It’s been six months and 21 days or 29 weeks, depending on how you count time. The countdown, of course, tracks the time Sebastian and I have been in Italy.
When my cousin Armando asked me how long I had been in Italy, I gave him an answer, an exact answer. He wasn’t pleased.
“Why do you say it like that?” he questioned. “Why are you so precise?”
He found it upsetting that I've kept track of time so closely, instead of just letting it pass leisurely. That was sixteen weeks ago, or three and a half months, depending on how you count the days.
It hasn’t occurred to me why I count the days, but I often wonder when I’ll stop. I think for Armando, counting the days might suggest I am homesick and longing to return — but that’s just not true. While there are many things I miss about home: my family, my friends, food that isn’t Italian cuisine — I am not homesick.
So here I am, at the halfway mark of this journey, and in the fine words of The Clash, I have to ask, “Should I stay or should I go?”
And how must one resolve any complex situation? Pros and cons. And in a very uncharacteristic Daniela move, I will start with the cons so I can end on a high note instead of my usual depressor tune.
Here we go with the cons
My family and friends are far
There is a distance of about 7284 kilometres between Benevento and Toronto. If I am having a bad day, if I need to vent, or if I just want to enjoy the company of the people I care most about, I can’t. Even modern technology fails to bridge the gap; as an example, my friend Sarah and I have spent over a month trying to find a convenient time to FaceTime, but with only so many waking hours and a six hour time difference, we have failed — many weeks in a row.
The country shuts down at noon
Firstly, when I say the county, I mean the countryside — not the nation. Secondly, when I say noon, I actually mean one o’clock. Everything fucking shuts down and it does not re-open again until four o’clock — unless it is a Thursday or Sunday — then it stays shut down. I’ve been here for six months and almost without exception, I find myself in desperate need of some necessity between 1-4 P.M. daily — or the entire rest of the day on Thursday and Sunday. It’s been six months and I still haven’t shed the 24-hour convenience of Toronto life.
Everything moves at a slower pacei
It’s been said that Rome wasn’t built in a day — and neither was the Strada Statale 212.
Italians don’t rush to do anything, which is why lunch begins at one o’clock and powers through until four. Let me be clear, Italians are not lazy; they take their time and do things well.
The Strada Statale 212, or the SS 212, is a regional (an Italian region is similar to a Canadian province) road that spans between Campania and its neighbour Molise. It is a long stretch of road, but the expanse between San Marco dei Cavoti and Benevento, with all its 30 km took some 40 years* to pave. As a point of reference, it took between six to eight years to build the coliseum, although, in defence of the SS212, I don’t think it was built on the backs’ of slaves.
It has been built on regional euros, and when the money stopped flowing in to the Sannio, so did the construction — hence the decades long project. And with a region carrying a deficit surmounting €13 billion, it is no wonder the cash flow, as well as the labour, was slow.
What is no longer slow is the drive from town to city, which was cut in half. That time should be reduced further when the last kilometre stretch is completed, in about three years. Maybe five.
So why is the construction of a road a major con? Well, because that work ethic trickles down into all forms of labour — especially at the fucking post office.
Oh god, there are no words to express what doesn’t happen at the post office. I could write a treatise on the subject, but instead, I will just say I sent my friend Jill a Christmas card on November 30 and she received it late-fucking-February. Herodotus wrote of a more expedient postal service.
It’s a touchy-feely place
What the fuck happened to the handshake? When did everyone start hugging and kissing?
I can’t answer those questions. But I can venture a guess that it all started here in Italy — sometime between the black death and the renaissance.
Nicht Anfassen! It’s my personal motto and I say it in German to give it that special ring. I just hate being touched. This presents a bit of a problem in a country where gesticulation and demonstrative behaviour are as common as short-term governance and garbage strikes.
