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Lazy and beautiful: a reflection on my quick trip around Northern Italy


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My extraordinary laziness has nothing to do with me being a student. It is just who I am. In my old age, I expect I will still procrastinate over tasks such as the laundry or the dishes, and then take ages when I get around to doing them. It's just my nature. Last year, I spent entire afternoons preparing for a university lecture which was always held in the early evening, and which most of the time wasn't worth the effort.

Everyone knows the stereotypes about Italians. They have ancient and beautiful cities, with streets lined with expensive tailors and perfumeries - but it's hard work finding a sandwich. Eating a meal, invariably pasta, is a special event, to be enjoyed with friends and neighbours over several hours. They drink and smoke and screw one another like rabbits. They go through roughly ten Prime Ministers a decade, and each of them has the chief of police in their pocket, or are themselves the plaything of some shady mafia figure. But at least they have world-class ice cream and good weather to keep the show on the road. Besides, they don't give a toss.

Oh, and they're dead lazy.

I’m fine with most of all that, but despite being a naturally slovenly person, I'm not sure I could live in a lazy country, even if to a certain extent that is only a stereotype. Mussolini, so they say, made the trains run on time, and for the weekend I was back in Italy they generally did. Nevertheless, I'm still never completely comfortable with the Italian way of life.

Norway, where I had flown in from and have been living on exchange for the past five months, is a country where everything seems flat-packed and super-efficient and clean to the point of sterility. It is also cold, so it was nice to take a break for the snow in a country where everything is much more scruffy, open, and, although it is warmer in some ways, more chilled.

That said, not everything is 'open' all of the time. Try going to a picturesque fishing village, such as Portofino, in the northern region of Liguria, on a rainy day in the middle of winter, and see what kind of reaction you get. What few cafes were open treated us like aliens newly arrived from another world. Those who generally prefer life in the big city so often forget that the more rural corners of the world still rely on the rhythms of the weather and business seasons. Otherwise, there really is no rush.

The previous day's visit was more successful. It was sunny, but I'm sure the slant of the Leaning Tower of Pisa would still have looked good in the rain. The Torre Pendente is very Italian - beautiful, yes, but internally a little screwed up. And, of course, it took ages to come about.

Construction began in 1172 and kept going for another 200 years, as various builders and architects struggled to deal with the soft soil on which they had built the foundations for what was to be the bell tower of Pisa's Cathedral. A more recent restoration, completed at the end of the last century, which secured the tower without removing its famous lean, ensured that, for the next two hundred years at least, the surrounding piazza will be filled with tourists posing with their various legs and arms in the air, looking like drunken chickens as they attempt to get a picture of themselves 'holding up' the tower.

The not-so-distant Piazza del Duomo in Milan is another stunning tribute to the Italian work pace. A meeting point which you can cross in less than a minute took over six centuries to come about, though it seems the wait was worth it: the square is the heart of the city, and like its Trafalgar and Times counterparts in London and New York, has become a place where at least half of the world will pass through eventually. Flooded with as many pigeons as tourists, the Piazza del Duomo is named after the city's stunning cathedral, which is, amongst other things, home to the rotting remains of Milan’s many archbishops.

Next to the Duomo is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, easily the most expensive shopping centre in town. No Poundshops in this place that's for sure, though there was a McDonalds hiding at the north end, where I stopped for food the afternoon I arrived before checking out the Castello Sforzesco, a massive structure just around the corner which was once the seat of Italian noblemen. Then it was time to take the train to Genoa, two hours to the south, to begin my stay with a Scottish friend who has taken to the country so well that she’s now learning the language.

‘The thing is,’ she told me not long before I returned home, ‘sometimes here they don’t give a shit.’ I love Italy, but for someone as lazy as me it’s better for a holiday than a home. I need a country that always gives a shit, so that I can continue not having to.

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