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Published: June 19th 2016
Italy in a Day - Ventimiglia
We left the French Riviera, where super rich moor their luxury yachts, film stars ponce around hoping someone might notice, and ‘would be if they could be’ camp followers take selfies on crappy stony beaches while faking a big happy smile and holding mocktail they can’t afford, with spectacular cliffs of the Cote d’Azur in the background. Streets on the French side are filled with fashionably attired gents and ladies promenading on boulevards lined with exotic sports sedans and cabriolets wearing expensive marques. A panoramic backdrop of townhouses and apartment buildings tucked in against each other reach up the hillsides, and are set at random angles to each other utilise every bit of available space. Lively paintwork and bloomy adornments complete the vista and to me, it looks as if a painter wanted to fill the whole of his canvas with little building pictures, but with a new tint on every square centimetre.
It felt like we had stepped into a Soviet factory commune, when we crossed from the gloss, glamour, and grandeur of Nice and Menton in France, to dowdy and depressing Ventimiglia in Italy.
Here the same arbitrary approach to town planning, but without French style and artistic panache, resulted in a dull, chaotic conglomerate of roads and structures. Rutted streets display the stress Italian taxpayers feel about maintaining public infrastructure. Dusty narrow winding streets are crammed with discoloured older model vans, small sedans and unstylish hatches, universally chipped, scratched and dented, mostly with missing hubcaps and broken door handles evidencing break in attempts. Sloppily clad locals did not appear to care if anyone notices their dishevelment. Hobos hung around shop doors smelling of stale booze in the hope a handout.
Africans try to cross into France from here. At face value, the Schengen treaty allows free passage between countries of Western Europe. But now, with refugees flooding into Italy, France has a selective approach to border control. We saw Border Police standing by the road stopping vehicles carrying people of African appearance. There appears to be nothing for the Africans to do.
Shopping at LIDL supermarket in Ventimiglia, we noticed how Italians are normally polite, but perhaps not as friendly at their western neighbours. However, once Italians get behind a steering wheel, (with a working horn) politeness goes out the window. Their parking habits give a static display of how inconsiderate they can be. At home, we would expect a ticket for double parking. Here in Italy, triple parking is almost normal, while pedestrian crossings and corners appear to be prime spots reserved for more punctually challenged motorists. Once in motion, a few special risky and selfish procedures apply; brakes should only be used if the horn fails, cutting in front of an overtaken vehicle is like a victory wave, and rushing out of an intersection into the face of an oncoming vehicle is good for the reflexes (of both drivers). At the supermarket, we noticed that Momma takes the bambinos to the supermarket to get their very first lesson in driving. A shopping trolley is an excellent apparatus for learning about road protocol. Finding the narrowest part of a shopping aisle and parking your trolley there is a good start, but standing beside it to converse with another shopper will demonstrate to a child how to park their car in later life. A child who can clog up two shopping aisles by double parking at a corner is ready for driving lessons.
For all its worldly woes, Ventimiglia has some history worth knowing. But the 2nd
-century Roman ruins are not open to visitors. The authentic 12th
-century old town is like others in this part of the world. It’s a pity the modern town feels such compulsion to replicate the old city.
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