People Watching: Sorrento Style

Submitted by Caitlin Scalise, Abroad101’s Global Ambassador in Sorrento

Italian sandal shop and owner

It’s 4PM and I’m sitting outside of a popular Italian bar, relaxing after my internship. The sun is shining on this nearly 72 degree day, but the cool breeze makes it feel a bit chilly. The main street that I am sitting in front of is still quiet, since siesta is just starting to end, and the Italians are still mostly at home. The man across the street has just opened up his sandal shop. He just put his display outside, showing his beautiful, handmade leather sandals. I even see him talking to a potential customer. She is foreign; I cannot hear what she is saying, but her body language gives it away. The man goes over to his display to show the woman that she can customize her order. I see her face light up at the choice. The man takes the sandal straps that the woman has selected and has her sit down so he can size her feet. Once he figures out her size, I watch the man make the shoe by attaching the straps to the sole. This is his art, so he makes the shoe within minutes, and the women walks away grinning. I lose my concentration on the sandal-maker when I hear English speakers in the near vicinity. Then I see them: they are a group of teenage British kids laughing and joking. Following them is a group of teenage Italian boys and girls. They, too, are laughing and joking. The sun starts to go down a little bit, and the mood changes.

Many Italians are driving or walking back to work at this point, and those who are not are taking their afternoon walk. It is like a flashback in time: this image of a leisurely walk in the late afternoon, pushing strollers, with the men and women with linked arms…is this reality? I usually see this every day after siesta, but today while sitting here really focused on the people, this image seems almost fake. Time literally feels like it is in slow-motion…it is a strange, strange feeling.

A good amount of time has passed after siesta, and the mood has changed yet again. Time speeds upand interspersed with the relaxed atmosphere is one that is alive and bustling. Mixed with the leisurely walkers are groups of children running, men and women eating gelato, and open vendors filling up with tourists. I like this contrast. It is the result of two cultures converging, and this is a huge part of what defines Sorrento.

Corso Italia, the main street in Sorrento

Sorrento is a tourist destination for thousands and thousands of Europeans, Asians, and Americans each and every year. During the winter, everything is quiet with very few people, and during the summer the streets are littered with people. Right now, Sorrento finds itself in the middle. Sitting outside people watching, there is a nice balance of calm and excitement. As it gets even later in the day, things start to liven up even more. It’s Holy Week (the week preceding Easter), so there are many foreigners with suitcases walking by in search of their hotels, getting prepared for the famous Black and White Processions to take place within the next few days. The mood has even changed yet again. I notice a hint of solemnity. The weather has taken a turn from sunny with a cool breeze, to cloudy with a stronger wind. It’s a bit eerie, but the presence of so many people walking on the streets makes it feel safer. Then I see a few familiar faces (two teachers from my school), and I feel even more at ease.

Whoa! Okay, so I am officially awoken from my people watching funk. I just saw what I think is the most talented thing ever! It was a man, dressed in a suit, driving a motor scooter, with his right hand on the handlebar, his left hand holding the cigarette that he is smoking, his dog between his legs, anda grocery bag on the left handlebar. I am in awe! I suppose it helps that most Italians learn to drive on scooters, but nonetheless, it was an impressive sight. This place continues to shock me and impress me in new ways.

Afternoon walk with a man playing music on the sidewalk

It is nice to take some time to get to know the culture you are living in by watching the people. It is an insightful way to see a different side of the lifestyle. Usually I am with the people, walking beside them or stopping for a cup of gelato, but this time I took a backseat and this has given me a more open, new perspective. As a result of this sit-back and watch experience, I plan to watch and learn a little more often and just appreciate what I am able to live each and every day that I am here.