No. 361 – New Painting by Jed

361

No. 361

I’m happy to present the latest painting in my series of watercolors depicting street life in Italy. I love the movements of everyday Italian life. This scene was inspired by a recent trip to the island of Burano, which is just a short vaporetto ride from the Fondamente Nuove stop in Venice. I love being on the island when the town is waking up and when you can see people emerging from their homes and going about their daily rituals. Almost every angle in this fishing village, rendered in a vast array of colors, presents an unassuming, yet compelling work of art.

See this and other paintings in my online gallery.

Lost in thought, or anchored in the present?

 

Clouds are an oft-used metaphor for thoughts...

Clouds are an oft-used metaphor for thoughts…

A fair warning…this post is going to be fairly philosophical. I feel compelled to share these rather personal musings with you, since I believe I’ve been asked by life, as part of this major move to Italy, if “thinking” and “thoughts” are serving me, or if I am their prisoner.

One thing I’ve learned about myself is that, somewhere along the way in my development, I adopted the belief that thinking was my most powerful weapon, and my best armour to the perils of life. I suspect the real shift or enslavement to thought (vs. “being”) began somewhere around ten or eleven years old when I began plotting a strategy to ensure I would always feel safe in the world, and to get what I wanted. And, this is when I began living locked away in the tower of my mind. This is what I mean by being “lost in thought”.

In retrospect, I see the enormous energy drain that resulted from living this way – watching, thinking, worrying and controlling. This didn’t reach the breaking point, or the point at which I realized “There has to be a better way.” until I made the decision to move my life, lock, stock and barrel, to Italy. I left the security of the familiar, and I couldn’t have asked for a bigger transition that demanded incredible patience, and asked me to “do my best” while simultaneously telling me “to let go”. Old habits don’t die a quick or easy death.

“Trying to change thought with thought is like trying to bite your own teeth.” – Alan Watts

I’ve listened to a fair number of Alan Watts’s lectures. He has always been a great source for shaking up my usual perspectives on how things are supposed to be. This particular quote hit me between the eyes. A few simple words had described the mental battle I had been losing in trying to change myself and adapt.

I came to see, and doubt, the belief that I could use the power of my mind (thinking) to conquer or muscle my way through anything.

This has lead to some other personal realizations.

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Alla Stazione – New Painting by Jed

Alla Stazione

Alla Stazione

I’ve just finished a small watercolor “study” of a perennial subject here in Italy – a group of the “old guys” hanging out and “chewing the fat” (a decidedly American expression – I’ll research it to see if there is an Italian equivalent of this expression). This scene was inspired by a local gathering outside our local train station.

I’m fascinated with the old boys’ club here in Italy. Just as you see groups of women congregating on park benches to talk about the latest and greatest news, the men, also, are constantly finding time and space to converse about current affairs and to editorialize about life ahead.

You might be tempted to describe such a scene as a group of bored old boys with nothing better to do. In Italy, conversing and being together in the moment, without a bunch of other noise, seems to be a well-developed art. I know that my American conditioning and upbringing often lead me to label such scenes as “unproductive”. What I’m learning, after so much time here, and after observing Italian life, is that people here seem to be adept at relating to and staying connected with one another.

For me, it is as though the question is being asked “Why the rush?” – followed by an admonition to “Be here now”.

I like that the Italians are helping me to look at life differently, and to step aside from a constant need to always be in “achievement” mode.

Francesa and Brother Oscar

Announcing the Winning Post Ideas for Italywise

I’ve been blown away by the quality of all of your blog post idea submissions. You’ve prodded my brain, and my heart, to step aside from normal perspectives. Thank you.

Choosing just two winners was next to impossible. Here they are:

Italy through the eyes of our cats.

Here’s what Laurie submitted:

“How about something from the perspective of your pets? Are they watchful out the window and what do they see? Do they have an italian diet? Do they meow in Italian? Do they like prosecco? How does caring for a pet there differ than u.s.? What do you have to know to get a pet from the u.s. into Italy?”

I’m going to have a blast with this one, since Francesca (California born and transported to a life in Italy) and Oscar (Italy born – in the hills of Umbria) are full of personality, and I have spent countless hours observing them, their behaviors, and learning what fascinates them. How do they experience Italy?

Momma Liz and my painting, Clairty

Momma Liz and my painting, Clarity

Learning to “see” the world differently, as influenced by my artist mentor, Momma Liz

Here’s what Anita submitted:

“Hi Mr Jed! I have an idea! I know growing up as a daughter of an artist my life was much different than the average person. Looking through their eyes was so interesting and beautiful.  A for instance – I was leaning over my dads shoulder in the car 7 years old. My father commented about an older woman crossing the street. He said “look at her face”, her face is a road map – the lines and wrinkles she had a hard life! He saw what most people never cared to see!! Az.”

