One thing I liked about evenings in Italy is the practice of strolling, such a serene way to end the day. They call it passeggiata and we saw it in every place we stayed. Towns with rivers have natural congregation spaces, and bridges draw people to view sunset and later, moonrise. But Italians don’t need rivers to get out in the evening. Any central spot can attract the locals and tourists alike.
Depending on when you set out, you might see the cart vendors stowing away all their goods. Every day they must set up and put away their purses, scarves, belts, jewelry and so on. This is a good time to get a deal.
Early in the evening, people stop for a glass of wine, enjoyed out at the tables on the street, or if you’re lucky, in an internal garden.
After drinks they eat, whether a simple slice of pizza or a full dinner with antipasta, first course (pasta), seconds (meat or fish) and sides (veggies). Only Neanderthals like us eat all the courses together.
Later, people greet each other with the double-cheek kiss and their dogs do the equivalent. Families buy gelato, children run despite the waning heat (where do they get their energy?), parents try to lull babies to sleep in strollers and young lovers hold each other tight.
It’s a wonderfully cozy feeling despite the public and often large nature of the destination space. In some cities, the “hot” meeting point is a specific piazza. In Florence, young people gather at Piazza Santo Spirito. In Pisa it’s the Piazzo della Vettovaglie; in Siena, the Campo.
Street musicians stake out spots on bridges and anywhere people congregate. More often than not, it’s a small group including brass and strings, and lots of women, atypical of US street-performers. It was a nice change.
Of course, even during these idyllic strolls, disaster can strike. While we were strolling in the Piazza Santa Croce in Florence, my daughter took me aside and revealed that I had my dress on inside-out. (Our apartment was not well lit.) Horrors! How can I feel continental with my seams sticking out? So I ducked behind a line of trash dumpsters, took the dress off and turned it right-side out. Now my daughters were horrified. What?! I had underwear on and the switch made me feel much better. Now I could pay attention to Dante in the piazza and get my serenity on.
This regular gathering in public reminds me so much of Honokaa on First Fridays when it seems the whole town shows up. All we need is gelato.
I think I’m getting homesick.
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Other essays on the Trip to Italy:
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