At Last! My Tessera Sanitaria – Italian Health Care

At last! My Tessera Sanitaria card that shows enrollment in Italy's National Health Plan.

At last! My Tessera Sanitaria card showing enrollment in Italy’s National Health Plan.

After almost two years of living in Italy as an expat I now have my tessera sanitaria and I have health care coverage in Italy! Woohoo!

By some surveys Italian health care is rated #2 in the world.

Until just a few day ago I was covered with an affordable Cigna major medical plan – good anywhere in the world, except the United States (no surprise). Medical care here is pretty cheap, especially by American standards, so if I had run into a health crisis I simply would have paid my deductible and then filed a claim. Fortunately I’m in good health, so I never had to enact such a scenario.

With so many other things on my plate in my first year here, I decided to forgo making the health insurance change until 2015. Getting the tessera sanitaria isn’t necessarily a difficult thing. In fact in can go quite smoothly. But, a few factors aren’t always consistent, so educate yourself on the process, and be aware of the parts that might veer off your anticipated course.

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“Talk of the Town” in the Hills of Umbria

Even daily laundry can be cause for speculation and commentary amongst the neighbors.

Even daily laundry can be cause for speculation and commentary amongst the neighbors.

I guess small towns are pretty much the same wherever you go in the world…

You see, my neighbors in Umbria talk about my underwear. Yes, my underwear.

Living in a small rural village in Umbria, everyone pays attention to everything. This is a good thing, because the “neighborhood watch” is fierce. Our home in Umbria is in a hillside cluster of 10 or more homes. Things may appear quiet, but ears are always alert to the sounds of strange footsteps or car engines, and eyes furtively peek out from darkened windows. In these small Italian hamlets, if that’s where you end up living, you’d better get used to your life being up for village commentary and speculation. This won’t be the first and only posting about having my life on display in Umbria. I’m not at all upset about it. I find it endearing and humorous.

I was prompted to write this after having a lovely New Year’s Eve dinner with our next-door neighbors from Umbria, who also live in Rome during the winter. During the course of the meal, my neighbor delightfully recounted a conversation she had during the summer with another neighbor, who lives just around the corner. This was regarding my underwear. We share a communal clothesline, always being respectful of one other’s needs and being sure not to monopolize use of the clothesline. One day I hung out a load of laundry that included a dozen pair of my Italian briefs, courtesy of Intimissimi (a guy has to feel sexy whenever he can). I’m one of those people who like to have at least three weeks of underwear on hand, and I end up washing them in bulk.

Apparently this prolific display of underwear ownership caused quite a stir and my neighbors remarked about my investment in the underwear industry. They chuckled about this “indulgence” of mine, and I’m sure word spread throughout the village. Pretty much anything qualifies for conversation fodder – and this isn’t exclusive to the expats. It hasn’t been unusual for us to be having a coffee at our favorite bar/alimentari at the bottom of the hill, only to find out that people are aware of our activities and whereabouts just two days before.

The bottom line is that we’ve been welcomed with great hospitality and affection and the “talk” isn’t malicious in the least. I like knowing people are looking out for us. So what if my underwear strategy undergoes scrutiny in the process?

Maybe you’re choosing a secluded home up a beautiful cypress-lined drive, and this will afford you much privacy. But, be prepared, because it will also prompt commentary from the locals, and this will be turbo-charged with colorful speculation. Italians are masters of storytelling.

I can only imagine what other stories have been told as the result of the astute observations of our comings and goings. With a bit of exploration, and sufficient consumption of wine and grappa, I’m sure we’ll be able to loosen lips….

“The Daily News” – Photo by Jed

Lettura del quotidiano

Lettura del quotidaino – Reading the daily news. A common scene in bars here in Italy.

This black and white photo captures a scene I enjoy observing every day in cafès here in Italy. Each cafe has several newspapers, so unless someone else is already reading your favorite newspaper, reading is pretty much a fee endeavor. I love seeing the concentration and involvement with these publications, which are ripe with the crazy politics and scandals of Italy and Europe. And, you’ll also find ample commentary on all that is newsworthy in the States. While Italy, and Europe is a bit of governmental and financial mess these days, people also find much of what is going on “across the Atlantic” to be a mess of its own.

Be sure to check out other black and white photos in the online gallery.

Parlando con il cuoco – Photo by Jed

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

“Parlando con il cuoco” – Speaking with the Cook

This is one of my favorite photos, taken in a restaurant in the town of Foligno in Umbria (close to Montefalco and the amazing Sagrantino wines of the area). We met this lively chef while doing a tasting a Caprai, and made an impromptu decision to lunch at his restaurant. The food was amazing, and the chef was known for sitting down at the table with you, pouring himself a glass of wine (from your bottle), and staying for a brief conversation (until he was needed back in the kitchen). Another unique feature of the restaurant was a glass wall dividing the restaurant. Diners were encouraged to “speak their minds” with graffiti. Unfortunately, I recently learned that this unique Osteria is now closed. I’m glad I found a moment in time to experience its unique offerings and ambiance.