While the other winner invites me into a flight of fantasy by looking at Italy as if I were a cat, this idea resonates with me on a deeply personal level. We all look at the world uniquely, and different things fascinate us. Those of you who had the good fortunate to know, and/or be taught by my dear Momma Liz – you understand how she had an uncanny ability to help you see the world the world through a different lens, and to find your own artistic voice. I will feel honored to give tribute to this amazing woman, as I also tell my story of why I choose to paint and photograph the subjects I choose.

In closing, I again offer my deepest thanks for all your entries, and for giving your ideas such careful and creative attention.

"Parlano Con Il Cuoco" - They Speak with the Cook

Just a few days left! Enter to win a signed, limited edition photo from Jed!

There’s still time! I’m counting on you all to enter by submitting your ideas for blog posts you think would be compelling. It’s easy, just follow this link to learn more and to enter! You, my readers and followers, can help me make Italywise.com an even more valuable and creative resource.

Win an signed, limited-edition Jed Smith photograph!

Originally from Sardegna, this shepherd now tends his flock in the Maremma.

Originally from Sardegna, this shepherd now tends his flock in the Maremma.

I’m hosting a contest to solicit creative ideas for future blog posts!

Today officially launches the contest. I’m looking for the two most innovative and creative ideas for future posts. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that I love writing, and story-telling….almost as much as I love telling stories through my photography and through my paintings. While I still have a long list of blog post ideas, I’d love to hear from my audience as to what you might deem to be a creative and compelling topic. Topics can be about the practicalities of living here in Italy, or they can be about the musings and philosophies of major life change. Of course I love writing about being an artist, too. The two most unique ideas will win a signed, limited-edition, archival photo* (printed on 17″ x 22″), shipped to your home. If you’re a winner, you’ll be able to choose from any photograph (color or black and white) in the gallery section of my blog.

And, if you want direct notice of future blog posts, and if you’re not already a subscriber, I encourage you to subscribe in the column to the right of this post!

Here are the logistics:

• Submit your idea (one entry per person) in the comments section below this post**.

• Contest ends midnight EST, Monday, August 31, 2015.

• The two winning entries will be chosen Tuesday, September 1, 2015. Winning submissions will be posted, after you have been contacted (only your first name will be identified, or your identity can be kept confidential, if you so desire).

*Framing not included.

**Entries/ideas submitted through email, or other channels will not qualify.

Mysteries abound in this fountain.

Mysteries abound in this fountain.

Head to the beautiful heel of Italy – Puglia

A conversation from window to street

A conversation from window to street in Polignano a Mare

I’ve recently returned from a spectacular week’s tour of Puglia. A week is the minimum I’d recommend to feel as though you really have begun to get to know the magnificent heel of Italy. We did cover significant territory, but we returned home knowing much was still to be discovered.

Prior to our journey, my sister Shelley already had been visiting for two weeks. At Rome’s Fiumicino airport we retrieved my brother-in-law Ed, who had just flown in from the States. First, we made a quick stop at an Auto Grill to have a bite to eat, to have a caffè doppio macchiato caldo (“fuel” for the long drive ahead), and to load up on cold acqua frizzante (temps were high 90’s). Then we headed down from Rome towards Naples and then across Italy to Bari (I wish we could have stopped to see the old town of Bari, since I understand it is well worth the visit). Our first destination in Puglia was Conversano, south of Bari and just inland by 10 minutes from Polignano a Mare.

We chose Conversano because of its proximity to Polignano a Mare. August is the month when Italians head to the coast in droves to camp out with their friends and families, and to bake-in a good tan. Had we stayed in Polignano a Mare we constantly would have been fighting crowds and increasing our stress levels merely trying to find a parking space. To our delight, Conversano turned out to be a gem of a town, with incredibly friendly and welcoming people, and a quiet energy – even though we had arrived for the weekend of the Sagra della Mandorla – the Festival of the Almond. Follow this Conversano TripAdvisor.com link to learn more about this delightful little town. We stayed in the elegant and impeccable Corte Altavilla – literally in the heart of town. Initially, we struggled to reach the hotel, since the GPS in the car was taking us in impossible directions, and through incredibly narrow streets. Only later did we learn that we could breach the entrance to the square in front of the castle that was marked “no entry”, and the hotel would take my license number to give to the police so that I would not incur a ticket during our brief unloading of luggage (private parking with a shuttle was provided).

