Exploring Italy: Culture

The view from a street of Aquilonia, a small town in southern Italy where communications junior Alana Gomez stayed with family.

Photo by Alana Gomez

The view from a street of Aquilonia, a small town in southern Italy where communications junior Alana Gomez stayed with family.

It had just rained and the air carried the scent of fresh earth. Stray dogs settle themselves on the lawn of my great grandparents’ house. The little town of Aquilonia in southern Italy is a bustle of quiet activity as its occupants come out to smell the fresh air and witness the beautiful day.

On July 18, I boarded a 6 a.m. flight to New York. From there, my two sisters, our mother and I got onto a connecting flight to Naples, Italy. At the airport in Naples I was reunited with my grandfather and two uncles. After many happy greetings, we all got in the car for the two hour drive to Aquilonia, the small town where my grandparents grew up. I had planned to sleep on the car ride to catch up on the six hours I lost with the time change, but I found a much more interesting scene outside my window. Once we traveled outside of the city limits, it was farmland and countryside for miles. We drove up and down hills and passed sprawling fields and steep mountains.

Upon arriving in Aquilonia, we visited my uncle’s farm, where I was greeted by 30 family members. I hadn’t seen most of them in 6 years, and others in up to 14. A part of Italian culture is greeting someone with a kiss on each cheek, and when I finally made it through each family member, I found myself more tired than before. By the time we sat down to eat it was 3 p.m. and everyone was served one piece of lasagna down the table. My stomach was in for a shock that evening, because after the first course, food continued to fill the table. Following the pasta was cheese, all kinds of meat, eggplant, bread and fried zucchini.

To say the least, living in Europe for two weeks, especially a small town in south Italy, was a completely new experience. I don’t speak Italian, but I found my ways of getting along, plus I had my mother and grandparents as translators. Aquilonia is small, with only around 1,000 occupants, and I was probably related to most of them. The houses in Italy have no air conditioning, only windows that are left open all day to keep the breeze blowing inside. Clothes are still hung on clothing lines, as most homes have a washer but not a dryer. Traveling in Italy is done on winding roads high in the mountains, with no railings or barriers to keep cars from falling over. Most people don’t even wear seatbelts while driving on these roads.

I spent some time on my uncle’s farm catching up with my cousins, and of course, more eating. I was able to experience what life was like on the farm and was even present for a lamb slaughtering. Every day I met someone new and eventually I couldn’t keep track of the names of the people I was meeting.

One day while visiting my grandma’s family in town, we took a break from our visiting and went to a supermarket. When we approached the meat counter the employee said “Ciao Nina,” I turned to my grandmother and asked if she came to that supermarket often and she replied sincerely “No, he’s my cousin.”

My stay in Aquilonia helped me to appreciate the little things in life, and I got to see the amazing and beautiful countryside of south Italy. It was a simpler lifestyle. I spent time with family I hadn’t seen in years and even met family I hadn’t known before. My trip to Italy was one of the best adventures I’ve ever had, and I can’t wait for the day that I return to the wonderful country.