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.
The systems for managing trash in Italy can vary significantly from region to region and town to town.
Sorry to disappoint if the title of this email implied juicy gossip, or pointers on cussing in Italy. Nope, this is about the very important topic of managing your trash in Italy. While this part of everyday life in Italy might not seem like a major issue, nonetheless, if you plan on staying in Italy for any extended time (i.e. setting up a household), you don’t want to be caught unawares. It’s a significant yearly expense, so I recommend you factor that into your budget.
That pesky thing called the Rifuti tax…
I loathe getting my rifuti (trash) tax bill from the local comune in Umbria. I pay several hundred dollars (payable in two installments). What irks me is that I have no trash pickup at the house. There is a container on the street leading down the mountain. When cleaning up after having guests over for dinner it’s not a fun walk, which is partially in the dark. Cinghiale (wild boar) sightings are common, and I’d hate to have an encounter with these dangerous animals simply while taking out the trash. So, I have to haul my trash a good distance from the house. And, this container is supposed to be only for non-recyclables. Down in the village, containers for sorting glass, plastics and metals, paper, non-recyclables, used batteries and old medications are available. It’s a bit of a hassle, but I’ve gotten used to making the journey. Still, I pay a hefty annual tax. If you slough off paying this tax, be prepared for a notice from the Agenzia Entrate. When a letter arrives from this agency it’s usually not good news, and many Italians clutch their chests when they first see such a letter. This is a governmental agency that gets involved for taxes not paid, and you could have personal belongs seized and accounts frozen. So, even if you feel the tax is unfairly high given your circumstances, pay it.
Trash service varies significantly depending on where you are in Italy.
In some communities trash sorting and collection is a free-for-all, with very little structure and compliance. I’ve heard of one area in which residents are obliged to sort their trash according to what can be recycled and what can’t be recycled. Containers are provided to ensure compliance. However, word is that once the trash is picked up, it ends up being all dumped together. For me this sounds like a scenario where the agency responsible for rifuti is training residents to “get with the program” while the agency itself hasn’t yet caught up with the backend process. Yeah, a bit of a head scratcher. Then there are places, like Rome, where they have systems in place, but the city just can’t seem to catch up with debris that often litters the beautiful historical sites. Okay…let’s visit the other end of the spectrum. Even though we still maintain our home in Umbria, we’re now living mostly in Treviso, which is a lovely, historical town just 20 minutes north of Venice. Man, this town has its trash act together. So much, in fact, Simone and I live in fear of not following trash protocol properly and being “busted” and fined by the trash police (okay, I don’t think there is such a thing, but our trash IS monitored and checked for compliance). Fines can be stiff. When we first arrived in Treviso we dutifully picked up our four containers, each barcoded for tracking. One container for “umido” (biodegrable), one for “carta” (paper), one labeled “vetro” (which means glass, but is also for plastics, and metal), and one for “secco” which is most stuff that doesn’t fit into the other categories. We were given a calendar showing what is picked up and on which dates. – and we are obliged to use the trash bags (provided for free) from the Comune. We pay an annual fee and then each time we put out the “secco” container for pickup, we’re billed 16 euros. The upshot of this is that Treviso is a poster child for Italian cleanliness. You can tell residents take pride in their city and it’s nice to be in a historical Italian city that isn’t marred by unsightly trash. Other city services are run with similar precision which makes living here quite attractive. So, that’s the extent of my trash talk in this post, other than recommending that you learn the do’s and don’ts of your future Italian community. Be prepared, manage your expectations, and all will be well!
I am drawn to, in my art and photography, scenes of simplicity and calm. For me these are meditations and reminders of the importance of stepping out of the torrent of “doing” and allowing my soul, and mind, to breathe.
I’ve always had a fascination with physics, especially the paradoxes of quantum physics. For an artist? Yeah, go figure. I guess my dad’s nuclear engineer genes haven’t been crowded out by my mom’s art genes.
What continually does a number on my head is that the world/universe actually is 99.99% empty space, yet we’re convinced by the swirling activity of infinitesimal particles of energy that what we see is solid and real. I know that I all too often forget about this ocean of empty space which holds everything, and where anything can happen. Like me, unless you’re an Einstein or David Bohm, your brain will shut down if it tries to assimilate this into anything but an intellectual concept.
