Quite the Critical Critique of “On Italian Time”

I chose to write about this piece by Mary Morris for my travel writing class because the title had originally been so intriguing to me. However, in reading it I found myself reacting very strongly and very negatively. Before I delved into the paragraphs below, these three simple words said to me “Let’s talk lightheartedly about how Italians are always late.” However, after I got through the small bit about Morris’s family and their barely mentionable incident with the train from Zurich to Milan I realized that this was going to be a piece of writing that was filled with intolerance and complaints rather than lighthearted discussion.

This narrative short story starts out with an explanation of Morris’s train ride from Zurich to Milan. She, her husband and their daughter had just gotten off an overnight plane so they were exhausted when they dumped themselves onto the train. The conductor who was from Zurich told them that the train would be splitting in Chiesa and they would need to switch to the cars in the front of the train at the stop there so that they didn’t end up in Austria by mistake. While they were sleeping, “their” conductor got off and was replaced by a younger Italian one. This conductor woke them from their slumber because the train was approaching Lugano and he said the train would be splitting there. So they dragged themselves to the less comfortable, less private cars in the front and watched as the train didn’t split until Chiesa, just as the first conductor had said.

The story seems so trivial to me. The second conductor made a simple mistake and Morris presents it like it was either an act of maliciousness or an issue of his being young and Italian and therefore not nearly as competent as the older man from Zurich. The way I read it, the Italian conductor was simply concerned for their well-being during their travels and wanted them to arrive in their planned destination.

This piece by Morris continues on to mention very briefly the other problems she has experienced in Italy that are related to time and space, all of which seem just as meaningless to me. I have been living here for almost three months and I came into it knowing that the culture was more laid-back and less anal retentive than the American culture. It was a little off putting at first but once I settled in a bit I realized that my stress level in America had been ridiculously high and now it was in a much lower, more comfortable area on the scale.

Morris also contradicts herself in a very drastic way in this narrative. She starts off saying “I am not a cynic and I love Italy … No one maliciously puts you in the wrong part of the train or sends you in the wrong direction.” And just after this goes on to say “Italy, like Mexico, is fundamentally a pagan land that has embraced Christianity out of necessity, guilt, and belief. Scratch the surface and you’ll find heathens, and heathens don’t really care what day it is, let alone what time.”

Based on what she has said here, I don’t believe that Morris should be allowed to call herself a “wanderer of the planet.” In my opinion, wanderers should be people who have an inherent need to experience new places and people without feeling a need to bash anyone’s way of being. Whether she starts off saying she loves Italy or not, the fact is she bashed the Italians – and threw Mexico under the same bus – and she bashed them inaccurately as well. The Vatican is in Italy, and you’re going to call the Italians heathens? The culture is largely based off of Catholic values, and you’re going to call the Italians heathens? In my head, all of the above does not add up to a “wanderer of the planet” or a good travel writer.

Morris continues on to tell us about her friend Manuela who lived in Vicenza and the confusion between a woman who resembled her and had a similar name and this other woman’s being bitten by a tiger mosquito. The entire piece ends with her saying that even though she and her family had a reservation for dinner and other places to be, then stayed in Vicenza for an impromptu Tuscan family dinner in celebration of Manuela’s being alive.

The ending doesn’t make sense to me. It seems Morris is trying to leave us with the feeling that she has accepted all of these things she bitched about and all is fine and good, however this does not come across for me. Instead, I feel like she has once again contradicted herself. I cannot get past the claims she made about the Italians being heathens and the triviality of the experiences she included. I cannot accept that this woman who claims to be a wanderer of the planet is actually a person who can take cultural difference for what it is, a difference. A difference is not negative, it is not positive, it is just what it is, different. After reading this piece of writing I am left with a bad taste in my mouth, and I had thought it was going to be lighthearted and fun based on the three little words in the title.

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