10 things about Italy

(I wrote this in Europe, but have not had the brain power/time to organize the pictures until now)

Italy reminded me of visiting a close relative who is worldly, educated, stylish, endearingly eccentric, disorganized, rambunctious, and who lives in a house that is exceptionally beautiful, but who ran out of money halfway through construction, so it’s wonderful in a work-in-progress kind of way.

Many of the American professional bicycle racers who base themselves in Europe choose Italy, and I can see why immediately. There is something in the Italian spirit and zest for life that appeals to Americans.

Now I need to be somewhat careful as I write this, as my wonderful father-in-law is Italian, and my wife speaks Italian fluently and has lots of family in Milan. Also, I spent the majority of my Italian time in South Tyrolia. They speak German & Italian there, and have a complicated relationship to Italy. So who knows what mismash of culture I saw through my own filter of odd Americana.

So with that disqualifier, here are some of my observations & moments from my few days in Italy.

10. Fertile ITALY

Switzerland is so magisterial, tough, and spartan in it’s rugged physical nature. Yet only one hour south of Lugano by train, suddenly a mild climate & very agriculturally rich land leaps into view. It just blew my mind to think that this is the landscape the Romans marched all over the rest of the world from, and that now I am here.

9. Italian Graffiti
I saw lots of urban graffiti in Europe, and a lot around Milan. This is the best picture I got.

8. Bicycle Commuters.
I waited for the bus one chilly evening on a hill in Bolzano. For every car that roared past, I saw at least one bicycle or scooter commuter zipping by. The cyclists were all ages, all economic classes, and actually had to work to get up this hill. They did so with speed and a pedaling suppleness that suggests they do this every single day. The cars on the road did drive aggressively and very fast, but the drivers used their considerable skill to give cyclists wide berths. It was quite cold out, everyone was still riding.

7. Walking arm & arm with mom.
I saw this many times, a man or woman about my age, out for a walk with mom. Usually with a proffered elbow gratefully accepted. It seemed both stately and intimate at the same time. It made me miss my mom, and having the excuse to go for a walk somewhere with her. But in America, how many of us are still in the same town as our folks? And how many of us are completely dependent on our cars, physically and psychologically, to do ANYTHING? When was the last time we “went for a walk” with mom for the sake of the walk?

6. Adjustable Showerheads
The same as I have seen all over, but this one in my Hotel had the hot & cold indicators installed wrong. The cold handle was hot, and the hot handle was cold. It took me a while to figure it out. Disorganization or a test of tourist intelligence? I almost failed the test.

5. Newsstands
I think it takes spending a good solid hour browsing an Italian newspaper & magazine oriented store to hold a good mirror up to your American face & take a close look at yourself. What do you find appealing? revolting? familiar? boring? kinky? exotic?

There is an amazing spectrum of stuff at the average newstand, newspapers rivaling the raunchiest british tabloids, Harley Davidson custom chopper mags, endless Cosmo & girly-girl mag rip-offs, lots of hardcore porn, computer ‘zines, yachting mags, Futbol Futbol & Futbol. All mixed together and a good mirror to look deeply into, since in every topic, the temperature & intensity seems to be several notches higher that us stuffy Americani.

4. Italian keys
From space age Swiss keys to the middle ages of the hotel I was staying at. This quite large & primitive key is connected to a huge, extremely heavy brass weight that practically pulls your pants off if you are not wearing a belt and put it in your pocket. I am not sure what the black rubber bumper around the brass weight is for. Anyone have ideas?

3. The unofficial Italian State Bird
I don’t know what the official state “bird” of Italy is. But here is my nomination, the construction crane. Most Italy seems to be under construction/reconstruction/desperately needed remodeling. Huge cranes cast their shadows EVERYWHERE. Every neighborhood seems to have one or two. There are five visible in this shot, and over one very modest town, I quickly counted 14. I asked an Italian about it, he said something about they are absolutely necessary because they must build strong homes… yeah, whatever…

I have lived in some of the fastest growing urban areas in America, towns in Colorado and Utah that are adding population at 10-14% a year, and we only use these in major urban construction for things like skyscrapers, never for one story houses. Italy is actually shrinking in population, not growing, so I simply don’t understand why these eyesores are towering over everything.

Besides, I only ever saw one of them actually moving something.

2. The McOrientale
I am mortified over what the US most visibly exports to the rest of the world; the pop music, fast food, & sitcom TV is so far from the best of what America is. However I was intrigued to try a McOrientale, but it was discontinued. I wanted to see a bun with a pictogram on the top. What does it mean? Any speakers of Chinese read this blog and know this word? (wayne in taiwan, you probably know) Or maybe that is McDonaldese, and not any real Asian language.

1. The birthplace of all Tortellini.

Forget the mythical “Fountain of Youth” I want to live next to this “Fountain of Tortellini!” hidden in a snowy nook of the Dolomites. I like the vineyards in front of this factory, as well as the creative steam rising from who knows what? Wine & tortellini? Sounds good!

9 Responses to “10 things about Italy”

  1. The bumpers on the keys are probably to protect the doors. Leave the key in the door, swing it open or closed, bam! (and possibly a few extra bounces…) Soon the door is splintered or badly dented. Plus it makes a lot of noise.

