As the sun wanes in the western sky, the cool evening air beckons, and Italians everywhere take to the streets – for la passeggiata. Young, old, and in between – it’s time for the evening promenade.
If you’ve never experienced one, I can only assume you’ve never been to Italy. At least not the real Italy. For this long-standing, enduring, and much loved custom is as prominent as pizza and cappuccino!
The passeggiata is a relaxed, easy-going activity.
And healthy too – physically, psychologically, and socially. Something that most of us could benefit from! Many today live cut off from others, closed in by busyness and privacy walls. But with this wonderful tradition, isolation is not a problem!
So if you find yourself in Italy, head to the town’s centro storico (historic center) or lungomare (boardwalk) if you’re by the sea. And just join the crowd!
Newcomers be forewarned!
While this easygoing, relaxed stroll is mostly a chance to meet up with friends and learn the neighborhood news, it’s also a time ‘to see and be seen’. An opportunity to show off your newest outfit or shoes. Or in our strange digital age – your new smartphone – prominently taking selfies, of course!
Italy is the land of fashion and beauty. Many Italians dress up even to go grocery shopping! So perhaps it would be best to leave your sweatpants in your suitcase…
A bit of history.
Though no one seems to know just when the passeggiata got its start, even the older folks here all remember it from their childhoods. Which brings us to an interesting tidbit of Italian culture.
In past decades, young couples were not allowed to date, or even go out for a casual gelato. All courtship took place at the girl’s home, with mamma, papà (or both) always present. Or perhaps, if the young man seemed quite safe, a sibling could act as chaperone.
The only time they really got a bit of freedom was during the evening stroll. Back in the day, the passeggiata was quite a segregated activity. The men drinking caffè or grappa liquor at the bars, with the women gossiping together at benches along the street.
Here, the girls were allowed to stroll along with their girlfriends, and flirt a bit with the boys – from a safe distance. And always under mamma’s watchful eye. And since all parents hoped to make a good match for their daughters, they they were dressed to make a bella figura, or cut a beautiful figure.
The lovely passeggiata has endured down through the generations. And probably always, will because Italians love this as much as their pasta and espresso – well almost!
We love it, and Italy wouldn’t really be Italy without it! So you’ll often find us out for a stroll in the evenings. It’s a great way to greet neighbors, get a breath of fresh air and maybe a bit of gelato! And if you’ve never tried the homemade gelato featured in most Italian gelaterias, you don’t know what you’re missing!
Care to join us for la passeggiata? The gelato’s on us!
Images are my own.