Considering Moving to Italy?

Or, are you planning an extended stay in Italy?

Hollywood has helped build a heavily weighted view of living in Italy. While I liked “Under the Tuscan Sun” (Diane Lane is one of my favorite actors) for the sheer entertainment value, I found it a bit sugar-coated (unlike the book). Yes, there were hurdles and tests for Frances, but still it all happened just a little too magically – thanks to the Hollywood “spin” to make sure audiences walked away satisfied. Don’t get me wrong, there is a LOT of magic to be experienced when you live here, but there is also a lot of red tape and bureaucracy, and laws change frequently and unexpectedly. I’ve found things that seemed to be a “no-brainer” in the U.S. to be quite difficult here. For example, the Italian postal service is incredibly unreliable and unpredictable. If you want to raise your estimation of the U.S. Postal Service significantly, just come to Italy and try to post a letter back to the States.

A blue-themed restaurant just in front of the Pantheon in Rome.

A blue-themed restaurant just in front of the Pantheon in Rome.

You might think I’m trying to scare you away. I’m not. I’m just a big believer in due diligence and full disclosure when it comes to factors that can influence a major life decision. Italy IS an amazingly beautiful and endearing country, for countless reasons. However, many people make the move here, only to feel sideswiped by the non-romantic practicalities of living here. Disillusioned, they retrench and head home. I’d hate for that to happen to you.

All the hard work associated with making Italy my home has been worth it, thus far. My heart has been in it from the get-go, and I felt reasonably prepared with the intestinal fortitude needed to deal with a long list of logistics and regulations.

So, here’s my advice based on my experience and my personality, starting with #1, which is….

Have a dream, but pair it with a well-thought out plan.

When The Secret came out, a lot of people thought they only had to dream, and imagine something happening. I believe that is only half of the formula. The other half is the hard work of researching, planning AND doing. Do a vision board (I did) if that helps, and make a list of the details of your ideal life in Italy. Then, start a notebook, and research all the requirements of getting residency (or a long-term stay permit – a permesso di soggiorno), and all the practicalities of living in Italy once you have arrived. There are several good websites with information for potential expats, but I felt like I had to wade through information that didn’t pertain to my particular situation. I needed to know what living in Italy would mean for an American, not for an EU citizen. Believe me, there are some big differences.

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A Coffee Please…the Italian Way

Un cafè dopo pranzo (a coffee after lunch).

Un caffè dopo pranzo (a coffee after lunch).

God, I love coffee, and Italy is paradise for me in this regard. On one hand, I pass up (most of the time) pizza, bread and pasta, because I am one of those crazy low-carb critters (it really works for me). If I passed up the incredible coffee here also…well, that just wouldn’t be right.

Having just returned from a brief trip to the States, and after having to depend on Starbucks for my daily “fixes”, I’m delighted to be back in coffee-Utopia. I had brunch at a great bakery while visiting South Carolina. The food was exceptional but I found the “American” coffee so foul that I was shocked something so awful would be served and consumed without a mass protest. How people could drink that stuff without wincing was beyond me.

You’re thinking I’m some kind of stuck-up coffee snob now, right? Think what you may, but the Italians have trained me to appreciate REALLY good coffee. And you can find it almost anywhere in Italy. My dear friend Arun, who has also spent ample time in Italy, and I often remark about the exceptional quality of a coffee or cappuccino at the Auto Grill – a chain of auto and truck stops all over Italy. Stop by most truck stops and service stations in the States and you’ll usually get something that will perk you up, but it won’t make your taste buds sing. Stop by an Auto Grill for a coffee and your ire will surge realizing you’ve been cheated with most of the offerings back home.

People often quote “Life is too short to drink bad wine.” For me, this goes for coffee as well.

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“Just Hanging” – New Painting by Jed

Watercolor of Just Hanging

Just Hanging

I love painting scenes of everyday life here in Italy. I don’t think I’ll ever grow weary of the rich street scenes I see everywhere. Gatherings of the “good old boys” is the focus here. I’m sure I’ll be revisiting this theme again. Visit my online gallery for more watercolors and other artwork and photography.

Stepping into an Italian Pedestrian Crossing? Proceed with Caution.

If you’re considering stepping into an Italian pedestrian crossing. Be afraid. Be very afraid…especially if you are in Rome.

Beware of blithely stepping into an Italian pedestrian crossing...you might be courting disaster.

Beware of blithely stepping into an Italian pedestrian crossing…you might be courting disaster.

Back in the States I could step into a cross walk with reasonable assurance that oncoming traffic would stop. Sure, I still had to be alert to the signs of hurried drivers who were loath to stop and wait for me to cross, but I found that to be pretty infrequent.

It’s not a great situation pretty much all over Italy, and Rome is the poster child for poor behavior and an overwhelming lack of adherence to the rights of pedestrians.

