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!

Jed Smith, ItalywiseMy 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).

Enjoy the journey!

Jed

Living in Italy

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.

Things to Do in Italy

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.

Starting a New Life

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.

Art & Photography

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.

 

 

In the Moment – Photo by Jed

In the Moment

In the Moment

This is one of my favorite photographs – for more personal reasons, which are inherent in the title. I have lived a very full life, yet sometimes the dark side of fullness is a cacophony of too much thinking and doing. Too much time in my head analyzing and labeling things, and too much time preoccupied with the future. Some philosophers have called it “intellectual violence”.

When I look back at this photo I’m reminded to “Be here now.” This photo was taken near the lovely Abbazia di Sant’Antimo, south of Montalcino (think spectacular Brunello wines) in Tuscany. I come across reflective moments like this in many rural Italian areas. In Umbria, I often see my neighbor, a woman in her 70’s, sitting out on her top step with her walking cane leaning against her, while she gazes, seemingly for hours, across her fields of vegetables to the spectacular mountain vista that surrounds all of us. Some people might look at the lives of such “salt of the earth” people and think they have boring repetitive lives. Maybe there is spaciousness and freedom in such lives that aren’t filled with non-stop “doing” or over-crowded by a world of constant digital connectedness. I suspect many of these people are more alive than we can imagine.

I pray to live a life outside of my head, and to reside more in my heart. I pray to experience truly what is right in front of me, right now.

To see this and other photographs and paintings be sure to visit my online gallery.

Simplifying and Pruning Back

Cutting back the overgrowth in all areas of your life can free up space and energy for the things that really count.

Cutting back the overgrowth in all areas of your life can free up space and energy for the things that really count.

Friday, March 13. Today, I was furiously attacking the shrubbery in the front of my Umbrian home. How dare it be thriving so much that it would impede the amazing view of the surrounding mountains? But, why was I pruning with such fervor? Then I realized this was a metaphor for aspects of my life that have become so overgrown that the “view” to the rest of the world was becoming obscured.

I have a wonderful life. I live in italy, one of the most beautiful places on earth. I have a wonderful home and an amazing partner. So, what’s the problem?

I have been in Umbria for almost five days. I came here to tackle a ton of stuff to get the house in readiness for making it home base for most of spring and summer. An ambitious “to do” list for my six days here (I’m heading back to Rome tomorrow night) was heavily weighted towards purging and pruning. Simone recently has been steering me towards books and online resources for simplifying and “tidying up” one’s life. I think he was sharing this information as a form of intervention. You see, I’ve allowed parts of my life to become overgrown and I have not been traveling “light”. I’ve been a great example of consumerism, subscribing eagerly to the belief that by adding more material possessions I was nailing a key part of the formula for happiness. Now I realize the pursuit of more has been crowding out who and what is truly adding to my happiness.

While this isn’t an earth-shattering realization for many of you, it is for me. Making a public confession is cathartic. As I write this, I’m wondering why it has taken so long for me to wake up to the facts that I am a hoarder – not the extreme kind you’ve seen on the news or in documentaries, where people live amongst stacks and stacks of useless stuff while sharing their living quarters with dozens of cats or dogs. I’ve been a hoarder simply because I’ve accumulated more stuff than I need or use. When I open my closets they’re jammed with so many choices (shoes included) that I become overwhelmed and opt for something familiar and comforting. Could my happiness really be about quality and not quantity? Could I feel more spacious and centered with less things vying for my attention?

Listening to Barry Schwartz’s TedTalk “The Paradox of Choice” was what initially help to wake me from my “gotta-have-more” slumber. Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing is now helping guide me towards a less cluttered life.

As of today, I have officially donated and “retired” at least 1/2 of my clothes and shoes. This involved five giant, packed, heavy-duty garbage bags. I almost strained my back trying to get them out of the house. Mind you, this was already after divesting myself of about 1/3 of my stuff when I moved from the States. Obscene? Yes. And, I am tempted to make yet another pass. I won’t believe myself anymore when I tell myself that I’ll use something “someday”. It’s a lie.

Soon I will tackle other areas of accumulation – most notably my computer data. Don’t laugh. Now that I have a new MacBook Pro to replace my very old iMac and MacBook Pro (over six years old), I’m downsizing, and planning on working with only my new laptop paired with a larger monitor. However, I’m a bit more intimidated by this task because I am weighed down by data – files and files of photos and documents. Again, I’ve been kidding myself when I say I’ll use it all. Time for major data pruning.

