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Meet an Italy Travel Guru: Jessica Spiegel

■ 23 August 2009 by James Martin

I thought it would be fun to introduce Wandering Italy readers to some of Italy Travel’s movers and shakers—you know, the people who have a passion for telling you about the joys of travel. Jessica Spiegel is one of those passionate people who is quite happy to answer travel questions you might have about traveling in Italy on her site Why Go Italy, sometimes even before you think of asking them. Jessica will soon be on her way to Milano for a few weeks.

My silly questions are in bold. Jessica’s erudite answers are not.

Why would anybody even try relocate to Italy? After all, the US has the best health care system and the best automobiles in the world, according to its politicians.

Ha! Good question. I’ve been asking that myself lately, every time I have to fill out another piece of paperwork in the relocation process.

In all seriousness, though, I love where I live right now (Portland, Oregon). I love being an American citizen. There are many things I love about my country – and plenty of things that annoy me. I’m convinced that no place is perfect, and I’m certainly not motivated to move to Italy to run away from a flawed country. I mean, let’s face it – in some departments, no one holds a candle to Italy when it comes to being flawed.

But I think that’s one of the things that I find sort of reassuring about Italy and the Italians. Yes, the country has problems – some of them big. Yes, the politicians are often untrustworthy and sometimes corrupt. There’s an honesty about that, however, that’s missing when I look at my government in the U.S. We like to pretend our government is perfect, even when we’re complaining about it. In Italy, they know their government is screwed up and yet they don’t let it impact their daily lives much. Of course, this is also a kind of apathy that I find rather unappealing, but as a non-Italian I’m not comfortable calling them on it. Yet.

On the question of “why Italy,” I love to travel and I’ve fallen in love with a few places in my life, but once I got to Italy that was kind of it for me. I blame the Italians, really. I just want to live there so I can be surrounded by them at all times. And while I’m not sure I’ll still think this a year after I finally make the move, I surprised myself recently by responding to the question, “What do you love most about Italy?” with the words, “The chaos.”

Favorite region, city in Italy?

This is, of course, the most difficult question I ever have to answer – partly because I haven’t been everywhere in Italy, so what if my favorite is still out there somewhere, waiting for me to arrive? Of the places I’ve been, however, one place continues to cause me to do the most sighing:

Venice.

I have a mad crush on Venice, and I’ve spent untold words trying to define exactly why. I’m very much a planner by nature, and always want to know where I’m going. Ordinarily, I hate being lost. In Venice, all that changes – I become someone else, someone who lives to get lost. I don’t think I could live in Venice, however, because I’m pretty sure I’d get so lost as to forget my own name – and be completely happy to do so.

From a completely practical perspective, Venice is also a photographer’s dream city – it’s really easy to take gorgeous pictures there. And, since I’m the world’s laziest photographer, I appreciate a city that makes it easy on me.

Most frustrating question you get about Italy?

A question I got once (and only once, thank goodness) was about whether Rome had an open container law or could you just carry around a bottle of booze during your night of drunken partying? I’m not sure it’s actually possible to re-train someone who asks a question like that with an answer via email, but I did my best.

In general, though, I get several emails a week asking for my input on travel itineraries – and while I’m happy to share my opinions, (a) I’m not a travel agent, so I’m not able to spend time hunting down specific hotels or finding information on train tickets for everyone, and (b) I’m not into hand-holding.

I’m very much in the “teach a man to fish” camp of travel assistance. It’s one of the reasons I don’t do many specific restaurant reviews on the site. I’d rather give people tips on how to find a good restaurant in Italy and then they can make their own discoveries. They’ll find excellent places to eat that I’ve never heard of or seen, and that they wouldn’t have found if I’d just given them a list of restaurants I know personally.

Still, I really do like sharing my general thoughts on a person’s itinerary, and I love that people trust me enough to value my thoughts. I hope that by pushing people to make more of their own discoveries that I’m helping them travel better, too.

What big lie or lies do people tell about Italians?

The things I hear most often about the Italians are things that are true in my experience – that they value life more than work, that they’re extremely forgiving when non-Italians make mistakes with the language, that they’re very family-oriented, that they tend to skirt any laws they think they can get away with skirting (or that they just think are silly), that they display sometimes fierce allegiance to the region of their ancestry, and that they are (unfortunately) pretty xenophobic.

None of these things are true of every Italian, of course, but they’re true more often than not. There’s a reason for stereotypes, after all.

When I hear people associate what I call “Sopranos Italian” stereotypes to Italy Italians, however, that’s when I jump in to the defense of the Italy Italians. New Jersey Italians (or Philadelphia Italians, take your pick) are not Italy Italians. Sure, there are some guys in Italy who wear their shirts open one button more than you’d like and display both copious amounts of chest hair and thick gold chains in the process. But those same guys are probably also wearing Prada jeans, carrying “man purses” (which no New Jersey Italian man would be caught dead carrying), and spending more time on their hair than I do. So the similarities only stretch so far.

Jessica Spiegel’s Bio

Jessica Spiegel is a travel writer for the BootsnAll Travel Network who loves Italy enough to want to move there. She writes BootsnAll’s Italy Travel Guide WhyGo Italy, and also contributes to several other websites in the BootsnAll universe. She’s a Twitter addict (you can find her there as @italylogue), amateur photographer, and is happily owned by three lovely cats

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Meet an Italy Travel Guru: Jessica Spiegel originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com Aug 23, 2009, © James Martin.

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