I awake to the sound of the pigeons clawing away at the roof of my apartment. I live in a second story apartment building in a predominantly well respected area known as the Bocconi. That is it is by Bocconi University in Milano, the school of Business open to all students, national and international. It is raining outside, the kind of drizzle rain that rips away your energy, replaces smiles with heavy eyes and leaves you wishing you could sleep for days. It's the fourth day in a row it's raining, although I don't expect much more from Milano. Here the weather is always grey, always dismal, always damp, and more often then not quite cold, the kind that eats at your bones. I pry myself out of bed getting myself ready for work before our heater turns off for the day and I head downstairs to my local cafe for a cappuccino. I greet the barista good morning which is returned with a head nod and nothing more. At the counter I order and pay for a cappuccino. Although in a bar/tabacchi (where you can buy sandwiches, cigarettes, coffee and liquor even to go) it is customary to pay first, sometimes they let you get away with enjoying your coffee before dishing out the EU1.30. Today was one of those days. I felt partially grateful as standing in line behind a plethora of people waiting to buy lotto tickets can always be taxing on one's patience and the Italian lottery in itself is a labyrinth to explore although I've yet to venture too far into it and not sure I want to, its much too complicated.
I order a cappuccino even though it is sacrilegious to order one after 1 pm. I always order a cappuccino at any hour during the day with whatever meal I am eating. I usually ignore the stale stares and the bothered baristas and chuckles and I order a cappuccino which I sip slowly, while sitting down. I am over standing while trying to drink a coffee. It is my time, my morning, my moment and I choose to enjoy it rather peacefully while sitting. I finish my cappuccino and I pay. I do not leave a tip, it is not required or expected and I leave the bar/tabacchi as always greeting the staff with a good day and a smile. Responses are usually minimal not because they don't care to respond, although there is that too, the indifference to humanity, but because usually they appear to be too preoccupied with their own tasks to take the minute to thank you for repeatedly coming in and ordering a capuccino. To clear the issue I don't order a cappuccino because it's the "American" thing to do but rather I order it because I like drinking warm milk mixed with coffee..drinking warm milk warms me and in Milano warmth is something that is lacking and it is something I long for all the time.
Milano in itself is a beautiful city. It is a city that is architecturally stunning, the cobble stone streets are highly maintained and you will notice they are quite often under repair. The method of repairing a cobble stone street is in itself an art form and a process to be respected and admired. The streets are repaired by removing one stone at a time, each stone numbered to correlate with its position on the street. The stones are then meticulously placed in a pile. After repairs and cleaning, the stones are then returned to their previous position in which they were removed, otherwise they wouldn't fit and they would leave a street rather crooked and uneven. I often wondered if it would be cheaper to just pave the roads with gravel and tar them, but then again this is Italy and that idea is too simple and simplicity is more often than not out of the question -simply because it is too simple and simple to Italians must mean that something is seriously wrong or that it's cheap. Furthermore removing the cobblestone streets would mean removing part of the city's history and that history I must say is priceless. It adds to the beauty which lacks in many other parts of life here in the big city of Milano, regardless of how taxing walking on the stones is on the ankles, feet and knees.
Milano is a city whose beauty however extends even beyond the cobble stone streets. Its spaces are filled with many old churches whose rooftops in their ornate detail, tower above everything else. Somedays when I decide to look only up it's cathedral tops against grey skies leaves me feeling like I'm in Gotham city. The city is filled with motorists and every kind of two to four wheeled vehicles. It's bicycles, vespas and motorcycles add a harmony of colour and shape to the narrow streets as they line the sidewalks at almost every angle, taking up every inch of free space. The buildings mostly historical are adorned with surprise sculptures, stautes, angels, faces and the wooden and iron doors whether short or enormously large, hidden or in full view, are absolutely beautiful. Milanos alleyways are equally just as inviting to which the evening hues of light reflect a luminescent blue/silver. In the rain with the evening glare of the traffic and car lights reflecting on the street, everything is covered with a dreamlike blue and it makes most of the city feel surreal, like a movie set. The sounds of the underground metro are rarely heard, as are the trams and they often creep up without you noticing. If you aren't quick enough, they often take off in front of you rarely giving you a chance to slide into their narrow doors which they leave open for just seconds. It is often you hear people shouting that someone's arm or purse has been caught in it's grips. In fact the sound I hear most often is that of high heels clicking and clacking against the hollow pavements. That of course and the legendary horn honking smart cars and minis, mercedes and BMW's cutting eachother off. This tends to be accompanied by a lengthy slew of curses, name calling, shouts, raised hands and fists. This is Italy after all and although it is beautiful, serenity is hardly come by in its big cities.
