Has It Been A Year Already?

One year ago, we were arriving in Rome to eventually make our way to Trento and a new chapter in our lives. So how have things shaped up in that time?

The Job

I love my new job. It is wonderful to work with a team that is big enough to resolve programming issues without me having to try my hand at crappy coding. I love my colleagues and sincerely enjoy their company. The project itself is very interesting, as we build apps that are meant to be useful to the local communities.

Beyond the project itself, I love being in a university setting again. I had forgotten how much I enjoy the intellectual stimulation that comes from frequenting smart young people. Plus, the University of Trento has an excellent reputation and so attracts lots of good students.

My only regret is that this is only a two-year contract and we’re already at the halfway mark. How did that happen?

The City

If you enjoy living in smaller cities, as I do, then you will understand why I love Trento. It is small enough to be easily visited in a day (unless you include all the suburbs) and while it does not offer the same level of tourist-y sites that a city like Verona does, that just means that we have much fewer tourists invading our city. Except at Christmas time, when people come here for the Christmas Market, and then it’s hardly walkable in the historical city center. Sigh. How do the other cities in Italy manage?

In spite of its small size, though, Trento has plenty of interesting activities going on all year long, whether cultural, social, or just plain marketwise. This summer, for example, there were free rock concerts every Tuesday. This autumn, we will be attending four different operas (two of which will be held in Bolzano). I particularly love the little markets that they set up every once in a while. There, you will find stalls for all sorts of local products, such as foods from all over Italy.

In addition, Trento is situated in the pre-Alps, which means that we are surrounded by mountains and our vistas are of even bigger mountains. For someone who grew up in the flat plain of Montreal, the local scenery is exotic and gorgeous. I just cannot get enough of looking at mountains.

Trento is situated in the North-Eastern part of Italy, so day trips up to now have all been around this area. While it is not as well situated for these kinds of trips as Verona – which is a major train station, housing trains going east-west and north-south – it is still fairly easy to get to some interesting towns and cities in the region. Up to now, we have visited the following places:

  • Firenze (Florence)
  • Venezia (Venice)
  • Verona
  • Bolzano (aka Bozen in German, as it is in the German-speaking area of Italy)
  • Rovereto
  • Malé
  • Riva del Garda
  • Malcesine
  • Monte Bondone
  • Monte Terlago

Of course, nothing is perfect, and in Italy, the major source of frustration for foreigners is the bureaucratic paperwork that needs to be done. This is especially painful when you have just arrived and speak nary a word of the local language.

On the other hand, the local comune is very enthusiastic about ensuring that foreigners do speak the language and so it is possible to follow amazingly cheap adult Italian classes.

The Country and the People

Italy is, well, it’s Italy. It is full of the most amazing paintings and architecture, and the hordes of tourists who come to visit them. And yet, in spite of this, the Italians are amazingly humble. How often have locals asked me why I would want to learn their language, as though the fact that it’s not as widely used as English or Spanish should be more important than the fact that I am here and would like to converse with people in their native tongue. Plus, you know, the more languages you know, the richer you are intellectually. Plus, the fact that I have wanted to learn how to speak Italian since I was a teenager.

The other thing that surprises me with the local population is how polite they are. Not only do they refuse to teach us how to swear in Italian (and for a French Québécoise whose vocabulary is liberally sprinkled with juicy swear words, this is frustrating), but they are more respectful in buses than Canadians. That’s right, Canada, you are being out-polited by Italians.

Italian people, young and old, will spontaneously get up and give their place to the elderly or the handicapped. If someone has a young child, they will give up their place for the young child. I never realized how jaded I had become about being polite in the bus until I came here. I just want to hug everyone and tell them never to change. (I have no idea if this is just a local phenomenon or if they are like that in other cities.)

The Food

Italians are very proud of their food and I have even heard someone claim that the Italian cuisine is superior to the French cuisine. Well, I am of French descent, so I have to politely disagree. Not that I don’t love the food here. When it is well done, it is marvelous. But it does tend to get somewhat repetitive.

Maybe this is one of those cases where living in Trento is to the disadvantage of the student of the culinary arts. The local food is heavily influenced by the fact that this region was under Austrian rule for centuries: bland wurstel sausages, polenta, wild mountain animal meats, and so forth, typical of the region, are not foods that one would normally associate with Italian cuisine. Of course, there is pasta and pizza galore, and you can even find a couple of seafood restaurants. But the many “typical Trentino” restaurants all serve similar dishes, and while I do enjoy them, I also would like to eat something new once in a while. It does not help that the few “foreign cuisine” restaurants are either Indian, Chinese/sushi bars, or doner stands. Also, there is a Mexican restaurant and a new one that purports to be of American cuisine. What I wouldn’t give for an actual, real Greek or French restaurant here. Sigh.

The Weather and the Ecosystem

When I was living in Australia, I enjoyed myself a lot too. But there was one thing that I found despairing after several years. It wasn’t the heat or the overabundance of dangerous animals. It was the gray-greenness of the local eucalyptus trees. When you have grown up in a country where gray-green leaves signal a dying tree, being surrounded by these eucalyptus trees was sending the wrong message to my brain.

Trento, however, has an ecosystem where the trees are somewhat similar to those in Canada and the leaves are, for me, in the correct shades of green, enough that I do not feel displaced, even if the palm trees still throw me for a loop.

On the bird side, well, we’re still having trouble identifying the local species, probably because we haven’t gone out specifically for birdwatching except once. I think it’s because when we decide to go visit something, it always turns out to be a city. I call this phenomenon “there are too many things to see in Italy!”.

As well, the weather is somewhat similar to that which we experience in Canada. Yes, the summer was a heckuva lot hotter (40 degrees Celsius? I’m melting!). But on the plus side, the winter was much cooler than Canada’s, and we hardly had any snow in Trento (although if you wanted to go skiing, there was enough snow in the local mountains to get your sport on).

In Summary

Of all the cities we could have ended up in in Italy, I am glad it was Trento. The weather is a bit cool for Italy but quite enjoyable (at least if you are Canadian), the views are spectacular, the people are amazingly nice, and the city is small enough to feel intimate while still offering plenty of things to do.

Yes, I am still struggling with the language, but I can tell that I am making progress. While I find it hard to follow normal conversations, I can pick out enough words to start getting an idea of what is being talked about (even if most of the time I wouldn’t be able to give you an accurate description of the content). I can read well enough to get a good idea of the content of the local newspaper. I can, with a lot of thinking, speak short sentences. I just need to expand my vocabulary more and that means more studying. My hope and plan is that by the end of this two year contract, I will be able to hold proper conversations with people.

My professional life is very satisfying. I really like the people I work with and I feel as though the project we are working on could really make a difference.

Even though we both miss our Canadian and American friends and families, both André and I love it here and keep making plans on what we would do if I manage to get another contract.

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