The list for pruning goes on and on…including the prolific growth outdoors here in Umbria. AND, and last (and certainly not the least) are the contents of my overactive mind. That is a topic worthy of its own post.

Staying on top of all of these things, and not allowing the same accumulations to insidiously creep into my life, is a step towards a freer mind and heart. More time and attention for the things that bring authentic happiness – my partner, family, friends, art, writing, and this wonderfully inspiring country called Italy!

A Seagull’s View of Venice – Photo by Jed

A seagull's perspective of the high waters in Venice.

A seagull’s perspective of the high waters in Venice.

Just a little over a month ago we were in Venice during two days of very challenging rain, wind and high waters. While the weather didn’t make getting around the city easy, the conditions provided me a different perspective on the city. Not only in Venice, but in other cities in Italy, I’ve been asking myself, “How does a bird experience its surroundings?” So, I played around with this. In this image, taken in Piazza San Marco, I risked dropping my camera into the flood waters. And, given that this is Venice and the city has a reputation for not having the most sanitary water accumulating in public places, I also risked taking an onerous biological sample back with me to Rome. Thankfully my grip on the camera was solid.

Here you see the result of my “playing around”. I love how the seagull is the focal point, in a way that doesn’t dominate the photo. The Doge’s Palace and its reflection provide the framework. I plan to explore the birds eye view in future photography pursuits. So, as always, stay tuned!

A surprisingly inspiring bus ride on a rainy morning in Rome.

A rainy early morning on the 3B in Testaccio, Rome.

A rainy morning on the 3B in Testaccio, Rome.

Thursday morning, March 4, 2014. Beauty can show up in the most unexpected ways when you open your eyes and step aside from your normal perspectives.

I woke up this morning…reluctantly. Outside was cold, steady rain. I’m a sunshine man. I live to see the sun, and I usually pout internally when the sun is in hiding, and when I have to face inconvenient weather elements. Still, I roused myself, took a shower, had a strong coffee, bundled up and headed out to catch my bus to my intensive Italian language class. I couldn’t shrug off the class, because I paid handsomely for the course (worth every euro), and I didn’t want to lose my bearings in the middle of a very important segment on pronoun placements when using imperative verb forms.

My normal commuting strategy for less-than-ideal weather is to pop in my ear buds, navigate my Iphone to YouTube or ITunes, and shut out the world until I arrive at my destination. But, today, I was more keenly aware of this inclination and made a different choice. I purposely packed away my ear buds and made a conscious decision to pay attention to the world around me. I put my Iphone in readiness as a camera.

I looked everywhere, observing how the citizens of Rome were dealing with the weather. I first scanned the landscape inside the bus, and then my gaze move outside. And, I discovered that the rainy window on my left was presenting me with a different perspective on the world. So, as we approached the subsequent bus stops, I started clicking ways. Here you see the results – a pretty significant departure from my usual photographic style. With only slight color enhancements, these images are basically un-retouched. I love how they capture the mood and essence of the morning and the weather, and how they feel more like paintings than photographs.

I’m experimenting and playing. I can hear the voice of my Momma Liz urging me to play, to color outside of the lines of normal convention…and to not be afraid to fail. Thanks Mom, you still reside within me and inspire me.

While this post is primarily about art and creativity, today’s experience is helping me to relax the tenacious grip I have on the steering wheel of life. I’m learning to let go of a mountain of conditioning and preconceived notions of how life is supposed to show up, and to quit trying to control everything. Life has a funny way of taking you to places and experiences that can be pretty damn amazing if you just get out of the way.

 

A quick and simple shot through the rainy window on my daily bus ride.

A quick and simple shot through the rainy window on my daily bus ride.

Art and magic is everywhere. A rainy buswindow adds a beautiful filter for the world outside.

Art and magic is everywhere. A rainy bus window provides a beautiful filter for the world outside.

Swimming in an Ocean of Italian Verbs

Caravaggio's "Medus" (one of my favorite paintings in the Uffizi) aptly illustrates my first reactions to the abyss of Italian verb tense and conjugations.

Caravaggio’s Medusa (one of my favorite paintings in the Uffizi) aptly illustrates my first reactions to the abyss of Italian verb tenses and conjugations.