Last year I left New York in artistic pursuit and I moved to Milano, Italy. A choice that when I look back seemed appropriate at the time now I realize that I perhaps left unprepared and a little too naive and hopeful. I was in search of my craft and art but also in search of my culture and my parent's history. I wanted to be associated with those things and make something of myself with my cultural history being a rich part of my every day life. Much of what I discovered, emotional and beautiful at a glance, is a country that has left me rather disappointed and in many moments empty. I long for those moments back in Brooklyn. I long for the cultural diversity, the warm smiles, the exchange of pleasantries, the live music, the museums and I especially long for my close friends, discussing art, philosophy and life. I miss riding my bicycle towards the Bedford L train via McCarren Park, while teams of Mexicans and South Americans play soccer even in the snow. I miss sunny days, I miss walking to take in the street life and laughing for the sake of laughing, talking for the sake of just talking, exchanging energy, ideas, stories and life. I miss the meaning of love and the meaning of friends. I miss the meaning of life. In essence I miss a simplicity of a happiness that doesn't seem to exist here. I miss a kindness that has long since been thrown out the window in Milano, perhaps when they were re-structuring their homes to be more American, they threw out values, kindness, gentleness, and chivalry. I miss politeness, gentleness, and a simple "educazione" that were and are vital parts of my upbringing and American life.
Italy is a beautiful country as is stated in many travel journals, blogs, and as can be seen in photos and more. This is absolutely true. It is a country rich in culture and aesthetics BUT beware the wolf masked in sheep's clothing for I have found that it is a country that is living in an image of what it was and of what it "appears" to be. To the outside world Italy is indeed beautiful, but to a local, or to one living and trying to make a living here, it is harsh and its society can be considered one of the worst in the world to be a part of. It is a country where sincerity is hard to come by and being genuine rarely exists. It is a country that masks maliciousness with smiles and its elegance and beauty with superficiality. It is a country where men battle ideas of themselves and of women. It is a country where men prefer women to be entirely, completely feminine but this not a femininity you and I recognize, nor could we ever understand. It is a superficial femininity where in mini-skirts, nude tights, and stilettos early on a Saturday morning at the supermarket has men weak in the knees. It is a femininity where at moments a woman still knows her place and it is always by her man. It is a femininity controlled a little by the remaining elements of southern misogyny. It is a femininity that dictates a woman rarely speaks until spoken to especially in a group of males. Otherwise she will be considered to be counter battling opinions. Her voice is rarely listened to and these opinions rarely taken to count, unless backed up completely by facts. Even then a woman may appear to be too argumentative and too opinionated and this will instigate arguments and create differences . That is of course all relative pertaining to the situation the woman is in but this in itself makes her feminine. The Italian woman or woman in Italy always knows how to decipher a situation and act accordingly. I used to believe that this knowledge was just a factor of logic and intelligence but here it is a question of actually being a woman, a "donna". Despite a woman's experiences whether sexual or worldly, intellectual or artistic, her ideas and opinions make her impossible, make her a "rumpe palle" (ball breaker) and make her a whole lot different and a little less feminine.
