Postcards from Prato

Shannon Livewell

Recap: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

This is my final week studying at the University of New Haven’s Prato, Italy campus, and I have to say that this experience was definitely an eye-opening one in every way possible. My tastes in music have not only grown enormously with my discovery of so many Italian artists, but it has also taken a trip down memory lane, as American music from the 80s and 90s is still extremely prominent here.

From left: Shannon Livewell, Briana Trudell, Courtney Kresge (photo provided by Shannon Livewell).

I know all of my previous “Postcards from Prato” have focused on explaining the music scene in Italy whether I was interviewing a local artist, reviewing a show, or recommending a performer from the Billboard charts.

For my final article from Prato and the final issue of the Charger Bulletin for this semester, however, I figured I would do a small recap of the good, the bad and the ugly of my experience here in Prato. This article will not solely focus on music, but also encompass the aspects of my experience in Italy and studying abroad.

I guess I will start with the ugly first and leave the best for last. I have to say that being able to live in Italy for three months has been a blessing somewhat in disguise. When I first arrived here it was definitely a shocking transition and a lot harder to get acclimated than I had originally predicted. After taking weekend trips through Europe the past few months, I have to say that there are parts of Italy that are just not worth visiting. It seems to me that the places most talked about in the United States as desired European destinations are the places that actually have nothing to offer aesthetically.

The ugliest of all destinations in my opinion is Rome. Yes, Rome. If the rule “when in Rome do as the Romans,” applied, that would mean that you should probably not bathe for a few weeks, or shave, or wear deodorant, and then walk around screaming at people and glaring at them from afar. The Romans could be compared to smellier versions of New Yorkers in the States. They have places to go, things to get done and they do not care if they run you over with their mopeds getting there.

It is actually a really dirty city as well, covered in trash and graffiti. If you are taking a vacation to Italy or Europe and have limited time to see it all, I would suggest crossing Rome off of the list. You could definitely take a day trip and see the Coliseum, the Trevi Fountain and the Vatican all while getting home before nightfall (wherever home may be for the duration of your trip).

If you are studying abroad next semester or traveling to a smaller city such as Prato, you need to keep in mind that the littler cities stick to tradition. Therefore, the custom of “siesta” still rests heavily with local residents. Though a bulk of your free time may be in the afternoon, keep in mind that establishments generally close from 1 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. every day. Sundays and sometimes Mondays follow this golden rule all day long, so be sure to get food to cook for those days because restaurants will most likely not be open.

You should keep in mind that any fashion trends that hit the U.S. in the early 1990s are currently all the rage in Italy. I am talking camouflage pants, roller skate shoes, scrunchy hair ties and “swishy” tracksuits. If you want to fit in and not look like an American tourist, I suggest buying at least one of the items listed above before your visit.

That’s enough about the ugly. Now comes the bad. Though there are a few Italian singers I am completely in love with, such as Tiziano Ferro and Marco Mengoni (two artists I have previously written articles on), many Italian singers are just plain bad. This country has desperately tried to incorporate rap as a genre of music here and failed immensely.

Artists such as Meddaman and Raige need to start rapping in English and seek a career in America because they have a nice flow, but when nothing they say melodically courses with the structure of the song, it’s just a whole lot of noise resulting commonly in a headache. I think Italy has a strong musical advantage when it comes to the classic forms of music such as opera, but when they try to apply that to make more relatable pop music, they cannot bridge the gap successfully. This seems to be the main reason that they are stuck on American music.

You may never really stop to appreciate how delicious the bread is that your local restaurant puts out on your table while you’re waiting for your dinner to arrive. Next time you go out to eat, you savor that piece of bread! It is only when you come to Tuscany and have to eat their bread, that you will realize just how good you’ve got it back home. It is Tuscan tradition to make their bread without using any salt. You would never think that salt is such an important ingredient, but without it your bread will be easily comparable to a slab of hardening concrete.

