Compare and contrast...

I am in North Carolina… NC, for short. It’s America. Photo on the left. Bucolic, no? In about 9 hours, I will hop on three airplanes to come home to il Poggiolo a Codiponte. It’s in Italy. Photo on the right. Majestic, ne? Let’s compare and contrast, shall we?

The Similarities…

Life in an NC gated community sort of matches il Poggiolo’s gated community. Have to wave at the fellows manning the NC gate. Enthusiastic wavers. They offend easily though. Then they might call the police! At il Poggiolo, no guards. Just dogs. One barks. The other wags her tail. Got 3 gates.

The NC local folk speak English. Accent is a twang. On Good Days, I can fathom its wang-whaw. A verbal fingernails down a blackboard. Ouch! On Bad Days, I AUTO-DELETE. Too hard to figure what has been said. Or, from impatience. I dislike waiting for info. Takes awhile for the NC-ians to spit it out. Takes more time if they have dentures. A lot do. In Codiponte, Italian is the lingua franca for the locals. Barely. By habit, they habitually speak in an incomprehensible dialect. Imagine slamming verbs & nouns into mush. More mush, if missing teeth. And many are.

And with that, thus end the Similarities.

The differences are many more…

Views of golf course fairways studded with pine trees and scrub oaks against panoramas of the mighty Apuane Peaks. That Dog included.

NC has sandy soil. Perfect for golf course saw-grasses. Magnolias, azaleas and grass need hep’. Imported soil and fertilizer. A ga-zillions years ago, the place was under the ocean. Today, it is well above ground and hosts 51 golf courses. Horse farms have their corners of sand & pines too. Unmistakable scent of pine needles mixed with consistent & sopping humidity. Codiponte is surrounded by forests. A compilation of chestnuts, oaks, and a growing population of acacias. The last leaves a flowery perfume in the air near May. Think honey too. The greenery is occasionally interrupted by a castle keep or, a stone village. A ga-zillions years ago, volcanos were dominant. Their gracious bio-donations, so to speak, means you can grow anything with glee. Got to be ready to can or freeze the stuff so it won’t go bad. You can survive the Winter and avoid a trip to the supermercato.

In NC, you can choose from over 20 fast-food restaurants all within 10 minutes. 7 days a week. Not Chick-fil-ee. They close on Sunday. Management says you are supposed to go to church and rest. God did. Well, not the church part but, he did take time off to admire His Work, I suppose. Fast-food may not be your thing. When in NC, I try to limit visits to 1 or 2 times a week. I can feel the effects, if I succumb to the strong temptations to increase the number of visits. Like a school menu, Burger King on Monday, Bojangles on Tuesday… Biscuitville on Saturday!!! A heaven. My Loves are McDonald’s sausage & egg biscuits and anything over the counter at Chick-fil-ee. But, if ya’ got a hankerin’ fer sompin’ diff-er-rent, you can tootle over in your automatic drive SUV and get yerself som KFC chicken-pot-pie. Yum-yum. The folk in NC love fast-food. Lots a families. Lots of retirees. No time. They do drive-thru. Often there are 2 lanes! Normal restaurants are likewise parts of chains or, there are a few independent eateries which are considered -spensive. And apparently, no one cooks though many have fabulously large & well equipped kitchens. Sadly, there is ABSOLUTELY no fast food in Codiponte, except for maybe the past due-date panini over at the Scuzzy Bar. The nearest restaurant to Codiponte is a 30 minute drive away. Pasta is far better. The nearest authentic fast-food to il Poggiolo is in Sarzana, a long hour’s drive away. A McDonald’s. Breakfast though is a bust. Biscuits do not taste like those in NC. And, Italians really are not raised on breakfast. Caffe al latte e un biscotto ain’t breakfast. But, hey! The McDonald’s is open until Midnight! NC can’t come near that. 10PM.

TV is fun in NC. 405 cable stations. You have such a sense of control with the remote. Point and shoot. Very American. Especially of late. However, you must accept, right from the start, that if you are not into sports or episodic series about serial killers in high heels, then, there’s NOTHING interesting to watch. Netflix included. ZILCH. TV is disappointing in Italy. Or, it was the last time I watched. It’s been a while. I do not have a TV at il Poggiolo. I stream on a laptop. Or, hey! I read a book. What a novelty.