Beppe Severgnini, in a recent article (Google-translated into English with this link) in the Corriere la sera, quotes some pretty damn scary statistics:

“It is a disease that does not want to heal. In Rome: only 30% of motorists respect the pedestrian traffic lights and only 15% will stop in front of the strips”

I urge you to read this article and to prepare yourself for this unfortunate fact of life. Hopefully it will change, but I’m not willing to risk it. If you decide to assert your right of way in the pedestrian cross walk, you are inviting a game of chicken. Don’t do it unless you see clear signs of a driver slowing down and stopping.

The only places I see drivers in Rome “behaving” is when a police officer is in close proximity to the cross walks. And then, it is only done begrudgingly. Maybe it’s just overly developed paranoia on my part, but when I’m making a crossing, many of the looks I see through appear steely….only made more menacing when the driver is wearing sunglasses.

Beppe Severgnini has become my go-to expert on life and attitudes in Italy. Being a native Italian, he has the credentials to make some pretty astute observations about situations such as these. Read more about him here, and I suggest you consider reading his books and following his articles. He will be a great source of perspective as you build a life in Italy.

Disclaimer: These are my opinions and they, in no way, should be a substitute for your own research and experience.

Brunello Cucinelli believes in giving back, locally….

The school of Cucinelli in Solomeo - And inspiration to investing in the local community and "giving back".

The school of Cucinelli in Solomeo – And inspiration to investing in the local community and “giving back”.

Brunello Cincinelli – Luxury brand with a soul….

 

Yesterday, Simone and I had good sense to thumb our noses at the rain and the dreary atmosphere outside, and to embark on a local trip to the sweet little town of Solomeo. A forty-minute drive from our little hamlet in Umbria, the town of Solomeo is just southwest of Perugia. The drive, if you choose to forgo speed in the favor of a more leisurely drive, gives you a spectacular view of the countryside.

 

Brunello Cucinelli luxury Italian goods - made locally in Umbria, while supporting and giving back to the community of Solomeo.

Brunello Cucinelli luxury Italian goods – made locally in Umbria, while supporting and giving back to the community of Solomeo.

Simone had been telling me about the international luxury brand, Brunello Cucinelli, and how inspiring the owner has been in building his business model of providing exquisitely crafted product in a way that he gives back to and builds the local community. My ears perked up hearing about this, especially after recent news has been loaded with exposès of upscale brands who have gone abroad for cheap labor, and super-high gross margins. Come on…the idea of a product that costs €1,000, but costs only €40 to make seems, to me at least, like price gouging and taking advantage of cheap labor – NOT good healthy business practices. But, Brunello Cincinelli has a different, healthier vision in my estimation. He provides the luxury goods that people want, but he does so by training, supporting and building a local community. In Solomeo, il signor Cucinelli invests in the local resources and rising talent, underwriting their training and building local expertise in the artistry of designing and building clothing with the utmost attention to detail. He believes in the local Umbrian talent and resources. And, the net result is a robust community that continues to grow and thrive.

While strolling through Solomeo, we passed the theatre that il signor Cucinelli built for the village. The chiseled plaque above the entrance reads “Brunello Cucinelli wanted this theater of man, in the presence of nature’s theater, to always remind us of the eternal values of the beauty and the dream.”

I find his dream inspiring, and I hope that other brands will learn from his example….

 

Two glasses of white wine and a plate of meats and cheeses - after touring Solomeo and the artistry of Brunello Cucinelli

We enjoyed a glass of white wine and a plate of meats and cheeses – after touring Solomeo and the artistry of Brunello Cucinelli

Italian Hand Gestures – Artistry in Action

Using the hands to punctuate conversation and emphasize emotional content in a conversation is essential to Italians. For them, the hands are as essential as the mouth for communicating. Hollywood has had a heyday with this…to a fault. I’m not saying the portrayals are inaccurate, just a bit over the top. Sit an Italian in front of a movie screen or TV featuring Italian “characters” and ask them to “weigh in”. Most will roll their eyes and make hands gestures of their own to express outrage that the Americans are “at it again”.

Check out the following “brief” YouTube videos explaining some of the most prolifically used gestures. WARNING: In the second video some of these are a bit explicit, so if swearing offends you, you might want to skip over. However, if you’re planning on spending much time in Italy, you’d better start getting used to creative swearing, with words and hands.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=iB-kz4Rj7MY

 

www.youtube.com/watch?v=5wWhnFgSFMM

This brings me to share a piece of advice. Embrace the language and do everything you can to perfect your vocabulary and pronunciation, but leave the Italian hand gestures to the Italians. Understand the “vocabulary” of the Italian gestures so that you know when a person is emphasizing a point, expressing outrage, saying someone is bullshitting them, telling someone to go f#*k themselves, or communicating countless other sentiments. But, if you try to emulate these hand gestures, in my humble opinion, you’re playing with dynamite. These movements of arms and hands are so natural and fluid for Italians because they starting learning them when they were starting to walk. Just try reading up on the breadth of hand gestures and soon you’ll realize how you could end up “mis-pronouncing” with your hands. Italians will spot the pretense right away and it won’t be endearing.

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