Italy may be starting to seem like it is not all rainbows and butterflies, but what place in the world is? There are good and bad aspects of just about anywhere in the world. Sometimes the good out weigh the bad and sometimes they don’t, and a lot of that depends on personal preference and tastes.

Above, I stated some of the main things I think you should know before taking a trip to Italy, things that I don’t think any website or travel agent would tell you.

 

I saved the best for last because the good things about Italy are unlike anything in the world and have far surpassed my expectations. The Italians have a laid back lifestyle that, for Americans, can be very hard to get used to. Once you adapt, however, you find yourself suddenly so much more relaxed living in the moment and taking each day as it comes. There are no rules, no time limits, no deadlines or penalties for lateness. Italians are understanding of life and impeding circumstances. If you are late to class professors simply say “Good Morning,” and tell you what you’ve missed. If you are sick, you are expected to take your full recovery time needed until you return to work or school. If you do not complete a task on time, it is okay as long as you get the final results into them at some point. I have attributed this low-key lifestyle to their long life expectancy rate in Italy. Less stress means less worry and less worry means a longer life (or at least that’s what I think). It will definitely be difficult to get used to the fast-paced lifestyle that used to be so routine for me once I return home.

Another amazing thing about Italy in itself is Capri. Capri, Naples is the most amazingly beautiful place I have ever seen in my entire life. If you do happen to take a trip to Rome, you can completely counteract that experience by spending a day in Capri (be sure to pronounce it like the locals: Cop-ri). It is necessary to try margarhita pizza while you are there, as Naples in the birthplace of this amazing food and you probably will never have a better slice of pizza as long as you live. In order to get to Capri you must take a ferry from a port in the city of Naples. Watch out for the men! Out of all the places in Italy, the men in Naples are the worst. They will not hesitate to grab a woman while she is walking by or stand in front of her so she is forced to walk around them.

The island is a short ferry ride from Naples, and though there is not much to see before you actually get on the ferry, it will be well worth the boat ride once you arrive.

While writing this article I decided to consult with my roommates about their opinions on Italy.

“The ugly for me was definitely the way immigrants in Prato and smaller cities were treated. They were all forced to turn to illegal-trade just to make a living and life is so hard for them,” said Briana Trudell, a sophomore majoring in Nutrition & Dietetics and Psychology. “The bad was definitely my lack of knowledge of the language, and because of that I was unable to fully adapt to the city I had to live in for three months. The good though, was being able to see and experience things some people never get the chance to. The views and sights I got to see were breath taking and amazing, and for that I am very thankful.”

“I have seen many landscapes here in Prato and Tuscany in general that are covered in trash and graffiti. Taking train or bus rides through these places allow you to see the inner towns that don’t really reflect the Tuscany we were led to believe we were visiting,” said Courtney Kresge, a sophomore Music Industry major. “I would say that the bad, as a student studying abroad, is the Internet access in Italy and Europe in general. This is not so crucial if you are visiting Europe on a vacation, but if you are living here for months with no real way to communicate with everyone back home it can get really difficult at times,” Kresge added.

“Lastly, I would say that the greatest thing about staying here in Prato specifically is the people at the local café’s and shops. Most of the local establishments are family run and you can easily become a ‘regular.’ The relationships we’ve built with people here are irreplaceable,” she said.

There you have it. The good, the bad, the ugly and three different perspectives on it all. Studying abroad is an experience that is unique to each and every student. One person could completely love everything about living in another country and someone else could be homesick every day. I think the one thing that stays constant with each individual is the growth and independence that you gain from studying abroad. College is a growing experience in itself, but it is easy to go home for breaks and holidays or to catch up with friends and family whenever you need to. When you study abroad, you are completely on your own and, therefore, you are forced to rely solely on yourself and the people you meet.

I feel so grateful to have had this experience, and I would advise anyone who wants to study abroad to do so. It is important to do your research before heading somewhere new. You should have a genuine interest in going to the place you’ll be studying (it helps if you speak the language a little too). Regardless if you love or hate the experience, at least you will be able to say you learned from it.