Italy is filled with a femininity which to me is not feminine. I have discovered rather first hand and harshly that femininity in Italy in its simplest of American terms if I may, is superficial and "trashy." I've discovered that Italians do not appreciate a woman for all that she is, all that she has the potential to be, they appreciate it her for what she "appears" to be. It is a difficult society and they regard femininity like Royalty. An Italian woman or woman living in Italy must always know how to wave her royal hand, and share her sly smile. A woman in public Italy should not make eye contact too much, say too much, or let loose in any way that could appear wild to their Italian ideas of a "donna." Conservative? No. Just traditional and considering we are in 2010 its high time Italians start realizing life is far too short and it is meant to be enjoyed. It is time Italians realize that a woman can go out by herself, to a bar, to a movie, to a coffee shop and this DOES NOT mean she is looking for a husband, partner, lover or friend. Perhaps she simply enjoys her own company. This is something that Italians don't enjoy too much of themselves, their own company. It is time Italians realize that a womans conversation is not an invitation for sex, nor is it an invitation for a relationship, sometimes we talk purely for exchanging human interaction on the most basic of levels. Conversation I call it. Sometimes a woman likes to have her mind stimulated, by men, by woman, by old, young, children, and strangers. I believe that somebody always has something to teach you, even if it's never to engage in conversation with that particular person again or with an Italian mentality. Conversation is meant to stimulate the mind and I find Italians stimulate their minds seldom other then through visuals and appearances and their great Televisions. The simple art of conversation is undermined. A conversation does not mean that a woman is more interested in you then her boyfriend, or more taken by you, it means that the conversation is what it is, that it is a delightful exchange of human interaction. After all interaction is the key to happiness.
In Italy, a "donna," a woman knows she should really never talk to anyone, more specifically strangers, nor should she give smiles. This is because it is considered a come on and if a man is trying to be brilliant with her or charismatic, the onus becomes on the woman to assume responsibility for his actions and it is up to the female to stop him. I say that if a man is attracted to a woman and talks with her, that is something that she can't entirely control, but the degree of invitation and flirtatiousness certainly can be. However there is no need to be overtly rude. I always believed body language and speech say alot and if told to "back off" politely, a man will listen then if he doesn't you can bring out the ammunition! But remember we are in Italy and there are chances, they won't listen. In my experiences in Italy most Italian men forget to understand that a women traveling here has had a life before her great courage to move her and she has lived lives prior to her Italian voyage and has managed to live it well according to her own morals and judgements. Try to stay calm and don't take it too personal if "unintentionally" a man uses many subtle ways to condescend and attack you or belittles your womanly existence. Most often then not if you respond to this mentality, you will only be regarded as the "American in her American ways, with your too open mind" and they will even resent you for that liberty.
Here in Italy femininity is attributed solely to the physical and a womans physical self in her physical space, regardless of the fact that I believe two of the most powerful things in the world are feminine, the earth and the moon. The earth and moon in almost all cultures are related to a goddess or feminine principles. Even though there may be a man living on it ;) The "man in the moon" occupies only a small fragment of her whole self. Mother Earth and Mother Nature and the Moon have long since been forces in my life. These things in itself should give hints on what defines femininity such as strength, encouragement, inspiration, positivity and enlightenment. But in Italy the woman is still quite often seen as crazy and hormonal.
I have been raised to believe feminine attributes are associated with qualities that are nurturing. Qualities that are life-giving, qualities of elegance, gentleness, motherhood, birth, and intuition, qualities of creativity. Not in Italy. Italians appreciate a woman's femininity for all that she looks-and appears-- feminine. How you can tell all this by heels and short mini is beyond me, but it is just that, the heels and short skirts, well kept hair and make-up that make her so. I find that there is an extremely fine line here in Italy between trashy and feminine and that feminine little lady with the mini and heels, could be nothing more then a great night of sex, which is hardly feminine if we really wish to begin to disect femininity in its oldest forms of thoughts. This idea is a contradiction of course but one of many contradictions here in Italy. Perhaps a part of the italian mind goes so far as to define femininity from how a woman would look stark naked strapped to your bed with her high heels still on, her pressed flat iron long hair still flowing down her shoulders and her make-up left completely untouched. The Irony lies in the fact that the real Italian woman shares the same idea. How else could I define the lack of class and tact among wardrobes in a city of high fashion. The combination of thick make-up, the heels with the see through tights and short short short skirts and barely covering up the body sweaters are questionable for me in terms of class but again it's a fine line. Femininity in Italy almost takes on a pornographic state of being at times. This can be seen simply by turning on the TV. It is seen on Italian TV, in film, in the super "calendario's" that make woman famous and it is seen in clubs, bars, and on the streets. The feminine woman is always almost a quasi-naked woman redone, retouched with enormous amounts of make-up, and hair straightened to impress.
