Saturday, June 05, 2004

The decision is made: I’ve turned down Lithuania and I’m going to Edinburgh.

So now my mind has turned to my last few weeks in Verona. There are some exciting things happening: we’re going to the opening night of the summer Opera season in the Roman Arena, and a few days before that I’ll be seeing the George Benson Group at the Roman Theatre.

But equally there are things that excite me about going home. There are also, surely, things I don’t miss that I’ve forgotten about. There are also things I’ll be sad to leave behind here, and some that I’ll happily wave goodbye to. So, here are four lists:

Things I’ll miss about Italy, and Verona

• Long, slow evenings wandering from bar-to-bar drinking wine.
• Wine culture; I almost never drink beer here, and I prefer it that way.
• Aesthetics: buildings, clothes, food; all are presented with close attention to appearance, and the effects are appreciated.
• Skiing. The season ended only a couple of months ago, but already I miss it, and next winter I will even more.
• Teaching. It’s a truly rewarding job.
• City bikes. Fantastic: more people should be use them.
• The food.

Things I won’t miss about Italy, and Verona

• No dancing in town. All the discos are out of town and need serious organising to get to; there’s no impulsive “Hey, shall we go dancing?” options here.
• Shopping culture. All clothes are expensive and everybody takes it far too seriously: where else would Gucci and Benetton sit next to each other on the high street?
La bella figura. Give it up people; yes, appearance is important, but some other things more so. Don’t be so vacuous as to prioritise it.
• No frisbee. There is, admittedly, some frisbee in Italy. But none in Verona.
• The EFL industry. Too many unscrupulous schools; too many unprofessional, unmotivated gap-year kids.
• The obsession with cars, to the detriment of the public transport system.
• Insularity and arrogance. Many (although, importantly, not all) Italians have no intention of leaving their own world, believing it to have everything anybody (note choice of anybody rather than they) would ever want. This idea – that Italy (or, rather, that individual’s region of Italy) is as good as life could ever be, for anybody, ever – is held frequently and genuinely. Grow up, and see the world.
• Bureacracy. Byzantine.

(It’s always easier – it’s our nature – to find it easier to think of things that annoy us rather than things that please us. I certainly won’t be adding to this second list once I’m back home – why would I find myself thinking about things I don’t miss? – but I suspect the first list will have some retrospective additions.)

Things I’m looking forward to about England:

• Dancing.
• The pub.
• Cricket on the radio. The narrative of long, lazy summer days.
• Radio four. And five. And two. And BBC2. In fact, the BBC in general.
• Frisbee. And canoeing.
• Saturday and Sunday papers.
• Beans, toast and crumpets.
• Culinary variety. Curry, anyone?

(It’s interesting that I’ve felt little need to add a sentence to each of these explaning why they’re so good. They all seem so obviously to be pleasures in life. Of course, for all bar two – the first and the fifth – I recognise much of the pleasure is cultural and acquired alongside Englishness. And only a poet – not me, then – could capture that; I’m not going to try.)

Things I’m not looking forward to about England:

• The Daily Mail. Evil. I haven’t especially engaged with Italian current affairs whilst here (one of the advantages of living abroad is having far more choice over how much – and what parts – of the zeitgeist you engage with) and so I’ve been able to forget about the petty, unthinking, “own back yard”, small-minded types that plague all corners of our planet. The ones on our little island are easily identifiable by their copy of the Daily Mail.
• Drinking hours. 11 o’clock. Why-o-why-o-why?
• Bad weather. Having said that, the idea that Italy is always drenched in sunshine is a myth. Here, everybody is saying “Oh, this isn’t real Italian weather; last summer was much sunnier” but they scoff when I say that England was the same last year. I’m a little skeptical about how much difference there really is (but equally I fear such an attitude may result in grave dissappointment once back on our shores).

Y’see, I’m struggling with this last list now, but that’s cause I’ve been away for long enough and I’ve forgotten the things that bug me. Rest assured I’ll be adding to this list within days of getting home.

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