Conversano and Polignano a Mare

Long, cooling showers, and a lovely, relaxing dinner in Conversano, outside in an alleyway, were our just rewards for surviving the 5 1/2 hour journey from Rome. The following day we drove to Polignano a Mare (more on Polgnano a Mare at TripAdvisor.com), parked on the outskirts of town and walked into the city center. Shelley had her swimsuit under a swim dress with intentions of dipping into the Adriac and cooling off from the stifling heat. I had other plans and was armed with my Canon 5D Mark III and a short lens and a long lens. For me, wandering the streets of Polignao a Mare was like hitting an artist’s and photographer’s jackpot. Perfect vignettes and stories were constantly unfolding, and I found it impossible to be quick enough on the draw to capture all that I wanted. At times I wished I could be invisible so as to not alter the energy of a scene. We all know how people instantly change when they know a camera is pointed in their vicinity.

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Perils and Pitfalls of Speaking Italian

The Perils and Pitfalls of Speaking Italian

Know the challenges of speaking Italian, apply yourself, and you’ll be speaking proficiently in no time.

I’ve been living in Italy for over two years now. One of the things I’ve been hearing from more than one source here is that it takes a least that amount of time for things to start “clicking” in the brain – provided a person is immersing himself or herself in the language. This means some sort of study program and it means surrounding yourself, more and more, with native speakers, and resisting the urge to spend most of your time in the safety of other English-speaking expats.

Speaking Italian is not easy in my experience. Let me clarify, speaking Italian WELL is not an easy in experience. If you’re reading this post and if you’re only interested in visiting Italy for a short time, you certainly can set your sights on a lower learning curve. But, if you’re planning on a longer stay, or if you’re planning on living here permanently I encourage you to embrace your fears and tackle the language in a way that will give you a proficiency to help you not only in the dealing practicalities of life, but to help you build friendships and garner respect from the Italians.

If you’re serious about making Italy your home, learning the language is paramount. Otherwise you risk being perceived as an entitled foreigner who expects the burden of communication to fall on the locals. I’ve heard many English speakers (mainly tourists in Rome, Venice, Florence, etc.) becoming indignant that more Italians  don’t speak English.

My education in comprehending and speaking Italian continues. I’m impatient with myself for not being further along, but I have made considerable progress. In the process, I’ve identified several perils and pitfalls of speaking Italian. The following are 10 pieces of advice that I’d like to share:

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Saying “I do” in Italy.

Last October, I was honored to be the wedding photographer for the marriage of the daughter of some very dear friends from North Carolina. I had an amazing time being in “artist mode”, constantly on the move to capture key moments (often furtively). I also felt incredibly privileged to be included in a ceremony and celebration of love between two radiant, loving souls. The wedding itself was an intimate affair with maybe two dozen people – mostly family and close friends who had made the journey from the States to be part of this important event.

The wedding ceremony and the reception and dinner afterwards was held at my favorite restaurant and agriturismo, Calagrana, here in Umbria, in the Niccone Valley. They are masters at orchestrating events and delivering some of the most amazing wines and foods you’ll find in Umbria. The bride and groom were married under a verdant gazebo with graceful wrought-iron swirls. The bride’s father, a minister, officiated.

After the ceremony, prosecco and appetizers were served on the terrace overlooking the valley. A long sit-down dinner came next. Nothing was hurried or orchestrated on a strict time schedule. For me, it was almost as if Italy’s “Slow Food” movement had extended to the wedding venue.

As the photographer, I loved witnessing the many wonderful emotions flowing through the course of the afternoon and evening. At times I felt guilty – like I was some kind of voyeur or intruder into very personal and intimate moments. One of my favorite images is of the embrace between the new husband and wife when they slipped out on the terrace to have a moment alone.

I have attended two other weddings here in Umbria. Both were Italian weddings and they were much larger affairs (hundreds of guests). I’ll write about them in another posts. But, whether it is a wedding of Americans or of Italians, tying the knot in Italy is a magical experience.

 

Il permesso di soggiorno – The Stay Permit

The permesso di soggiorno is essential for stays of longer than 90 days.

The permesso di soggiorno is essential for stays of longer than 90 days.

If you decide to move to Italy, or if you plan a long-term sabbatical, you will need to have a permesso di soggiorno, a stay permit. I just received my third renewal, and I am working towards having a carta di soggiorno, a permit for a longer stay. My understanding is the carta is only available after five years of residency, so I still have some time before I can make that application.

If you’ve done your research about living in Italy, hopefully you will have learned that it’s all doable. However, I hope your research has taught you that you will need to have an ample helping of patience in the process. Many Americans, in my experience, are used to things happening at the snap of their fingers, and with greater predictability. If you are married to this way of thinking or to those expectations, I recommend you stay in the U.S. and only plan for short stays.

It’s complicated…or it can be complicated. Let me explain.