In light of a brain that can’t conceive of the inconceivable, I “feel” my way towards truth with my art. The above scene brings me calm. In contemplating such a setting, perhaps my mind, like the waters, becomes still, and the realization of the depth and richness of the unseen space that connects everything returns to my awareness. The neurotic need to do, to figure it all out, abates. And, the insanity of the world’s current events temporarily loosen their grip on my attention. For me, this in incredible gift.
In closing, I leave you with a quote from one of my favorite actors…
Learning how to be still, to really be still and let life happen – that stillness becomes a radiance. – Morgan Freeman
The painting above, Clarity, is one of my favorites. I was drawn to this woman’s face because I sensed clarity and peace in her eyes. I also saw a wise woman who had relaxed into accepting “what is” and the inevitability of living with paradox.
I’m learning to step into paradox. I’ve been doing this somewhat begrudgingly because my bossy left brain interpreter insists on coming to conclusions of reality and nicely tucking them away on the shelf. You might not think an artist would have this kind of struggle since creative types tend to reside in their expansive, non-verbal right brains with greater agility. Yet, often I do struggle to make the shift and, paradoxically (there’s that pesky word again), the struggle itself tends to keep me trapped in the jaws of analytical thinking. The best thing, for me, is to pick up my paintbrush and start painting. Soon, thinking settles down naturally, and my insistence on a fixed reality abates.
Why do I write about seeking clarity and the illusions of reality in a blog about building a life in Italy? Because making such a huge life change has asked me, again and again, to let go of my insistence on what is reality and how my story is “supposed” to play out. If you’re contemplating a similar big life change, you might want to ready yourself to live with paradox, and the elusiveness of a fixed reality.
Man plans, God laughs. – Yiddish proverb.
Maybe I would benefit from training myself to contemplate this sentiment every morning, first thing. Then, whatever needs to be done, and what remains to be resolved won’t take on such a sense of seriousness, or insistence on my part. Perhaps this will remind me to do the best I can, while simultaneously “going with the flow”. This can be a beautiful dance, and I’m finding the universe tends to open up a wealth of possibilities previously hidden to my thinking brain.
Italy has proven to be an excellent classroom in dealing with inconsistencies and paradox. I’m an anal-retentive Virgo who likes everything “ticked and tied”. These organizational and analytical skills certainly have come in handy plowing through the numerous logistics of living here, but I’m convinced a belief that you can simply muscle your way through the bureaucracy will only ensure your descent into insanity. I’ve talked to a few “newbies” and a few people considering a move to Italy who have this mindset. I’ve thought “Oh no,” because I can smell disaster coming at the first inevitable speed bumps.
If a person can sets aside their insistence on how things are supposed to “play out” and their indignation at certain Italian policies that seem unfair, they can spend their time and energies on allowing Italy’s riches to unfold for them.
Chioggia is just 45 minutes south of Venice, and well worth a side trip.
Veneto is rich with places to visit, yet most visitors make a beeline for Venice and miss out on some of the gems close by. Yes, Venice is hard to beat (it’s my favorite city in Italy…thus far) but at times it’s hard to extricate yourself from the strong tourist influence, unless you have a real insider’s guide, or unless you know a native Venetian who will share the parts of Venice that are hidden to most visitors.
So, if you’ve exhausted yourself on Venice, and if you’re up for a change of pace, then I’d recommend taking a jaunt south to the port and fishing village of Chioggia. It may not be the jackpot of tourist attractions, but it’s a lovely, picturesque town in which you experience a slower pace and Italian life with more normalcy.
The best advice I can give you to really appreciate Chioggia is to stroll leisurely while absorbing the local flavor and the photo-worthy beauty of the canals, boats and colorful houses. Sure, there are a few churches, an ancient bell-tower and a bustling fish market, but you may find the historical richness and content pales after time in Venice. Don’t let that deter you because you’ll be cheating yourself.