However if femininity in Italy means spending hours in the morning putting on 11/2 kilos of make-up, the appropriate attire, straightening out one's hair daily, and not smiling for fear of wearing down your lipstick they certainly can have it! I warn you however that I am in for a battle and an extremely long year. I am feminine, I am elegant, I am classy, I love dressing up, I love heels and I certainly love my red lipstick. On the weekends and even during some weekdays, I prefer my converse sneakers, and a hoodie, hair tossed loosely up, accentuated with a warm hat, simple make-up with luscious lips and this does not mean I am not feminine for surely I can guarantee you I am, and my look is just as sexy. The beauty of me is that I, like many woman, dress for me and my moods, not for how I may appear to men. I, like many women, leave a lot to the imagination and this to me is feminine. There are many things my mother taught me that have carried me throughout my life, through my child, teen and adult years and this is one of them "If you want to get to the inside, you gotta explore the outside, if the inside is already out, well then, there's not much left to explore. The key to being sexy is imagination and implication, and of course independence and I will give them that, an Italian woman shows a sense of independence but one that is filled with games.
However the appearance of the female in Italy has it's own contradictions, and you will realize once you are here that as stated before Italy is a country filled with contradictions. The oversexed female who they view as feminine WILL in a very unfeminine and tactless way, overtly and obnoxiously eye your man while you are with him, beside him, holding him. Her in her knee high stilettos, black tights, and kilos of make-up, she will use the appearance of what she is perceived as and her malign ways to assure you, she can chase and conquer. To me this comes across as far more insecure and desperate than feminine. The Italian woman is a woman who prides herself on her look; her heels and fitted apparel, but sometimes in the most inappropriate of situations. She will rub shoulders with your boyfriend, she will lean on him with her breasts pressed against his back out while ordering a drink at a full bar, and all this done with intention. These are the independent games I was referring to. Italians love games and this is a game both the women and men play here and they enjoy it thoroughly, but frankly it can be disturbing to watch. The Italian woman with her miniskirts and thick make-up, her reshaped nose, breast implants and collagen injections, flat ironed head, and "over" appearance when entering a room, will make sure all are aware that she is present including you, the girlfriend. She wishes you to know she has spent hours achieving her look, and in her once over look at you not so friendly glance, she wants you to notice she is completely well done, she prides herself in boasting this in ways that are vicious, callous and cheap. I've yet to become accustomed to this and believe me, it is more a sentiment that of annoyance then jealousy. On the flipside, I've yet to understand the wandering eye of Italian men mostly while you are having conversations with them. I was always taught eye contact is important in conversation as is body language. But here eye contact is kept to minimal, wandering eyes are everywhere and it can make you feel down right dirty, if not unimportant, especially if it's your boyfriend staring over your head to look at the Italian female who has entered the room in her Joan Collins way. However I don't blame the men completely cause if a man with a ripped chest, six pack, chiseled jaw, five-o-clock shadow and jeans accentuating his #@%$#@, were to walk around in a tank top all the time, or rubbed up against my leg while ordering a drink, perhaps he may just have my eye wandering too. Or perhaps he would have my little North American self laughing in stitches as I try to interpret his intention of trying so hard to be it.
All the streets are stages in Italy and all the bars are theaters and you never know what you will see but don't let it surprise you..the desire for attention in Italy by men and woman is comical, if not at the very least absolutely tragic.
Italy is a country that confuses sexy for sex, friendliness for advances, and conversation for permissions. It is a country that uses gentleness as a means of manipulation, and where people are always and often only nice for a reason, a reason that will benefit only their well-being. Where loyalty is questionable, infidelity common, where men are sincere with their words, charismatic and charming at heart but they betray you with their thoughts, mind and intentions. It is a country whose people mask it's misery behind cordial greetings, and friendships behind plastic smiles. It is a country whose people complain about everything, even when there is nothing to complain about. They need to complain. It gives them purpose. It is a country who masks aggression; aggression on the streets, aggression towards each other, aggression driving, aggression while in the metro and aggression at the banks, in lines, and at bars for passion. It is not passion. Passion is meant for conversation, passion is meant for your lover, passion is meant to fight for something you believe in, your art, your dreams, your goals. Passion is something you speak with when you are referring to something you strongly abide by. Passion is not screaming because someone cut you off for a parking spot. Passion is not airing your laundry in public, passion is certainly not shouting "parolaci" otherwise known as very cruel Italian offenses at passerby's, your girlfriend, or people who simply just piss you off. This is anger. This is aggression. It is an aggression and anger at feeling beneath oneself. It is in essence the admission of defeat.