Sto nuotando in un oceano di verbi Italiani. I am swimming in an ocean of Italian verbs.

I’ve just completed three weeks of intensive Italian language classes and have proceeded to the next level. “Yay!”, but I really have to commit this stuff to memory by practicing as much as I can. This isn’t like a dreaded, required college course that you take, pass and leave in the review mirror as quickly as possible. My success at building a robust life in Italy depends on my having a strong command of the language.

This most recent level was level 5. Believe me, this is difficult stuff, unless you are a prodigy when it comes to languages (like my dear friend Arun). I’m a bit envious of my fellow students at the school who come from other romance languages like Spanish, French and Portuguese since Italian shares many similarities with them. For English speakers, and students from vastly different languages like Japanese, Russian, and Swedish, I feel a greater kinship. I see the same looks of confusion on their faces when we’re forming sentences with a different logic and syntax from our native tongues.

Moments exist when I “get it” and I actually can put together a sentence that isn’t remedial. I won’t allow myself to feel like I’m stuck in the Italian equivalent of the Dick, Jane and Spot series from my first grade in elementary school. To achieve this I have to practice, practice, practice…and then practice some more. For this reason I crave having additional homework exercises.

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My Italian Stone Wall is Finished

The wall repairs are complete. Beautifully and meticulously built, and ready to handle the next deluge.

The wall repairs are complete. Beautifully and meticulously built, the wall is ready to handle the next deluge.

Saturday, February 28, 2015. I slept so much better last night. My stone wall is finished. I arrived in Umbria yesterday, after taking the train from Rome (immensely less stressful than trying to drive from the center of Rome on a Friday afternoon). I picked up my car from the Cortona-Terontola train station and made the drive from there. When I pulled into the driveway, a handsomely finished wall greeted me….and one that indeed will hold the land above the house, even when rains are unrelenting.

I also have a nice area above the wall to plant lavender and/or rosemary. Before it was a jungle of brambles.

An added bonus to the completed work on the wall is a slightly wider parking area next to the house. You see, the old wall was “bowing” outwards, making parking, and being able to get out of my car, impossible.

If you’ve been following the previous posts about the initial collapse and the work in progress, you’ll appreciate that this particular trip was not laden with other challenges. This time the heating and hot water system worked beautifully, and I was able to have a celebratory hot bath, and a long, restful sleep.

This morning I met with the workman to make another installment payment on the wall, and I’ll be back in a few weeks to make the final payments. Also, my next trip will include a massive deep cleaning and paring down of all of the stuff I’ve collected. This is in spite of having purged many things prior to the move here. Simone has been reading, and singing the praises, of a recent bestseller called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I plan to download the Kindle addition and become ruthlessly dedicated to exemplifying “less is more”. Stay tuned for more about paring down and the freedom it can bring. Let’s see how I do embracing this strategy to have more space – literally and emotionally!

The “New” Old Italian Stone Wall is Under Way

The "new" old wall is reinforced and is being carefully constructed in the best possible way (including new drainage). And what a handsome wall it will be!

The “new” old wall is reinforced and is being carefully constructed in the best possible way (including new drainage). And what a handsome wall it will be!

This past week, after yet another week of intensive Italian classes, I raced home, grabbed an overnight bag, and began the three-hour drive to my home in Umbria. The sole purpose of this short trip was to see the progress being made on my Italian stone wall adjacent to the house, which collapsed after heavy rains just three weeks ago. If you want to follow the journey from the beginning of this saga, be sure to see the photo and read about the initial collapse in another post.

Again, I have to salute my dear neighbor Carlo, who made calls and orchestrated getting the work going (a bit of a rarity to be able to initiate work so quickly here in Italy). When I drove up to the house at dusk I saw a cement mixer, piles of sand and large stones (mostly reclaimed from the collapse of wall). And, I saw a beautiful new section of wall about 2/3 of the way to completion. Setting aside internal calculations as to what this would set me back, I marveled at the amazing craftsmanship and structural integrity. This was a wall under construction that would mesh beautifully with the existing wall, while providing me assurance that heavy rains wouldn’t bring the land above me crashing down. I could sleep with greater ease.

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How Ripe? – Painting by Jed

Watercolor of How Ripe?

How Ripe?

