Views on being in Italy

I'm writing this after I went on holiday for two weeks in Calabria. It's taken longer to write than I thought — the start of the new academic year can be a killer.


The first thing that you notice about Italy is the strange way that, despite the complete absence of any notable organisation whatsoever, things actually manage to happen.

Driving and Roads

Italian drivers fall into two camps: the boy racer and the granny. The former is most numerous; they veer between the dangerous and suicidal. The key rules seem to be: overtake whenever possible and leave no gaps between you are the car in front in case anyone tries to overtake you. Also worth remembering is that if someone is in your way, they should get out of it even if, for example, you are on their side of the road while overtaking. Flashing your lights and blowing your horn helps here. The less common driver, the granny can be of any age, any gender and will not exceed 50kph under any circumstances. In general, they drive a 30 year old Fiat 500, but there are other options.

Roads are fairly normal, but the Italians have a unique approach to road signs; the theory seems to be that road signs are not to tell you which way to go, but rather to describe where you can get to following a road. Therefore, for example, if at a junction you could go either way to Pizzo, there will be two signs for the city pointing in opposite directions with no information about why you might prefer one route to the other. On top of this, Italians don't have a sign for straight-on — everyone else uses an upward arrow, but this obviously caused confusion. Instead, they use a right or left ward pointing sign, angled about 10 degrees from the road. Finally, their tourist signs have no sense for proportion: I saw, on one post, signs for Caserta city centre, the Reggia (one of the most visited buildings in Italy) and a pizza resturant 3km away.

Actually, Italian roads, like their other organisations work rather well. Generally, the traffic keeps moving (well sort of). I did see two car crashes in 2 weeks though. The first was a six car shunt at traffic lights (remember, handbrakes are for wimps). The second was a junction collision; there was torrential rain at the time and you can't expect a Roman to cope with that.


Italians are enourmously proud of their food and with good reason. It's great. Everywhere you go, you can find wonderful meals, at a reasonable price (and in the south at a stupidly cheap price). And this is even for the veggie who, lets face it, misses the best of it.

Italians are also a little arrogant about their food; they seem to use "pasta" as a synonym for "dinner" at times. And the wonder of their own cuisine seems to have kept out anything else; it's probably been at least a decade since the last time I went a week without seeing a Indian resturant. Or a chinese, although I did see a sign post for the latter. It may be true that no country has better food than Italy, but others equal it.

Italian coffee on the other hand is just great; they are hundreds of little bars everywhere, and all of them can make a great coffee; they do this without an enourmous amount of fuss; they don't have quaint pictures of old Sicilians on the walls playing cards; and latte means milk, nothing more, nothing less. Oh yeah, and this is critical. If you get a coffee, it's cheap and you do not get a mug large enough to swim in.

I thought a lot about why Italian food is good; in the end, I've decided that it is because so much of the provision of it is still a cottage industry; McDonalds, Starbucks and the rest are notable by their absence, and this more than compensates for the absence of an occasional Indian. Italians cook things their own way. In different places, you get different foods, different varieties. People from the north stumble over menus from the south because the words are different as are the ingredients. All of this reflects an enourmous degree of care with the ingredients. Italian cooking, preparation, is not the best in the world; their selection of ingredients may well be.

I was introduced to an number of wonderful things while I was out there:

  • Figs: this may come as a surprise, but I never got around to eating one. Red or green they are lovely despite their surprisingly textured flesh.
  • Arancini: these are fried rice balls with breadcrumbs and something inside. Unfortunately, the something inside tends to include meat, but when they don't they are great.
  • Wild Asparagus: straight from the mountains of Pollino, with a rich, intense, woody flavour. They should sell this of for use as a herb; in rice or potatoes, it's flavour would percolate through, bringing summer to the simplest winter dish.

(Part 2)

Page by Phillip Lord
Disclaimer: This is my personal website, and represents my opinion.
Italian Views