Italians are, on the whole, immensely proud of their heritage and traditions. The local ‘dialect’ (which throughout Italy is often closer to being a separate language than a mere dialect of Italian) is often the first language learnt as a child, and the variants within regions can be enormous: a conversation in Sicilian dialect between a Palermitano (from Palermo) and a Catanese (from Catania) can occasionally lead in an unintended direction, as words that are innocuous in one place can be very rude in another…
Italian Music and Dance
This pride in their locality is also clear in the sheer number of traditions and handicrafts that are still practised in modern society. Traditional local Italian music can be heard live in bars, at festivals, or during wedding celebrations; songs can be downloaded or purchased on CDs in local shops; local dances, although now slowly disappearing, are still remembered.
The music is played with instruments that sometimes have few parallels in other countries, and range from the often fast, up-beat and extremely distinctive, to the slow, mournful and highly emotional: a fitting soundtrack to life in this most expressive of countries! Italy is, of course, also home to a thriving theatrical and operatic culture, and some of its opera houses (e.g. La Scala in Milan or the Teatro Massimo in Catania) are considered to be among the best in the world.
Italian Hand-crafted Goods
This colourful soundscape is matched by the vibrancy of Italian hand-made goods, such as pottery and glass work, which are on sale in a myriad of different forms and types throughout the country. In terms of quality and functionality they range from richly decorated traditional forms (used for everything from items of everyday use to display pieces) to some of the most stylishly elegant items of precision craftsmanship available in the world. This ingenuity is carried over into the craftsmanship of precious metals and jewellery, making stylish city-centre shops a veritable feast for the eyes (and a hazard for the wallet!)
The most important thing to bear in mind is that each region of Italy specialises in its own specific handicrafts. These often include lacework, woodwork, glasswork, ironmongery, weaving and basketry, but can also include the creation of unusual rugs or even paper – Siracusa famously produces papyrus, one of the only places outside of Egypt to do so, and Amalfi was famous for its high-quality paper factories, one of which is still functioning.
Wherever you are, if you see a shop in a back alley festooned with local goods, and have a few minutes to spare, step inside and have a look. Even if you don’t buy anything, you will have had a chance to see the broad range of traditional goods which that particular area has to offer.