People have this idea of Southern Italy in their head, a mixture of pizza, sunshine, mafia, crime, grime and chaos. The people are friendly but the drivers are crazy.
The reality of Southern Italy is a little different to the stereotypes.
For a start Southern Italy is one of the safest destinations on earth. Contrary to popular perception, mostly created by the media, it has one of the lowest levels of violent crime on earth. The main risk is pickpockets in the big cities of the south but not much elsewhere.
There also is far less grime than you'd think. The only place in the south that I have ever found to live up to the grimy stereotype is Naples and that is not the whole story with Naples either, there are lots and lots of reasons to love Naples... despite the grime... click here to read why Naples is great.
Some of the stereotypes are true though!
The pizza is the best, the people are super friendly, the summer sunshine is endless and... the driving... well it is CRAZY!!
I cannot emphasize enough how wonderful the south is. You really need to live it for yourself, begin your journey on https://www.italymammamia.com/southern-italian-destinations.html
The one thing I love most about the south of Italy are moments when something enchanting happens to you in the most beautiful setting you've ever seen. It is almost as if you are in a movie, experiencing some poignant moment that will stay with you forever. Here is an example...
One sweltering summer's day I was huffing and puffing my way up the 2000 steps from Minori to Ravello, when a wizened gentleman of around 90 came sailing by, also on his way up the stairs.
I gasped "how do you do it?" Loaded down with bags, he just smiled and offered me a a bottle of water and a packet of crackers from his bag.
Then he said, "I used to run up these stairs at your age. I live down below and worked as a builder in Ravello. Up in the morning, down for lunch, up again after and then down home."
With a wave he went on his way. I sat down to sip on the water and recover my energy.
No wonder they live so long along the Amalfi & Cilento coasts - all that walking, all that up and down. Yet, they've always time to stop and have a chat, to help out a stranger and to make you feel like you belong. Maybe that kindness and caring is another reason they live so long?
Old and wizened, he looked at me and said, "I am much richer than you Americans".
I was speaking English to my husband so he must have thought I was American. I played along. I asked him, "why are you much richer than us Americans?".
He looked at me, sympathy in his eyes, and said, "because today, like every day, I will sit with my family and spend two, maybe three, hours eating, drinking, talking, laughing.
You Americans, you even run with your coffee, you never stop. Me I eat a four plates for lunch, you put it all on one to finish quicker.
For you the time is money. For me time is to spend with the people I love.
Those times at lunch I learned all about my children, they talk with me, grow up with me. No problem is too big, no psychologist we need, we always talk.
That time, those moments, those memories, they are worth much more than all the money you made running mad about with your super whoopy burger or big pot of coffee in polystyrene cup.
I have nothing much - one old Fiat and little cottage by the sea.
But, I have everything.
I know you will never understand, you want bigger house, bigger car, more money, more rush.
I wish you could maybe understand... just a little"
In a small seaside town in Italy three corporate executives from New York, Dubai and Shanghai dine at a trattoria. They're discussing how great their cities are.
Nearby sits an elderly Italian grandfather, listening quietly. As they talk a wry smile creases his face.
"New York literally never sleeps, 24 hours a day you'll find stores open, people everywhere... something is always happening somewhere in this great city" says the American.
Not to be outdone the sheik replies "In Dubai our skyscrapers touch the sky, our malls go on forever and our wealth is obvious to all... where else would you see gold-plated Bentleys?"
"Shanghai has all of that and more" boasts the Chinese Industrialist. "In Shanghai we have ten lane highways always filled with traffic and huge factories stretch as far as the eye can see."
Noticing the Italian looking in their direction, the Mergers and Acquisitions guy from New York smugly, sneeringly, asks the Italian... "and what makes YOUR town great?"
The Italian answers: "because my town has none of those things and it saddens me that you cannot understand the wonder of that."
A story told to me in a small town in Southern Italy this summer: The elderly gentleman says they had just finished filming a few weeks before I arrived. Here's the story...
A Hollywood movie is filming in an Italian village. During a break in filming one of the stars takes a walk through town. Coming across a wizened old man repairing his boat the star stops to talk. "I have wealth, fame and success - how can I help you?"
"I wish to help you," says the old man.
The star looks stunned... "What do you mean?"
"You need to make more money with every movie, you need a bigger house, a flashy car... and another... and another.. an airplane maybe, even your vacation must be better than other celebrities - you come to Italy for photo opportunities not for a true vacation. Time for you is always a race but your face must stay forever young under the knife of a doctor."
He continues, "My face shows my life, my struggle, my joy. I live in one small cottage, I've raised three beautiful children and I have five grandchildren. We eat together everyday, I share great joy with them for their small successes and I am there to hug them when they fail. I savor every moment of life... whether eating, watching a sunset, tending my garden or fixing my boat.
For you, everything in life is a destination to achieve as quickly as you can.
For me life is a journey, I feel the sun on my face, the wind in my hair and I stop often to think of where I've been and to remember those who have passed on. I, my Hollywood friend, am the richest man I know"
The actor returns back to the set and can't sleep that night. The old man's words are troubling.
The next morning the star returns to visit the old man, hugs him and with eyes brimming with tears says "you are right, I wish I could stop but I know I am never going to. I rush headlong to my end."