Slimbach suggests that we take a walk through our host cities, to learn them, to observe them, to try to come to understand them. As I assume that most of my fellow students in European cities thought too, the notion that we could possibly have lived here for three weeks without walking extensively seems a little silly. All we ever actually do it walk. As my roommates with fitbits can tell you, we generally have walked upwards of 10 miles by the time we make it back to our apartment for the night. Nonetheless, his more specific recommendations encouraged me to be more observant than I typically would on a walk to the grocery store.
First and foremost, what I notice is that the Italians are ALWAYS wearing pants. It has been hot every single day since my arrival, and I have yet to see a local with a pair of shorts on. On public transportation, I notice that many Italians are wearing sweaters to accompany their long garments, and don’t seem to ever be sweating. This gives credence to the pattern I have noticed at school: the Europeans always find air conditioning to be cold and offensive, while the Americans practically beg the professors to turn it on.
Notably, at least three quarters of the establishments I pass are restaurants, coffee bars, or gelatorias. The importance of food in the Italian culture is overwhelmingly evident around every street corner. Too, I notice that there is little variety, which stands in stark contrast to what we are used to in the United States. In New Haven, you can find a burger place next to a Thai food restaurant beside an Italian place and you still see a kebab stand in the street. Here, however, the restaurants, while all exceptional, tend to feature almost identical menus. There are some other kinds of places to be found, but for living in such a large capital city, I would have expected more diversity.
I can hear bells ringing from the countless church clock towers throughout the city at the top of each hour. What I don’t hear, which would have otherwise been expected in a large city, is car horns. Almost no one seems to lay on their horn, perhaps because almost no one is in a rush. On my walk or at any point in my three and a half weeks here, I failed to see a single Italian fasten their pace while crossing a street, run to catch a bus, or in another other way alter their behavior to demonstrate a concern for ‘time.’ Just because they aren’t in a rush, does not seem to mean that Italians are going to follow driving, or any other kinds of laws for that matter. Laws, like the lines on the street, seem to be interpreted more as suggestions than rules. From what I observe, the locals do what they want, when they want, how they want; so long as it includes food.
Much of what I observed was reinforced in the travelogue I chose to read, entitled “As The Romans Do,” by Alan Epstein. As I read, it was comforting to know I had picked up on so much of the Italian culture that he learned in twenty years, in just three weeks. He was also able to shed some light on aspects of the culture that I had yet to understand, such as the pattern of strikes by public workers.
The picture I chose was actually taken a week ago, in Cinque Terre, but I think it accurately depicts the walk I took and my entire journey thus far. It is an upward climb. It is challenging, it is at time uncomfortable, but it is beautiful, and ever so rewarding.