I often hear people talk about wanting to go a country – say France or Italy – to experience the life and culture. But do they actually want to experience the country or simply visit it? These aren’t the same.
I recently had a conversation with a friend, who had just returned from Venice. Now, keep in mind that I was born near Venice, have family there and, when I do visit, often immerse myself in the everyday life of an Italian village. Which is why I became a little bothered as she began to regale me with her experiences in Venice as if she was now the guru on Italian life.
|Lorena in Venice|
Listening to her speak about all the “attractions” – the gondola ride and the shopping – oh let’s not forget the shopping! I couldn’t help but think that she had disregarded all the tips I gave her about how to get a real sense of the city, its culture, its people.
Sure there are incredible historical buildings that are a must-see, and if you only have a few days to spend in this grand old city, I recommend you take the tourist route.
But my friend was going to be there for three weeks, speaks Italian and begged me to tell her what to do and where to go to experience everyday life in Venice. She was very explicit in saying that she didn’t want to just go there as a tourist, that she wanted a taste of a Venetian’s everyday life.
She went on to tell me of her frustration at not being able to find a Starbucks and her elation when she finally did. Are you kidding me? One of my greatest disappointments in Venice is that they allowed Starbucks and McDonalds to set up shop! A city that serves the best coffee in the world, not to mention some of the best food in the world, had succumbed to the pressure of the tourist masses! Aghhh!
There’s a saying, “If you want to experience the true culture, shop where the locals shop, eat where the locals eat.”
|"Best coffee in the world" – the pastry's not bad, either.|
She couldn’t understand why the city felt the need to practically shut down at lunch time. It was very frustrating to her because there was nothing to do.
Nothing to do? Really?
When the shops close over the lunch hour, there is a calmness that blankets the city. Walking through the narrow alleys of the city far from the tourist area, you can hear families sitting down for their lunch, “Tutti a mangare!” the mother calls. “Everyone to eat!”
The clang of plates being laid on the table, the sweet aroma of lunch that was most likely prepared by nonna after she came back from the early morning market with fresh vegetables, pasta and meat.
You can hear the television echoing in the background, most likely on the news channel. Televisions always seem to be on at lunchtime in Italy – and always on the news channel. This makes for spirited conversations and, at times, passionate debates between family members as they indulge in their lunch feast.
After a while, the televisions are off. There is a sense of peacefulness – a real quiet. This is the Venetians’ time. Perhaps it’s to steal a nap, read a book or take advantage in an afternoon delight! After all, they do have a reputation for being passionate romantics!
Whatever it is they choose to do, it is part of their way of life. Work is a mere interruption in daily routine. “Work to live – not live to work” comes to mind.
As you emerge from the narrow street you find yourself in a piazza … and it’s just you. Well, you and a few pigeons. This is the pigeons’ lunch hour and they’re busy feasting on the bread crumbs shaken off tablecloths after lunch tables were cleared in the surrounding trattorias. This is a zen moment, a chance to sit still for a while and listen to the water trickling from a small fountain – what joy.
As I continued to listen to my friend, I couldn’t help but think to myself, that she’d missed it.
If you had only given yourself time to just be, I thought, ignored your itinerary, allowed yourself the pleasure of getting caught up in watching and listening…
When in I’m in Venice, I never miss going to the early morning market. I watch as the local farmers anchor their small boats to the side of the canal and begin to offload crates and crates of fresh fruit and vegetables.
In this market, you can only find fruit and vegetables in season, a peach is ready to be eaten, strawberries are sweet, watermelons are ripe. As the men offload their precious cargo, a crowd watches, waiting anxiously as the stands are being set up.
To think that this ritual for the Venetians has taken place for hundreds of years in the same location, same time!
I love getting caught up in the passion the locals have in picking out the freshest of crimson colored tomatoes, mushrooms that had just been picked in the early morning hours – and the bantering! Oh the bantering back and forth to agree on a price. I don’t think they banter so much what they pay, it’s just the thing one does – a joy for its own sake. The yelling back and forth – you’d think it was a huge argument when in fact, they’re talking about what to make for lunch, ending the banter with a laugh. What an experience.
By the way, while you’re at the market, do yourself a favour and buy some fruit!
I realized that my friend simply visited Venice, didn’t really experience it, and that’s all right . After all most of us just visit a place when we venture far from home. She was content with her visit and she’ll never know what she missed.
Lorena Perkins was born near Venice, Italy, and goes home to visit whenever she can. In June, she will return to spend time with her 92-year-old grandmother and will be bringing her grown daughter along to experience life in an Italian village. Lorena had been writing journals since the age of 12 and has amassed quite a collection. With the encouragement of her husband, she decided it was time to venture into the world of creative writing. Joining Brian’s creative writing class is the first step.
See Brian Henry’s schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Algonquin Park, Alton, Barrie, Bracebridge, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Georgetown, Guelph, Hamilton, Ingersoll, Kingston, Kitchener, London, Midland, Mississauga, Newmarket, Orillia, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, St. John, NB, Sudbury, Thessalon, Toronto, Windsor, Halton, Ingersoll, Kitchener-Waterloo, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.