Europe

Learning the Contrasts of Italy

For much of this past month, I have been living the clichés of la dolce vita: waking up late, practicing Italian when the spirit moves me, seconds and thirds of pasta and gelato, conversation over glasses of wine, and day trips to incredible places.

One of these day trips was to Venice. For my tenth birthday, my parents got me a subscription to Kid’s Discover magazine. One of the issues was about Venice. I read the magazine cover to cover, over and over until the magazine was falling apart at the seams. I was fascinated with the houses on stilts, a taxi system made of boats, streets so crowded with art and history it seemed casual, the sheer impracticality of one of the world’s most beautiful cities. The fact that the city is slowly sinking put it at the top of my list of places to visit. This past Saturday, I boarded a train in Bologna at nine and was in Venice by eleven. The realization of a childhood dream took two hours and cost me ten euro.

Apologies to GoGirl readers who are looking for tips about what to do/eat/see in Venice. I went with a group of people who primarily wanted to check out La Bienalle , a biannual contemporary art exhibit and destination in and of itself. The little bit of time I had to see the city, I used running up and down bridges, snapping pictures, eating tiramisu, and watching boats zoom effortlessly up and down canals. But I can tell you that Venice was just as a beautiful as I’d imagined it. A lot of the day felt like walking around in a blissed out haze.

We had been planning to catch a late train back to Bologna. Instead, we experienced our first sciopero (strike). A twenty-four hour train strike limited our choices to insanely priced hotels for an overnight stay or an early train back home. On the way back to the train station, we collided with our first communist rally (see photo) and an entire street full of riot police. The bulk of the police had lowered their plastic shields so they could hold cappuccino and cigarettes. A nearby restaurant owner beckoned to passing tourists, “Come in and eat! Police no problem!” Inside the train station, I had to jostle with protesters equally eager to catch the last train home. On the packed train, hardly anyone seemed upset at the delays resulting from demonstrations further down on the track or the scarcity of seats. The Communist rally, the strike, the still-visible canals and brightly colored houses of Venice; it all just seemed normal.

My Italian teacher spoke a bit about the frequency of Italian strikes. The conversation started off light and jovial, but the more she spoke the more serious she became, concluding, “It’s sad,” and then turning back to grammar. As an outsider wrapped up in the excitement of new streets, beautiful art, and good food, it is easy to forget about Italy’s economic woes, embattled prime minister , and social tensions. A casual glance at the graffiti I wrote about it in my last post reminds me that there are layers and layers to this country I am just coming to know.

As I near the one-month mark of my time here, it becomes clear that Italy is a land of many contrasts, facing an uncertain future. Italy, Love it or Leave It, explores some of these tensions. I am looking forward to seeing the film when it comes out. As my new temporary home starts to become familiar and my Italian improves I am also looking forward to exploring beyond the tourist destinations and trattorias.

sgardiner
Sarah Gardiner is an MA candidate at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Bologna, Italy. She graduated from Georgetown University last May where she studied Culture and Politics. Previous international adventures include a semester in Yaounde, Cameroon and a summer interning in Cote d'Ivoire. Things she gets nerdy about includes cross-cultural communication, media for social justice, international hip hop, feminism, and coffee.

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