Sunday 23 May 2010


The thing I love most about traveling, aside from hotel maid service of course, is surveying another culture and experiencing how different it is from my own. At the moment, I am in Milan visiting my sister – and I will happily relay that staying with her beats any five star hotel maid service in the world, the woman is a machine of efficiency. But that’s for another time. What I love is about coming here is that I am never let down when it comes to the unpredictability and amusing chaos of the Italian way of life.

To dive in on a positive note, there is much I love about the Italian culture: the food of course which almost goes without saying. I literally eat my body weight in mozzarella cheese and salad di polpa (octopus), and of course the produce actually tastes like it is supposed to – which in England is a rarity. Not to mention, the Italians as I’m sure you know, have a joy of life that is unrivaled. From their singsong language to their chronic gesticulating when they speak (I’m a fellow culprit so I greatly relate to this), to their vociferous nature when describing just about anything, I feel somewhat at home. No one is certainly accusing me of talking too loudly here.

When it comes to Milan, it is a city that has its own flavor altogether. It’s not a particularly pretty city – in fact, let’s be honest, it’s a concrete jungle of ugly – even an Italian will cop to this. It’s also a city of transients, ex pats and the like, so you always get the feeling people are coming, going or planning their escape with fervent determination. What amazes me the most is how they manage to get anything done, not only in this city but in the country itself. Strikes are called every other day on one of the public transport systems (not that anything runs on time anyway), to the level that you can be on the tram going into the center of the city and it will just stop and they will chuck you all off. Cause, well, they feel like it.

Then there is the bureaucracy that one has to deal with just to get the simplest tasks done. My sister is constantly amusing me with tales of two-hour trips to the bank where she is sent to 10 different departments only to end up back at the beginning with no solution; then there are the arguments with delivery men that drop things off and say they’ll return in a few weeks to put things together, and corrupt landlords that rival something out of the Sopranos. Not to mention when it comes to road travel, you quickly get a sense you are not in Kansas anymore. People drive like it’s a free for all – note to any tourist out there, if you step into a crosswalk, it is a life or death scenario, so be warned and get ready to RUN; in fact, I think Calcutta has more order on the roads. I’m not even sure why they bother painting lines on the roads in Italy as the definition of one’s ‘lane’ is tenuous at best. Then there is the parking – again, it seems as if whims take over: sideways, sure, blocking six cars, why not?, the opposite way blocking another car as one idles in the middle of the road – but of course, viva la Italia!

One trip I arrived at the airport, got in a taxi and gave them my address (my Italian is nonexistent, so I can just manage my sister's address with the correct pronunciation). Half way through the journey, my driver started talking away in Italian excitedly. I politely tried to explain that I had no clue what he was saying, but that didn’t seem to do it. He clearly thought if he kept on talking I'd eventually get it. Finally I called my sister and asked her to speak to him. Turns out, my driver had a dentist appointment fast approaching and feared he would be late (this coming from an Italian whose nation’s idea of time keeping is running three hours late. Ah the irony). And instead of perhaps, I don’t know, NOT picking me up in the first place, he thought he’d let me know half way across the city and dump me on the side of the road. My sister thankfully convinced him to drop me at a taxi rank where I could at least find another taxi driver that I’m sure would develop a heart condition and had to go see his cardiologist. My sister’s only response after I was venting in disbelief was,  ‘welcome to Italy.’

The other part of my visit that always amuses me is the people watching at my sister’s fitness club. The men strut around like peacocks in their tight colorful Speedos, the hair coiffed just so, with their supremely tanned chests. I always feel like Giorgio Armani has spawned a new race of humans to take over the world. [Don’t be misled, there are still of course plenty of men sporting ample guts spewing smoke from their mouths like broken furnaces, but I find focusing on the tanned super race much more appealing].  Then I remember this is Italy after all, so a take-over may take twenty years with ample time for strikes, espresso breaks and the proper dose of corruption (hell let’s throw in a porn star for good measure). And then of course there are the Italian women sitting poolside, with hides like distressed leather, cigarettes dripping from their mouths, and bathing suits that ride right up their backside as if they’re in hiding. And to my amazement, they are able to make any amount of jiggle in the caboose look good, something in the hip sway these women have down.

I can’t say sitting along these types when I resemble a large flotation device helps with my ego. But screw it, and pass the gelato. I’m focusing on la dolce vita! 
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