Italy is the country with the most UNESCO sites. It boasts some of the greatest, oldest man-made marvels in the world. It has beautiful natural landscapes: snow-topped mountains, rolling green hills, rocky cliffs cascading into the sea, and sandy beaches. This is not, however, what I love most about Italy. What makes Italy so intriguing to me is that despite being a modern country, it holds on tightly to its traditions.
It’s hard to explain. Everything in Italy has… culture. I went on a field trip with my school to Sorrento, Italy – a small coastal town near Naples. They are famous for their lemons, which are sold in markets, groceries, and are used to make marmalades, candies, drinks, and more. We went on a tour of the local lemon grove, where we saw men picking and sorting the lemons by hand. We then went to the local limoncello store, where they showed us how to make limoncello (pronounced “lee-mon-chello”), a sugary post-dinner shot of alcohol. We were able to test out the limoncello shots after our tour (and let me tell you – it was delicious, but incredibly strong). What made this experience so cool was being able to see how they took so much pride in their work. At each stage of production, the lemons were handled with the utmost care. They didn’t use machines to harvest the lemons or chemicals to aid in plant growth. Each one of their products even had a “lemons of Sorrento” sticker on it to ensure that it is authentic and of high quality.
I cannot speak for all of Italy. Italy is divided into 20 regions, and I have only been to 7. However, in each place that I have been I have experienced this same traditional mindset. From the limoncello made with regional lemons in Sorrento, to the glass-blown jewelry in Venice, to the Ferrari cars in Maranello; Italians take pride in what they do and it is apparent by the high quality of their products. So I guess what makes Italy so charming and what distinguishes it from the rest of Europe and the modern world is that they hold on so tightly to what makes Italy… well, Italy. (They will not even allow Starbucks to open any stores in the country so as not to crush the traditional, drink-at-the-counter coffee culture.)
After writing the first part of this post, I was curious as to my Italian roommate’s perspective on the matter. I asked her about it, only to discover that she had a very different opinion. She has lived with a number of Americans, and says that she finds it interesting that they are so incredibly charmed by Italy, despite its terrible public transportation, gypsies begging on every corner, the overflowing public trash cans – the list went on. She said that she feels that Italy cannot stay stuck in the past forever and that all of the young Italian people want Italy to move forward and become more international. She says that all of the young people want to leave Italy because there are no jobs due to the economic crisis, but that no matter where they go they will always miss Italy. She said that she both loves and hates Italy, saying, “No one can say bad things about Italy. Just us.”
It’s funny how my Italian roommate is fascinated with the United States, whereas I am fascinated with Italy. Reflecting on the conversation that we had, I thought about my feelings towards my own country. When I first got to Rome, I wanted to live here forever and never go home (not really, but I could have studied an entire year here). I feel similar to my roommate in that there are so many things that I do not like about where I am from, but there are also so many things that I love. Although Rome has become my home away from home, it will never actually be home for me. I will be incredibly sad to leave this country that I have spent the best four months of my life, but I am happy that I will be able to return home with recipes, souvenirs, and wonderful memories of Rome. And who knows, maybe I’ll be back soon…