I’m thinking of all the things I’ll miss when I have to leave, after all, there’s nothing like rehearsing regrets and here are the first seven…
I love finishing work and finding a bar and some friends to enjoy a spritz or two and a few olives before a late Italian dinner. The idea of aperitivo is to refresh the spirit with fellowship and ‘open’ the stomach to prepare it to digest food which is why the drinks such as Aperol, Campari, Vermouth, Prosecco are based on bitter herbs, the ones that get your gastric juices running. In some cities now you find apericena which is a mash-up of aperitivo and cena which means dinner, in other words, a drink with a little buffet rather than a simple dish of olives. I’m not keen on this because I don’t see the point of taking the edge off your appetite before dinner. I’m also cynical enough to think the bars are just charging me extra for my drink to help them use up the leftovers from lunch. Still, I see a lot of people enjoying it and, perhaps, for some it makes things generally more affordable if they don’t have to buy dinner every night but can still enjoy this lovely evening ritual.
Not a surprise for anyone who knows me.
In Italy it isn’t a hit or miss whether you’ll get a good cup of coffee. You always will. In the UK coffee is brewed to be weak and bitter and going to a new coffee shop is a gamble. If I want a coffee in Italy and I don’t want to walk to a favourite place I will go to the nearest one and even if it isn’t the best coffee I’ve ever had it’ll never give me gut wrench which is more than I can say for some so-called artisanal coffee houses in the UK. And, of course, there are regional joys like caffe triestino which is an espresso with whipped cream on top. Now, where did I put that Trenitalia timetable and can I get to Trieste before I expire from whipped cream deficiency?
I have never understood why they aren’t standard everywhere. ‘Nuff said.
Italian weather isn’t gorgeous all year round and it gets grey and cold in the north in winter but, for me, the springs and autumns are just glorious and I’d take a too hot Italian summer over a non-existent Scottish one any year. My mother says, “grey skies make grey people”, and I feel the truth of that when I live full-time in Scotland. I get very depressed with overcast skies but it only takes a few days of sunshine to make me feel bright and energetic.
Peaches and nectarines in the UK are too often rock solid and tasteless. When I go to Italy I live on fruit. I lose weight, my skin plumps up and after a few weeks I look like 52 instead of 347. Same with veggies. I’ll never forget the little Lancashire lass in Perugia a few years ago, “Mum, what is this? Whatever it is I’m going to eat it for the rest of my life.” She was about ten and it was a peach. Yes, you can live a decade in the UK without ever having had a peach that isn’t like a lump of damp wood.
Italians are on the whole very polite. I have never struggled with bags in an Italian railway station or had an asthma attack in any Italian city without someone (often a handsome young man!) rush to my aid. One day when I am super-rich (!) I shall institute an award for all the lovely young men and women police officers who have been kind to me over and above the call of common decency.
Church bells and Roadside Shrines
I love the romance of shrines. You see them everywhere in Italy, mostly to the Madonna but sometimes to other saints, dotted about in city streets and country roads, set into the walls of houses, nestling in alcoves and colonnades, and presiding over all aspects of life. Italy is a much less observantly Catholic country than it was when I was young but as my generation is still fairly devout the shrines will be around for a while yet. When I’m old and nonna-like I hope I can still hobble along to this one in the Corso Porta Borsari in Verona.