Wednesday, August 19, 2009

When it comes to European borders, Italy lies South

It is always nice to get away from the hustle and bustle of Rome and explore new places. This year my destination of choice was Brussels, Belgium. Aside from a much cooler place to spend August in Europe, flights from Rome are frequent (and in our case, free) with low cost airlines such as Ryan Air, not to mention that Brussels is a great base to explore other top European destinations such as Paris, Brugges, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and a handful of other neighboring cities.

There are no borders when flying between European countries. You don't even need a passport, just a national ID card will do. The European Union truly has united countries into one giant European Nation. However, one mustn't be misled into thinking that all European countries are made equally, because the differences that lie across each border can be astounding.

It's no secret that between Northern and Southern Europe there are vast differences. Northern Europe is known for its cool climates, booming industries, intelligent city planning, and reserved characters. Southern Europe boasts its warm climate, world renowned food, sluggish economies, and colorful people. Still, the differences I found on this trip were unsettling.

After living in a city like Rome for ten years, the things that jump out at many tourists (filthy streets, graffiti, rude people, ripoffs, poor organization) no longer bother me. One becomes exceedingly patient by living here thanks to a survival mechanism which teaches us to just "let it go", or find another place to call home (which many do). I can now spend an entire morning in line somewhere only to be told by some rude Italian bureaucrat to come back tomorrow, I carry around toilet tissue and handsoap because I am fully aware that most Roman bathrooms will not have any, any I don't mind when the cashiers throw my change down on the counter instead of placing it in my hand. I find all of these challenges to be minor inconveniences that one tolerates in order to live in a city as wonderful as Rome is.

Unfortunately, when it comes to my children an angry mama bear takes over my usually cool and composed self, and she is is just a bit less complacent than I.

The other day in Brussels I asked my aunt if there was a park nearby where I could take my three year old to burn off some energy. Sure, she said. The neighborhood park is quite close and not bad for kids.

NOT BAD??!!!! If this is not bad, I really need to see what good looks like. This park was the most amazing play space I have ever seen. Physically and mentally stimulating with more than 30 different activities, sand all over the ground so the kids can play barefoot, and best of all, completely free. While my daughter played and ran herself ragged, I started to wonder why nothing like this exists in Italy. As it became clear to me why not (within days it would be covered in cigarette butts, graffiti, trash, and otherwise defiled), I got downright mad.

Why can't Italy get her act together?! This country has 80% of the world's artistic and historic patrimony, yet on the list of most visited cities it is 5th, lagging behind France, Spain, and even China. If only the astounding amount of money we pay in taxes each year went to cleaning up Italian cities and making them friendlier places for tourists and natives alike, Italy would be number one on that list, where she belongs.


istos said...

Really well said - I absolutely agree. Live in Sicily and a trip to any European city gets me wondering why they can't just have things. We had a similar playground experience in Barcelona. Nothing as stunning at the one in Brussels but it got us wondering why nothing like that could be in Sicily - after people here go crazy for their kids and spend silly amounts on toys, etc... sigh.

regina di roma said...

istos, thanks for your post-so true! I am so sick of seeing baptism dresses that cost 300 Euro, nothing but the best for Italian children in the stores, but when it comes to public services, they really get the short end of the stick :( Ahhh, post vacation depression. Soon it will just become good old complacency again. Until the next time...

carrieitly said...

amen. amen. amen.

Deborah said...

I know I know -
but if people would only raise their voices in the right direction (eg. bombard the Comune with complaints) instead of continually moaning to nobody in particular about Italian inadequacies ... (I do it myself of course!).

w-r-a said...

Hi Deborah, thanks for your comment! You are so right. I always feel as though complaining yields no seems as though in Italy it is never possible to speak to a manager or director, the people in charge always hide behind their office walls or something? And the person behind the counter/at the checkout or wherever it happens to be listens to people's complaining, roll their eyes, and move on to the next person... Still of course we should and must complain about things that are wrong with this country. Today, on the other hand, the sun is shining but not scorching, birds are singing, and I have a hard time finding even ONE thing to complain about :)

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