Speaking about Italy, many think of delicious food, wine, azure sea, fashion, hot Italians and the very concept of Dolce Vita (sweet life). But the other side of life is hidden under these cliches, where you can achieve what you want and feel this sweet taste, the taste of victory over all adversity only thanks to your own hard work, willpower and perseverance of the spirit. And if we talk about the strength of the spirit, then, perhaps, the Slavic soul can boast of this feature. What is it about when a Slavic person “conquers” Italy and yet he/she does not lose the touch with the roots?
We asked this the charming woman and the successful business lady - Elena Grigorieva-Caroli, who has been living and working in Apulia (south of Italy) for more than 10 years. Her love for this country is passed on to all her clients, tourists who come here to discover the amazing region - Italy's heel, with endless olive groves, azure clean sea, delicious food, hot temperament and rich history. We talked with Elena over a glass of delicious wine about national peculiarities, that we are different people of different nationalities, and about the things that unite us; about Italy, Russia, Ukraine, and what makes us citizens of one big place called the World.
Elena, how did you come to be in Italy?
In 2005 I decided to change my life radically. I was 33. I wanted to move to Italy to give the future to my son. Why Italy? Probably because, it is, after all, the "Land of Wonders"! Here, if you have brains and talent, you will certainly pave your way without bribes, honestly. My son was then 11 years old. One friend who had visited Italy said that if I go there, she would help with work and housing. I decided to move, but everything turned out to be quite different. I had to go through a lot of difficulties. There was a time when I had no work, no money, no contact with relatives and no roof over my head. I spent the nights at a shelter in Vatican in terrible conditions. Within the days I was wondering around Rome looking for work, but with no knowledge of Italian language it was simply unrealistic. And probably it was the most miraculous thing that really saved me. That day was a Catholic holiday. The people gathered in Vatican Square, and some woman let me through the fence closer to the first rows on the square. Pope Benedict XVI was blessing people, and it happened that we met the gaze. It seemed to me that at that moment he saw all my pain and despair. He blessed me. Believe it or not, but from that day my life really began to change for the better. I met good people who helped me to find a job and a place to live. There were some more adventures, wanderings, trials and mistakes, and it took several years to see the light in the end. But as a result, I moved to the south of Italy, learned the Italian language, officially worked and soon I was able to obtain a residence permit and take my son to Italy. He quickly learned the language, graduated from high school in Italy. Soon my personal life started to adjust as well, I met my future Italian husband. And a new round of my life began, so long-awaited one. I achieved what I wanted, despite the difficulties. We’ve settled down in Fasano, where my husband comes from. The son entered the Institute of Hospitality. Upon close acquaintance with this region, I realized that I live in an amazing place that can and should become a tourist pearl of Italy. Living before in Russia, I worked for a long time in tourism, and it was not difficult to recognize such a potential of the region. Millennial olive trees, the sea, history, architecture, magnificent ecology were the motivation for me to start my own business connected with tourism, already here in Apulia.
Two years I spent on studying information about the region, on trips around the towns, getting to know people better. When I thought about the niche to take, I realized that it was necessary to develop gastronomic tourism. My son and I signed up for the courses of the Italian Sommelier Association to know everything about regional wines. Later I opened Apulia House, my cultural and tourist association, and started working. The best advertising is a word of mouth. My clients recommend me, some new tourists come, and there are always those who return here every year. This land is worth of such love!
Are there any national characteristics that you find it hard to accept in Italians? And vice versa, what is in common with the Italians?
Since I am from the Caucasus, the emotionality and hospitality is what makes us alike. Italians are very fond of Russian and Ukrainian tourists. These are three long-suffering nations, and this unites us. But we should differentiate between a visit to the country for 1 week and living here for a long time with people of a different nationality. Therefore, I can say that I explored Italians for a very long time; it has been especially important since the southern Italians differ from the northern ones. Southerners are temperamental and at the same time they like to gossip, they are interested in everything to the smallest detail, they like to discuss everything. They need to be understood and accepted the way they are. And in this case you will become part of their society.
Do you have real friends among Italians?
Yes, I do. There are few, as it should be in case of friends, but they are real. But I also have Russian friends here. In fact, it's not so important what kind of nationality a person is, the most important is what truths he/she professes, how he/she percepts the world, what he/she believes in and whether it coincides with your own vision.
You have been living in Italy for a long time. Are there any myths about Italy that have been debunked?
It's hard to say, probably not. I'm a person who has a sober perception of life, I never wear pink glasses. Maybe that's why I did not have a shock like the others. I feel at ease here, I found peace in Italy.
Then let's talk about our people, about the tourists who come from the CIS countries to Italy. Surely there are some national characteristics that you have to take into account in your work.
