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…
(1) I suppose this isn’t a surprise. I miss reliably good coffee.
In Italy it isn’t a hit or miss whether you’ll get a good cup of coffee – you will. In the UK coffee is brewed to be weak and slightly bitter and going to a new coffee shop is a gamble but in Italy it’s safe. 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 caffeine deficiency?
(2) Bidets. I have never understood why they aren’t standard everywhere.
(3) Weather. 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’ve really felt the truth of it the past few years when I’ve been living almost 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.
(4) Fruit that actually tastes like fruit. 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.
(5) Politeness. Italians are on the whole adorably 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. In fact, while the vast majority have nice manners I think there should be a special award for young men and women police officers.
(6) 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 generally 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 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.
(shrine on the Corso Porta Borsari, Verona)
(7) Lastly but certainly not leastly, Aperitivo. I love finishing work and finding a bar (and hopefully friends) to enjoy a spritz or two and a few olives or crisps to fill in the time before a typically late Italian dinner. The idea of aperitivo (apéritif) is to refresh the spirit with fellowship and ‘open’ the stomach to prepare it to digest food which is why the drinks – 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 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 personally not so keen on this, I don’t see the point of taking the edge of your appetite before dinner and I’m cynical enough to think the bars are just charging me extra for my drink to help them use up the leftovers from whatever they served at lunch. Still I see a lot of people enjoying it and perhaps for some tourists it makes things generally more affordable if they don’t have to buy dinner every night but can still enjoy this lovely evening ritual.