What do you do when life gets on top of you?
I have noticed I started to buy books. In Italian. A language which (as a linguist by education and profession and as a dweller of Italy for the past almost four years), I can quite responsibly say that I don’t speak very well.
Yet, I continue buying books in Italian. Italian books about travel in Italy, about Italian food, about Italian art. Today I left my favourite bookshop here in Vicenza with two new books:
- One about Giotto and his frescoes in Padua; and
- Another about my favourite Italian painter – Andrea Mantegna.
I leafed through the books while sitting on a small chair in the upstairs Art, Architecture & Design room of the bookshop. Their glossy pages, the beautiful photographs of the perfect paintings, the quiet cultured discourse of their text gave me a bit of strength, a bit of respite, and a bit of reassurance that Italy is a fabulous country after all. What with its amazing culture, splendid nature, and striking art.
I am not going to lie. May was a difficult month for me.
A month when I was forced to reassess my rose-tinted view of Italy after all. We moved to Italy about four years ago in search of beauty, in pursuit of culture and art. And sun!
Obviously, I was aware of the problems the country is going through, but after fourteen years in England with its ever more complicated politics and society, I was in search of a respite, of an uncomplicated existence where we could revel in the beauty of the place, in the warmth of its sun, and build a simple life for our little family.
Hence, I made a semi-conscious effort not to dig too deeply under the beautiful surface. I am not stupid and I refuse to be blind, but I consciously chose to put a large pair of rose-tinted glasses, surround myself with walls of positivism and experience the best that Italy has to offer and, to be honest, there is so much of it.
I honestly wanted a bit of peace and quiet and to see as many works of art and medieval walled towns as I humanly could.
It helped that Vicenza, whatever they tell you, is a rather rich and prosperous city. At a first glance, and even at a second and third, there are no visible signs on the streets of the economic hardship that Europe is currently going through. People are incredibly well dressed, the local jewellery and stainless steel industries seem to keep going very strong, and cafes and restaurants are bustling with patrons. Heck, I had to wait for a table this morning at my local coffee shop!
And even though we are by no means wealthy, for a very long time it felt good to be able to lead a quiet life full of travels to charming places and rich in discoveries of yet another priceless piece of art or gorgeous castle.
It felt totally good to be an observer rather than an active participant in the day-to-day life.
What I hadn’t planned on was that I would get caught (completely by surprise) by something which only becomes visible to you once you have had to dig deep beneath the surface of a place. Namely, a special layer of small-mindedness that is very difficult to avoid when it comes at you like an angry snake.
And, believe me, I tried and tried. First to gently ignore it, then to diplomatically work alongside it, then to completely avoid it.
But when small-mindedness takes you on, you are no more than a sitting duck.
You can try being diplomatic, you can try to reason, you can try to be polite, you can try to ignore it, you can try to smile and bear it. You can even play stupid. It’s not going to help you much. Or, at least, it didn’t help me. You need a special type of thick skin when small-mindedness decides that you are in its way and that it has to rule over you.
As a former journalist and current writer (yes, OK, I have written over half a million words in this blog and dozens of thousands as a copywriter for other publications, so calling myself a writer is not an empty word), I am trained to always look at things from several points of view. As objective as possible.
So, yes, through it all, I have tried my very best to observe this whole small-mindedness thing from a very objective point of view. To understand what makes other people tick, why they react the way they do. To maintain an open dialogue. It was very difficult. And yet very elucidating. To see people who on the surface were best friends, calling each other names and making jabs behind each other’s backs was both very confusing and very sad.
But, the positive thing is that I now have this whole story in my head. I have seen first hand how small-mindedness can affect people and can make people really, really miserable so that they start trying to make other people miserable, too.
It’s a sad story but I am truly hoping to leave it behind me soon. Very soon!
In the meantime, I keep buying books. Spontaneously. In a totally unplanned way.
I love Italian art, I am crazy for Italian culture. I want to learn as much as possible about Italian customs, food, and history.
It’s true. I have had my disappointment with a person or two. But, as I was saying to an Italian friend this morning, these people represent a minuscule percentage of all the people I have had the chance to meet while living here. And, I am not going to allow the small-mindedness of this minuscule percentage to tar my impressions overall.
As otherwise, I would be the same as them and, I swear to God, I don’t want to be small-minded at all. It’s a very difficult task, but I will do my real, real best to not be small-minded to anyone in my life. Because, I really want my life to be something more than an eternal triangle of home-work-church and an eternal struggle against everyone whom I perceive to be better looking and smarter than me.
Small-mindedness affects people. Don’t be that person. Please!
Thank you for reading this deeply personal piece.