There are mobile homes in NC. In Italy, that would translate into a living in a tent or, under a bridge. Or, temporary quarters after an earthquake. If circumstances allow, you can have a house in any style you want in NC and, as big as you dare to build. A residential Disneyland of style & size. Who cleans these mansions? In Codiponte, Tuscany, Italy, you have three choices: a house in stone with a terracotta roof, an homogenized stucco house with weird roof lines and decorative grill work or, find a happy home in the stair-stepped Commie House above the village. A dream come true for some. Not me.

America, and NC is automatically included, is an irresistible drug of convenience, availability and choice. The true Gods of the nation. And, overwhelmingly so. Cars with automatic drive. I kept engaging the pedalled Parking Brake thinking it was the Clutch pedal. Went nowhere fast until I broke myself of the habit. AC is everywhere and at bone chilling temps. Don’t forget your sweater. A parka would be better. Huge multi-laned roads course hither & yon in NC, with left turn lanes… sometimes 2 lanes to go left or, right… and with assigned traffic turn-lights too. Grocery stores… did you know you can have low-fat Half&Half? I counted 16 varieties of potato-chips and peanut-butter? Gluten Free, Low Sodium, Low Sugar, No Sugar, Low Oil, No Preservatives!!!… and pharmacies are all open 24/7. You can buy car tires in Walmart, while you are waiting for your heart medicine at its in-store pharmacy. Starbucks on every corner. Drive-thru included. Go inside. The lines are shorter. Ditto for gas-stations. 9 brands of gasoline. 3 types of unleaded. Often they crowd.

American requires balls. Or, stamina. I am an out-of-shape ex-pat when there. But, after a few days, I adapt with gusto. Italy is put aside until I hit the catch…

Forget plain & simple in America. Nowhere to be found. A friend asked me to buy and bring back Crest Toothpaste. Plain, simple, ordinary Crest Toothpaste. She likes the taste. No problem, I said. That used to be important once-upon-a-time. Ordinary was thrown out in the 90’s by the marketiers. They perceived the market was ready and needy for more singularly focused dental-care products. Another God. All the better to capture attention in self-service stores. Americans run crazed about the slightest defect. Toothpaste for whitening, anti-cavity, total f**cking protection. Nothing plain, nothing simple, nothing regular, nothing ordinary. A toothpaste which is toothpaste? Nope. Not an interesting exercise in chemistry or marketing. It has to do something more… focus on one freaking dental-care issue per product. It’s a dupe. Toothpaste can only clean. Stop. Anything else is a fraud. Of no interest on anyone’s radar. Americans think differently. I persisted to pursue. I went to 9 stores. 9 grocery and drug stores, plus a Walmart. Walmart had the worst stock, by the way. Was told by a nice woman in a ill-fitting blue Walmart smock she had never seen plain, simple… Crest.

Italy, and Codiponte well belongs here, is blessedly the opposite. To NC and America, there are embarrassingly few choices. Different. Most cars are manual. That may change with the forced introduction of electric cars. However, electricity is massively expensive and for a car, will be more so than gas. Just saying. AC is for hotels. For Americans. Movie theaters are not AC-ed. Italians rarely risk eating ethnic. Suspect. And, why should they? Their cooking is genius. Why screw around with it or, risk diarrhoea. You know? A hamburger in Italy comes out of a micro-wave. Not hard to think why. Grocery stores are not open 24/7. Many close for the pausa pranzo at Mid-day or, afternoons one day-a-week. Starbucks are ONLY in airports… if even there… and you have to sweat to find a gas station unless you are travelling on an autostrada. But even then, you sweat. And, I would get laughed out of the country, if I were to ask for low-fat panna. Done. A paradise of plain, simple, ordinary wonderfulness. Familiar. Fast too. Nothing to ponder, debate, weigh the pro’s or con’s. See, grab, go.

End of the story? Not quite. I cannot wait to get back.