Two Worlds - Two Identities by Maria Slezáková

08/02/2010 20:50

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Last summer I found myself at one of those life crossroads which do not let you sleep. You know, when something unpredictable but magical happens,and you find it hard to understand or explain. As it often happens, the journeys people do not plan are much more likely than those they do, so without me planning anything, an exciting path opened up before me just after my last exam. To be frank, travelling has always been my passion, giving me confidence and freedom. No matter where my feet take me, I will find the same sun, moon, and stars, the same people with similar aspirations and dreams everywhere. Moreover, travelling is the best school of life which offers everyone an endless list of lessons. Just think of it: so many diverse identities, different customs, cultures, manners, history, economics, politics etc. But I will not ramble on too much because you must have guessed that I ended up travelling through England and Italy.

England is an admirable and enchanting country,and yet my suspicion makes me feel it is the most melancholic of all. Everything seems so perfectly organized that an enthusiastic traveller, who has been there, say,three or more times, is convinced the problems of poorer countries still struggling with unemployment, health care system, education, life insurance, high taxes and low incomes were sensibly solved in England many years ago. It is partly due to extremely civilized people the country abounds in, and partly because of her Monarchy which, despite a large number of people who would vote for its abolition, still mysteriously survives. Many people are amazingly proud of their Queen,claiming she represents a significant symbol of their unity.  Most English appreciate the Monarchy as part of their national history. Also anti-monarchists would probably agree that what the present political system needs are just some minor changes. To put it bluntly, it provides stability, or at least a sense of it. First, the existence of the Monarchy continues to uphold many ceremonial traditions which attract tourists from all over the world. England has always been ready to welcome foreigners to show its beauty, history, gentlemanlike manners or, in a word, pride.Second, clever people acknowledge that the Monarchy is above politics, which means it is neither left nor right and thus remains neutral and does not take sides. Of course, the Queen can give unbiased and non-political support to a wide range of organizations. Therefore, this country seems to know how to govern correctly and well, how to educate their people and how to show empathy and a great respect for everyone. English manners are not, and never have been, vulgar – except for a few drunken individuals whose temporary clouding of consciousness is usually understandable and easily pardonable.

Nevertheless, I belong to those who are prejudiced that England is often a gloomy and cold country. Whether it is because of the constant rain or the calm Englishness mixed with the awareness of their extraordinary intelligence, I dare not say. Perhaps I am wrong. England can be homey and warm. The English have a special taste in architecture; their pompous buildings and High Anglican churches constitute an important part of their pride. A perceptive foreigner immediately notices how cosy their little historical cottages are, how conscientiously residents take care of their gardens and how eagerly they mow their lawns every day. English parks and flower beds are cultivated with great care–my eyes have always admired the perfectionism of English gardeners. And not only that.

 

Neat and tidy public places under cloudy gray skies or in rain, mossy stone houses, window-boxed villages, green pastures with horses, and last but not least, infinite shelves with innumerable books and newspapers. I should not forget to mention the not-so-good English food. Fortunately, there are some exceptions: delicious Cornish pastry, yummy chutney, shepherd’s pie, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, and, of course, unique Earl Black tea with milk. Short but not insignificant words like sorry, please, thank you, excuse me, good morning and how are you indicate uncommon politeness, self-discipline, and a nice etiquette.

You may think I am a secret anglophile and perhaps you are right because every time I have to leave England, I am under its spell. To be back home means to get nostalgic, and my memories make me wish I could go back again.

 

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As soon as a traveller enters the triumphal arches in Italy, he or she gets enchanted. What comes first to my mind is the pleasant culture shock I experienced upon my arrival in this utterly different world. To tell the truth, Italians are a more creative people than the English since their unity does not rest on a monarchical convention but a diversity of delicate Espresso: caffe latte, caffe macchiato, caffe doppio, americano, ristretto,cappuccino, caffe con schiuma, caffe lungo, caffe corretto, caffe freddo, caffe con panna, gran caffe speciale, and thousands of others.

 

Their peculiar customs related to drinking coffee reveal they are by no means hooligans. They just perceive reality in a completely unique way – through expressive motions, high vibrations of voices, and eloquent gestures. Simply, during a discussion with an Italian one begins to believe language is but an unnecessary system of signs, which is, moreover, exceedingly deceptive. You don’t need to listen to them; it is absolutely enough to watch the movements of various parts of their bodies and facial expressions while they are arguing. They are indeed a warm and kind nation of ‘amici’ upon which the sun always shines. And the impact its strong beams have on them must not be overlooked. I may only confirm what is allegedly said: Italians are intriguingly vivacious, emotive, easily irritable, and really romantic. According to a recent survey, Italian men spend most of their time thinking about kissing a long dark-haired and curvy beauty on the beach. How romantic! One may wonder whether such sinful thoughts may, one day, penetrate the impenetrable walls of its sinless state.

 

Italian life pertains mainly to Mamma Mia, love, the sea, the sun, art, football, fun and lots of other pleasures like cars, shoes and clothes. Not only are Italians material but also pro-family and, say, still patriarchal-oriented.  When it comes to that, they are brilliant hosts. Nowhere but in Italy will you be served the best pizza, gnocchi, lasagne, fish, frutti di mare and dolci in fundus on beautifully laid tables.

 

I should not forget that objectivity is always most appreciated. Therefore, I must admit that Italian people are sometimes lazy and their precious historical cities often neglected if not utterly filthy. They look and behave as if they did not know where they are going, what they want to achieve by their regular strikes or what kind of government they might once like. Save that crazy, useless, and pathetic buffoon!

 

Writing about travel experiences and reflections is the same as trying to understand an incomplete, never-ending story. To conclude, I can only add that Italians will undeniably teach any traveller two things which the politically correct English don’t seem to be aware of. Namely, how to give various "baci e abbracci" and how to enjoy life!

Mária Slezáková

TWO WORLDS -- TWO IDENTITIES

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