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.
You’re probably asking (if you’re not offended) “What do wolves, whales, and poop have in common?” They all share a common function of wishing someone well here in Italy, while avoiding saying “good luck”.
I am fascinated by idiomatic expressions, and they are plentiful here in Italy. As you begin learning them, you might be overwhelmed. I’d recommend concentrating on matters that come up more frequently, so you can fit in. So, don’t be surprised when an Italian instructs you, “Don’t wish me luck!” Other colorful ways are at your disposal for wishing someone well. Let’s start with probably the most common…
“In bocca al lupo” means “In the mouth of the wolf.”
This phrase, is similar to the English “Break a leg,” and has origins in opera and theater. Over time, its use has expanded to encompass wishing someone well in other endeavors, such as taking an exam. I heard this several times before I took my Italian driver’s license exam. How do you respond when someone says this to you? “Crepi il lupo” which means “May the wolf die” is the proper response. Often it is shortened to “Crepi!” A prevailing theory insinuates that you hope the wolf dies, choking while he has you in his mouth.
An alternative theory of the origin of “In bocca al lupo” is that it isn’t phrase that is meant to have menacing overtones, but instead refers to how a mother wolf might protectively hold a cub in her mouth. I prefer that interpretation, and I’d rather not wish that a wolf dies. But, I don’t need to split hairs. I just want to go with tradition, and follow the formula.
If you want to equip yourself with one phrase for wishing someone well here in Italy, this would be the one, in my opinion. Other options exist, but they’re pretty colorful, and you might not feel comfortable using them. They also include references to “poop” (my attempt to be a bit more polite).
I am grateful to be “stunned” into silence by the many beautiful scenes that present themselves here in Italy. And, given this post is about the beauty of silence, I will attempt to be brief in my reflections.
Silence and beauty can be experienced anywhere. Yet, sometimes a change of scenery, and a change of life can wake us from our hamster wheel thinking minds and conditioned selves. Italy has done this for me, again and again. Perhaps this is because I left the rushing torrent of a busy work life where I had little opportunity to really pause and see.
Italy has been a gift that keeps on pouring out her treasures. Thankfully, my artist-teacher-mother trained me to always have my eyes open, and to take in the quality of light, the composition of a scene, and the underlying emotions of the experience. The genes that my nuclear-engineer-father gave me, which give me abilities in analysis, deconstruction and problem-solving, often can be at odds with the aforementioned artistic training. In other words, my analytic brain sometimes yanks me out of the immediacy and “feltness” of the moment, into a noisy intellectual violence that seeks to hold prisoner the scene and the memory. Having awareness of these machinations of my mind has been a breakthrough, and more and more I am able to accept these gifts of beauty with hands willing to receive, and not closed to possess. The by-product of this is a deep, rich silence. Words cease, and even though I am not able to articulate it, I sense that my true self resides in that vast space of quietude.
I close now with a short quote from my (and my mom’s) favorite book of inspiration and comfort…
Your hearts know in silence the secrets of the days and the nights. – Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
Recently, I had the distinct privilege to attend and photograph a wedding in Florence, Italy. As I attempt to find the right, overarching adjective to describe the event and the day, “enchanting” seems most appropriate. The word may sound trite, but this day certainly had some fairytale magic sprinkled over its entirety.
The bride and groom (a warm, radiant couple), traveled from the States, having planned this event, from afar, at the exquisite St. James’ Episcopal Church. The October weather leading up to the important day was mostly overcast and rainy, and the forecast wasn’t doing much to assure us that anything would change. Yet, the day arrived, and the clouds yielded, gifting the bride and groom with warm temps, brilliant skies, and luminous light.
St. James’ Episcopal Church is a venue well worth considering for a wedding in Florence. The staff is welcoming and they are pros at helping to set up a wedding, once they understand your needs and your vision. Book early, because this church is in high demand for weddings.
A carriage ride through “il centro” made this wedding in Florence unforgettable.
I won’t attempt a lengthy discourse on how special this day was. Instead, I invite you to tour the gallery on my page of Italian wedding photography. I must say, however, that the choice of the bride and groom to take a celebratory carriage ride through the center of Florence, was perfect. Italians are effusive in their congratulations and best wishes, and on this afternoon, they were in ample supply.
I’ve just received formal notification that I have met the terms of the Italian Integration Ageement I signed as part of my first permesso di soggiorno application process. If I were coordinated enough, I’d do a few cartwheels, now that I am able to check this important “to-do” off my list.
What is the Italian Integration Agreement? If you plan on living in Italy, you’d better bone up on this one! An American, or other non-EU person applying for a stay permit (permesso di soggiorno), and subsequent residency, is required by the questura (the immigration police) and the immigration offices to meet important criteria demonstrating they are doing certain things to become part of the Italian culture. When I went to the questura during the interview and fingerprinting part of my first permesso di soggiorno application, I was presented with the Integration Agreement, and asked to sign it. Thankfully, this multi-page document had been given to me in English so there would be no mistaking the terms to which I had agreed.
The Integration Agreement was only put into place a few years ago. People who have been residents here before the enactment of this immigration law already are “good to go”. If you are planning on living in Italy for several years, be prepared to do what it takes to satisfy the terms outlined, or you will risk being sent back home.
