind. Like the sense of health and safety here, which is totally different to the one in England and even Bulgaria.
Only yesterday, I saw two workers repairing a road. They had stopped their van on the road and without using any safety barriers or safety signs or anything to indicate that they were there, they tipped some fresh tarmac on the road and started compacting it with what it seemed their hands.
Obviously, I wanted to take a picture, but as I was trying to be super surreptitious about it, they turned round, saw me, waved and said: ‘Ciao, bella!’. Embarrassed, I pretended to be scrolling down my phone as if I was waiting for a super urgent call or something and then walked off.