I have come to discover that here In Italy everything is about the idea of gain and defeat, winning and losing, being right or wrong. It is a not a country where people wish to compromise and understand the point of view of one whom feels they have been wronged. In Italy and even more so in Milano, I find what is meant to be understood is WHO is wrong! WHO will cower and take the blame! WHO is responsible for making the other person react the way they did. WHO started the fight that led to the aggression, the instigating of tempers? Obviously the person in the right always wins and the person in the wrong loses and that is the end of it. It's black and white. The winner takes his proud self and boasts about his victory to friends, bar patrons and witnesses and the loser must leave ego torn, and hurt pride, tail between his legs but of course not before shouting a few parolaci at the winner. So Italy has become a country of winners and losers, sadly all Italians want to be winners.
In Italy a fight in crossing the sidewalk or a parking spot becomes about gain and defeat, about pride and honour. It develops into a ritual of gestures, insults and direct opinions about who deserves the right of passage more. Sometime I think Italians would have made great baseball players, for they have a gestural language that is large and complex. Although Italians being Italians would change the rules of the game, each game, to suit their individual needs because that is also Italian. Nobody in Italy follows rules!
I have also discovered that Italians are people whom within their own culture believe each individual is better then the next. Although there are many more places I have yet to travel, this sentiment is extremely predominant in Italian culture. As a result Italy is a country whose every citizen has a strong sense of pride and an immense capacity for judging. They judge others and they judge themselves but they deny they ever judge anyone. Each Italian believes they are better then then next and that they are born Royalty and with their Royal heinesses, Italians believe they should be treated as such everywhere they go, everywhere they are, even if it's a restaurant. A delay in a drink order will cause a problem. The downside of this is if all Italians believe they are Royalty, well Royalty is normally bowed down to, looked high upon, and because neither Italian wants to bow down to each other or for that fact give praise to one another, for fear of admitting one is better then their individual selves, like a cock fight they raise their beaks to one another and battle each other- consistently, for everything and it is exhausting. Leaving the house every morning has becoming an exhausting ritual, a tiresome act of always trying to defend oneself.
Italy is a country whose people are extremely hard to decipher. I'd like to believe they are warm, but I have yet to experience it in the younger generations. In fact the only people I take to are children and the elderly. However must be aware of even the elderly. Like an ancient code of hieroglyphics Italy and it's people leave mystery in your eyes with your every footstep. It's cities are places where friends are hard to make, people are hard to trust, money means everything and art and dreams almost nothing. It's a country where you will be scolded for leaving through a journal at a news stand DONT' DO IT!! It is a country that is rich in food, culture, history, architecture, art, wine, scenery and yet has little or no tolerance or patience. If the people make a city, or a country, then I believe the Italian people have left a lot to be desired in their cities. Italians have made their country rather poor and tasteless, leaving all that it is and was in its richness, beauty and warmth to be burned in the evening sun and left behind like the dust of ancient ruins. With that dust all the beautiful historical stories of warmth, chivalry and gentleness have disappeared. These attributes of humanity slowly growing old with the people who lived them in a Italy of a long long time ago. Italy makes me sad.
I came to Italy in search of a place that I grew to know growing up from my parents. Italy was a black and white film, with elegance and homemade pasta, "festas", markets, it was a romanticized place filled with what seemed to me like warmth and romance, excitement and adventure yet upon my arrival little of this remains. In the South I found beauty and warmth but misogyny, in the North I found l cruelty, rudeness, insincerity, hostility, tactlessness mixed with misogyny and arrogance. I found a place that is rather cold and where one must always be aware. This to me is no way to spend a life.
