Refelctions on passing through north Italy
Well, now we have briefly encountered north Italy. It has been thoroughly enjoyable for us all. Anika has even begun saying a few Italian words, ‘muito bene’! It could be said that it is a country of visible extremes, in temperament, wealth, the direction society chooses to move in. This makes it quite exciting to travel through. We always felt that there was a niche for us to fit in. People have been receptive, friendly, helpful. I am not sure I could live here. After all this is the country that voted for Belusconi – and not just once! It is also a country that has added two further poles of power to the establishment; the church and the mafia. These complications are directly responsible for some of Italy’s misfortune and the attitudes that shape society.
So what we loved about Italy was firstly the food and wine. Fantastic markets selling delicious fruit and vegetables. I indulged in cheeses, gorgonzola with mascarpone, several strong goats cheeses (Caprino), I enjoyed cooking with fresh made tagliatelle, ravioli filled with meats and veg, making rich pomodoro sauce from fresh tomatoes, sizzling delicious farm sausages in white wine, making risotto al la Milanese (minus the saffron – I used turmeric instead). The wines were delicious and cheap, some of the best being under e5,.00 a bottle. We indulged in Ligurian wine which is regionally one of Italy’s most outstanding (or so the Ligurians told me). However they are crazy for sparkling wine – where it is fermented in the bottle to retain the fizz. It is damn near impossible to get a non-fizz Ligurian. The art of wine making is everywhere. Even the grotto of Toirano had set aside some of the caves for storing their local wine!
We met some great Italians. Though I feel we have not made any strong connections. There was the guy that spent two hours helping us fix the Zil outside Trento, the toothless old lady of Cremona that offered us her chair but really we were passing too fast and without a handling on the language to have an exchange of depth and interest.
The topography was beautiful. We were especially wooed by the mountains in the far north (Bolzano), and the south between Genoa and Cremona. These are islands that have escaped the ravages of Italian industry. This brings me onto the one observation that brought me to irritation. There is a certain attitude here that having only encountered Italy shortly I can only put down to selfishness. For example the tourists in the aquarium who selfishly indulged in brazen flash photography. They showed a marked lack of compassion to the endangered captive fish. There is the entire stretch of waters around Genoa which stinks – really smell bad – and are prohibited from swimming in. I am surprised that people are not campaigning to restore the waters to cleanliness. Surprised that the aquarium does not lead the charge. People were still swimming, ignoring the signs, indeed the owner of the Pegli campsite assured me the waters were quite clean and that the signs were a stain on the good reputation of these parts. I doubt that very much. The only people swimming were elderly locals, enacting a ritual bathing that they had done since childhood and were unable to give up no matter how dirty the waters became. There is also the littering which is everywhere. In Montebruno we walked up a river for two kilometres until we reached a clearing. The walk was arduous lacking a footpath. We waded through the cold water. It took us quite a while over slippery rocks. The clearing that we reached had been made artificially and with great effort. All the rocks had been removed, and sand spread out to make a small beach volley ball court, there was a rudimentary shelter and seating arrangement made from piles of rocks. Two fire circles were evident, the rock permiteres blackened and the charcoaled wood sunk into the ash. The claimants to this spot chose it for its privacy and natural beauty. The water had cut deep smooth plunge pools into the river bed. This was a beautiful spot which had been used throughout the summer months during which the users had not removed a single piece of rubbish. By October there was piles of rubbish everywhere, broken bottles, beer cans, plastic bags of rubbish that had ripped open spilling their contents, food packages, crisp bags, egg cartons, now rusty tins. It was sad that so much effort was taken to acquire a beautiful spot only to destroy it in such a brief space of time. This was the side to Italy that I did not like. But then they say that the mafia are responsible for Italy’s waste collection?!