THE BLOG
02/11/2014 02:57 pm ET | Updated Apr 13, 2014

It's Just So Messy...

It really is a mess here... so I am constantly wondering why I (who 'normally' can only stand messes of my own making!) love it so much... let me count (some of) the ways...

1. In Florence, the streets and alleys and sidewalks are always torn up or full of potholes or otherwise dangerous and challenging. And construction or repair crews show up suddenly and tend to take over the entire street or sidewalk, neither of which are big or wide to start with! In one day, an entire piazza can be torn up (section by section, perhaps) and the sidewalk can completely disappear, on its way, hopefully, to being re-paved. When I lived on Piazza Mercato Centrale, the entire process seemed to take months and became, actually, just part of the scenery.

In Ortigia and Siracusa, the streets (although often older than in Florence) seem to be more even (again, we are talking in relative terms, since nothing is 'really' even) and less dangerous. The highest point on the island is the Piazza del Duomo (one of the most beautiful I have seen, with its broad expanse of serene golden white stone), where the church was build around an ancient temple to Athena (Minerva) dating from about 8000 years ago (not an unusual practice in Italy, given the complicated history and the valuable real estate). In order to get to the other side of the island and/or to cross one of the 3 bridges that lead to Siracusa (feels like a foreign country), you can walk straight through the center by climbing uphill and then down or you can circum-navigate the island (a longer walk), and neither walk is overwhelmingly challenging. The alleyways and courtyards abound, and most of them show their (very old) age, with lots of interesting architectural details which hint at a wealth of hidden stories.

2. The bureaucracy is hilarious and sometimes obstructionist. At one church in Florence, in order for my Art History class to enter, we had to
1) wait outside in a line to
2) go inside to sign a waiver since we wanted access to the restoration area inside to
3) go outside to wait in line to
4) go inside (another door) to buy our tickets to
5) go outside so that we could
6) go inside the church!
(ps - it was worth it all......)

Another time we were at the Uffizi before 10 a.m., the opening time, to get in early and avoid even the off-season tourists. However, the Uffizi workers were having a staff meeting (or maybe just a 'little' strike?) from 10 to 11, so the Museum wouldn't open till 11 that day. Needless to say, there was absolutely no advance notice given anywhere, so everyone had to wait patiently (or not) for that useless hour. Why wouldn't they have a staff meeting before the museum opens instead of during the first hour of its scheduled public access? Hmmmm.....

3. Things change quickly and not at all. One morning the restaurant next door to my Florence apartment building was the "Fish Pub" (known, apparently, for cheap beer!) and the exterior was green; I was told it was a great landmark to give to taxi drivers, all of whom know it, apparently because of drunk students. Anyhow, when I came home in the afternoon, the restaurant was now painted blue and was re-named "The Atlantic."

And yet the proverbial 'snail's pace' usually reigns supreme. It took over 2 months before the electrician got here to replace the halogen light bulbs in my kitchen.

And customer service? I am not sure that concept really exists in Italy. If you purchase something in a store, you most likely cannot return it later, although sometimes exchanging it for another size is possible but not easy. And, although I have an Italian cell phone number and plan, the folks at the Vodafone store don't seem at all interested in helping solve any problem that I may have; somehow they suddenly seem to have lost their understanding of English when I need assistance!

4. Dogs and kids are everywhere. Italians revere the family, and kids (looking gorgeous in their miniature beautiful Italian fashion -- the concept of 'bella figura', looking great, reigns supreme!), in and out of strollers, are ubiquitous at all hours of the day and night; some seem to sleep through everything and others seem to scream through everything.

And Dogs -- in restaurants, in libraries, in department stores and book stores and in dressing rooms -- always on leash and usually well-behaved -- how does that happen? Some dog-walkers do clean up after themselves, and some don't, so keeping at least one eye on the sidewalk is always imperative to avoid any kind of accident.

5. And parking? In Florence, with more cars than in Ortigia, parking rules also seem non-existent. Since most of the cars are small, fitting a car into an even smaller space seems to be an ordinary challenge for the drivers, and the result is that cars are often 'parked' in the midst of cross-walks or intersections, on sidewalks, at strange angles, or even in the middle of the street itself. I have never seen any strangely parked car with a parking violation ticket on it, and have only seen local police writing citations for cars without a valid resident permit.

6. And everything is crumbling, either slowly or not so slowly. The lovely old architecture which reigns supreme everywhere is suffering from its aging, usually, and rarely seems to be in the process of repair. I learned today that this lovely detail under the newer balcony did survive the earthquake of 1693 here in Ortigia and that is pretty miraculous.

The natural beauty here in Italy also invites and is dependent on the natural disasters that have abounded through the ages. The earthquakes and floods (think Florence in 1966) have left their marks on and have created the landscape. And, since Italy wears its rich history so proudly, perhaps wearing the scars from natural disasters is also natural.

So why do I seem to be happy and comfortable with all of this 'messiness'? Here are some of what I am loving this week (again, everything changes, all the time...)

1. 'Posso?' (or better yet, 'potrei', which is even more polite) -- it means 'May I?', and people ask permission often here, because it is rude not to do so; I find myself enjoying the 'posso' whenever I need to leave my rolling cart at the entrance to the supermarket or when I want to share a bench or table, or whatever...and the answer is always, 'Certo', which I interpret to be 'YES', with emphasis ('OF COURSE!').

2. 'Permesso' is also the polite question to ask before entering anyone's door; 'May I come in' is the basic translation and the reponse is always "avanti' ('Come on in.').

3. The days are getting longer and the extra sunlight on the old buildings glows more warmly and brightly, especially at the end of the day.

4. When I go into the internet cafe, the staff welcomes me, and both the pharmacist and the owner of a lovely restaurant make me feel very welcome.

5. Sitting in the Piazza del Duomo around mid-day, in the full sunshine, sipping a crodino, is a joy (especially with the free 'bites' of little sandwiches that accompany).

6. And I just tasted the local pears, which are heavenly, especially when poached in juice of fresh oranges and served with ricotta... my, my...

To be continued...