I had my first introduction to Chiogga last week when we met with Italian friends (translation five Italians and one American – me). One of these friends is from Chioggia and she wanted to share her hometown with us. What a treat. This began with an amazing seafood “pranzo” at Ristorante Palazzo (Via Cavallotti Felice, 368), with an unimposing edifice, on a small street. You might think you’re heading “nowhere”, but I’m here to tell you, you’re definitely heading to a lunch that is well worth your time – not only from the quality and freshness of the local seafood, but from an experience of the locals.
Get there early, or call ahead to reserve a table (041 5507212), otherwise this “hopping” place won’t be able to accommodate you.
When we arrived, already there was a lively group of “good ole boys” (fourteen of them) having a long, happy lunch (with lots of toasting). We started with prosecco on tap and served by the liter (I still pinch myself that this is a pretty standard experience in Veneto – after all it is the birthplace of prosecco, and the hub of its production). Then, the seafood – so good that, as they say in the South in the U.S., I just wanted to slap someone. I started with a soft polenta covered with calamari fritti, and followed it up with cozze (mussels) marinara. The sauce was generous, and I employed a used shell to scoop up this savory liquid, while also inviting my friends to sop it up with bread (they joyfully complied). Other dishes at the table – a spaghetti allo scoglio (literally referring to the rocks on the shore where the fish and crustaceans reside). This, also, was in a marinara sauce. Another dish was a plate a deliciously prepared and handsomely presented scallops.
With our bellies nicely sated, we strolled for at least three hours, stopping for espresso and a grappa (for me), and a small deter to a pasticceria for meringhe (a hard meringue filled with heavy whipped cream).
All-in-all, a pretty amazing day. I’m grateful for every one of these experiences!
An unforgettable lunch at Ristorante Palazzo, Chioggia
Just Being is a recent photo by Jed Smith, taken in Basilicata (the arch of the “foot” of Italy)
In my photography and in my art I’m drawn to subjects who seem to be in a space of being. For me, it’s a representation of stepping out of the rushing stream of doing and needing to accomplish. Probably, this speaks volumes about my own addiction to constant movement and achieving.
Some people might look at the scene above and come to conclusions that reflect some kind of loneliness or sadness. I prefer to believe this man is in a space where the need to do, or to over think life, has dropped away.
Be – don’t try to become. – Osho
Moving to Italy has given me plenty to do, and to accomplish – learning the language, and tackling a pretty big list of logistical imperatives. In other words, I’ve had plenty of food for the hungry monster who thrives on being engaged in constant movement. Also, I’ve realized I don’t have to be physically moving to still be charging forward like a racehorse. I’m well acquainted with my restlessness, lying in bed after waking up in the morning, while my mind latches onto a laundry list of matters that need to be addressed or problems that need to be solved. Chuang Tzu referred to this as “sitting while wandering”. How appropriate.
I’m cheating myself if I remain in the rushing stream of doing. The funny thing is that I KNOW, from experience, when the doing part of me is exhausted, or takes a break, suddenly the world opens up for me. I feel present, and the world expands into dimensions that transcend thought or verbal explanation. In Umbria, I’ve experienced clear nights that wrap me in a magnificent cloak of stars – all made possible by the lack of urban noise and light pollution, and by the lack of thinking about what I have to do tomorrow or what I regret in the road behind me.
As life beckons me to a fuller life, I’ve come to believe that living with paradox is an essential element for my slowing down and residing in being. I’ve not been a fan of paradox for most of my life, because I like to have things figured out and to know where I’m going. That’s pretty ambitious, and I’m learning also, that it’s pretty damn impossible. I’ve thought I’ve needed to constantly steer life, which requires a vigilance that is exhausting. It also doesn’t trust the universe, or a higher power to move and take me to unimagined places. The funny thing is, the most creative and successful solutions to problems come when I quit trying to manhandle my way to figuring things out. The universe will provide answers (maybe not according to our timetable or expectations) if we let go and step into being.
I close with this YouTube video from Alan Watts, which speaks to the paradox of letting go while helping to remind me to let go and reside in “being”.
