Quaint villages and majestic castles line the countryside and every corner in every city has a coffee bar, bursting with personality. Fifty percent of the world’s art can be found in Italy. Seventy percent of that 50 percent resides in Florence.
These are just a few of the images conjured up during a presentation at Portland State designed to explain what to expect when visiting Italy.
With so much to see and do, Italy is a popular destination for American tourists. PSU Professor Angela Zagarella spent an hour Saturday afternoon explaining the best way to visit her country. Her lecture at PSU Weekend covered the history of the peninsula, political and social problems the country currently faces and strategies for getting the most out of a visit.
Roughly 60 people showed up to listen to Zagarella as she spoke of her native Italy. Born in the city of Siracusa on the island of Sicily, Zagarella now resides in Portland while teaching Italian at Portland State University. Although she claims Italian as her nationality, Zagarella explains why her identity is based in Sicily. “Italians only think nationally when it comes to soccer. We have only been united since 1861, and the language, customs and traditions vary greatly from region to region. The only two things that every Italian has in common is a strong fashion sense and a love for the national soccer team.”
Zagarella explained how language and industry also play a part in the lack of uniformity of the Italian population. There are an estimated 1,500 unique and different dialects of Italian that can be found through out the country.
The people of the Northwest speak a combination of Italian and French, while those of the Northeast combine Italian and German. Regions in the South have strong Greek and Arab influences mixed in as their native tongue.
Zagarella addressed several other current event issues that are facing the country, such as the birth rate and the recent political troubles. The birth rate in Italy is the world’s lowest, and many Italians are concerned about what that will mean for the economy in years to come. The fall of the Berlin Wall and communism in Eastern Europe have caused enormous amounts of immigration, and the foreigners are presenting many logistical problems for the country. President Silvio Berlusconi has had many legal problems and is very controversial. Zagarella spent some time addressing these issues, but then turned to the more light-hearted topic of tourism.
“An Italian bar is more like a coffee house in the United States,” Zagarella explained. “But if you go to the counter and expect someone to help you, you will never get service. You pay for your coffee first at the “Cassa” which is a cash register that is usually very inconveniently located. You pay for your items there and get your “scontrino”(receipt), and take that to the bartender. If you stand at the bar without your scontrino you will be waiting for a long time and never get anybody to serve you.”
One member of the audience said that during her trip to Italy, she noticed that children were always with their mothers, and that the fathers never seemed to be around. “What role do the fathers play in the raising of the children” she wanted to know?
“NONE!” was the emphatic reply from Zagarella. “Italian men take very little responsibility in the day-to-day care for children. This has been the way for a long time, and it is beginning to change, but men still leave the majority of parenting to the mothers”. The crowd laughed, and then settled in to an explanation of Italian wine.
“Italian wine is like the Italian people. It is different everywhere you go. Piedmonte produces Barolo and Barbaresco, Sicily has Marsala and every region in between has a wonderful yet unique wine that is native to that area.”
The audience laughed frequently during the presentation, as Zagarella mixed humorous stories and an interesting perspective on the condition of her beloved homeland. She commented on national problems with wit and sarcasm, instead of anger and frustration. Zagarella maintained through out her presentation that Italy is a wonderful place to visit. By the end of the lecture the crowed certainly seemed to agree.