Last week The Guardian printed a travel article about skiing in Abruzzo, fantastic for getting a journalist out beyond the Alps and profiling Abruzzo as a good place to ski, but its introduction defining ‘Abruzzo one of Italy’s poorest regions’ triggered tremors of consternation amongst many in Abruzzo and those around the world who know & love the region. It prompted many to wonder where the stats were to support such a statement and what was the context of ‘poorest region’? It certainly does not seem consistent with what anyone who knows the region would recognise as present-day Abruzzo.
Eurostats is the official body in the EU whose role it is to provide comparative stats across the EU nations; their last handbook for data gathered in 2005 was published in 2009. In this guide, Abruzzo ranks as number 14 in the 21 Italian regions with a GDP of €20,600, which is 83% per capita of the national average according to the Banca Italia. From these published figures Abruzzo scores higher than Sardinia whose GDP per capita sits at €19,300, at the bottom, the ‘poorest’ is Sicily, where the GDP per capita is €16,200. Just as a reference point the average GDP per capita within the EU is €21,503.
It is an undisputed historical fact that Abruzzo was indeed one of Italy’s poorest regions in the past; cut off by its mountains, controlled by the Kingdom of the 2 Sicilies, its residents’ “poverty” resulting in multiple diasporas of hard-working Abruzzesi to Switzerland, Scotland, Canada ,the US and Australia, to name but a few. But that is the past…
By 1997, out of the 44 regions across the EU that had applied & received EU supplementary funding under the auspices of Objective 1 in 1989, including the likes of Lisbon, Abruzzo was the first and only region whose economic growth & output saw it surpass the lower limits of what the EU deemed a region requiring financial assistance, as it expanded its economy from just agriculture to industry & tourism. The other regions still struggled and, up to when the scheme was withdrawn in 2006, all remained receiving additional help from the EU.
As in everywhere in the world, if you look hard enough you will find disparity in wealth and perhaps the extreme forms of it with poverty all too ubiquitous throughout Europe. Living in Hackney, London, where the gap between the middle classes, the rich and the tower block kitchen sink estates where people really do live in poverty, we see this all the time. Local children were recently given cameras to therapeutically record their daily lives as part of an exhibition at the local Childhood Museum. The Olympic Council awarded London the 2012 Olympics in its plan to help rejuvenate this as part of a ‘deprived’ area. As far as I am aware no such honours or therapy is ongoing in Abruzzo.
Much like the author of The Guardian piece, I should not make out-of-context statements, comparing my straddling of a rural life in Abruzzo to that of living in metropolis London, it is after all like comparing oil & water; instead I am going to end on the richness & little luxuries that life in Abruzzo brings which focus on not just its GDP but the lifestyle that the region offers; as Ghandi questioned “Does increasing the speed of life improve our quality of life?”
- The ability to buy delicious paper-wrapped bread in quantities I need rather than having to buy a whole loaf in plastic and throw away the unused is a luxury, and for the eco-conscious such a luxury would help reduce the UK’s household national food waste of 8.3 million tonnes per annum.
- As a dog owner to be able to walk my spaniel freely without a worry of a pit bull terrier or ‘staffy’ tearing into it, which, has happened on more than one occasion and makes walking a dog a terrifying experience rather than one of joy!
- The water! Water that doesn’t just taste great but which requires the smallest amount of shampoos and washing liquid is wonderful, not just for human consumption but what in effect sewage plants need to deal with as part of our environmental footprint.
- The quality of the air! The acidic smell on return to a large metropolis after being in Abruzzo has to be smelt to be believed… this is something that we shouldn’t just get used to…
- Incredible food which allows you to eat out and enjoy a scrumptious 3-course meal with wine for 2 for under €30, and which subsequently results in many families being able to eat out together once a week even if that is just pizza.
- Council tax! What it costs for 1 year in Abruzzo, is less than 2 months in Hackney whose council receive Formula Grant to help keep the borough’s council tax lower than average in London. My council tax in Abruzzo even contributes to my very small village in Abruzzo having Christmas lights up in the street, I can’t say the same of Homerton.
- Vegetables & fruit that smell and taste as they should. My organic veggie pick-up never ever tastes like the fruit& vegetables that I buy or eat in Abruzzo. If I buy garlic from a supermarket in England it doesn’t even smell; how wrong is that?!
- The compassion of the Abruzzo people. Beyond the usual cheeriness, it sometimes seems, of simply being ‘Italian’, the people I have encountered and now call my friends are some of the most compassionate and generous people that I have met in my life.
- Again as a dog owner, the ability to walk the streets without having to avoid the spat out chicken bones that fast fried chicken living brings to children and adults who don’t sit and eat together but snack.
- Community; people care. If I was to be old, ill, and alone anywhere it wouldn’t be the UK where I chose to live & die, worried that I could be in my flat for weeks before being discovered.
- Togetherness. People make time to sit and eat together whenever possible to share the day, celebrating the joys, and listen to the problems. The family unit is still a very strong component of society, often in an extended form, with children, parents, grandparents, and at times even great grandparents living close by. The elderly in most cases are held in high regard and are often quite involved in the moral and social upbringing of children.
- Space – There is a huge amount to explore & revel in -a density of just 123.5/km2 (319.7/sq mi) compared to London’s 12,331/sq mi (4,761/km2).
- Teenagers that don’t get drunk & mashed in ‘gangs’, and end up feral & aggressive as they roam the streets.
- The most spectacular, uplifting scenery, whether in the mountains or along its miles and miles of gorgeous beaches.
- A crystal clear, warm Adriatic Sea with many beaches awarded the EU Blue Flag Status to enjoy in the summer months.