Saturday, September 26, 2009

Italy 1 - Differences

It's easy for someone coming from a Mediterranean country like Israel to immediately feel at home in Italy. The landscape resembles the Galilee, the Mediterranean menu suits our palate, the people are open and friendly. Given the outward similarities, the real points of interest are to be found in the differences. These images from a recent trip to central Italy (Lazio, Tuscana, Umbria) and Rome sparked some thoughts on how different we are but also on the howItalians appear to live in their towns and what, if anything, we might learn from them.

For example, the scene above (actually some sort of church statue shrouded in black cloth sharing the back of a van with some flowers) would not normally be encountered on the streets of Tel Aviv.

In Montefiascone, a town of about 13,000, a lady, dressed to kill, strides across a mediaeval piazza. In the background is an older less fashion-conscious local lady, and behind her, Il Caffe is a supertrendy, streamlined custom designed cafe-bar. Old-fashioned and high-fashion seem to coexist seamlessly even in this undistinguished provincial town, as in all the small towns we visited. This is a phemonenon one might find in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem but not in a town in the 'periphery' like Migdal Ha-Emek or Dimona. In Israel the Tel Aviv effect radiates only so far.

Locals congregate outside a bar in Pitigliano. The coffee/bar is an important community centre where old people can share a laugh, share the gossip - be part of things. Older Italians seem to take better care of themselves, and take greater pride in their appearance (although not in this photo) and to be more fully integrated into family and community than most older Israelis.

They appear to be good neighbours too. In the photo below a snazzily dressed gentleman of about 80 chats with a lady neighbour. Of course there are close neighbourly relations in Israel too but, as in much of the developed world, we are also increasingly closing in on ourselves and away from our neighbours and surrounding communities.

Lucky Italians, they have so much water, it flows liberally and constantly from their elegant fountains, their landscape is magnificent, their cultural heritage is rich and deep, their food a joy, their interpersonal relations a model. Unlike us Middle Easteners, they enjoy peace and tranquility. What more could they possibly need? (and why did God give it all to them?)

Lake Bolsena

Etruscan water fountain

But are they happy? No they're not.

A fairly recent Pew Research showed that the Italians are the most pessimistic people in Europe. Old people are those most dissatisfied with their lives, the economy is lagging and they are deeply concerned about corruption, crime and immigration. Only in the cultural field do they feel that the are superior. Go figure...

The eye of the tourist/photographer, is attracted by the patina, drawn to the picturesque but for the locals this is just the ordinary picture. Deeper currents pass unnoticed by the lens.

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