Two days ago I posted a blog (read it here) about the new laws put in place by Monti to stimulate growth for Italy’s struggling economy. The law now allows storekeepers the right to stay open 24/7 including weekends and holidays. Italy in general doe not seem to be ready for this change.
One of my readers and fellow bloggers, Debra at Bagni di Lucca and Beyond, made a comment that has had me thinking more about the clash between old and new. As any traveler knows, if you show up at noon pretty much anywhere in Italy you better hope you don’t need anything emergently. About the only thing you can do between the hours of noon and 3 is sleep or find an open restaurant for a long lunch. Debra wonders how much money is lost during those hours. She also points out that many people now commute to work and the traditional siesta has lost its usefulness in those situations.
One of the things I love about my time in Italy is the change of pace, people here don’t seem to rush as we do and are able to enjoy the moment. I don’t feel enslaved to time in Italy. Of course this can become inconvenient (waiting 45 for the rental clerk to reopen his store because he decided to take an extra long lunch break, making sure my child has everything she needs before the stores close up for the day) but well worth it in my opinion. The quaintness of an age old tradition is a comfort in my travels, something I pine for when back home and stuck with my long work hours. The siesta is as much a part of the cultural fabric that I have come to expect from Italy as the little old ladies chatting on the bench.
But times are changing. Times are hard.
As anyone knows that has been following the news in Europe, Italy is and has been in trouble. The unemployment rate was 8.6% as of the end of the year, but for the ages of 16-25 that rate is a staggering 25%. Finding work for the young and upcoming generation is an incredible challenge and frustration. What opportunities could be available by embracing longer hours? Is it worth sacrificing the energy of the youth for the nostalgia of a time past?
Other subtle changes are happening as well.
I had a long conversation with a man in Rome about the dangers the Italian family is facing. He bitterly reported his own children had yet to have children of their own. The birth rate in Italy for the year 2011 is now at 9.18 births per 1000. That is almost half the rate as here in the US. I imagine much of this has to do with the increased cost of living, more women working outside of the home and economic pressures. Also, the world has become a smaller place for this generation. Many youth have moved away from the family in search of better opportunities. Across Italy age old techniques and skills are at risk of being lost because no one is left to step forward and carry on the trade. We quickly cry out ‘what a shame’ but many of these dying fields are not financially profitable. Not at all. As in barely eking out a living. I honestly can’t say I would stay in the same small town that my family had lived in for generations just to keep tradition when I thought I had a chance to better myself somewhere else. A good example is the production of Sciacchetra wine in the Cinque Terre. At this very moment there is no one to replace the makers of this amazing traditional wine. And no wonder, the work is back breaking and the rewards are not monetary. At an agriturismo in Umbria, one of the owners has founded a school for the children from as far away as Rome and Florence, that teaches them how to make bread the traditional way. Who would have thought that Italian children aren’t being taught how to make the basics at home. His own granddaughter, having no interest in the family business (or cooking for that matter) has moved to Rome to teach. When we close our eyes and wish we were born Italian, we see a big hearty family sharing homemade dinner by the fire that has burned for generations. That image might soon be one of the past.
I often wonder though, is one better with more money and more things? At the moment I am anxious to be rid of the material items that continually add stress to my life. I have gone full circle and now see how my family, my time is priceless. I wonder how Italy will fare with these changes, how the fabric of its culture will be woven with the coming times.
How do we balance old and new? I would love to hear from you. Thoughts, perceptions, predictions.
copyright 2012 Andi Brown, Once in a Lifetime Travel