The most daunting part of the process is FIRST getting your visa from the Italian consulate. The hurdles can be significant, depending on your individual scenario. For instance, if you communicate to the Italian consulate of your jurisdiction that you are planning to move to Italy for the rest of your life, be prepared for much greater scrutiny, and be prepared to demonstrate that you have either a). A solid job with a company in Italy (and the documentation attesting to this) or b). Sufficient means of income, or money in the bank, to cover you for the rest of your life. Regardless of your plan, you will receive (at most) a visa of a year’s duration. Yes, whether you plan to move here for the rest of your life, or whether you plan to take a two-year sabbatical, you will receive a visa of the same duration. My advice? Unless you are certain you plan to live here for the rest of your life, set this up as a “test drive” and communicate in kind with the Italian consulate. Otherwise, be prepared to clear a higher set of hurdles.

Once you have your Italian visa in your U.S. passport, it becomes a different story. By that, I mean the visa gets you into Italy with some “runway” to work things out with the questura, or the local immigration police. Here’s the process as I understand it*:

Once you have “landed” you must make sure your passport is stamped adjacent to your visa to indicate your entry into the country. Otherwise, you will need to visit the local questura to announce your presence/arrival into Italy.

Within a couple of weeks (be sure to ascertain the timing, but err on the side of shorter, not longer) submit your application for a permesso di soggiorno. Here in Umbria, I was directed to utilize the service of a local union, where they fill out your application, without charge, and they deliver a computer printout with instructions on paying your bollo (tax stamp) and submitting your application at the post office, where you will pay additional fees. All in, I think I paid around $150 for the application.

There are several designations regarding the type of application for a permesso di soggiorno. Many people apply for a work permit, and that is a specific “animal” with specific requirements. You can apply for a permesso di soggiorno per residenza elettiva, which is a residency permit saying you will reside here without working – or without working here for a company in the traditional sense. Basically, it means you are retiring here, and not working in a way that takes work/opportunity away from an Italian citizen. Regardless, it is incumbent upon you to research and determine the type of stay permit you wish to receive, and the rules and regulations pertaining to each type of permit. Then, you proceed accordingly.

For me, I completed my application, which meant supplying:

– Copies of all pages of my passport which have a). Basic information. b). Pages that have been stamped.

– A document proving I have health insurance coverage.

– Financial proof of viability (bank statements, pension statements or social security statements if that applies to you)

– Proof of residence or ownership of a house. Either a lease agreement or document showing ownership of a house along with a certificato di agibilità, which certifies you are living in a house that passes the housing codes/standards.

I understand, from other people, that also you can complete the application online, but I prefer to work with the union, so that I have assurance from another set of eyes looking at my application.

At the post office, once you submit the application and the bollo, you will be assigned an appointment with the questura (immigration police). Be sure to make this date, where you will be finger-printed, and asked questions regarding any missing or questionable information.

Then, be prepared to wait. The first time I submitted my application, it took 3 1/2 months to receive my actual permesso. This was difficult, because for other things (like purchasing a car), the post office receipt was not deemed sufficient. In subsequent years, the receipt for renewal was said to be sufficient.

I’ve heard varying stories about applying for the national healthcare plan. I wasn’t able to do it until I had my first permesso, and after I also had my residency card from the commune.

The second year, my permesso took almost 4 months. This year it was over 4 months, which speaks to the backlog and workload of the questura.

Now, to complicate matters further, there is an “integration agreement” you sign when you first apply for a permesso di soggiorno. This details a point system you must follow and meet upon your third year of residency. You are required to have at least 30 points, which includes points for ascertaining/certification you can speak at an A2 level of the Italian language, and ascertaining you have passed a sufficient civic knowledge of life in Italy.

I was told, not only by other people who have lived here for several years, but also by the questura, that this additional criteria would not be tested unless I was applying for a longer stay permit. Wrong. This week I received a letter from the immigration office in Perugia to begin supplying documentation to begin tallying to point requirement. Yesterday, I visited the office,  and submitted the documents. The biggie is the language certification. I took an official A2 certification test in Rome in early June, yet my results will not be registered until September. I’m sure all will be well, but it’s just a pain to be following all of the steps to make sure I am following protocol.

Don’t be discouraged. Just understand the different possible scenarios. Italy can be unpredictable. My strategy is planning for all the all possibilities.

At this point, I feel compelled to point out that there are many people living here in Italy while “skating” under the radar for certain requirements (like driver’s license, medical insurance, etc.). I admire them for their courage, but I’m a person who likes to be more “precise”, and I’m also a person who doesn’t want to be jettisoned from the country for not following certain protocol – and then being barred from re-entry – not only to Italy but to the EU. We all make our own choices. I prefer to sleep well at night, knowing I am doing my best to follow the guidelines.

 

 

 

 

 

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