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.

 

 

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

Just a few days left! Enter to win a signed, limited edition photo from Jed!

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.

Win an signed, limited-edition Jed Smith photograph!

Originally from Sardegna, this shepherd now tends his flock in the Maremma.

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.

Mysteries abound in this fountain.

Mysteries abound in this fountain.

Head to the beautiful heel of Italy – Puglia

A conversation from window to street

A conversation from window to street in Polignano a Mare

I’ve recently returned from a spectacular week’s tour of Puglia. A week is the minimum I’d recommend to feel as though you really have begun to get to know the magnificent heel of Italy. We did cover significant territory, but we returned home knowing much was still to be discovered.

Prior to our journey, my sister Shelley already had been visiting for two weeks. At Rome’s Fiumicino airport we retrieved my brother-in-law Ed, who had just flown in from the States. First, we made a quick stop at an Auto Grill to have a bite to eat, to have a caffè doppio macchiato caldo (“fuel” for the long drive ahead), and to load up on cold acqua frizzante (temps were high 90’s). Then we headed down from Rome towards Naples and then across Italy to Bari (I wish we could have stopped to see the old town of Bari, since I understand it is well worth the visit). Our first destination in Puglia was Conversano, south of Bari and just inland by 10 minutes from Polignano a Mare.

We chose Conversano because of its proximity to Polignano a Mare. August is the month when Italians head to the coast in droves to camp out with their friends and families, and to bake-in a good tan. Had we stayed in Polignano a Mare we constantly would have been fighting crowds and increasing our stress levels merely trying to find a parking space. To our delight, Conversano turned out to be a gem of a town, with incredibly friendly and welcoming people, and a quiet energy – even though we had arrived for the weekend of the Sagra della Mandorla – the Festival of the Almond. Follow this Conversano TripAdvisor.com link to learn more about this delightful little town. We stayed in the elegant and impeccable Corte Altavilla – literally in the heart of town. Initially, we struggled to reach the hotel, since the GPS in the car was taking us in impossible directions, and through incredibly narrow streets. Only later did we learn that we could breach the entrance to the square in front of the castle that was marked “no entry”, and the hotel would take my license number to give to the police so that I would not incur a ticket during our brief unloading of luggage (private parking with a shuttle was provided).

Conversano and Polignano a Mare

Long, cooling showers, and a lovely, relaxing dinner in Conversano, outside in an alleyway, were our just rewards for surviving the 5 1/2 hour journey from Rome. The following day we drove to Polignano a Mare (more on Polgnano a Mare at TripAdvisor.com), parked on the outskirts of town and walked into the city center. Shelley had her swimsuit under a swim dress with intentions of dipping into the Adriac and cooling off from the stifling heat. I had other plans and was armed with my Canon 5D Mark III and a short lens and a long lens. For me, wandering the streets of Polignao a Mare was like hitting an artist’s and photographer’s jackpot. Perfect vignettes and stories were constantly unfolding, and I found it impossible to be quick enough on the draw to capture all that I wanted. At times I wished I could be invisible so as to not alter the energy of a scene. We all know how people instantly change when they know a camera is pointed in their vicinity.

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Perils and Pitfalls of Speaking Italian

The Perils and Pitfalls of Speaking Italian

Know the challenges of speaking Italian, apply yourself, and you’ll be speaking proficiently in no time.

I’ve been living in Italy for over two years now. One of the things I’ve been hearing from more than one source here is that it takes a least that amount of time for things to start “clicking” in the brain – provided a person is immersing himself or herself in the language. This means some sort of study program and it means surrounding yourself, more and more, with native speakers, and resisting the urge to spend most of your time in the safety of other English-speaking expats.

Speaking Italian is not easy in my experience. Let me clarify, speaking Italian WELL is not an easy in experience. If you’re reading this post and if you’re only interested in visiting Italy for a short time, you certainly can set your sights on a lower learning curve. But, if you’re planning on a longer stay, or if you’re planning on living here permanently I encourage you to embrace your fears and tackle the language in a way that will give you a proficiency to help you not only in the dealing practicalities of life, but to help you build friendships and garner respect from the Italians.

If you’re serious about making Italy your home, learning the language is paramount. Otherwise you risk being perceived as an entitled foreigner who expects the burden of communication to fall on the locals. I’ve heard many English speakers (mainly tourists in Rome, Venice, Florence, etc.) becoming indignant that more Italians  don’t speak English.

My education in comprehending and speaking Italian continues. I’m impatient with myself for not being further along, but I have made considerable progress. In the process, I’ve identified several perils and pitfalls of speaking Italian. The following are 10 pieces of advice that I’d like to share:

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Saying “I do” in Italy.

