And a little Florentine/Tuscan roaming too! Yes, I have been away – my very first trip to Italy – and not surprisingly, I was wowed by the many and varied splendors of the places we visited. But in addition to the renowned sites and beautiful antiquities, I was equally struck by my anecdotal impressions of Italian daily life which was culturally so different from anything I may have imagined.
First of all, despite its reputation for its hearty cuisine, we noted that there seemed to be far fewer very heavy people compared to the USA where we live and the UK where we are from. We also noticed that while we ate very well indeed, and inexpensively to boot, the focus was on SMALL portions of pasta, plenty of of protein and lots of vegetables. We were also struck by the ubiquity of fresh and freshly prepared foods, many of them locally sourced. Even the tiniest gelato stores focused their advertising on the quality of their ingredients. There were hardly any fast food chains (we saw only one or two McDonalds close to the train stations), and no Starbucks. Coffee drinking is ingrained in the Italian culture but does not include the consumption of oversized, sweetened concoctions (despite the Italian name, no ventis here!) but is restricted to very good small cups of cappuccino in the morning and an equally good espresso after lunch or dinner. Meals are taken seriously, and people take the time to sit down and enjoy their food slowly, usually in the company of others. There were very few solo diners and almost no one eating on the go.
Everywhere we went we did a huge amount of walking and many of the locals seemed to choose the same means of getting around. Young, old and everyone in between were on their feet, navigating the uneven, cobbled streets. And the Italians appear to take good care of their feet! It was notable how many of the pharmacies had prominent displays of products for maintaining healthy feet, and although Italy is renowned for its exquisite handmade shoes, we did not see women teetering around in high heels – in fact, it would be treacherous to try. I had to wonder if a lifetime of negotiating the cobblestones was a helpful way to improve the gait, coordination and balance. It certainly made me concentrate carefully on where I was going and the way I was stepping. Perhaps the beauty of the ground beneath our feet was helpful too!
It wasn’t all good news to learn from, however. It was impossible not to notice the very high numbers of people of all ages, men and women, who still smoke. It almost felt like we had gone back in time and our kids were quite shocked. This is one previously shared habit I am quite glad is now a cultural difference – perhaps the Italians, in this case, have something to learn from us.