A Dragon In Italy
My Europe trip continues, with almost a week in Rome and another near-week in Sicily where I took my mom to met our distant Sicilian relatives. Being two different regions within Italy, I will break out the two areas in the descriptions below when appropriate.
1. Rich, old culture. Once again, just like with London, as an American with little cultural history, I am floored at the richness and depth of the history and culture here in Italy. I stood within St. Peter’s Square, where the Pope has been delivering sermons for hundreds of years, before even the founding of my own nation. I walked through the gates of the Roman Colosseum onto the very battleground gladiators fought over 2000 years ago. I stood in the exact spot where the body of Julius Caesar was burned by Marc Anthony and Augustus. I stood dumbfounded as I strode through St. Peter’s Basilica, the single most magnificent building I’ve ever seen (and that’s saying something) seeing bodies of hundreds-years dead Popes embalmed in molten silver, with ceilings so high you actually get a little dizzy if you look straight upward.
We Americans don’t have culture or history like this. I was so deeply moved by these moments that it’s hard to put into words, and I’m not even religious. The feeling I get when I touch, with my very fingers, the same marble floors that were hewn by expert craftsmen and walked upon by senators and emperors thousands of years ago…it’s something that goes straight to my soul and beyond. Again, I have no words.
The irony is that many people in Rome, particularly the younger people, think it sucks. Young people here tell their parents they want to move to somewhere like New York or Singapore, with new, tall, glass skyscrapers instead of in Rome with “all this broken old stuff.”
2. The people. Italians are polar opposites of the British. While the British are taught to be polite, Italians are the loudest, most emotional people on Earth, outstripping even Hispanics, Russians and Koreans. They’re not quite as rude as New Yorkers, but they’re definitely in that zone. Taxi drivers are constantly enraged and screaming at other drivers and pedestrians, then turn right around and laugh at a joke. Restaurant staff are out on the streets, aggressively trying to pull people into their joints. Street vendors get right up in your face like they would in a third world country. People stare at you without a care in the world and have little sense of personal space (this is nice when an attractive women is doing it though). Italians are constantly talking, often over each other, and a room with even a small number of Italians in it is a constant din of noise. Hugging and kissing (or touching) both cheeks, even for strangers, is commonplace for both sexes, and many times I found myself doing this with folks I met in Italy, including children and old men. A very weird experience for an American, but when in Rome…
Unlike London, where Londoners are actually in the minority there, Rome is definitely populated by Romans. The vast majority of people in Rome are indeed Italian, I’d say about 85% (outside of the tourist areas). In Sicily this rises to 95%.
People drive like maniacs, and every car ride in Italy is like being in a suicidal roller coaster. People are constantly honking at each other, cutting each other off, yelling at each other out of their windows, and passing each other on freeways in highly dangerous ways even the bravest Americans wouldn’t dare. At least three times so far I’ve seen near head-on collisions because of this. I’m astounded there aren’t more car accidents here, but I suppose if you grow up in a maniacal driving culture like this, you become accustomed to it and learn to move with the flow of the insane traffic.
Because of the lower economic status of the country, street lights are less common, and most crossings are pedestrian right of way crossings (marked by thick white lines) where you take your life in your hands every time you cross the street, with all these high speed Italian drivers furious that they actually have to slow down or stop for you.
Like a third world country, police here act like little kings and pretty much do whatever the hell they want, breaking traffic laws constantly just because they can, infuriating everyone else (more on this in a minute).
In Sicily I had to rent a car to drive out to some of the smaller villages so I could take my mom to meet her distant family. Driving around in Palermo, Sicily’s only real “city,” was a hardcore experience. I had to drive as aggressively as I’ve ever driven in my life. It was fun for me but my mom was terrified. Driving in a country like this is not for the faint of heart. Once you get out on the highways things are much easier, though no one ever uses turn signals, people behind you ride right up on your bumper even if you’re going far past the speed limit, and cars still pass other cars in near-suicidal ways.
My car was the typical tiny European kind. Everything in Europe is small. Small cars, small food, small people, small buildings, small rooms, small homes, small everything. Here is my badass European ride (Americans, try not to laugh):
This little toy car has very little power (I can floor the gas pedal and it will barely go up a steep hill) and can’t shift itself without clunking. Hilarious and fun.
3. The women. Roman women and Sicilian women are distinctly different, so I’ll discuss each.
Modern day Roman women come in two distinct flavors. I’ll call them long faces and round faces. (I’m sure there are more scientifically accurate names for these races, but if there is I don’t know them.)
