Vanilla or chocolate? Pizza or pasta? Rome or Florence? I got to thinking about the connections we form and how our preferences are shaped – from the foods we like to the type of environments we place ourselves. Sometimes we meet a person and know immediately whether or not we like them. More often, however, it takes time getting to know a personality and a character before deciding. I think it works the same way with cities.
Big cities in the world that I fell in love with at first sight: San Francisco, New York, London, Paris…and, of course, Rome.
Le Citta’ Preferite?
When it comes to Italian cities, I’m definitely a “Roma” and not a “Firenze”. I don’t know why but I never completely warmed up to Florence. Maybe it’s too sedate and refined for my tastes. I happen to prefer the frantic pace of Rome, the juxtaposition of the uber old and ultra modern, the messiness and energy. It’s my kind of town – full of passion and gulfs. When I posed the question, “Rome or Florence?” to my friend Igor, (born in Helsinki but a resident of Italy for 22 years), he put it to me this way, “Rome! I like big cities. In Rome you can find different people, cultures and groups. It’s an Italian melting pot – an Italy of multi-cultures. You can have a sense of an Italian life.”
This week I ventured out of central Italy and headed north to Milan and Turin to see how the “upper-half” of Italy lives.
Ten years ago I was in Milano, but circumstances weren’t optimal. It was Ferragosto (August 15 – an Italian holiday when the entire population seems to head to the shore). On this particular date the city turns into a bona fide ghost town; for all intents and purposes Milano was closed for business which left me with an unsatisfied, disappointing taste in my mouth. In contrast, this time around I found the city completely engaging and captivating. Milano is super-vibrant yet understated, organized and business-minded; she hums along very efficiently. The men are tall and handsome, the women are elegant and lanky. In this financial and fashion center everyone is wheeling and dealing while enjoying their aperitivi – a Milano pre-dinner tradition of stuzzichini, (buffet of appetizers).
If Milano is the financial center of Italy, Torino is the manufacturing one. Fiat, Lancia and Alfa Romeo are headquartered here, but the city is also known as much for its art as it is for its automobiles; there are museums galore!
Because Torino was Italy’s first capital and home to the House of Savoy (Ducato di Savoia) – its royal family – these pretty streets evoke Paris and the palazzi (palaces), Versailles. Baroque and Rococo buildings are everywhere emphasizing the strong French influence, which also becomes apparent in the regional cuisine of Piemonte. Here in the north of Italy they use a lot of butter in their sauces. Yeah!
Preferences…we all have them and they are as varied as people can be. What floats my boat may not float yours. We have reasons for our choices based on our unique histories and involvements, yet it often comes down to the inexplicable and esoteric. I suppose you could say “we like what we like”, so when a city speaks to us, we should listen.
Italy is a massively diverse and culturally rich country that one cannot possibly see and experience in one lifetime – but believe me, I intend to try! From the edge of the Alps, the coastline of the Riviera, the canals of Venice, the beaches along the Adriatic, the rolling hills of the middle to the warm islands in the south, Italy must be explored to the hilt. So, get a move on and discover it for yourself. Which Italian city speaks to you and why?