If you want to understand a place better, just sit in a coffee bar and chat to the inhabitants. I’ve been learning more about life in Italy the last few days. Here are some stories I heard at the bar this morning.
People live close together here, often two, three or more families in one “house”, each floor being a flat for one family. This proximity often leads to disagreements, and Italians are among the first to insist on their own rights (often not troubling themselves about the rights of their neighbours). A, living on the ground floor of the house, had repeatedly asked Senora B not to hang her sheets so that they blocked the entrance to her house. Arriving home one day after a dreadful day at work, she found that the entrance was once again blocked by her neighbour’s sheets. Nothing daunted, she promptly took a pair of scissors and CUT OFF the offending bit! By her own admission, she fully expected her neighbour to come flying down in a rage, but the sheets were taken in, nothing was said, and the offence was never committed again.
I’ve had problems with men being too familiar in the past, so this next story, told to me by Senora A, delighted me. As a young girl, she was working in a coffee bar when a certain male customer (not a young man) made her feel uncomfortable because he would stroke her arm and back in a familiar way when she brought him his coffee. Eventually, she asked the woman who owned the bar to serve him, explaining what he was doing to her. The woman carried her full tray over to the customer, and as she arrived at the table, he placed his hand on the inside of her thigh. Well! She hurled the tray to the floor and gave the customer a hefty slap that left his ears ringing! Then she told him off and advised him not to come back to her bar. I wanted to cheer when I heard this story.
However, not all the people here are crazy. I have just finished reading the story of Sebastiano, a village inhabitant who was a partisan during the second world war. When he was only a few months old, his father was killed by the fascists. Many years later, when he was a partisan, he had the opportunity to capture one of the men responsible. After keeping the man in jail for something like fifteen days, Sebastiano allowed him to be released and decided not to press charges against him. Although his friends had been afraid that he might simply kill the man, he says that he never wanted to be like them. He was not prepared to stoop to their depths. This delightful man, who is now in his nineties, strolls down to the coffee bar every day. He is bright and alive. A most amazing person!
It’s quite common here in Northern Italy to come across plaques commemorating the deaths of various partisans. Most were young people when they died, and many were women. Their courage and strength is not forgotten.