Grand Tour Project
“Becoming a Local”
By Juliana Gorina of FIU in Italy
This past month in Italy, we as students experienced more art, history, and culture hands on then we had ever in our academic career. In our travels in Italy, we were able to explore the cities we were living in as well as the cities and towns we visited in this time. Italy is a tourist hotspot especially in the summer months; therefore, it could have been easy for us to fall into the more touristy attractions, areas, and restaurants. As part of our class assignments, we were assigned neighborhoods in each of the 4 cities that we stayed in. We were asked to explore these areas, observe, and speak to the locals, explore the food, the lesser-known sights, and overall attempt to experience what a local of the area might experience on a day-to-day basis. It was like this that we as students were encouraged to become locals of our own, through the observation of the lives of others in our neighborhoods. Each of my neighborhoods provided me with a different aura, as well as a different view of Italy and the people who live there, and their own unique cultures and traditions. My neighborhoods were as follows: The Jewish Ghetto of Rome, the Santa Croce area of Florence, the town of Manarola in Cinque Terre, and the neighborhood of Castello in Venice. Each of these areas was extraordinarily unique in its food, culture, size, and people, providing me with a wide array of experiences and views as to how Italian locals may live.
The Jewish Ghetto
Of all the neighborhoods in Rome that we crossed in our tours around the city, the Jewish Ghetto neighborhood was more than likely the smallest, and what I observed to be the most unique, rich in its cultural and traditional practices. The Jewish Ghetto is the oldest Jewish neighborhood in Europe and as soon as you step foot in the heart of the neighborhood you can feel the culture and comradery surround you. In my first visit to the Jewish Ghetto, I was greeted with the sounds of families, friends, and acquaintances sharing dinner, drinks, and conversation Exhausted from the long day of class I had just had, the shift in energy once I looked around was something I will never forget. I was looking for a light snack when I arrived, when Professor Bailly suggested I try traditional Jewish pastries from the bakery at the end of the street. This bakery, which did not even have a name, seemed to be a popular spot for locals who were in line buying bulk quantities of bread, pastries, cookies, and cakes. The pastries I tried were not too sweet, fluffy, and delicious. As I sat on a bench to eat our snacks and observe, I took note of the sense of community in this neighborhood. A kind elderly woman sitting next to me waved hello at multiple people passing by others were having stopping to have short conversations on the street. There were street performers playing music as passerby’s and patrons of the restaurant stopped to watch. It was a beautiful sight, with a neighborhood that seemed to be tight knit. On a second visit to the area, we visited on a Saturday evening. Attempting to get falafels, we soon realized many of the restaurants were closed. We were informed by a local that Saturday evenings are reserved for the Shabbat, which is the day of rest in Judaism. We then decided to eat at a one of the few restaurants that were open, and try the different styles of artichoke, including the traditional Jewish style. Overall, the Jewish Ghetto was the neighborhood that displayed the greatest sense of community, with a beautiful energy surrounding the locals and tourists alike.
The most distinguishing aspect of the Santa Croce area of Florence is obviously the Church of Santa Croce, a beautiful white church with a statue of Dante standing in the front. Directly in front of this grand church was a large piazza, with locals selling knick knacks and souvenirs. The church of Santa Croce had lines of tourists outside, waiting to go inside and explore its art and beauty. The piazza was full of locals and tourists alike, surrounded by cafes and small restaurants waiting to welcome hungry tourists. During the day the piazza was full of life, with many people lounging. During a visit at night the plaza was not as busy, but not empty, with younger people lounging and walking through the area after a night out. The piazza was a perfect spot to stop and rest, at any point in the day, and the presence of locals and tourists brought a certain buzz to the air, with plenty of noise and movement. For me, the standout feature of this neighborhood was the Scuola del Cuoio, or the famous school of leather of Florence. Here we saw a much quieter side to Santa Croce compared to the areas surrounding the church and piazza. The school of leather was tucked away in a quiet street of Santa Croce, where you walk through the entrance of the school just to find yourself outside of the palace looking building. There you walk through to see the leather workshops and hands on classrooms. In the show rooms new bags, jackets and leather products are displayed, as well as older historic ones that are museum archives. Here we see a mix of tourism and historic Florentine artisanship, with leather workers diligently working on their projects as tourists stroll about the show rooms shopping. The Santa Croce area provided a more modern and youthful hub, where tourists, students, and locals could meet, shop, and explore an area outside the main attractions of Florence.
Manarola of Cinque Terre was an exhilarating experience. When entering the town from the mountains, it was quiet, with elderly locals sitting near churches and other building conversing or having a coffee. As you walk downhill towards the water Manarola becomes busier yet more touristy. For the most part, Cinque Terre was not overwhelmingly touristy with Americanized foods and products. What I saw here was more along the lines of small boutiques, lining the streets with summer dresses and bikinis. Once all the way downhill, you are met with the deep blue water and rocky shoreline that is Manarola. Here crowds of locals and tourists lay on the hot rocks, tanning in the sun, or swimming in the blue Mediterranean waters. Cliff jumping was a huge attraction here. As I swam in the cold water of Manarola, I watched a group of middle school aged boys joke around and do jumps and flips off a lower point on the rocks into the water. Higher up the rock, young adults dared to take the large jump into the deep water. Those participating in this cliff jumping seemed to be mostly foreigners, looking for a sense of adventure in this semi- sleepy town. The view of the water and beach area from the stairs above gave a picturesque look for Manarola, young and tan people swimming, jumping, lounging and conversing, even in the evening as the sun began lowering itself into the water. The town of Manarola itself was well kept, with residential homes higher up in the cliffs and mountains, locals hanging out of their windows putting clothes on drying racks, with a view of the mountains, ocean, and swarm of people below. Manarola had many small streets and alleyways that cut through the mountains, leading to small cafes and restaurants offering refreshments with a view of the ocean and mountains on their balconies. Manarola was clearly a tourist hit, especially for young people, but there was a strong local presence. The presence of foreigners was unable to overwhelm this small town because of its preserved architecture and the presence of family homes all throughout the mountainous town. Manarola provided excitement, sun, and cool ocean water to those searching for relaxation after a hike through the mountains.
In my stay in Venice I visited the Castello neighborhood, which is the largest neighborhood of the island, a few blocks away from the Rialto bridge. The neighborhood expands from just beyond the bridge all the way to the western edge of the island. The neighborhood is largely residential, homing Venetian families that go back decades. The neighborhood is also home to the stadium of Venice’s professional soccer team. After speaking with locals, I learned that the community is very tight knit, with families living within a few houses of each other. There is always activity in the neighborhood due to the schools in the area and peak activity is seen when there are soccer games at the stadium. One evening I took a gondola ride, where my gondolier informed me that he lives in Castello, his family going back generations all from the Castello area. He informed that his family is a historic family of Venice, being one of the renown families that build the gondolas; him being the first in his family to become a gondolier. At night I experienced the local night life with some of the young locals, where restaurants during the day are converted to bars at night where many young people come out to see their friends and lovers and share drinks.