Benvenuto! If living in Italy is your dream, I’d love to be a resource.
I created Italywise.com to share my journey of living in Italy as an American Expat. For me, moving to Italy required great preparation and diligence, as did navigating the many legalities of becoming an Italian resident. I depended heavily on the advice and experience of others who had already made the journey, so I know the value of resources that can help you build a plan to execute your dream of living in Italy!
My story has multiple parts, and so I have organized this blog accordingly. Some people mistakenly assume, by leaving life in the U.S., I effectively entered retirement. I have an allergic reaction to that word, because I am hungry to learn and do. And, living in Italy affords me the opportunity embrace and develop ALL of my interests. Being an artist and writer is hard-coded into my DNA, so I can’t tell my full-story without sharing my creative journeys as well.
I hope you’ll find ItalyWise intuitive and easy (don’t hesitate to contact me with feedback).
I’ve endeavored to provide valuable information and tips on not only moving to Italy, but thoughts on navigating the requirements and legalities of becoming a resident here. You’ll find tips for buying a house (fairly easy) and buying a car (not so easy), tips for navigating the permesso di soggiorno and residency process, and a host of other necessities of daily life in Italy.
I write about the Italian culture, and hopefully I can alert you to potential mis-steps when assuming the “American Way” applies everywhere.
While the practicalities of being an Italian resident still occupy a good part of my time, I’m not concentrating on exploring Italy and writing about and photography the gems of my discoveries. Hopefully I’ll share some perspectives that will lead you off the well-worn path.
I would be remiss if I told the story of my “new” life in Italy, without sharing the emotional and psychological journey that accompanies starting a new life. I’m learning more about myself, and how life flows.
While I worked for many years as a creative director, I’ve always nurtured my identity as a fine artist, photographer and writer. I hope you’ll enjoy seeing my visual expression as a complement to my written accounts of living in Italy.
I believe the word “should” can be your greatest nemesis when it comes to learning to play and to “finding your voice”. As I wrote in the first installment of this series, to “color outside the lines” probably has been the most important advice left to me by my artist mother. The “shoulds” of our conditioning will keep you prisoner to preconceived concepts of how life is supposed to be, and they will leave you in narrow world that doesn’t reveal to you the magnificent possibilities of self-expression.
Easier said than done. Oh, how I wish I could toss all my “shoulds” to the side of the road, and proceed happily on my journey. But, I’ve found it’s like pulling weeds. The first step is being aware of them and seeing their roots, which go way back to childhood when potent influences, like society, the church and the school system began training our brains and behaviors into becoming well-behaved and perfect little beings.
At the beach and ready for mischief.
We do know how to play, but most of us have forgotten. Playing was like breathing as children, but as adults all too often we look at play simply as a diversion from the more difficult realities of life vs. being a rich source for unearthing the treasures that exist in every one of us.
While, like most people, I experienced many powerful “molding” influences to keep me in line as a young child, my mom’s approach to art was a good antidote. Liz was fearless in playing and experimenting in her studio, and in the classroom. She would think nothing of going outside our house and tearing off an interesting piece of bark from a tree, and taking it into her studio and glueing it to a canvas, and then building a painting around it. She did this with many found objects, and I loved her “collage” period. I liken it to her swimming around all the possibilities for creative expression to find what resonated with her. And, different themes and media resonated with her at different times. She exemplified the metaphor of letting the river (of creativity) take her on an undisclosed journey.
Finding your voice sometimes can take a lifetime. We often have to dig our way out of a mountain of conditioning, and voices telling us how things are “supposed” to be and what is “acceptable”. Confusion ensues, and we can be afraid to color outside the lines. Because discovering one’s own voice is such a rich topic, and one central to the fabric of my being, this post will be the first of four installments.