Last October, I was honored to be the wedding photographer for the marriage of the daughter of some very dear friends from North Carolina. I had an amazing time being in “artist mode”, constantly on the move to capture key moments (often furtively). I also felt incredibly privileged to be included in a ceremony and celebration of love between two radiant, loving souls. The wedding itself was an intimate affair with maybe two dozen people – mostly family and close friends who had made the journey from the States to be part of this important event.

The wedding ceremony and the reception and dinner afterwards was held at my favorite restaurant and agriturismo, Calagrana, here in Umbria, in the Niccone Valley. They are masters at orchestrating events and delivering some of the most amazing wines and foods you’ll find in Umbria. The bride and groom were married under a verdant gazebo with graceful wrought-iron swirls. The bride’s father, a minister, officiated.

After the ceremony, prosecco and appetizers were served on the terrace overlooking the valley. A long sit-down dinner came next. Nothing was hurried or orchestrated on a strict time schedule. For me, it was almost as if Italy’s “Slow Food” movement had extended to the wedding venue.

As the photographer, I loved witnessing the many wonderful emotions flowing through the course of the afternoon and evening. At times I felt guilty – like I was some kind of voyeur or intruder into very personal and intimate moments. One of my favorite images is of the embrace between the new husband and wife when they slipped out on the terrace to have a moment alone.

I have attended two other weddings here in Umbria. Both were Italian weddings and they were much larger affairs (hundreds of guests). I’ll write about them in another posts. But, whether it is a wedding of Americans or of Italians, tying the knot in Italy is a magical experience.

 

Il permesso di soggiorno – The Stay Permit

The permesso di soggiorno is essential for stays of longer than 90 days.

The permesso di soggiorno is essential for stays of longer than 90 days.

If you decide to move to Italy, or if you plan a long-term sabbatical, you will need to have a permesso di soggiorno, a stay permit. I just received my third renewal, and I am working towards having a carta di soggiorno, a permit for a longer stay. My understanding is the carta is only available after five years of residency, so I still have some time before I can make that application.

If you’ve done your research about living in Italy, hopefully you will have learned that it’s all doable. However, I hope your research has taught you that you will need to have an ample helping of patience in the process. Many Americans, in my experience, are used to things happening at the snap of their fingers, and with greater predictability. If you are married to this way of thinking or to those expectations, I recommend you stay in the U.S. and only plan for short stays.

It’s complicated…or it can be complicated. Let me explain.

The most daunting part of the process is FIRST getting your visa from the Italian consulate. The hurdles can be significant, depending on your individual scenario. For instance, if you communicate to the Italian consulate of your jurisdiction that you are planning to move to Italy for the rest of your life, be prepared for much greater scrutiny, and be prepared to demonstrate that you have either a). A solid job with a company in Italy (and the documentation attesting to this) or b). Sufficient means of income, or money in the bank, to cover you for the rest of your life. Regardless of your plan, you will receive (at most) a visa of a year’s duration. Yes, whether you plan to move here for the rest of your life, or whether you plan to take a two-year sabbatical, you will receive a visa of the same duration. My advice? Unless you are certain you plan to live here for the rest of your life, set this up as a “test drive” and communicate in kind with the Italian consulate. Otherwise, be prepared to clear a higher set of hurdles.

Once you have your Italian visa in your U.S. passport, it becomes a different story. By that, I mean the visa gets you into Italy with some “runway” to work things out with the questura, or the local immigration police. Here’s the process as I understand it*:

Once you have “landed” you must make sure your passport is stamped adjacent to your visa to indicate your entry into the country. Otherwise, you will need to visit the local questura to announce your presence/arrival into Italy.

Within a couple of weeks (be sure to ascertain the timing, but err on the side of shorter, not longer) submit your application for a permesso di soggiorno. Here in Umbria, I was directed to utilize the service of a local union, where they fill out your application, without charge, and they deliver a computer printout with instructions on paying your bollo (tax stamp) and submitting your application at the post office, where you will pay additional fees. All in, I think I paid around $150 for the application.

There are several designations regarding the type of application for a permesso di soggiorno. Many people apply for a work permit, and that is a specific “animal” with specific requirements. You can apply for a permesso di soggiorno per residenza elettiva, which is a residency permit saying you will reside here without working – or without working here for a company in the traditional sense. Basically, it means you are retiring here, and not working in a way that takes work/opportunity away from an Italian citizen. Regardless, it is incumbent upon you to research and determine the type of stay permit you wish to receive, and the rules and regulations pertaining to each type of permit. Then, you proceed accordingly.

For me, I completed my application, which meant supplying:

– Copies of all pages of my passport which have a). Basic information. b). Pages that have been stamped.

– A document proving I have health insurance coverage.

