There is a lovely word in Italy called passegiata. Pronounced “pa-say-ja-ta”, it literally means to take steps, to pass through. But it is more than that. Passeggiata is the art of an evening stroll, usually between the hours of 5 pm and 8 pm. It means to walk aimlessly and enjoy the simple pleasures of being outdoors, socializing in the lingering summer sun, exchanging the day’s gossips.
Picture this. You – a non-Italian traveller – has just arrived in the sleeping town of San Michele Salentino on the south- eastern coast of Italy. It is six in the evening and the sun is bidding farewell for the day. Getting out of your car, you take in a delightful sight: in the piazza are well-attired men of all ages, ambling slowly in small groups, chatting away, laughing, patting on their fellow strollers’ pet dogs. Italian mamas animatedly swap gossips. Young lovers hold hands, some disappearing into the quiet lanes. All around the town square are little cafes with groups of men standing and sitting outside sipping red wine or indulging in an expresso. After the conversations end, some folks will continue with an unplanned dinner to round off the evening. You have just witnessed the most Italian time of the day. Scenes like these are played out across Italy every day like a ritual. It is street-theatre, and the celebration of family, friends and community rolled into one.