Our Week of Culture: McDonalds and Shopping Malls

30 04 2009




Ever since we took our young daughter to North America last summer, she has come to associate long car trips with two things: shopping malls and McDonalds.At this point, of course, your typical European culture snob would start to talk about barren lands devoid of history and culture. Everyone over here, from any part of the old continent, is always prepared to pontificate on how much more sophisticated Europeans (ie. the speaker) are than Americans and Canadians (ie. me). What a surprise then, as we took advantage of last week’s Italian Culture Week, to discover that even Southern Italy was now dominated by megamalls and the wondrous cuisine found under the golden arches.

On the two weekends with free admission to museums and archeological sites, our visit to  the ancient monuments was punctuated by the discovery of how much globalisation and big box stores had entered into the Italian mainstream.In both the ancient cities of Agrigento and Syracuse, famed for their archaeological treasures, the main focus of interest among the locals was faux North American shopping and fast food. In Agrigento, the McDonald’s in Villaggio Mosé was filled with small children inside and would-be Fast and Furious types outside, showing off their souped up Fiat Puntos. The real glamour, however, came from the new megamall Le Vigne which opened outside the city at the end of last year.

Dress up to shop

Dress up to shop

When we looked in on Sunday, the place was packed – making forward movement and, indeed, shopping almost impossible. It seemed as though the entire traditional Sunday evening stroll (la passeggiata) had transferred indoors. Not only was everyone who anyone in the province of Agrigento there, but everyone was wearing their best clothes. Since an Italian’s best clothes are always something special, it was surreal to see such glitz and glamour amidst the aisles of a supermarket.

The temples were much more peaceful. We were the only ones speaking Italian.


The Great “Settimana Cultura” Conspiracy

26 03 2008

The high cost of living in Italy getting you down?

Catch those pre-election discounts while you can!

For many years my family and I have looked forward to the Settimana della cultura (Week of Culture) promoted by the Italian national ministry of culture in May. The end of Spring is the best time of the year to travel around the peninsula and, given the high cost of admission to public museums and monuments, it is an opportunity to sightsee in a large group without breaking the bank. Instead of paying €6 to 8 each to see one site, we can cover all of the beni culturali (“cultural assets” in official translator English) in the area in one fell swoop. Consistent with the much lamented exponential increases in the cost of living here, the main topic of discussion in both the national media and anxious personal conversations, many culturally minded families have started to plan their vacations around the initiative. You can imagine the surprise then when we discovered last night that, in a break with tradition, the eagerly awaited week had already started!

It’s here!


The new improved March “Settimana della cultura” was first made public on the 28th of February.  It is an inspiring tribute to the integrity of what was already, after all, a lame duck government that the culture ministry was able to amass the energy to organize and promote an unexpected week of culture at a time when most of the country’s leadership might be distracted by the current national election campaign. Indeed, apart from the change in date, it is striking that the centerpiece of the 2008 pre-electoral settimana is not the usual stuffy mix of art and history but the opportunity to go to the cinema everywhere in Italy for €1, instead of the more usual €7 (as shown on the bottom left of the official poster above). It’s a shame only that none of the 3 cinemas in our town are showing anything other than the usual commercial Hollywood fare.

Hurry, it’s only an euro!


This great temporary money saving initiative joins another state gift to working families: the month of cheap bread. From the 15th of March until the 15th of April (ie two days after the date of the national election) your friendly local bakery will be encouraged to offer special discounts on the price of bread, a commodity that has undergone sharp price increases over the past two years. If you have a large freezer, the cheap bread can feed your financially challenged family all year round as you recall the rose coloured memories of your supersaver night at the cinema!

We’ve got the bread – fill up the freezer! All we need now is the circus…


Now if we could just get some “cultural” discounts on the price of gas, currently hovering around €1.42 a litre, I could afford to visit all of the museums and monuments I’ve been eager to see!