At the time I was 13, I had my first trip to Italy. I spent a summer near Rome and in Calabria. Those memories have never left my mind. I felt the nostalgia to visit the Italy of my parents. Perhaps I was too young then to understand that Italy, the Italy of my parents was not the Italy I noticed at all. I am now 38 and live in Milano with my boyfriend. I have a found a society that judges against age, colour and race as immigration is still so new to Italians. I have found hostility on every street corner. I have been aggravated at news stands and pushed around on the subway. I have discovered infidelity, insincerity, cruelty, narrow minds, backstabbing amongst friends and family. I have found Italians have stopped growing with the rest of the world, and because of this they have limited themselves and the potential of the individual therefore limiting the growth of their country as a whole.
Perhaps if Italy was a country that looked at itself to correct itself it would find itself better. As a nation however habituated in pointing blame, it is rare you will find observations in journals, paper and in media, exploring Italians themselves. Unlike Canada and America whose articles often dissect their very own culture, Italians hesitate to look at themselves but use their finger freely often pointing it elsewhere mostly at each other. Perhaps each Italian should walk around with a pocket mirror, perhaps this may aid them to better understand themselves or perhaps they should read more Beppe Severgnini to catch a glimpse of themselves and their society. Or perhaps before accessorizing themselves too much with jewels, cars, make-up and clothes, they should reflect on what it is they are instead of what they wish to appear to be. Although I firmly believe that Italians know quite well what they are. They are a people whom are far too intelligent for their own good, but they are also too proud and stubborn at the same time. The truth of themselves adds to the infinite mystery. Who they are, what they are, how they are is never discussed publicly. The reality of their false selves is far too often left in the small quarters of their bathrooms with only their personal mirror knowing the truth and the magic behind their appearances.
Appearances count for a lot in Italy. It is a country that is fascinated with appearances and fascinated with youth. It has a sick obsession with mid twenties that I find demeaning to a human and specifically a woman. As a 38 year old woman in Italy, University educated, speaking four languages; Italian, Spanish, French and English, English Fluently as it is my mother tongue, you would think I would not have a hard time finding a job here but this is Italy. In fact everywhere one goes they will notice signs in the storefront windows stating, "saleswoman wanted maximum 25 years old," "Waitress wanted maximum 25 years old," "hair stylist wanted, maximum 25 years old, apprentice wanted, maximum 25 years old." In Italy nobody wants a a "mature woman," they rarely want an older man although in Italy it is true a charismatic aged king has many more opportunities then an older woman even if his only gain and ambition is to have a younger woman. This seals his position in his society. In Italy age only works to a man's advantage.
I can only say that living in italy is appearing impossible and getting more and more difficult and some days I feel I will just explode. I must admit however that I don't feel too bad after viewing the "telejournale," the italian television news. It claimed that 'Elizabeth Cannalis was having a hard time in America. Poor Cannalis having sacrificed her career and life in Italy for George Clooney, moved to America for love.' What about the rest of us who have sacrificed our lives and careers to have moved across oceans for love, opportunity, change and renewal and haven't been as fortunate to have found relationships or situations with financial heavenliness and security in a country that is filled with endless opportunity and open minds.
Well perhaps her and I have more in common than I think. We have both sacrificed our careers and life for love transporting our selves across oceans into foreign territories, different mentalities and a whole new set of laws, rules and regulations. I may not have had the career in America that Cannalis had in Italy and I certainly haven't done a "calendario" for this is the status of an achieved and successful woman in Italy; a nude calender of themselves. I can think of better things that would make me feel like I've accomplished turning points in my career but if a woman like she is unable to find work in America as the icon she is, married to George Clooney, hell then being almost married to a struggling musician living in Milano close to the Bocconi, in a beautiful little loft like apartment, away from all things I am, do and know, must mean I'm not doing too bad!!!!!!!!
Don't get me wrong however, I do love Italy and if you come to Italy, take my advice and come for the wine, the food, the scenery, the history, the clothes, the shoes, the leather and the ocean. Don't take things too personal, don't trust anyone, and watch your back at all times, Italians are great actors and even better liars. If you keep that in mind, you can only have a beautiful memory of Italy and a far more loving relationship with it then someone living here!