There is no one-stop shopping
Meat is purchased at the butcher; bread is picked up at the bakery; fruit and vegetables at the “fruttivendolo”; and your local supermarket fills in the rest. If you’ve decided to throw an impromptu dinner, and if you are anything like me — it’s always on the fly and never organized, you’ll have to allot time for several stops. But if you need dog food and wine, you can get both at the Consorzio, or what Jennifer and I call The Dog Food and Wine Store.
And now ladies and gentlemen, we move onto the pros
Our farm is the most beautiful place on earth
Of course I am using a fair dose of hyperbole, but setting my inherent bias aside, the penultimate farm on Contrada Calisi is a hidden getaway that is hard to find and impossible to forget. Don’t believe me, come visit.
Time is not taken for granted
I think this one is almost a no-brainer, considering the long lunches and half days that are a part of daily life. Now let me be clear, I am discussing my life in San Marco dei Cavoti. The tempo of Italian life beats faster in metropolitan centres — but it still doesn’t seem to capture the frenetic pace of its North American counterparts.
You drink your coffee at the bar, instead of racing away with it in a paper cup. You skip the small talk and have conversations with the people you encounter during the day. It no longer takes twice as long to prepare a meal than it does to eat it. I can’t remember a time in the past six months where I have raced to get a meal in so I could continue cleaning, watching TV, reading, et cetera.
And so it goes that the people in these small towns seem to actually appreciate their definitively finite time, so they are rewarded with more of it. Life expectancy is long in many of these rural communities, with the streets lined with citizens well into their 90s — happy, healthy and taking it slow.
There is no one stop shopping
Yes, I am well aware that this is listed as a con, but it definitely makes the pro list as well. I can certainly drive into Benevento and get all my shopping done in one spot, but hopping from shop-to-shop means I am selecting quality over quantity.
There is no organic label in town
The food here isn’t riddled with pesticides, in fact, there is no need to slap an organic label on anything because it is the only option.
Years ago, I remember picking up a fancy, over-priced, organic salad from Whole Foods and being livid when I found a moth among my mesclun. Here, on the other hand, I narrowly missed a worm in my cauliflower and I immediately knew if I complained, I’d look like an idiot, because that is fucking organic.
Furthermore, there is a strong emphasis on eating seasonal foods. During the winter months, cucumbers are just not available.
The people are warm and friendly
Perhaps the locals may seem a bit intrusive, but you really get a sense that people care.
As I mentioned before, this town’s population is minuscule and foreigners stand out. After six months here, I can identify an out-of-towner with some accuracy. Since it is small and the neighbouring cities: Benevento, Campobasso and Avellino aren’t exactly huge tourist attractions, the townspeople are curious as to what brings a Canadian and her son to an isolated farm in Southern Italy. They are curious and they care — each shop owner asking how my son and I are enjoying farm life, life in a small town and my son’s new life in a foreign school.
The quality of life is better
The money coming into my account is CAD but it goes out EUR and each transaction feels like a kick right in the felis catus. It just hurts, but it isn’t quite as painful as living in Toronto.
It’s easier to make the euro stretch when I have minimal living expenses. My son and I in a live in what seems like a small villa compared to my former apartment. If honesty is required, running away at nearly 40 years old kind of makes me feel like a loser, but no more than I did living in a shit hole that drained my bank account and morale. I wasn’t at the top of my professional game in Canada. My health took a toll, especially my mental health and it didn’t make sense to stay in a place where if I suffered, so did my child. Instead, I took a chance, moved to our family home, a home built for me and my sister, a home which my son will inherit and tried to make a new life.
The “pro” seciton of this argument could have really been summed up by this last point — our quality of life has improved.
The next fifteen days will likely reveal if I should stay or go, but as I sit in a bar, drinking a cappuccino, Italian music sweetly filling the air while a group of old men play tre sette — I think it is quite obvious which way I am leaning.
*It didn’t actually take 40 years to pave the SS212, but its plans remained in the development phase for over four decades.