– Financial proof of viability (bank statements, pension statements or social security statements if that applies to you)

– Proof of residence or ownership of a house. Either a lease agreement or document showing ownership of a house along with a certificato di agibilità, which certifies you are living in a house that passes the housing codes/standards.

I understand, from other people, that also you can complete the application online, but I prefer to work with the union, so that I have assurance from another set of eyes looking at my application.

At the post office, once you submit the application and the bollo, you will be assigned an appointment with the questura (immigration police). Be sure to make this date, where you will be finger-printed, and asked questions regarding any missing or questionable information.

Then, be prepared to wait. The first time I submitted my application, it took 3 1/2 months to receive my actual permesso. This was difficult, because for other things (like purchasing a car), the post office receipt was not deemed sufficient. In subsequent years, the receipt for renewal was said to be sufficient.

I’ve heard varying stories about applying for the national healthcare plan. I wasn’t able to do it until I had my first permesso, and after I also had my residency card from the commune.

The second year, my permesso took almost 4 months. This year it was over 4 months, which speaks to the backlog and workload of the questura.

Now, to complicate matters further, there is an “integration agreement” you sign when you first apply for a permesso di soggiorno. This details a point system you must follow and meet upon your third year of residency. You are required to have at least 30 points, which includes points for ascertaining/certification you can speak at an A2 level of the Italian language, and ascertaining you have passed a sufficient civic knowledge of life in Italy.

I was told, not only by other people who have lived here for several years, but also by the questura, that this additional criteria would not be tested unless I was applying for a longer stay permit. Wrong. This week I received a letter from the immigration office in Perugia to begin supplying documentation to begin tallying to point requirement. Yesterday, I visited the office,  and submitted the documents. The biggie is the language certification. I took an official A2 certification test in Rome in early June, yet my results will not be registered until September. I’m sure all will be well, but it’s just a pain to be following all of the steps to make sure I am following protocol.

Don’t be discouraged. Just understand the different possible scenarios. Italy can be unpredictable. My strategy is planning for all the all possibilities.

At this point, I feel compelled to point out that there are many people living here in Italy while “skating” under the radar for certain requirements (like driver’s license, medical insurance, etc.). I admire them for their courage, but I’m a person who likes to be more “precise”, and I’m also a person who doesn’t want to be jettisoned from the country for not following certain protocol – and then being barred from re-entry – not only to Italy but to the EU. We all make our own choices. I prefer to sleep well at night, knowing I am doing my best to follow the guidelines.

 

 

 

 

 

The Faces and Doors of Venice

Venice may very well be my favorite city in Italy. I am certain countless other undiscovered gems are waiting to vie for top-tier status, but for now Venice remains firmly entrenched in first place. Even though I have visited Venice at least a dozen times, I still marvel at how much of the city remains shrouded in mystery. I am convinced this city never will completely reveal herself to me, which probably makes me love her even more. Secrets lurk in the labyrinth of alleyways throughout the city.

When I visit Venice I do my best to avoid the main tourist thoroughfares, especially areas like Piazza San Marco and the Rialto –even though those areas have much to offer. Instead, I steer directly into the less frequented, residential areas of Venice, Often, the most foreboding alleyways are the ones that draw me in the most. It’s probably a good thing that I haven’t watched the classic movie Don’t Look Now for several years, otherwise I wouldn’t be so bold.

What I have discovered in my wanderings through the more shadowy areas of Venice is a wealth of faces and motifs adorning the doors of Venice. On my most recent trip I endeavored to begin capturing these beautifully rendered door knockers, door pulls, and bells. I would love to build a catalog of these and research the symbolism, history and philosophy behind their creation. Even more, I would love to see the dwellings and people behind these doors, to see how they might correlate – or not.

Take this as Chapter One in a story that is just beginning to unfold for me…

 

 

What do you think? A viper or something else????

Yes, just outside our back door, the dreaded Italian viper makes his way up the stone wall.

Is this indeed the vipera aspis, or a European Cat Snake?

My most recent post was about what I thought was the appearance of a viper, just a few feet from our back door. I admit, I was thoroughly freaked out, being a complete wuss since childhood when it comes to snakes. And, I haven’t been able to quit obsessing about it.

I was certain it was a viper after viewing the attached YouTube video, and my neighbor Elena, who has been working this land for more years than I have been alive, saw the photo and concurred it was a viper.

After my good friend Jill suggested it might be another type of snake – one that is harmless, I was eager to believe I had made a mistake. Plus, there were two glaring inconsistencies with nailing this as a vipera aspis. From the eye, down to the body, the vipera aspis seems to have a black stripe, which makes the face/head even more menacing. “Our” snake is missing this marking. Also, a vipera aspis usually tops out at around 33″ and “our” snake looks to be at least a meter long – and more tapered than the usual fat body of a viper. However, from the neck down this snake looks a lot like the one in the video.

