Still no news on where I will be living for half a winter...apparently today I will know, but I am not holding my breath. On to better and brighter things: I am crossing over to the other side or crossing the sea more like it to visit my bel ragazzo in his Calabrian village, Malito!
Malito itself is a beautiful, little village and is only 20 minutes drive away from Cosenza. Here is a story from the south from the last time we visited Cosenza.
The bel ragazzo and I had set off for an evening in Cosenza, the main city about a 20 minute drive away. We had just enjoyed a glass of wine in a funky, laid back, Cuban inspired cocktail bar somewhere near the old town when bel ragazzo’s friends called to ask us to come and meet them at another bar. I soon learnt however that we would not be going to the bar itself. Let me explain as I found the situation quite bizarre, as over time I have come to find many aspects of life in Cosenza quite bizarre. We had parked the car in a car park where there were (naturally) many other cars. At the end of the car park there was a bar and in front of the bar, therefore in the car park, were 100 people or so just hanging out. In front of the bar. Only a hand full of people were actually in the bar. The bar granted was nothing special, and outside there was nothing to entice people to hang out there: no music, no outdoor seating, basically just parked cars. The amazing thing was they all come here just to hang out. In the car park. I have travelled much of Italy from north to south, east to west and know Italians like to congregate in the piazza’s to talk, have a drink, and do what they like. The Italians like to be social, they like having their communal areas, and they like to be surrounded by as many people as possible. However, the difference here is that there was no pretty piazza, no ornate fountain, not even an old statue. This was no piazza. This was just a car park. An ugly car park at that. And hardly anyone was drinking either. Of course none of Giuseppe’s friends found it strange. They thought I was strange for thinking it strange.
Bless my bel ragazzo though. He is a well travelled man, and has lived in England, and now Australia too so he can see both people’s points of view. He understood why I found it strange that these Cosentini liked to hang out in a car park. He then told me to look at their clothes. My education on the folk of Cosenza and in deed the folk of southern Italy had begun. Always conscious of not creating a brutta figura they all like to appear more ‘well off’ then they are. Most of the cars you see in the streets of Cosenza are brand new and expensive and most of the people are well dressed. I understand that generally the Italians are a proud bunch and like to always stay on the right side of fashion, having the latest gear and always looking good. And in most of the cities and towns in the north in particular these looks are justified by decent wages and an abundance of jobs, however down here in the south unemployment in high and wages are low. Those that are fortunate enough to find a job often get paid a pittance are often are never paid on time etc... (N.B obviously I am generalising) Bel ragazzo said on the outside these people appear well off, and sadly and truthfully most of them would rather go without food in the sake of bella figura – a good image.
I have questioned bel ragazzo many times about the state of the south; why is unemployment so high, why are there no jobs, why is the cost of living impossible to afford you a decent life? In short why have the people got no money? Looking around me now, at these posh cars and designer clothes I understood. Bel ragazzo said that the majority of the people live in debt. They would rather live in debt and have luxuries they cannot afford. There was a man, a chef bel ragazzo knew who worked in a restaurant in a near by village. His wage was normal for the parts, not too low, but certainly not high enough to explain the brand new luxury Mercedes convertible he had purchased. There were no dodgy dealings going on, no underhand money, the chef had simply taken out a loan on top of his many loans to buy a new car and now was in serious debt but – what I was soon to learn is a popular southern Italian mentality – debt is the least of their concerns if it gains them bella figura. The amazing thing about the chef and the Mercedes was that he used to ride his beat up motorino to work as the new car was too expensive to drive!