Don’t fret. Meeting the terms of the Integration Agreement is very doable. From what I understand from having navigated the immigration system here, you pretty much have three years to get your act together. For me, after I secured my third permesso di soggiorno renewal, I received notifcation from the immigration office in Perugia that the formal process of tallying points had begun, and I had ten days to submit any documentation that would add points into my file. “Points?”, you may be asking. Let me explain…
I don’t often go through the archives of my past paintings, but recently I looked at this one, entitled Present Tense. I chose this title because, when I met this man, his direct gaze hit me as coming from someone who clearly resided in the present moment. I’m continually drawn to painting older faces. My intuition tells me this is because I am seeking out a wisdom that often comes with age – wisdom that has made peace with the past, and no longer fixates on a future idyllic state. I sold this painting very soon after completing it, and I miss having the real thing hanging on my wall to remind me to come back to the present moment, especially when I have strayed into realms of analyzing and wanting a “do-over” for the past, or obsessing about the future.
When I was jotting down a few notes before beginning this post, a powerful realization smacked me in the face. I often get lost in thought, or in “doing” to avoid the present moment. It is as though my chatty mind keeps proclaiming it is the real me and, therefore, is invested in keeping me lost in a world of thought. I confess, I am addicted to doing and achieving. Might many of our modern-day addictions, not just drugs and alcohol, but digital addictions, be manifestations of not being at peace with the present moment? Has Descartes’ famous pronouncement “I think, therefore I am” fueled a massive case of mis-identification – one that robs us of an ability to be present?
Being and staying open to the full gamut of experience that life has to offer isn’t something that has come naturally to me. I still talk a good game, and tell myself I’ve evolved. Yet, at times, I feel a physical sensation in my solar plexus and in my chest that feels as though some kind of internal resistance or “brake” is saying “NO!” to experiences that don’t fit with my preconceived ideas of how things should be. Then, I sense my world becoming narrow and constricted. When this happens, I believe I have cut myself off from the wise, inner creative muse. My authentic voice temporarily becomes mute.
I’m learning to watch and allow even this rift in my psyche, when it happens, rather than trying to oust it. Attempting to strong-arm or wrestle it into submission only ensures resistance unpacks its bags and hangs around. Funny how steering into, rather than running from, the less desirable experiences in life can be the path to regaining one’s equilibrium.
So, in this fourth and last installment in my post series on finding your voice, I’d like to speak to something that has become a daily lesson for me – staying open. Staying open has meant not allowing myself to be trapped in my left brain, where I can’t readily access the rich resources in the expansive creative world of my right brain.
Just a few winters ago winter bit hard in Umbria, and left people homebound in rural locations.
Autumn is firmly entrenched here in the hills of Umbria, the smell of wood smoke dominates all other smells, and colder weather is just around the corner. Winter in Italy, especially when you reside in the rural countryside of central to north Italy, can be mild and it also can be harsh, therefore calling for a change in one’s day-to-day living strategies. You’d best be prepared…
If your desire, when visiting or living in Italy, is to demonstrate proficiency speaking Italian, learning the rules of saying “I love you” must be part of your basic education.
Recently, I was reading a thriller by an established American author, and the mother of the Italian-American main character says “Ti amo” to her daughter. Yikes, in Italy a mother would never use “Ti amo” to express love to anyone but her husband, unless she is keeping a lover on the side. I chalk up this mis-step in mainstream literature to trite, and one-dimensional Hollywood presentations of Italian life and the language. In my opinion, the entertainment industry could do with a bit more vigilance with their fact checkers.
Expressing love is taken seriously here in Italy, and not tossed around quickly, nor is it over-used. More on that later, but first let’s talk about the two basic rules that will keep you out of trouble, and prevent you from embarrassing yourself.
“Ti amo” is reserved exclusively to express love between romantic partners.
This includes boyfriends and girlfriends, lovers and spouses. It is not used between friends, or between family members unless it is between the parents. One important distinction is that “Ti amo” isn’t used when couples are just beginning to date. “Ti amo” only comes with time and a maturation of romantic love. Instead young love calls for the following…
“Ti voglio bene” is used to express affection in the early stages of romantic love, and it is used between family members, and close friends.
Literally translated as “I want you well”, this still is an expression of love or affection that carries weight. You certainly wouldn’t use it with casual acquaintances.
I’ve always preferred Bernini’s style of David, to Michelangelo’s. Yet, there is no right and no wrong, when it comes to self expression.
Part of the journey to finding your voice, in art and in life, means finding your unique style. Much of our conditioning insists on sanctioned modes of expression, which can muddy the waters and stymie us from stepping into a style of being and expression that feels authentic.
My experience is that most people have to hack through life with a metaphorical machete to find what feels genuine for them. I believe a fundamental human dilemma is believing we all need to share the same reality or approach to life. Why else would our intellects have evolved, yet our attachment to war and conflict not abated?
One of my favorite singers, Vonda Shepard, speaks to the challenge of finding one’s authentic voice, in the midst of society’s conditioning, in her song Mischief and Control (from her album It’s Good Eve, available at Amazon.com), referring to the “painter” in all of us, as she seeks to express herself. For me “control” is a creativity-killer, and “mischief” speaks to the importance of play in finding your voice, while learning to ignore the chorus of other voices…
…But there’s an army of voices
She might have to get through… – Vonda Shepard
While my dear Momma Liz continues to coach me from the great beyond, I remember her always urging me to experiment and to try different approaches on my journey to finding my own style. She also reminded me that the world would be full of people telling me to follow their paths, and to not be discouraged.
Living in Italy Requires Certification of Speaking Italian at the A2 Level
If you are contemplating living in Italy, or if you’ve already arrived, be prepared to demonstrate proficiency in speaking Italian as part of the residency process.
I’ve just received my official certificate stating that I passed the level A2 proficiency of speaking Italian. When the results were first available online, I held my breath and, after seeing I had passed with a 90% score, I muttered “Grazie Dio” (Thank God). Woohoo!
You might be asking “What’s the big deal?” Let me explain…