I was blessed to be born to a mother full of life, and with a love of teaching. My mom, Liz Smith-Cox, was a highly influential art educator in the public school system. Her students remember the powerful impact she had on their lives, in the art classroom, and in life in general. I remember how she recognized my artistic abilities at the age of five when I crafted the “Happy Squirrel” out of terra-cotta clay. The little guy had movement, and personality. She kept putting clay, drawing paper, crayons and pencils in my hand, and encouraged me create or draw anything and everything that struck my fancy. No limits.
The woman who taught me to find my own artistic voice – my mom, Liz Smith-Cox.
Then, I entered first grade, where I was under the tyrannical rule of a mean old lady, Mrs. Anderson. Someone had “taken the meat out of her sandwich” years before, and she was keen to rule with an iron fist, and a hard set of rules as to how things should be done. Why such an embittered soul was put in charge of joyous, and impressionable young children is beyond me. On my second report card, Mrs. Anderson gave me D in handwriting. My mother was dumbfounded, and when she met with the teacher to gain an understanding of why, Mrs. Anderson explained that handwriting included “coloring” and I was refusing to color within the lines of the drawings provided. It had nothing to do with my penmanship. My mom was furious. I think this is one of the first times I understood the force of my mom’s belief that creativity should be unfettered. I also remember how she stood up at a PTA meeting and gave a man a thorough dressing down for suggesting that all that was needed for art in the schools was some crayons and a coloring book. “Coloring outside the lines” became a recurring theme and mantra in her many years of teaching and workshops.
My Momma Liz was a tiger when it came to protecting and encouraging the individuality of the creative voice. I am incredibly blessed that she nurtured me along in this regard, as I believe such a foundation has helped me find my voice much more easily. This isn’t to say that I haven’t taken detours into what I believed was the accepted way to go, but something always has harkened me back to my own path.
Why rush? I’m asking myself this question more and more. Italian life, and the emphasis on slowing down to savor the present moment, steadily has been exposing my American conditioning of go, do, and achieve.
Italians, as a general rule, value slowing down, connecting with others, and enjoying the present moment.
My favorite saying here in Italy is “piano, piano” which translates as “slowly, slowly” or “softly, softly”. You’ll be hard pressed to find this exact translation if you refer to an Italian-to-English dictionary. This puzzles me because it is used so frequently. My best understanding is that it originates from musical terminology, and is an indication to approach and play a particular piece or section of music more slowly and softly. Nonetheless, it has become a new mantra.
This is the story of Francesca and Oscar, our two cats, and how I imagine they view their lives in Italy. Oscar is an Italian native, Francesca is an American transplant, and they have distinctively different personalities. But, at the end of the day, I think they would both say that Italian life is “the cat’s meow”.
Oscar is almost 3 1/2 years old. Born in the hills of Umbria, to a feral mother, we gave him a decidedly un-Italian name because it fit his unique, mischievous personality. But, he has decidedly Italian traits and preferences.
For starters, he communicates passionately. He just puts it all “out there”, and doesn’t brood. He is very direct and clear about what he wants. I’ve never had a cat who vocalizes with so much emotion. (Read more about cat vocalizations in this online article from Catster).
Oscar also uses his hands to communicate. For Italians, the hands are almost as important as the mouth in fully expressing oneself. Oscars stands on his hind legs and whips his paws up and down the surface of a closet, door, or a window, to let you know he expects your attention (while also expressing his displeasure that you would dare to be otherwise engaged). In the kitchen he artfully employs his little cat hands to snatch his favorite foods. Tops on his list is arugula.
Oscar makes himself at home in a sea of pomodori.
Yes, arugula. His wild, greedy nature comes out whenever he sniffs the presence of arugula. It’s a real head-scratcher. You would think he was eating the treat to end all other treats.
He also loves other salad greens, and he loves to nestle himself in my summer harvest of tomatoes (pomodori).
Life in most Italian households centers around the dining table and the kitchen. Oscar loves to camp out in both places. It is as though he is watching and studying to be the next Italian Master Chef. I’ve given up on banishing him from the kitchen. He is just too intent on being part of the action.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.