You know, in order to work as a tour guide, you must be a good psychologist, I think. A lot depends on the level of the client and the country and the region where the tourists are going. Apulia is not cheap destination, and tourists that come here, know why they want to visit it. They are experienced travelers, they have already seen a lot, and Apulia for them is a new pearl. Europeans and Americans go at random, just for the sake of new sensations, emotions and the sea. Russian/Ukrainian tourists often go for history, tastes, new knowledge. They are people with University degree, people of art and science. All my routes and excursions are selected very carefully, taking into account tourists’ interests and wishes. Of course, I also talked with the Italians about their impressions of "our" tourist (Russian/Ukrainian tourists). Yes, in the 90's it was a nightmare. Here came those who broke off easy money and did not know how to spend it. These times have passed. Now Italians adore Ukrainian and Russian tourists who know and appreciate history and have the idea about good wines and food. Chinese tourists, for example, can order an excursion, give money to a guide and say: "Be silent!". The main thing for them is to make one million photos. Japanese are very fond of exclusive, for 5 people they can order a bus for 30 seats, they appreciate comfort. The Germans buy out whole blocks of hotels in advance, pensioners come here, they are quiet. The French are a bit arrogant, they are not the most welcomed ones here. The Belgians love Apulia, now there are more of them here. Italians do love "our tourists", because these clients are always cheerful, good-natured, give a generous tip and treat the service staff well.
Having lived here for many years, what do you find always amazing in Apulia?
I always discover something new here. It seems I know all the material already, the whole territory, but every time this “Italian heel” makes some pleasant surprises. I like to communicate with local people, they love the land on which they live and can tell a lot about this region, what you can’t find in the library or Internet. I adjust my excursions every time, because there is always something new around. I learn a lot of interesting things also from my tourists, it is a kind of knowledge exchange. Each group of tourists needs their own special excursion. And I'm ready to share all the secret places here. That's why Apulia House’ tours are exclusive.
What are your impressions of the last trip to Kyiv? Please share.
I was in Kyiv when I was 11 years old, and I always wanted to return to that wonderful city. Dreams Come True! February 2018, and here I am! St. Sophia Cathedral struck me when I was a child, there you feel this grace physically. Of course, it was also the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra and Khreshchatyk. This time, walking along Khreshchatyk, I remembered my childhood impressions. There was a cafe where they cooked cutlets, which were called "Chestnuts", they were very juicy. It was the taste of Kyiv for me, taste of bread with a cutlet! Now Kyiv astonished me with its beauty and positive energy, abundance of restaurants of all cuisines of the world.
Tell us about your gastronomic impressions in Kyiv, please.
I always say that my work is hard, because I have to try a lot different things in terms of food and drinks. After all, I select the menu in restaurants for my guests, so I can become a restaurant critic soon. Here in Italy sometimes I miss borsch, salo, horseradish. And of course, in Kyiv I've tried a lot of this. At the same time we were in Ukraine with Pierino Semeraro, the Italian chef. We ate breakfast in “Pervak” restaurant and we ordered borsch, kholodets (jellied meat), horseradish and salo with liqueurs, a Chicken Kyiv, fried potatoes, pancakes. Pierino just stunned, but he really liked it, he fell in love with a Chicken Kyiv and borsch with sour cream, despite the fact that the Italians do not eat soups. It was a real feast for us. We tried to find Odesa and Soviet cuisine in Besarabka, but they offered us oysters, seafood and buratta cheese. It was very funny. Since we still wanted to try Olivier salad and “Dressed herring”, we went to "Katyusha", where we enjoyed dishes of Soviet cuisine. Pierino once again ordered borsch, but he said that in "Pervak" it was tastier. In the evening we went to the "Khmeli Suneli" Georgian restaurant. The Italian chef was there in ecstasy, and it seemed I came back to the "Blue Mountains of the Caucasus". We had shashlyk, khachapuri, basturma, sauces, khinkali ... Myths about our cuisine were dispelled. Italians think that we eat potatoes, onions and cabbage. It turned out that everything is different. And I was pleasantly surprised by Kyiv and the gastronomic culture of local restaurants.
If it were not Italy, not Apulia, where would you like to live?
Only Italy! :-)
How strange sometimes the fate plays with our lives, giving tests and reward, throwing into foreign countries, which become the real home, where people speak different languages, but do understand each other, respect and love each other, where they manage to become a part of a new nation, while retaining their roots and giving life to new ideas that absorb all the best from different nations. Perhaps this is best form of modern cosmopolitanism.
Interviewed by Anna Vishtak
Photos provided by Elena Grigorieva-Caroli