Chapter 2 : In which I reacquaint myself with Italian quirks

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.’

Chapter 1 : In which I make the leap

The day of my big scary move to Italy could have got off to a better start. I lost my coat. A fact that is completely inconceivable to me for two reasons: 1. Coats are pretty bulky and 2. I was wearing not one but TWO lucky necklaces at the time – they must have cancelled each other out. Won’t be making THAT mistake again, I say (type), surrounded by lucky purse, mascot and lego figure of myself – vain but has been proven to work in the past. You know that feeling of panic you get when you need to be somewhere and you’ve just lost something that prevents you leaving the house? It becomes somewhat magnified at 4am in the morning. When the place you need to be is the airport. And when your next likely return home to locate said item is in about three months time.

Still, not one to wallow in self pity (ahem), I shrugged off the coat dilemma, donned a jumper and it seemed like no time at all had passed until I was waiting, jumperless (turns out it’s still summer), at Lamezia Terme station for a train to whisk me off to Reggio di Calabria, my home until next Summer. My arms are absolutely killing me today, a fond reminder of the amount of time I spent yesterday lugging cases from binario to binario, desperately searching for somewhere to convalidare my tickets. (Right next to where you buy them, if you’re ever in that neck of the woods. Funny that). Still, i’m comfortable at train stations. Waiting for trains is something of which I have plenty of experience. It’s ‘familiare’ as the Italians would say. Or maybe they wouldn’t, I can’t remember. Proof of why I need to stay here a good year and improve! A bleak cloud descended over my sunny disposition however when I sent a cheery text to my future landlord divulging my eta and received the unnerving response ‘chi sei?’. Fair enough, I thought, I didn’t actually sign off, but he has my number and realistically how many people can he be expecting at the station today? When my explanatory reply was met with silence, I started to panic. But in that very English, can’t make a fuss in public, way, in which I did nothing.

All came good in the end, though, as it always does, and my landlord was there waiting for me at the other end, to show me my room, help me settle in and even cook me dinner that evening! Turns out I had the wrong number, I hope whoever I actually texted wasn’t too disappointed that Isobel di Inghilterra wasn’t in fact waiting for a lift at the station.

I’ve not even been here 24 hours yet but my fridge is full (thanks to Santina and Juri), my room is sorted (bar the million photos I brought with me for company) and the prospect of this being my home for a year is almost as exciting as it is terrifying.

Next task: leave the apartment on my own. Try and stop me, world.