Long faces are women with narrow, long faces, darker hair, and gigantic noses that are disproportionately large as compared to the rest of their facial features. These women represent roughly 50% of the women you’ll see walking around Rome. They are universally unattractive unless you have a personal preference for that kind of thing.
To be clear, I’m not saying that big noses are necessarily a bad thing. As I talked about when I went to Australia, Australian women have longer, pointier noses than American women, yet women there (in Sydney anyway) are super hot regardless. The difference with the long faces in Rome is that their noses are huge, not just longer or pointier, but huge overall. It doesn’t look good, at least in my opinion.
The round faces represent 40% (or so) of women you’ll see in Rome. They have lighter hair (sometimes dark blonde, sometimes light brown) and have rounder, more normal shaped faces with more proportional features. These women are average looking, but a small percentage are so strikingly beautiful that they’ll make you spit out your gelato when you see them walking down the street. (The remaining 10% of women in Rome are various miscellaneous races, including many Asians, surprisingly.)
The problem is a small percentage of 40% means that attractive women are indeed somewhat rare in Rome. It’s not as bad as London, but it’s not good either. This was disappointing, since too many James Bond movies fooled me into thinking that Rome was full of raven haired turbo-hotties like Monica Bellucci and Caterina Murino.
In Sicily, oh sweet lord Jesus, now that’s a different story. As soon as you get of the plane in Sicily from Rome, immediately you see a difference. It’s as if Venus herself has blessed the island of Sicily with the Wand of Super Hotness. Cute and ultra-hot women are all over the place in Sicily, in the towns, the small cities, and even in the tiny villages with just 2,000 people. This is very strange, since in the US, if you go to a town with 2,000 or 3,000 people, you’re not going to find a hot girl anywhere in there. But in Sicily, holy crap, if you just slowly drive through a town like one of these you’ll see at least two or three women who are, if not super hot, at least super cute. Simply amazing.
In one village we stayed at (population 2,000) I saw many ultra-hot women, just walking around, or working at one of the local bars, or going to church. Even my mom commented that seeing these beautiful babes “didn’t fit” the rest of the setting. She’s right.
I have no idea why the women in Sicily are so much better looking than in Rome. One theory that I’m sure is incorrect is because many Romanian women come to work in Sicily the same way Mexicans come to work in the US. In Romania they make 100 Euros a month, but in Sicily that can make 500-1000. The problem with this explanation is that most of the super hot women I saw were clearly Italian, and most of the villages I spent time in had zero Romanians.
Whatever the reason, if you like hot Italian women, you need to get your ass to Sicily. You will be in absolute heaven here. If you have blue eyes like I do, that will score you some extra points, since women down here seem to love that. I received many positive comments and compliments from women here, since I look Italian/Sicilian yet have blue eyes. They were also shocked that I was 44. Many men and women commented that I looked like I was “in my twenties,” though that could have been bullshit.
On my city list of attractive women, I’d place Rome about on par with San Jose, meaning on the low end of the “average” city range, and I’d put the island of Sicily on the low end of the attractive range, about equivalent to Vancouver.
4. The men. I have nothing much to say about the men in Italy other than to repeat what I said about London, in that the men in Rome are clearly better looking, on average, than the women. This means Roman men, like London men, are getting the shitty end of the deal. If I was a man living in London or Rome and my dating life was important to me, I’d probably move. (Of course I’d move anyway, since Europe is going down with the rest of the West, but that’s another conversation.)
In Sicily, the ratio of attractive men to women is much more equal. Since the lifestyle is harder in Sicily, people do not age well there, and men quickly get fat and dumpy while the women quickly become bent over old ladies. However, people in their 20s and early 30s are quite attractive before this happens.
5. Catholic capital of the world. Rome, and to a degree the rest of Italy, is the “capital” for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. Vatican City within Rome is the Catholic Mecca, and thousands of Catholics converge on it daily from all over the globe.
This was one of the reasons I took my mom here. Having been a Catholic nun for almost 10 years before she married my dad, she has deep historical and religious knowledge of everything Catholic, down to the minute detail, and can even read and translate Latin. Seeing the Pope speak in St. Peter’s Square the other day was one of the highlights of her life. She was almost close enough to touch him and took many pictures. She cried.
I was going to go with her until we were notified that you had to arrive four hours early(!) in order to get a spot (making it 7:30am) despite the fact St. Peter’s Square holds 125,000 people, not including the people who fill up the adjacent streets (which is what happened the day my mom went). I love my mom and I respect the Catholic faith since I was raised in it, but I’m also not getting up at 7am to go see some guy in a medieval costume spout some bullshit Societal Programming about a 2000 year-old sky god and his wizard son. So my mom went with a friend she met the day before (a middle aged British lady and her beta male husband) while I slept in.