“How Ripe?” is a watercolor I completed just prior to my permanent move to Italy. I’ve always been enamored with the people of the Mediterranean cultures – especially the older people, because their faces convey so much. This particular scene is from the wonderful island of Folegandros (about a 2-hour ferry ride from Santorini). Folegandros is my favorite island, and I hope to be crossing the Mediterranean more frequently to enjoy its brutal, yet spectacular landscape, and to find even more subject matter for future paintings. I almost feel guilty taking a little break from focusing solely on Italy in my posts. It feels like I’m cheating on Italy. While I will always be married to Italy, surely I can have Greece as a mistress?

Be sure to check out this and other paintings in my online gallery.

The Ebb and Flow of the Feral Cats of Italy

During a Thanksgiving trip to Italy several year ago, this was the scene that greeted my friend Nicole and me upon rising the first morning. That's Oscar's mom left to the center (tawny with the green eyes) before she embarked upon a life of pregnancy after pregnancy.

During a Thanksgiving trip to Italy several year ago, this was the scene that greeted my friend Nicole and me upon rising the first morning. That’s Oscar’s mom left to the center (brownish grey fur with the green eyes) before she embarked upon a life of pregnancy after pregnancy.

On a sunny Saturday February afternoon in the hills of Umbria, my next door neighbor Amalia and I have followed Micia, the mother of all mother cats, from inside Amalia’s house, where she has been resting (even though she is a feral cat) contentedly by a nice fire. Micia is now in the middle of the gravel drive, yowling in “those” tones. The sounds are desperate, insistent, and deeply disturbing. Yes, this is her provocative mating call.

Two tom cats we’ve not seen before in our little hamlet have heard the call and are circling Micia in the driveway. Both are tabbies. One has grey tones with a white chest, the other is a ginger boy. Micia continues her call, and the grey fella moves in, bites the back of her neck, and the “act” is soon completed. Yuck. Cat sex is never pretty. I’m disgusted with myself for even watching. Amalia and I look at each, shake our heads and start calculating when to be on the lookout for this new litter. Let’s see, 65 days from now takes us into the middle of April. At least the bitter cold will be past, and the kittens will have a fighting chance.

And so the cycle keeps going. Even though I remember when Micia was just a kitten about five years ago, I’m sure she already has had at least eight or nine litters of kittens. Last year she had back-to-back pregnancies, with barely three months in between (the second litter of four died because she couldn’t produce milk). After this upcoming litter we know we need to talk to a local vet who volunteers to neuter feral cats – especially in a community of cats that can and does occasionally get out of hand. When our feline population has boomed a couple of times, weather, other wild animals, and an occasional car speeding along our tiny road have knocked back the population. Even so, we always become attached to these wonderfully entertaining personalities. We all feed then (hence the “camp” outside my front door in the attached photo). They keep the rodents and snakes at bay and we all get along famously, in spite of their using the gravel path and sitting area in front of our house as one giant litter box. It’s never fun to have guests over, sitting in the garden admiring the view, and unearthing a cat turd while inadvertently repositioning one’s foot. Again, yuck.

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La frana del muro – the collapse of the wall.

Three days of non-stop rain caused a breach in a very old wall next to our house.

Three days of non-stop rain caused a breach in a very old wall next to our house.

“Sempre qualcosa” is a phrase I have come to use with greater and greater frequency. It means “always something”. And, because I have an old Umbrian home there is indeed “always something”…

Early last week, Simone and I were having a nice lunch at a favorite place here in Rome (in Trastevere), when I received a text message to contact Piero, a neighbor in Umbria. Simone called him, since Piero only speaks Italian, and because I’m not quite fluent (yet). I watched Simone’s eyes widen as he spoke rapidly with Piero, and I heard the word “muro”, which means “wall”. I knew this couldn’t be something good. After the call ended, Simone looked at me and asked “Do you want to know?”. I’m a big believer in steering right into addressing a difficulty. I was informed that the old (at least 200 years) stacked stone wall adjacent to the house and on the other side of the drive had partially collapsed, due to incessant rains just a few days before. I felt the familiar surge of adrenaline (and probably the stress hormone cortisol) I experience when faced a situation that ignites my mind to rush towards dark imaginings. That’s the flip side of being very creative. I think Simone saw the color vanish from my face, and he quickly added that Piero said it wasn’t terrible, and that there was no need to rush back to Umbria. Still, I knew I had to see for myself, either to allay my fears or accept the reality and deal with it.

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