Archive for July 1st, 2007

Finding surprising “roots” in Southern Italy, truly on vacation

July 1, 2007

After the cooler weather and Teutonic order of the Baltic
Sea, I have moved to the much warmer and rather chaotic South of Italy, a
choice that may sound strange, but with such low fares from one point of
Europe to the other, distances have become meaningless. While I came for
some history, I found a different kind of historical facts, some surprising
“roots” around here for my own Venezuelan heritage, which while known, only
strikes you when you are actually here.

First, there is the
traffic. For those that think Venezuelans are unruly drivers, just come
here one day and be amazed that it can actually get worse somewhere in the
planet. At times, Southern Italians make Venezuelans seem almost British in
their driving habits. Rules seem to be there to be disobeyed, as
practically no rules are respected as drivers, go through red lights, and
merge at will and simply drive in a scary and fairly chaotic fashion.
Parking is no better, with cars parking anywhere where they may fit,
whether sidewalks, no parking zones or whatever and the term parallel
parking is simply a misnomer, if you can fit it at an angle, then who
cares?

Thus, I deduct that some of our driving habits are deeply
rooted in the South of Italy and as suggested by my fellow travelers, just
recall that most driving schools in Venezuelan were run by Italians, so the
connection is not as tenuous as some of you may think. Thus the Venezuelan
training came in quite handy in weaving around Sicily and
Calabria.

The second cultural influence that was uncanny was that of
construction techniques and how building and houses look around the South
of Italy, particularly in Sicily. In fact, driving from Messina to
Palermo, the sea on your right, it is hard to tell whether you are in
Sicily or in Venezuela driving towards Puerto La Cruz. The same brick
houses, same balconies, fences, construction style and yes, very
non-uniform, disorganized and random.

This is in fact not
surprising, Italian and Sicilian immigration was not only very string in
the 50’s, but it was Sicilian construction workers who helped build housing
and buildings at that time. But it is really uncanny, down to the details,
brick buildings, same balconies and the same randomness you see in
Venezuela. Both in Sicily and Venezuela, construction goes right up to the
street and sometimes one floor is turned into many in a few years. Truly
incredible to see the origins of Venezuelan construction habits
“live”.

Unfortunately, we have not copied other construction habits.
Road are magnificent and you can see in a few miles in Sicily and Calabria,
dozens of viaducts that make the new Caracas-La Guaira viaduct pale,
another sign that as a nation we have lost the ability to think big. In the
50’s we were world leaders in viaducts, today we not only build them too
late, but we think we have done something out of the ordinary. I have seen
amazing viaducts, twice as long and in a curve and even turning 360 degrees
just in from of your eyes in thin air. Sometimes, like near the Greek
temples in Segesta, long and high viaducts have been built over
agricultural areas, making me wonder why, it would seem they could have
done the job cheaper don below, maybe corruption also has some origin in
our Sicilian ancestors.

Thus, I came to see Norman, Arab and Roman
history and monuments (or ruins) but I did find surprisingly a bit of our
own cultural origins in this part of the world.

And I cannot leave
without mentioning the Sirocco from the Sahara that we felt in Palermo. It
was not the first time I felt 36-42 C weather, but it was something else to
turn and feel that hot blast of air that feels as if you just stuck your
head inside an oven. I do not wish that on anyone, but it is indeed quite
an experience, I just did not think t could get that hot and uncomfortable
anywhere on this planet. It felt like Mars.

So, from down south in
Italy, where Internet access is quite difficult I send these notes on what
I found here, as I have little idea of what is going on in Venezuela.
Internet access is difficult and expensive, so I read some of my mail and
have little idea of what is happening at home. I guess you could call this
truly a vacation!

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