The Unbearable Lightness of Being Young

In Italy, March to Athens on 29 January 2012 at 15:25
March to Athens

Day 82-VIII, from Pontinia to Terracina, 25 km.

Day 83-IX, rest.

Terracina, January 29

Dear people,

It was already dark when we reached the sea. We could hear the waves from a distance. The last few kilometres we walked along the shore line, and except for a few local fishermen, the beach was empty.

I like the seaside towns in the winter. Most bars and restaurants are closed. There are no tourists. Only locals strolling up and down the boulevard.

From the modern building blocks along the water front we walk up to the old centre of Terracina. The ancient stones of the Via Appia are still visible on the cathedral square where we have pitched our tents. It’s a marvellous place, and once again we were received with love and care. A local restaurant brought pasta with shrimps and white wine for all. It was the best. The hospitality of the people here in the south makes me proud to be Italian.

Then daytime comes. I walk along the beach, I sniff the salty air. I look at the parents walking by, holding their young children by the hand. There are a thousand stories I could tell about Italy and the Italians, and still I wouldn’t reach the core of the question. But that’s no reason not to try.

 It’s one of the things I noticed in the years that I spent here. The almost irrational way that parents treat their children. They keep them on a very short leash. It goes far beyond the natural concern of parents for their offspring’s wellbeing. They almost seem to think children are some kind of lemmings who go jumping off balconies or running under cars and trains whenever they are not under surveillance. Parents panick when their children are not near.

A natural result of this is that children grow up with a lot of stress. And when they reach the age of 16 or 17, they have but one desire. Escape, rebel, and do everything that their parents ever forbade them. So they go to Amsterdam.

For Italian youngsters a trip to Amsterdam is like an initiation into adulthood. They go there with friends, they waste themselves on drugs, alcohol and prostitutes, and when they get back they are ready to face the boring dailyness of the rest of their lives, nurturing the sweet memories of freedom. But just as often they don’t remember anything at all. A friend of mine once told me about his trip up to Holland. When he regained consciousness he was in Zurich, and he had no idea how he got there.

Under way through the Pontine Swamps

After losing their wild hairs, Italian children return to the nest, and they live at home until far into their thirties. On the one side because their mothers insist on it and this way they don’t have to worry about cooking and cleaning, and on the other side because they hardly have opportunities to start a career and pay their own appartment.

The problem is that the older generations in Italy don’t want to make way. They don’t want to give any responsability to the youth, as if they don’t trust their own children, even when they are thirty or forty years old. It makes for a static society, where you are forced to adapt, and where you can get by pretty well if you don’t have any illusions. Only the real adventurers, and the brightest among the youngsters succeed in breaking free. They emigrate to places where they don’t need ‘recommendations’ from influential people to find a job, places where they can deploy their talents and be appreciated for all that they are capable of.

Camping on the Via Appia, Piazza Municipio di Terracina


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