Pope Francis is my mom’s favorite Pope, since he’s a left-winger (my mom is a committed leftist despite her strong religious background) and does things like live in a crappy apartment and takes the bus to and from work, infuriating the wealthy Bishops and Cardinals. To quote my mom,
“Finally we have a Pope who is teaching those dumbasses how to help the poor.”
~BD’s Mom, former nun and sweet old lady
Catholic churches are all over Rome, and it’s unusual for me to see a city dominated by one religion (95% Catholic!) since I’m more accustomed to cities like those in the US and Singapore that have churches of various Christian faiths, plus mosques and synagogues. My mom was overjoyed at the Catholic dominance of Italy and went to mass several times during our visit, both in Rome and Sicily. “These churches I can trust!” she said.
No, I did not join her. I’m an agnostic (though not an atheist). I was baptized and had my first communion, so I can use the holy water in a Catholic church and partake of the Body of Christ (eating those tiny white wafers during the sacrament of communion; tastes like cardboard), but I had no interest. Attending mass at Westminster Abbey back in London was more than enough religion for one trip, at least for me.
6. Subpar European infrastructure, as usual. Oh boy. Here we go again with shitty European infrastructure. Being a poorer country with a more lazy culture, I knew that Italy would be even worse than England, and I was not surprised at what I experienced. Things were so bad that they actually tested my patience a few times (and I’m a pretty patient, chill guy when I travel).
One of the many reasons the European Union was such a stupid idea to begin with was that you can’t have people like the hardworking Germans and British in the same “country” as the lazy Italians, Greeks, and Spaniards. The cultural differences between these regions are too strong, and all you’ll end up doing is sucking the money from the harder working northern countries into the lazier southern countries. Which, of course, is exactly what’s happened. But that’s a topic for another day.
A few fun things me and my mom ran into during our trip while in Italy, things I never have a problem with when traveling within the US or Asia:
– Two of the three elevators in our first hotel didn’t work, causing huge delays every time you left or entered the hotel. This was a nice hotel too, not a shitty one.
– In the same hotel, the pool they advertised was closed, even though it was indoors, for reasons they couldn’t explain. All this pissed my mom off so much (she loves to exercise and swim) that we switched hotels after our first night in Rome. The aggressive Italian desk staff gave my mom all kinds of hell and leaned on her hard to stay. They had to debate for about 20 minutes before they finally agreed to refund our unused nights back. I was up working on my laptop in the hotel room during all of this. I was perfectly happy with our current one-elevator and zero-pool hotel, since I’m used to these kinds of problems, but my mom wasn’t (she’s never been outside of the country before), so I let her dick with it.
– In our second hotel, my mom wanted to actually see the hotel room before we chose it, because by this point she was getting the hang of European infrastructure (I consider it a good education for her). We went up to look at it, discovered the staff sent us up to the wrong room, went back down, asked for the correct room, went back up to look at it, approved it, went back down, got the keys for the room, went back up, found that neither of our keys worked for the room, went back down, got the correct keys (the staff had given us wrong keys) and finally went back up to our room to unpack. I’m not making any of this up, and once again, this was not a shitty hotel, but a fancy upscale one that cost several hundred Euros a night.
– The internet, both in Rome and Sicily, was slow as shit in every location I tried it. Workable, but slow. Sicily’s internet was even worse than Rome’s (unsurprisingly).
– During our visit to the Roman Colosseum, “both” of their “electrical generators” broke down, causing a massively long wait for the “fast” line (the line for people who got their tickets in advance, which we did). I had hired a private tour guide for me and my mom, and she was aware of an alternate entrance because she worked with the staff there; otherwise we would have been screwed.
– The bathrooms in the Roman Forum were all “broken” and out of service. I had to hold it for literally 3.5 hours and pissed like a racehorse when we were done.
– In Sicily I rented a portable wifi unit (4 Euros a day) so my mom could have internet access on her phone during our five day stay there. (I have an international data plan so I didn’t need it). It worked for two hours and then never worked again.
– Restaurants and most other similar locations in downtown Rome do not have running hot water in the bathrooms. In the summer this is probably nice, but on some seriously cold October days, washing your hands in freezing water isn’t very fun.
– Huge piles of trash on the sidewalks in Sicilian cities like Palermo are commonplace. (The small villages inland are quite clean though, just run down and old.)
– I can’t comment on the subways, since Rome is quite compact and you can pretty much walk everywhere, taking very quick and cheap taxi rides if you get tired. However, everything I heard about the subway system from the locals was negative.
