We all read about it. Watch old films with Roberto Benigni. Dream. Go to the fancy restaurants with the only thoughts to try pizza or pasta cooked by an Italian chef. And one day our dreams come true.
My first distinction was nothing else but a small town Bergamo that was sunlit in warm January.
After a long cold night at the Schönefeld airport, fresh Italian air was a fairytale for me. I could finally breathe and undo the winter coat, take off a scarf and look at green trees by the river.
Bergamo was my first city where I started to travel on my own and concentrating on people rather than on sightseeing points and luxury hotels. We took a bus to the Citta Alta and faced the first Italian characteristic. An old woman holding a purse and a dog in her hands smiled at me and asked whether I liked the weather. I just started blinking and replying “Si, si, si!” The only phrase I could remember. Two a little bit younger ladies joined our not so rich conversation and started enthusing about the hot winter day. It was Wednesday or Thursday. Can’t remember. Why are you working, people? In two minutes the whole bus turned into one big conversation like standing at the bar with old Italian friends.
I was just blinking and wishing I could understand every word!
We left the bus and couldn’t refrain from going to the nearest cafe and drinking cappuccino. When I was entering the nearest cafe shop, I chanced upon a little puppy that was running to his owner. He was an old man sitting at the first table with a newspaper discussing animatedly last news with a friend. He had a typical hat, coat, and dark red scarf. The puppy was jumping between the boots and asking a little piece of a croissant. He gave him fresh fragrant bread and continued the talk. We came to the counter and couldn’t glance up from the variety of baked goods, desserts, macaroons and the smell of coffee beans stupefied me. The seller explained to us quickly every delicious thing and asked us where we came from, gave us the best table and wished a good day. A waiter who didn’t look like an Italian but with Italian accent approached us.
“Volete qualcos’altro, ragazze?”
We started whispering looking at him with a smile trying to figure out his sentence. “Are you Ukrainians?” The young man immigrated with his mom 15 years ago from Ukraine. He studied here, learned the language, worked, helped his mom who tried to make more money looking after seniors. “When the worse time came, mommy packed all stuff and headed towards the sun. I’m dreaming all the time to visit Ukraine again!” In a minute he came with two more baked goods made from puff pastry (sorry, can’t remember the name of it but it was incredibly good with a lot of fruits inside!) “This is on me”. People still remain to be kind even if life gives them such challenges. He sat with us for two minutes and described the Italian life, his family, his Ukrainian memories.
I turned around and noticed that almost every table was taken by a family with small kids and puppies. It was so loud. Elder woman with shopping bags dropped in at a bakery, quickly greeted friends, winked old baker with a flirting note and run away.
Maybe the weather influenced our perception, maybe people.. Yea, people, definitely, they did. The town was so relaxed and healthy. All the kids were playing with dogs. Teenagers were riding bikes with parents. Couples were jogging, seniors were basking in the sun. It was impossible to find a traffic jam, and difficult to find a driving car. A completely different reality.
“Does all Italy live like that? Bye, I am immigrating!”
Men! I was shocked by the way men looked at women. They look at your eyes. No, it’s not a look that judges you, flirts with you or takes your dress off. Their eyes were just wishing you a good day, paying you compliments, taking an interest in you. They looked at us in such a polite way.
Wow, I would never think that I had been missing it back home