    If the keyhole is above the knob so the metal weight just bounces awkwardly against the knob and your hand as you try to open the door — well, not every design is perfect right off…

  2. Hi Andrew!

    I’m eagerly following your adventures, and I can relate to your “character”, as I have your same age and still try to compete (on in-lines, though), but obviously NOT with your same results! Congrats for all your achievments! You are a role-model for guys like us.
    As for the 10 things about Italy:
    - Walking arm & arm with mom: very true. And not only that… italians are more than fond about their mothers, that’s perphaps one of the reasons the younger generations are such sissies in many things.
    - Adjustable Showerheads: yeah but also, being a man, maybe you didn’t notice a device standing besides the toilet… That’s a bidet, for you brits and french readers!
    - Italian HOTEL keys: Now, hold on. We don’t have keys like that to open our houses’ doors. Many hotels (but even “chic” ones) still use them for a practical reason: you are supposed to LEAVE that key at the reception whenever you get out of the hotel, because if you loose it outside and a thieve found it (with address and room nº), well… you know. Besides, it’s costly to replace those keys. Another reason is to be sure that you get your messages when you’re back and collect the key. Finally, the rubber stuff serves as a silencer: when the key is inserted and the door moves around, you can imagine it’s a noisy drum going on without that bumper.

    keep the good stuff coming, man…

  3. Marcello,

    Welcome to the blog and thanks for the comments and clarifications! I don’t know if I am a role-model, but if I was inline skating more, then would I be a “rolling model?”

    You are right in that maybe I am unfair in picking on the hotel keys, one of the things I try and do when I do these 10-things-about-somewhere is notice a wide range of things that strike me as different, significant, or just plain amusing. I do this mentally all the time anyway, its how I have always looked at life, all this blog really is, is me making these observations public.

    I did notice the bidet with quizzical interest. But only one of the places I stayed in Europe had one.

    I am sure that Italian house keys are different; this hotel was a building whose foundation and some of the walls date to the 1500’s. I found this particular brass key amusing, and in many ways it is the absolute opposite of the USA. Most American hotels, cheap & high end, now use a plastic credit card key, they ASSUME you are an idiot and will not turn your room keys back in, they ASSUME thieves will break in if they find a lost key. So often a room gets a new electronic “combination” for each new guest. And sometimes when you turn one of these plastic credit cards key backs in, they simply throw it away, or swipe it back through their machine and erase its brain.

    In no way do I automatically assume that newer is better, but it’s worth noting these little things, sometimes they can illuminate something, sometimes they are just fun. And you are right on about the bumper, never thought of that… pretty dang cool….


  4. I have to add to the keys topic, too…now you know that speedskating isn’t the only thing I think about…. Our favorite hotel when my parents and I used to travel to Zurich had and still has nice bright plastic rectangles attached to the keys, and if I remember correctly, they were color-coded red, blue, or green by floor. I asked my dad earlier today if they still use them, and he said they do - “I would guess they measure about 2 inches by 3 1/2 inches and they come in transparent red, blue and green”. We’d leave our key when we went out and pick it up, yes, along with any messages, when we came back. It was also a nice way to say hello when we went in and out. Being a child, I liked trying to stand these things up on one end on the table in the restaurant and had that nice memory when I read your post and comments about the keys. My dad also told me “the keys look almost like regular keys except that they are now some kind of high tech electronic key”. I knew I remembered the big metal things with a bumper, too, and those are used at the hotel in Langenthal, also with the high-tech key. I don’t remember a big difference in Italian hotel keys…but I was in Italy more recently living with a family and of course we had regular keys.

    Hotel keys related to sports (in case you doubted I would babble about any given topic)… several years ago, the professor I was working for and our lab group went to an American College of Sports Medicine conference, and of course I had to go running in the morning. At the ACSM conferences, EVERYBODY goes running in the morning, so all around near the hotel were people running with the silly key-cards in their hands or in that little pocket inside running shorts.

    Aaaanyway, it’s great reading about how well you’re doing and your thoughts on travelling.

  5. Funny that everyone so far picked up on the question about the keys! They WERE darn heavy to carry around - and, as Carla points out, fun to balance and amuse yourself with! I was going to leave you an informative comment about them too, but I see the subject has been well-taken-care-of!

    Having grown up in an Italian American family, my other comment is how wonderfully you describe your perceptions and feel for characteristics of Italy’s “personality” and the ways those features play out in its life, architecture, culture, inconveniences, etc. Come to think of it, the same comments also apply to your other postings of the countries where you traveled. Good choice of examples; excellent observations!

    Other comments—
    -Much as I dislike seeing graffiti in New York, even if much of it does show talent, Italian graffiti, from your example, is quite artistic.
    -I too am embarrassed by “McMenu Orientale” and other tasteless American exports. I’m glad someone at least thought better of continuing that culinary delight.

    Also, aside from the appeal of the tortellini factory and vineyard, how did you like the food?

    And last, but not least, keep up the great skating!

  6. If you’re in the neigbourhood late-spring, early summer, try cycling from Switzerland over the Alps to Italy, from Martigny (CH) to Aosta (I) for example. You’ll enjoy some great climbs, and finally: the descend into Italy feels like taking a warm bath!

    cheers from Amsterdam, Holland

  7. […] ing/thinking, and here are a few links to some favorite posts: 10 Things about: Salt Lake Italy Switzerland Norway A few personal musings, from oldest to newest: The tinman Hot oil anaerobic wok Dr […]

  8. Italy is very nice country this country is very very so great A few personal musings from oldest ot newest.

  9. To prepare you to an italian trip… 10 things american should learn about italians!

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