– Getting the rental car in Sicily was no big deal; it was just as fast and efficient as getting a rental in America. However, actually returning the car to the right place was such a nightmare it took almost 45 minutes. I could give you details but reliving it here will just irritate me. In the US or Asia, you just drive up to a very clearly marked, easy-to-find place, they scan a sticker in your car with a barcode reader, and you leave. Takes about two minutes.
– Just like in London, there were delays in taking flights into and out of both Rome and Palermo. I experienced the same thing in France. I think sitting in your airplane, not moving at all, for 25-50 minutes after everyone has boarded, is a European standard. It’s bizarre and I have no idea why they do this.
– The Palermo airport is particularly insane. You line up at the gate, wait forever, then walk out to a bus that buses you over to the plane. This means that you have to wait for multiple buses to fill up before you get your bus. These are standing-only buses and they don’t have a lot of places to hold on to; only a top rail. This is fine, but my mom is very short and she couldn’t reach it. After almost falling over twice as the bus careened around, I finally had her hold on to me while I held the top rail.
Oh, it gets better. Leaving Palermo, our flight was at Gate 15. We sat there, plenty early as always, waiting for the line to form so we could get in there among the first boarders. Then suddenly, as I was watching the flight board, the gate number changed from Gate 15 to “Gate 10 – Now boarding.” My mom and I had to grab all of our shit and run down to the other gate where the giant line was already half formed. Fun!
Then I saw the most hilarious thing I’ve ever seen at an airport. It was so great I had to take a picture of it for you guys. Here it is. See if you can tell what’s wrong with this picture:
As you can see, there is an entry/exit tunnel for the plane, at the perfect height of the plane, but for some reason they weren’t using it. Instead, boarders had to walk through the external hallway, then lug their luggage down several flights of stairs, walk across the tarmac outside, then lug their luggage back up the stairs to the plane, even though the fucking entry tunnel is right there, being unused.
This would make perfect sense in a third world region like Africa that doesn’t have these tunnels, but the airport had one right fucking there. If they had parked the plane about 20 feet to the left, it would have been fine.
This was so damn funny I was laughing my ass off while waiting in line. The Italians, probably accustomed to this insane shit, had no idea why I was pointing and laughing.
By the way, a quick note about why I point out these infrastructure failings. If I was traveling in an actual third world country, like Cambodia or Nigeria, these kinds of things wouldn’t bother me and I wouldn’t point them out (other than for entertainment). But places like Europe and Australia aren’t the third world. Right? Therefore, my expectations are higher for nations like this, as yours should be.
Some of you have expressed confusion about my complaints about Australian or European infrastructure while I plan on possibly moving to a place like Argentina or Paraguay. The difference is, I hold the third world to a different set of standards. Third world countries are allowed to have ridiculous infrastructure problems. First world countries should not. Otherwise they should not call themselves first world.
This means that countries like Italy either need to declare themselves third world countries, or get their act together and get on par with the US and Asia. But if you’re going to call yourself a first world nation while tolerating aspects of third world (or close to it) infrastructure, then guys like me are going to call you out on crap like this. I hope this makes sense. I’m also not saying that the USA’s infrastructure is ideal. It isn’t, but it’s clearly better than the stuff I’ve been reporting from Europe lately.
7. The Food. Holy shit. I mentioned last week that London food was boring and thus it was easy to stick to my diet while there. But Italy…oh Mama Mia it amo, uccidimi ora. The food here is so goddamm good it must be the work of Satan. People here eat piles of bread, pasta, meat, pizza, gelato, and a few fruits and vegetables but I don’t even know why they bother. The sweets here are made from natural ingredients, not from a bunch of chemicals like in the US. Chocolates, pastries, canolis, all of it melts in your mouth and you can’t believe how good it is. I don’t drink alcohol, but I tasted some wine here and wow, you can actually taste the grapes.
So yeah, I had to take a few days off the diet here, particularly in Sicily where our hosts and distant family members in Vallelunga (a small village in the hills in the center of the island) served us with all kinds of wonderful, homemade, high carb crap, and it would have been insulting to not eat some of it. When in Rome…
The eating habits here in Italy are kind of insane, and yes, this is an American saying this. One family meal we had was huge plates of french fries and mayonnaise for a starter, followed by pizza, where everyone got their own pizza, and it was not “personal size,” but a normal sized pizza, followed by cake for dessert, followed by shots of a sweet type of alcohol they call “bitters.”
Little kids eat gigantic calzones the size of a large plate. Old men squirt mayonnaise packets onto their plates and eat it with their fingers while waiting for other food. I’m not making any of this up.
