In Italy I am alone. A whole country, almost unexplored, where I myself build the road I am going to follow. Hesitation and excitement.
Between September and December I’ve had the chance to visit some cities in the North, such as Turin, Milan, Bergamo. Here is one of my videos.
The cities and the people
It is clear to anyone who knows both Italian halves: the North and the South are two different nations. While the landscape passes by from the train window, the view evolves, the sky becomes greyer. The moment I get to Milan, reading the departures&arrivals board at Milano Centrale station, I have the feeling I can go anywhere in Europe by taking just one train. For those like me who are from Napoli, going abroad is not a planeless option: you can only dream of other Italian cities, or the sea. This also affects everyday life: at least in Milan, foreigners have no problems with English! When I happen to talk to Milanese universities people, they proudly underline how “Milan is a metropolis, a big and open city, a capital in its own way!” I am not sure whether metropolis is the right definition or not, what’s for sure is the will to keep up with the future, with the rest of the world that moves fast. The Milanese spirit has always been like this, and I give them this big credit. I would like to see more thriving, experimental centres like this in different parts of Italy…
Bergamo, a mere half-an-hour drive from Milan, is the dream of those who love the peace and the beauty of towns far away from the city noise.
When I first was in Bergamo, it was September and I only got to see the downtown. It already struck me for its elegance. In November I was lucky to manage to visit the upper town: a little jewel guarded with carefulness. Even wrapped in mist, the colours of the buildings, of the Colleoni Chapel, of the tourists’ clothes succeeded in spreading the good mood and calmness of that place. Not to mention the delicious polenta I ate at Vineria Cozzi.
Turin is different. It’s exactly how I imagined it listening to Subsonica’s songs. Turin has something that, since elementary school, I’ve always wanted to see with my own eyes: the Mole Antonelliana.
When I saw it appearing from the mist among the buildings, I have been seized by the children’s happiness: I had just fulfilled a childhood wish! On one hand, it was not how I expected it to be, quite short and squat compared to the way I pictured it in my child’s mind. On the other hand, it was exactly how I wanted it to be: prestigious, royal, elegant but with weight, the weight owed to a city demanding respect. Life under the porticos flows comfortable and easy, instead when your head is uncovered you can’t see much beyond a uniform wall of buildings and the parks inhabited only by frost and hooded boys.
The business side
Having already had some contacts both in the North and in the South, I can say that in general the mentality moves faster in the North. People, and especially the bosses, pride themselves on the innovation they choose every time they can. It is on this, on prestige, technology and innovation, that we need to leverage. And on money.
I’ve made this speech in the South, too, but it almost seems to me that more money, earned with a bit of marketing, disgusts us. Here the directors want to know how much they can earn, how good is the return on the investment. At home, the first thought sadly is “how much money can I save?” But I agree on this saying: you have to spend money to make money.
Unluckily Italians are not particularly quick in discussions, and in decisions. During our meetings, I almost always have to explain, repeat, clarify myself many times. And the circle of “responsible” and “interested people”magically gets bigger every month. Everybody, regardless of their role or level, have (almost) equal importance in formulating the positive or negative answer to close a deal. And the answer arrives after months, and months, and months of waiting.
The meetings are always full of smiles and good manners, even if they rarely seemed authentic to me. Authenticity came out only after both sides had reached a certain degree of familiarity. I have rarely been offered a coffee, never been offered to have lunch together. Work is work, better not becoming close to people outside your group. I think it’s nice, even fun, to relax together after a morning of working, why not also to make friends. Please tell me I have just been unlucky and it usually isn’t so… Maybe I’ve been “spoiled” by the Turkish, who offer me anything and everything, and not sharing the moment of lunch must not come into my head!
Last point: sometimes I feel like a teacher. Italians at work behave like Italians at school. Noisy, inattentive, they mutter while the teache- pardon, the representative speaks. I often have to stop, wait until everybody quits the chatter or the phone scrolling, then get everybody’s attention with “Everything ok? Can I go on?”
The North likes to feel like the country’s working locomotive: I like to point out that the North is highly populated by the southern neighbours that look for, and find, a job up there. Five minutes of walking on the street are enough to catch at least 10 different southern accents. I remember with affection this episode: in September, we arrive at the hotel we have booked near the station.
We get in and I notice a painting with the Gulf of Naples, right in the lobby. It’s a nice painting but I forget about it. While my colleague and I are chatting, sitting on the lobby sofas, the hotel owner listens to us and asks “Where are you from?” We say we are from Napoli and he shouts a “Ha! Me too! I am from Sanità, and you?” I remember another time, when some years ago we were looking for help with the metro stops, so we asked the guard for assistance. The guy hears us speaking and says “Guys, you’re from Napoli, aren’t you? I am from Marano, it’s so nice to hear someone from home! Guys, this is the stop and this is the direction. It’s so good to hear you, guys, life is hard in Milan, I miss home and I miss the warmth of Napoli”.
To all the terroni living in the North I would like to say that they don’t live in an awful place at all, actually I am sure they thank “the other side of Italy” for the job opportunity they have been offered. I would like to say that, even if it’s different, the food is great anyway. That people are not cold, they just need more time to warm up. That if they have a brilliant idea, they will rarely hear “You’re crazy, get it out of your head!”, on the contrary they will get a “Cool, try it!”. And most of all, if they need another brother terrone, they can stand for a minute in a random spot of the city and they will find him, for a handshake, or maybe a hug. Since we pride ourselves on our warmth…