I’m taking a break from writing about the practicalities of living in Italy, and from philosophical musings about a big life change. As I write this post, I’m finding it impossible to wipe the smile from my face. Just yesterday I was introduced to the Fontana delle tette, which translates as “The Fountain of the Tits”. Yes, you heard correctly. This statue, found in the city of Treviso, is a famous piece of Italian sculpture, created in 1559. In the photo above, I’m lovingly wrapping my arms around this wonderful lady, who I understand is a replica of the original (encased in protective glass nearby). The story of its creation earns my admiration for Italian creativity and ingenuity. But, before I share the story as I understand it, a brief side note…
My dear mother, Liz Smith-Cox, would love this statue. I so wish she were still with me in this earthly realm so we could converse about this lovely woman. I suspect Mom would giggle mischievously, while simultaneously applauding the ingenuity of the sculpture. Liz is a legend in the world of art education. She was also raised as a Baptist, which might have squelched celebration of works of art that would be perceived as too revealing or “naughty”. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case. My mother celebrated the naked beauty of the human form, and taught me likewise. I remember, back in high school when I was her student, she had prepared a slide show of important historical works of arts. Instead of making the presentation herself, she was sidelined by a flu, necessitating a substitute teacher – one who came with some religious baggage. As the substitute played the slide show my mom had prepared, she obscured slides on the screen that featured any kind of nudity. When Mom heard about this impromptu censorship, she was furious. And, in my opinion, for just cause.
I hope the above paragraph doesn’t seem gratuitous. I share it, nonetheless, to provide context as to why I love this piece of Italian sculpture.
A brief history of Fontana delle tette
This sculpture was rendered by the orders of the mayor of the Republic of Venice, Alvise Da Ponte, in 1559 after a hard drought had plagued Treviso and the surrounding countryside. The fountain’s first home was the Praetorian Palace, in Via Calmaggiore. In the autumn, if there was a new Podesta (a high, elected official), wine would flow from the breasts of this statue. White flowed from one nipple, and red from the other. City citizens could quench their thirst for wine for three days.
Damn, I wish this still the case. I’d be lined up with the other residents, ready to drink my fill. The wines of Veneto are spectacular., But, I’ll save that for another post.
I hope you find this snippet of local history interesting. And, in closing, I raise a toast to my wonderful mother, who nursed me well in all the ways that matter! Thanks Liz!!!
I’m taking liberties by including the phrase “well-heeled” in the name of this recent photo. This two-word adjective most often has been used describing someone who is well off financially – as reflected in the quality of their shoes. However, its origins come from cock fights (check out this link at http://www.saidwhat.co.uk) – yes, cock fights. You see, spurs would be added to help them fight. Hence “well-heeled”.
As I study the prevalent sense of fashion here in Italy, I see much of it begins with the shoes. Most self-respecting Italians wouldn’t dream of being out and about with boring or crappy shoes – as evidenced by the two well-heeled women in this photo. You can’t see their faces, but I assure you they are well into their fifties. Fashion isn’t reserved for the youngsters and I love how these woman boldly and comfortably opt for sexy dresses and shoes that show off their legs (which often are kept in fine form by being part of a culture that embraces walking vs. opting for hopping in a car).
My favorite Italian fashion scenario to happen upon is an Italian wedding. I love snooping around to see the decked out crowd – men and women alike. It’s not unusual to see attendees standing outside (taking a break from the wedding in progress) to have a cigarette and/or check their cell phones. For me this is one of the best “cat walks” for checking out the latest Italian fashions. Hint, stay tuned for a future post about Italian fashion using Italian weddings as a backdrop.
In closing, I pay tribute to the Italians’ seemingly uncanny ability to effortlessly express fashion sense. I can’t articulate the exact “how” or “why”, but I sense it is hard-coded into the DNA of the culture. It doesn’t mean that fashion tragedies can’t be witnessed on the streets here – I just find it’s a pretty rare occurrence.
I’ve been asking myself this question a LOT lately. Perhaps, getting older, and making a significant life change triggers a winnowing process. I’m a big believer in having a full life, but also I’m becoming a devoted believer in the importance of “editing” the contents of one’s life, and the benefits of traveling “light”.
This post may seem like it’s coming completely out of left field, especially on the heels of a post about the logistics of buying a house in Italy. Yet, I’m afraid I would be doing a disservice to my followers and to people contemplating a similar life change if I only spoke to the mechanics of such a move, and if I didn’t share how the journey affects me personally.
