It’s called the “quartiere”—neighborhood—and, at least in the center of most Italian cities, it includes almost everything you need within walking / shouting distance. This is a truly beautiful thing, which has a profound influence on your life; i.e., you can live easily and comfortably without touching a car. But you can also carry out a multitude of entertaining and necessary transactions every single day with people you come to know and like and who know and like you (wow). Running errands is ecologically friendly and socially gratifying. Here is a schematic representation of the typical Italian neighborhood, including pharmacy, fresh fruit vendor, shoe repairman, butcher, baker salumeria (see previous post).
As neighborhoods aren’t necessarily clearly defined, but rather more like little overlapping and concentric circles, you are likely to have more than one of any of the above in your neighborhood. We have, for example, two bakers, two butchers, and two shoe repairmen. In the next chart, you’ll notice three bars. Bars everywhere. And by “bar” I don’t mean a place to get drunk. I mean a place, open throughout the day, where you can get coffees of all descriptions, aperitivi, hard liquor if you so desire, and most likely hot and cold simple meals (referred to as tavola calda or tavola fredda) at lunch. I forgot to include the all-important pizzeria. There are usually several in or just outside your circle, as well as other small mom-and-pop restaurants, where eating is really quite good.
If you’re lucky, as we are, you will also have hair dressers, banks, and cartolerie nearby. A cartoleria is my personal favorite as it contains everything pertaining to paper, paper supplies, school supplies and office supplies. Some of them allow browsing, but in most cases it pays to ask whoever is working there to help you find what you need. Like New York stores, Milanese stores tend to be small and packed from floor to rafters. Often what you need isn’t at your fingertips, but at someone else’s.
In both charts, you’ll notice the large spaces taken up by markets of various descriptions, parks (also known as public gardens), and schools. These entities tend to be generously scattered through the city in proximity to most neighborhoods. We have a small public garden near us which is the shared centerpiece of four schools, and a large city park which gives onto the historic district, complete with Duomo, castle, etc. These green spaces are true gathering grounds, and tend to be crowded with happy children (and perhaps less happy mothers, though not often) after schools let out in the afternoon.
As for the markets, they come in three varieties. The supermarket, which is a small, cozier version of the American behemoth. The mercato (all’aperto) referred to simply as il mercato, which is an outdoor affair which occurs on predetermined days of the week in each neighborhood. Here, you can buy produce (farm to market), fresh fish, cheeses, dried goods (nuts, dried fruits, salted cod, canned tuna, etc.), and often clothes, shoes and housewares as well. These are festive colorful affairs. The mercato rionale or comunale is an enclosed version of the mercato, open every day and including other specialty shops. These are delightful places to spend your money or just your time. Should you travel in Italy, put these places/experiences on your list. They will not disappoint.