I’m a great believer in the ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’ philosophy, and am relishing the fact that where I am living now I can almost use that phrase in both it’s literal and figurative meaning. Initially I thought that would simply mean swapping a massive cuppa for a tiny tazzino di caffe’, and shifting my mealtime from 6pm on the dot (missing the Cambridge canteen already!) to somewhere between 8 and 10.
To some extent, I was right. For starters, there are no mugs. And no kettles. The days of aimlessly flicking on the kettle when boredom strikes are long behind me, as making a real coffee on the hob requires far more attention than I’m prepared to give in my new breezy romanesque persona. Obviously no one can stop me whipping up my pasta at 6pm, but if I tried to go out for a meal I would be da sola, and probably find that most places hadn’t even opened yet.
Indeed, the Italian clock is probably the most noticeable change that I need to adapt to. Everything happens both earlier and later, with about three hours of dead time in the middle, allotted to the longest lunch in Europe. School in Italy starts at 8am (ouch), but then the kids are done by 1.30pm, the afternoon freed up for extra-curricular activities or, if it were me, an ice cream and a trip to the beach. Thinking myself an expert in all things Italian, I waited until 3pm before wandering into town to locate a farmacia (never a difficult task in Italy – if you require frequent medical attention I seriously recommend it, there’s a flashing green cross around every corner), knowing that everything would be closed for lunch. But alas, at 3.30pm the staff were STILL off – having been open from 8am til 1pm, it would re-open from 4pm til 8.30pm. As someone who frequently sleeps in til 10 or 11 given half the chance, I’m finding that my day never really gets off the ground before 3.
Still, when I finally do leave my apartment, the great thing is that I can get everywhere on foot. Which leads me to my next important point about road safety. Do not be fooled into thinking that an Italian zebra crossing is a place where you may safely cross the road. What’s that? You thought that pedestrians had the right of way? Ha! I laugh at your British naivety. As with any city, the roads of Reggio are always busy. The Italian way of driving is best summed up in my gentleman’s guidebook (I call it this because it was a gift from my Granddad, first published in 1949):
‘Those who decide…to explore Italy by car can unquestionably extract the greatest variety and pleasure from a tour ; but they should not forget that in Italy motoring is a principal method of expressing the personality and should be careful, conformably with the custom of the country, to drive always at top speed with the maximum use of brake and horn’.*
I wouldn’t last one second in my battered Corsa (yes it was battered by me), but have come to realise that confidence maketh the driver, and also the road-crosser. There are few drivers who will stop for me if I timidly hover on the pavement, but no-one so far has dared run me down if I stride boldly into oncoming traffic. I’ve also noticed that cars that intend to stop for you will get MUCH closer before they do so than they would in England, so don’t be alarmed if someone continues hurtling towards you once you’re out in the road. Some caution is required with this tactic, but it does ensure that you will reach your destination before it closes for lunch.
A word on those destinations then, before I pause to draw breath. By far my favourite minor novelty of Italy is the fact that adding ‘-eria’ to any word is the equivalent of adding ‘shop’ in England. Obvious example, gioielleria is a jewellers, coming from gioielli. So far I’m on board, but having seen a Birreria (place selling beer) and a Bareria (I’m pretty sure bar on its own exists in Italian), I’m starting to think that there may be a more efficient method of signage available. All minor complaints though, in what so far has been a rather lovely sojourn abroad.
*Although it pertains no relevance to this blog post, I include another extract from the guidebook that I simply cannot resist. (Note how through reading the writing of a gentleman, I have tried to alter my own tone as such) : ‘Notwithstanding the asperities of the Italian winter, rooms are commonly designed on the assumption that it is always summer ; heating, if provided at all, derives too frequently from an impersonal stove or radiator ; and the hearth-trained Briton, in the absence of a mantelpiece or fireplace, is left awkwardly wondering whether to draw up his chair in front of the bookcase, the radiator or the window-sill.’