Saturday, 1 March 2014

Arrivederci Palermo, Ciao Napoli

It’s hard to believe that I’ve already had to say goodbye to Palermo and all the lovely people I met during my 5 months there. But last weekend, I boarded the ferry to Naples, where I’ll be spending the next semester. My exams in Palermo went surprisingly well. In hindsight, given that my results don’t count towards my overall degree (and that I haven’t got very far with my year abroad essay, which does count), maybe I revised too much. But I don’t regret it. I learnt an awful lot from reading all those books in Italian – be it new vocab or Contemporary History. It gave me something to work towards and a feeling of satisfaction when I got 27/30 and 30/30. And, besides, if I hadn’t revised extensively, I could have faced public humiliation. My Politics exam had to be done orally in front of the rest of the class (40 people). As if doing an oral exam in another language wasn’t already intimidating enough! Anyway, it went well and the others in the class – even those I didn’t know – were really nice, treating me like a hero after I passed and high-fiving me.

Among other things, the last few days saw my last Cannolo Siciliano, my last Arancina, my last road trip (this time to Mazara with my flatmate, who’s from there and showed me all its amazing features, including the casbah!), my last coffee in my Faculty bar that I’d go to at uni every day, my last SEL meeting and my last afternoon volunteering in the children’s library.
I also went in to the school where Giuliana’s mum works to answer questions from 13-year-olds studying English about subjects ranging from what my favourite colour is (a while since I was last asked that...) to One Direction. Just like my semester in Sicily as a whole, my last few days went extremely quickly, and before I knew it, it was time to say my goodbyes.

Something I really like about Italy is the ‘salutare’ culture. ‘Salutare’ basically translates as ‘to greet’ but in this context specifically ‘to say goodbye’. And it’s something Italians take very seriously when you’re about to leave somewhere (whether you’ve been there on holiday for a week or for 5 months, like me in Palermo). Outside Italy you’d normally just say goodbye to people the last time you see them. You might organise an evening out or leaving party for your last night, but people wouldn’t usually go out of their way to see you on the day you leave if they've already seen you the night before. Whereas here, even if you’ve seen someone the day before, they’ll often want to pop round or meet up the next day, even if you can only spare 5 minutes, to say goodbye. I’m with Larry David (who in Curb Your Enthusiasm laments how little people around him say goodbye anymore) on this one. I just find that it’s really nice. It’s a compliment to the person leaving who – like I was – is often sad to be going and makes them feel better. And it ensures that you see everyone you want to before you leave. I find it sad when you assume you’ll see someone again before leaving somewhere but then don't.

Anyway, you can probably tell from my general positivity over the last few months that I became fonder and fonder of Palermo. I have so many happy memories and memorable moments from my time there, and I’m so glad I chose it. It’s not for everyone, but I loved it. The countless kind gestures from people there – whether I knew them or not – made such a difference given how far away from home I was. As somewhere for a Londoner to spend 5 months, I just found it ideal. The food, the friendliness, the weather, the views, the beaches, the cost of living and the particularities. Even some of its problems and negatives added to the experience at times. They give you a lot to talk and think about anyway, and they often have a silver lining. For instance, if it wasn’t for all the rubbish and lack of infrastructure (public transport and hotels), a friend who works in the hotel industry tells me that Western Sicily would be full of tourists, who would flock to its wonderful beaches rather than the less special but more well-connected but inferior ones on the Adriatic coast. Palermo being devoid of tourists meant that I wasn’t in danger of speaking English rather than Italian much of the time (there were few English-speaking people around; staff in shops and bars rarely spoke it).

The last time I explained on my blog that ‘Arrivederci’ literally translates as ‘Until we next see each other’, I was commenting on the resignation of Silvio Berlusconi as PM. I added that I hoped we wouldn’t be seeing much more of him (as it turns out, he’s still calling the shots and far from finished in politics). Palermo and the friends I made, however, I hope to see more of in the future. The Palermo-Naples ferry journey was surprisingly comfortable. I’d never done a longer crossing than Dover to Calais before so was worried I’d get seasick. But I didn’t, and I found the whole experience a lot less stressful than flying.

My first impressions of Naples are positive. The locals, like in Palermo, seem incredibly friendly and helpful. The city seems incredibly colourful - I can see why Pino Daniele felt the need to sing about its thousand colours. The pizzas are incredible (it’s true what they say that after getting used to Neapolitan pizzas, I’ll never be satisfied anywhere else). I found a room in a really nice flat. I’ve already been to a Napoli football match, which was exciting, as it was the first time for me and all the Erasmus students I was with. The atmosphere was amazing, even if Napoli’s performance wasn’t (they were lucky to get past Swansea).
Not so keen on his politics, but Clinton knows where to find a good pizza

I get the impression that Naples and Palermo have a lot in common, and that I’m going to really enjoy living here. If I have half as a good a time as I did in Palermo, I won’t be complaining. The roads are one similarity, and I can see that driving here’s going to be another adventure. When looking for the hostel (where I stayed until finding the flat) with Amelia, the other Bristol student here, we asked 2 guys in the street if they knew an alternative route given that the road we could see which led to it was one way. And they said, in thick Neapolitan accents, ‘Just go [the wrong way down the one-way road]. This is Naples. We do whatever we want’. So we did. It probably sounds terrible, but within an hour of being in Naples, I’d already started doing what the locals do.

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