05.03.2015 - 08.03.2015
It was with some reluctance that we left Matera, and drove to this small seaside town on the Tyrrhenian coast in Calabria. Bustling in the summer, it is largely dead at this time of year, and many of the restaurants and shops are closed. It has a very attractive old part of town, with narrow lanes and pretty piazzas. Unfortunately there is a lot of ugly development that surrounds it, and much of the old town could use repair, some of which is going on during this slow time of year.
When we went to the tourist office to get a map,
there was a young woman from New Hampshire who was staffing the place. She has lived in Tropea for 16 years. After her parents divorced, she came to Italy with her Italian mother. She told us about an interesting pizza joint for dinner, not far from our little apartment, and later we decided to try it out.
Ali Baba is run by a very friendly Egyptian man, who spoke relatively good English after spending three years in London. Trained as an archeologist,he says he is content making pizza because he gets to meet people from all over the world. It is a tiny place, mostly take-out, but the pizza, with kabobs, was quite good, and he seemed to be doing a good business even during this slow time of year. While we were there a young woman, who looked to be in her mid 20's showed up with her father, Roberto. She had some English, and so we started talking to her. She has worked as a journalist for a regional Calabrian paper for nine years. Although she really likes the job, often several years go by before she gets paid for each article she writes. She is still studying in university, but feels she knows far more about journalism than any of her professors, none of whom have any journalism training or experience.
We asked if she was angry about not getting paid, and the answer,not surprisingly, was, "Yes."
"Why don't you get another job?"
"There are no other jobs."
"What if you went into something other than journalism"
"Well, I love my job, but it wouldn't make any difference. There are no other jobs."
"Even in other fields?"
"Yes. It wouldn't matter."
"Do you think it is the fault of the government?"
"No,not really. The Italians are lazy. It's in their DNA."
" So you mean they are really laid back,and easy going?"
"Yes, you could say that. They like the sun and the sea, and they don't want to work hard."
"Do you think anything can be done?"
"No, not really. I have my family, but I would like to get married and have children, and maybe buy a car, but there is no way I can afford that. There is nothing I can do."
She seemed resigned to a vicious cycle of barely being able to make ends meet, and living a very restricted life. This seems to be the fate of many young people here in southern Italy. The desk person at the Alpi Hotel in Rome, more or less told me the same thing. She was urging her daughter to learn English so that she could move somewhere else in the EU where there might be more job opportunities.
Soon after that, "The King of Ice Cream" walked into Ali Baba, or that is what the Egyptian proprietor said to us. Then this gentleman said, "No, not me, my father is the King." His father runs a successful gelato business, and has invented all kinds of different flavors, including sweet onion, cipolla, which is a local specialty here in Tropea. Not the ice-cream, but the onions. The following day we went to a trattoria for lunch, and although we did not have this dish, the man next to us insisted we try his frittata cipolla. Similar to a Spanish tortilla, it was delicious. At any rate, the son of the King of Ice-cream, or the Prince, as he called himself, makes a good enough living to be able to travel to the States, and has done so twice. However, he agreed with the twenty-something journalist that it is very hard for young people in today's economy, and also agreed that in southern Italy many people don't want to work hard.
On the surface, the roads seem good, the bathrooms are generally clean, though often minus toilet seats, there is not a lot of garbage everywhere, but at the same time, the cycle of poverty seems to take on a life of its own here. It seems quite difficult to escape what appears to be the southern Italian culture. It was disheartening to hear to the resignation, and to some extent the hopelessness, in our young journalists' words.