Now what?

I hopped online and looked up “snakes of Italy” and went to a website that listed every snake you might find here. I went through every one, looking at pictures and reading descriptions. Then I came across what, to me, seems to be the leading candidate for identification – the European Cat Snake, which matches almost all the criteria for “our” snake. It has the same markings, it can be 1.3 meters long, it loves rock walls, and it is readily found in Italy, and many other Mediterranean countries. Bingo. Our photo doesn’t get close enough to the head to provide more information, but the European Cat Snake, like ours, doesn’t have the stripe emanating from the eyes and going down the body.

I thought that the viper is the only venomous snake in Italy. The European Cat Snake is also venomous. However, it’s fangs are rear-facing and constructed in a way to deliver venom only to small prey. Supposedly, this snake is not a danger to humans because it has no way to bite and deliver its venomous and this larger scale. Is this supposed to make me feel better and safe? I don’t think so.

So, my obsessive compulsive nature has been driving me to identify and catalog this snake – and to know the identity of all of my neighbors here in the country. Maybe then I’ll accept the facts and move on.

I’d love to hear your opinions and if anyone has expertise in snake identification, I’m all ears. Let me hear from you!

 

An Italian viper appears…

Yes, just outside our back door, the dreaded Italian viper makes his way up the stone wall.

Yes, just outside our back door, the dreaded Italian viper makes his way up the stone wall.

Reading that Italy has only one poisonous snake, the viper, is one thing. Seeing one making its way up the old stone wall adjacent to our backdoor is another thing altogether. Until I had seen one for myself, I was able to delude myself into thinking “Yeah, they’re around, but they’re shy and they rarely come out.”  Indeed they are not eager for an encounter or a fight. But, when they are big (like this one) and close to the house, I’m compelled to take steps to protect ye ole homestead.

I did an internet search, hoping the results would assure me this merely was a large non-venomous snake, but something in me (probably ancient survival programming) knew this wouldn’t be the case. Sure enough, the online description and photos confirmed this was a vipera aspis. Check, check, check. Dam, it all fit. And, I was irritated that the description said an adult male would top out around 32″. This fellow was at least a yard long.

Yuck, yuck, yuck. I know I’m supposed to take the higher, more enlightened perspective of what a magnificent creature this is. But, I can’t. I just hate snakes. My fear of them robs me of peace of mind. I’m certain this guy has a family lurking close by – probably up in the piece of my land that houses long-abandoned chicken coops and a giant, overgrown pile of terra-cotta roof tiles.

Am I supposed to take solace in the fact that only 4% of untreated viper bites are fatal? What about the aftereffects of a venom that causes tissue necrosis, nerve damage, and possible renal failure?

On the positive side, I’ve learned that the sweet little hedgehogs I see scurrying about, love to kill and munch on vipers. They provoke the snake, prompting “strikes” in which the viper damages itself on the quills of the hedgehog. The confrontation continues until the snake is sufficiently wounded, at which time our little hero moves in for the kill, and a dinner that takes a few hours. Bravo little hedgehog.

Oh well. Life in Italy has its dangers. Thinking I could create some type of Utopia of complete safety and security is just major self-delusion. I made the choice to settle down in a remote corner of Umbria, which is ripe with all sorts of wildlife, and even the viper has its place in the cycle of life. I will endeavor to respect that. Still, I will dust off the knee-high snake proof boots that I purchased several years ago for this very possibility (never imagining I would really need them), and get to work securing the areas close to the house by eliminating tall grasses and other hospitable conditions for the viper. Time to reclaim my peace of mind.

Trusting life can yield surprising results…

The two "miracle" kittens are happily frolicking outside the house.

The two “miracle” kittens are happily thriving.

If you’ve been following my Italian adventures on this blog, you may have read my post “Courage, and building a new life” in which the challenging circumstances surrounding the birth of three feral kitten taught me about moving ahead in the face of uncertainty. When I last wrote, Micia finally had started producing milk and the two surviving kittens looked as though they had a fighting chance. This was almost two months ago, and I’m happy to report that they are thriving, and frolicking about in our little neighborhood. I named the kitten with the strong black and grey markings “Fonzie”. His little sister is still awaiting her name. You see, until a more careful examination recently, we didn’t realize she was a female. I’m particularly attached to her since I remember when I was huddled up with the newborns, warming them individually in my cupped hands. She was the one who wrapped her tiny paws around my forefinger, and started nibbling on the tip of my finger. She encouraged me to keep going, and she was the one who helped me understand that it wasn’t an inability to feed – it was Micia’s initial inability to produce milk.

These kittens, as well as our dear indoor cat children, Oscar and Francesca, are constant gifts leading me back to the present moment, and away from obsessing about the future.

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