Travelista73: Small Town Calabria

September 16, 2011

As you know from my last blog post, ETERNAL CITY OF ROME, I embarked on a vacation to Italy this summer with my little niece and nephew. My first post recounted their thoughts and experiences in the Eternal City, insightful and funny as they were, their experience in Calabria bordered on the Twilight Zone and so here their Italian summer holiday experience continues…

After filling up on espresso and brioche, we packed up our two vehicles, said “Arrivederci Roma” and headed off to sunny Calabria. I drove the vehicle that contained the Precious Cargo (our luggage) and spent the next 4.5 hours singing along to my favorite Italian oldies. It’s incredible how fast you can get somewhere on Italy’s infamous ‘two lane’ highway when you just follow local traffic. The slowest vehicle must have been going 150km/hr. I know it’s wrong, but as they say, “When in Rome!”

When we finally drove up the familiar road to our aunt’s house, the same home that had greeted me 23 years earlier (LA BELLA CALABRIA post), I was excited to see the children’s reaction. Let me just say that a child in small town Italy is the equivalent of setting a monkey free in the jungle after years of captivity. I’m not sure if it’s the lack of local traffic, noise or confined spaces, but the kids went wild!!!

My nephew’s first observation was that our summer home was big, “Zia, we’re staying in a castle!” No, not a castle but a very lovely villa with a massive terrace and wind around porch that gave the children a freedom they never experienced before. My nephew was playing soccer on the terrace, dangling from the statues that adorned our aunt’s home, jumping over railings, throwing balls into the fountain, poking holes into water bottles (which our aunt discovered when she picked up a case and found water squirting out all over the place and all over her!). They found trash from outside and formed a local band with children, needless to say, NO ONE slept during siesta or ever!

Small towns also provide children with a sense of empowerment and comfort, hence why my 4 year old niece thought she was old enough to walk to the local bar for ice cream, lemon tonic water and espresso. (Yes, did I mention her new fondness for an espresso with milk and 2 teaspoons of sugar?!) Or how she would walk up to us to ‘announce’ that she was going to visit her cousin because she knows how to go there ON HER OWN!

Italy is a country that allows children a freedom that North America does not. Italians believe that ‘bambini sono bambini’ and they will grow out of things just as the thousands of bambini (children) before them. Hence why they found it so entertaining when my niece entered a room one day holding a candy cigarette telling everyone to move away from her or they would get smoke in their eyes, and when I asked her in a not so friendly tone what she was doing, she answered nonchalantly, “Having a cigarette like Ema!”

Sweat Ema is their favorite 21 year old cousin; a stunning beauty with long hair and long thin legs to match. Always dressed so stylish, complete with hair and make-up, she made sure that her ‘Little Princess’ was just as adorable. Is it not every little girl’s dream to spend time in the presence of a ‘real’ princess? After all, Italian women are known for their style and beauty, and Ema did not disappoint.    

Curfews are also hard to keep in Italy. Being in bed at 9pm simply doesn’t apply! Children are out and about in cafes, restaurants, ice cream shops and bars until all hours of the night. Try explaining to kids why they have to go to bed when everyone else is out having a ‘good time,’ so on occasion curfew was as late as midnight, or even later…

Small towns also host many FESTAS; local festivities that usually include live entertainment, food and lots of vendors selling anything from candy and toys, to fashion accessories and cds. It is a time when townspeople come together to celebrate. The kids LOVED this experience! The highlight being when my nephew had our cousin buy him a BB gun (because Italians see no crime in giving an 8 year old a loaded weapon) and he shot his sister in the leg, as well as someone else in the butt; all to the other children’s delight! NOT ours!

Loading them up in the car also proved to be a challenge because they didn’t understand why ‘they’ had to sit in a car seat in the back when Italians children are allowed to sit in the front all the time!

Another thing the children loved was being able to go horseback riding and visiting local farm animals. I mean how often can you take a walk up the road to see pigs, chickens, hens, goats… However, when someone explained to them that the cute piggies are killed to make the delicious prosciutto and salami sandwiches they love, let’s just it left a bitter taste in their mouth :(

SHOPPING!!! Everyone knows how great shopping is in Italy, but what many people don’t know is that most Italian boutiques keep their goods behind the counter and it is ‘understood’ that you are NOT supposed to touch any of the merchandise. You tell the clerk what you are looking for and they slowly take out items for you to view. Well… my niece didn’t understand the logic behind this and would make her way through local boutiques trying on expensive shoes and purses, and touching all the ‘pretty things.’ The expressions on the salesclerks’ faces were priceless; it was a cross between, “Oh look how cute she is!” and “Tell your brat to keep her f@#&%n hands to herself!”

Fresh air and vast open spaces...the kids loved this, especially driving home and passing bulls roaming the hillside, or getting stuck behind a herd of sheep! Only in Italy!

I’ve come to the conclusion that in many ways what Italians say is true, children will be children, and they will grow out of things because the minute we stepped foot back onto Canadian soil they went back to their old way of thinking and being. Maybe there is more truth then we’d care to admit to the famous saying, “When in Rome!” If truth be told, I think the children lived by this philosophy while on holidays and that’s probably why they had such an amazing time!

Did I tell you about their experience at the beach… Stay tuned for more :)

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