The pace of life in southern Italy is traditionally slow. The people go home for lunch and stay for three hours. They nap in the middle of the afternoon – as I’ve mentioned before – to the point of snoring. And they actually refrain from calling or visiting friends from 3 to 5 p.m. because it’s nap time for kids and adults alike. As an American (and not just any American but one from the tri-state area, where slow doesn’t exist), I have always found this very slow rhythm of life annoying and inefficient. My frustration with this slow pace only gets worse in August. On Aug. 15 Italians celebrated Ferragosto, a pagan holiday that goes back centuries. This celebration is an excuse for the country to go on a month-long vacation. Seriously, many people get off from work for an entire month. In recent years, especially with the economic crisis, the vacation time has been cut, so some only have the last two weeks of the month off. But this is still in addition to whatever vacation time they have coming to them during the rest of the year. Crazy, right?
Now, here in Ischia things are a little different. This is a tourism mecca or trap, depending on who you talk to. If the rest of the country is on vacation, then islands like this are working overtime. The tourists come here in droves. In fact, my husband tells me that the island’s population triples in August. Even in this economic crisis, the streets are crowded, the gypsies are out in full force begging tourists for money, and the thieves taking advantage of unknowing tourists are making the rounds. And the natives are working day and night, which is wonderful for them because most of them only work for six months when the weather is warm and the beaches inviting and then they are usually unemployed for six months. This time of year is what counts for their pocketbooks and wallets. While they’re not really experiencing the siesta on steroids like the rest of the country, you shouldn’t feel too badly for them. Come November, they’ll all take off on their own vacations. And the island will hibernate.
In the meantime, these stinkin’ tourists strolling down the streets with their gelato in hand and sleeping on the beach with nothing to do are getting on my nerves. Don’t they have e-mails to send and phone calls to make? Diapers to change? Babies to feed? What about deadlines? How do they get them to simply go away? Arrrgghhh. I want to be an Italian on August holiday in my next life.
The people of Ischia are sighing with relief because the month of August is swiftly coming to an end. For Ischitani, August means work because the rest of the country heads to the beaches and mountains for vacation. That’s right. Just about the whole country, except for those who work in tourism like most of the Ischitani, have at least a few weeks off in August if not the whole month. If you can’t take off in August for some reason, then you usually get to take time off in July. Unbelievable, right? As an American, who barely gets two weeks of vacation per year, I can’t fathom how Italians can ever get work done with all their vacation time. How can the country earn anything if everyone takes off for the whole month at the same time? I guess that’s what “la dolce vita” means.
For me, August in Ischia wasn’t much different than June or July in Ischia. I work for American publications, and therefore I’m always on call and on the job. But I did get to see more of my relatives in my down time. One cousin, who lives in France but married a woman from Ischia, spent a couple of weeks on the island — and we all got together to break bread one night at another cousin’s restaurant (see photo above). And cousins from Australia and the United States are headed to Ischia at the end of the week for a long weekend that will have us all bidding farewell to yet another August in Italy.
I think Ischia, perhaps myself included, will need a vacation to recuperate after the August summer vacation.