My partner and I have just moved to the Veneto, so I’m certain the packing and unpacking have been prompting reflection on what brings me joy. Also, I’ve been slowly reading and absorbing the words of Marie Kondo, in her bookThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. I say “slowly reading” because something inside me recognizes an essential truth – one that could lead to adopting a significant shift in how I approach what to keep in my life (and I’m not just talking about material “stuff”). The zinger for me has been how Marie Kondo reframes how a person might approach the process of editing and creating space in one’s life. Instead of approaching the task with metaphorical pruning shears, she urges her readers to look at the individual contents of their lives and ask “Does this spark joy?” If the answer is “yes”, you keep it, if not, say “farewell”.
I highly recommend Marie Kondo’s book, if only to consider a different perspective on how you value the contents of your life. While Ms. Kondo focuses primarily on one’s personal space, I believe her philosophy has merit well beyond – into the experiences and relationships of your life.
Buying a home in Italy is easy, as long as you know the ropes.
When I bought my home in Italy I was surprised as just how easy it was. In fact, in was far easier than buying a car (which, unlike buying a house, requires being an Italian resident). I’ve written about purchasing a home in a prior post, but I feel compelled to call out the parts of the process that may throw you off balance if you aren’t forewarned.
When you are buying a home in Italy, you are buying the structure of the house, and not most of the fixtures in the house.
Unless you negotiate with the seller, don’t be surprised, when buying a house or apartment, to find every light fixture removed from the walls and ceilings, and much (if not all) of the kitchen removed. If you’re coming from the States, don’t be surprised by this different, but common, practice. Aside from lighting, bathroom fixtures come with the house (unless it is new construction and still you may have to add mirrors, shower enclosures, sinks and vanities).
Just don’t assume anything is “standard”. As long as you are working with a reputable agent (get references), he or she will help you with these important “ropes”. Anything is negotiable, and some sellers are amenable to selling some of the furnishings and fixtures in the house.
When you view potential properties, you may ask yourself how and why would the owner would remove the entire kitchen, since kitchens aren’t a one-size fit’s all. In reality, most owners don’t want to dismantle an entire kitchen, so be prepared to negotiate an additional cost to keep the existing kitchen (that is, if you like it).
Whatever you decide, make sure all is specified clearly in the compromesso di compravendita (the sales agreement).
A house inspection, as a condition of the sale of the house, isn’t a common practice in Italy.
You certainly can pay a geometra (the general work manager, or choreographer of engineers, builders and architects) to inspect a house and give you their take on the state of the house including any potential issues, and potential improvements (expansions, additional windows, etc.). But, you’ll have to do this before negotiating and signing the compromesso. Once you’ve signed the compromesso, you will have paid a sizeable deposit, which you will not get back if you decide to back out. And, if you do back out, still you may find yourself in legal proceedings.
As an artist and photographer, I find people watching here in Italy to be a source of great inspiration, and education. This recent photo, captured on the streets of Cefalù, Sicily, shows one of countless snippets of the dance of Italian body language.
For most of my life I’ve thought I reveal much about myself through speaking with my hands and my body language. Now, in contrast to the effusive and rich vocabulary of Italian body language, I realize just how restrained I am. I ask myself, just how much energy is locked up in my more Americanized style of expression, and ponder whether the incredibly natural flow of energy in Italian expression (verbal and body language) is more freeing, and thereby healthier.
As I watched this particular Italian gentlemen go about his morning, I watched him have a lively encounter with a friend and shop owner. The moment captured in this photo is just seconds after his friendly exchange, and demonstrates how the dance of expression continues and flows.
Perhaps, one day, I will attempt a photographic journal, or concise visual dictionary, of Italian body language. I would only do this through the guidance and tutelage of my Italian partner who, constantly and justifiably, warns me of the dangers of foreigners thinking such forms Italian “speech” are easy to understand and emulate. Italian expression contains many important subtleties which, if missed or not understood, can be dangerous in inexperienced hands.
In closing, I have included a YouTube video, posted by nadasitlay.com, which demonstrates some of the most often used Italian hand gestures. I can’t help but smile when I watch these native Italians sharing their rich skills in speaking with their hands.