giovedì 8 aprile 2010

The Italian Paradox

I spent my last day in Italy in Monza. To get to Monza from Milan, you take the train from the dreaded Porta Garibaldi train station. The train will probably be filthy and you may well not be able to see out of the graffiti covered windows, but this doesn't actually matter very much because you are about to travel through some of the ugliest parts of Milan's ugly outskirts.

Then you will get off the train and find yourself in the Italian version of Perfectville. The charming cobbled streets are punctuated with flower displays and the occasional water feature and lined with small independent shops selling artisanal products. Monza has its own La Rinascente. It has a cathedral. It has historic columns in the centre. It has an extensive park that is probably the biggest green space in the whole of Greater Milan. Monza is nice.

There isn't acutally a lot to do in Monza, unless you are into Formula 1 and it happens to be a race day. I spent most of my time sitting on a bench in the park soaking up the sunshine, watching the swans glide across the water and wondering what it is about Italy.

What is it about Italy that captures your heart even when you live in one of the ugliest, most polluted industrial cities in Europe? What is it that makes you feel excited to be alive there even as the smog is probably slowly killing you? How can it have the most frustrating bureaucracy and the craziest drivers you will ever encounter and still make you feel more relaxed than you have ever felt before? How can bite you again and again with its corruption and exploitation and still make you feel like you betrayed a little piece of your heart when you left?

I don't know how it does any of these things, but it does.

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