When I was out to dinner tonight with one of my coworkers, I was musing to myself that I never thought I would consider walking down the streets of central Florence to be just another typical day. I don't say that to invite envy, but to give an overview of my perception of living in Tuscany these last couple months.
Undoubtedly it has been a great life experience and an opportunity I well appreciate. Such a prolonged break from the ordinary really lets you take a look at your life from almost an external perspective. The longer I'm here, the less I seem to care about my "things," the less I let little annoyances bother me, the lower my blood pressure becomes.
I've thoroughly enjoyed driving around the hilly countryside, seeing vineyard after vineyard, one olive orchard after another; stopping at little bars for drinks and panini; and absorbing the culture. I've stared at some of the most famous statues and paintings in the history of human civilization. And no matter how many times I've gazed up at the Dome of Florence Cathedral, it's never any less magnificent.
But don't let me tell you this place is all wine and roses. I could be the first in line to say Italy is an awesome place, but it's just another country. It's just a bit different--better in some ways, not as good in others. I hear Americans talk about (or imagine) what a wonderful country Italy is, and I hear Italians talk about how great they think (or imagine) the United States is. I see it both ways.
The major cities around Italy are overrun with tourists, especially starting this time of year, and they make a mess of the historical areas. Graffiti by the local kids is common, but not on anything of cultural significance. I'm at least impressed by their respect for their peoples history. Although violent crime is rare, petty theft is rampant, especially targeted at tourists.
There are so many cars in Florence that the air quality is, well, just as you would expect in a big city filled with cars. Driving around here is crazy too. You either become one of the aggressive drivers or you get honked off the road. I don't know what I'm going to do when I get back to the US, where there are actual traffic laws. I'm going to get ticketed daily for illegal passing and parking.
Public services are unreliable, to the extent that we've jokingly referred to Italy as a 2nd world country. Using the postal service is considered gambling. The electricity in my house goes out for reasons only explained to me as "technical difficulties." It took seven weeks for the telecom company to get out to my house and install ADSL (and I still don't have a modem). And the data connection on my mobile phone is too intermittent to be useful, and too expensive to be used anyway.
Even after spouting the cons of Italy, all of the good things certainly overwhelm the bad. My time here is running to an end, and I know I'm going to miss it. Fortunately I think I'll be coming back someday.