When visiting a distant aunt, she served me and my mom plates of cookies, bread, and croissants. When we politely refused to eat anything other than a few bites, she was offended and whipped out a huge plate of doughnut-like pastries at us and told us to eat those as well, saying “Manja, manja!” over and over again, which means “Eat, eat!”
I could go on with stories like this. It’s unreal with the food over here.
Ordering things like salads is acceptable but people look at you a little strange. I was able to survive by focusing on eating the meat, like sausage and prosciutto (which was excellent), but god damn, it was a huge battle.
Regardless of their bizarre eating habits, I can’t deny the food in Italy is absolutely fantastic. Italy is now officially the home of the second best food in the world in my opinion. (Hong Kong is still number one.)
8. A Seething Hatred. One topic that was echoed by just about everyone I talked to in Italy, from Rome to Sicily, of all ages and types of people was this: a deep hatred of their own government. The feeling here is that the Italian government is royally screwing everyone, laughing at them, and getting away with it. A common joke I heard is that the mafia no longer exists in Sicily, they have moved to Rome, and are now the politicians in government.
One man in Sicily said, “My father worked at the postal service for 40 years. He gets 1,000 Euros per month for retirement. A politician in Rome works for just four years and gets 25,000 Euros per month retirement, at any age, forever. It is evil.”
Another man in Rome told me, “They (the politicians) are turning our country to garbage. Everyone goes to college, then no one can get a job. They are laughing at us. This is the life!”
A young woman working at the rental car company in Palermo, one of the usual super-hot Sicilian ones, upon hearing my English and my accent, started flirting with me and asked me if I was from Canada (a common assumption about me when I travel, since Americans never travel). When I told her I was from the USA, her eyes lit up like spotlights and she said, “Can I come with you? Take me away from Italy!”
(Side note. Upon relaying this story to my mom, she glared at me and said, “I hope you told her you have a girlfriend.” My mom knows my OLTR, likes her a lot, and is hoping I will marry her. As you might imagine, Mom isn’t very excited about my lifestyle, and anything Alpha Male 2.0 related just makes her snort.)
Another man in Rome told me, “If you visit Rome for a few days or a week, you will say, ‘Rome is beautiful.’ If you stay in Rome for a month, you will say, ‘Rome is shit.’ Too many problems here. The police do whatever they want. The politicians will not fix the roads. They will not fix the subways.”
Over and over I heard this stuff, everywhere I went. Americans dislike their government too, but this was different. There’s a real anti-government hatred here that I don’t see in other countries, including the US.
On December 4th, Italy votes in countrywide referendum that might eventually lead to “Italexit” the Italian version of Brexit. I figured this was a waste of time, since Italy, as a crappier economy, is in the receiving end of the EU deal, thus they would universally vote to stay and continue to get their free German cash. However, now I’m not sure. The people of Italy may actually vote to leave, just to give a middle finger to their government the way Donald Trump supporters are doing in the US.
I still don’t think this is going to happen though, since like most Europeans, Italians are largely left-wing quasi-socialists who worship the welfare state and keep voting for the very people who screw them. Several people I talked to here are for staying in the EU even though they hate the direction Italy is going.
Time will tell I guess.
9. Alpha Male 1.0 family structure. As a Mediterranean culture, most families in Italy, particularly southern Italy, follow an extreme Alpha Male 1.0 model that revolves around family, religion and drama. I spent a lot of time with Italian families on this trip and was able to observe them up close.
I could write an entire article on the Alpha Male 1.0 Mediterranean family model, but the summary of the common Italian family (especially in Sicily) includes all or most of the following aspects:
- Alpha Male 1.0 father who runs the family with an iron fist and is always obeyed (albeit after some drama and pushback)
- Submissive or partially submissive housewife who doesn’t work, or only works part time
- Extreme focus on family, including extended family
- Very religious (in Italy’s case, Roman Catholic)
- As many children as the father can possibly afford (and sometimes even more than that)
- Non-stop, pretty much daily drama and arguments between spouses (and other family members), and when I say “daily” I’m not exaggerating.
- Regular or semi-regular cheating, usually by the husband but sometimes by the wife too (creating even more drama!)
- Decently high divorce rate just like everyone else (though the divorce rate is lower in the small Sicilian towns; these people still cheat on each other like crazy but tend to stay together more often).
Not a family model I would like at all (I would kill myself if I had to put up with all that crap), but some of you higher-drama Alpha 1.0s would love how the men and women live down here.
That wraps it up for Italy! It’s a fun place and I’m sure I’ll be back. I’ll be visiting a few more places in Europe on this trip, but none of them long enough to write a full city review. That will have to wait until next year when I go to Paris and Dubai.