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.

 

 

Let the Brain Games Begin….Intensive Italian Course

What a week! Today we constructed sentences using "che" and "cui" (in its various forms) - pronouns. This was after three days of forming conditional verbs.

What a week! Today we constructed sentences using “che” and “cui” (in its various forms) – pronouns. This was after three days of forming conditional verbs.

At the moment, I’m sitting at a very nice restaurant, with an outdoor seating area, just a five-minute’s walk from where I just completed my fourth day of an intensive Italian course – language that is, with lots of additional cultural add-on’s to round out the picture. It is an incredibly warm and sunny day for February (here in Rome), and I am having a nice glass of Nero d’ Avola (from Sicily) to congratulate myself on “staying the course”.

During this first week of the course (out of four weeks, 20 hours of class a week) I have experienced two prevailing symptoms. Firstly, I feel like a sponge that has been overly saturated, and I’m desperately trying to keep it all in. Secondly, my brain hurts. It says “I don’t wanna…” This part of my brain feels like a vintage car that has been stored in the garage under a tarp for too many years, without being exercised with a regular spin on the open highway. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a lazy brain. I DID pass the Italian driver’s test last year, and I had similar feelings during the 9-month journey to securing that sweet little piece of plastic that resides now in my wallet. How is this different? I am swimming now in Italian, and the English speaking center of my brain is putting up a fight. I think that is to be expected, and perhaps it just needs to tire itself out.

But, dammit, I’m going to go after this with everything I have.

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High Waters in Venice – An Even More Surreal Experience Than Usual

Life marches on even during higher than normal flooding in Venice.

Life marches on even during higher than normal flooding in Venice.

Trash cans overflowing with the carcasses of maimed and massacred umbrellas.
Vendors making a killing on selling yet more umbrellas because the lifespan of said umbrellas have been abbreviated by powerful gusts of icy, rainy wind. (What a great business model).
Vendors also making a killing on:
A. Makeshift boot-like coverings (usually bright orange or sky blue).
B. Over-the-calf rubber boots as a sure-fire solution after above-mentioned makeshift boots have become torn or eroded because of the high salt content of the water. (Again, what a great business model).
Sirens going off twice a day (much like the bomb raid sirens in London during WWII) warning of rising waters. (Don’t ignore these warnings or your window of opportunity to respond and plan accordingly).
Raised platforms elevating locals and tourists above the murky and smelly high waters.
“Dams” constructed at the doors of most establishments.

These are just a few of the memories etched into my brain after our 2 1/2 day “jaunt” during the period of high waters in Venice.

I’ve been to Venice so many times I actually can find my way around the city without a map. I don’t say this to brag, just to say I’m not a complete novice when it comes to the city. I’ve visited Venice during different times of the year – and I thought I’d “seen it all”, until this most recent 2 1/2 day trip. I’ve dealt with periods of high waters, not letting such conditions impede my explorations of the many nooks and crannies of the city – especially the more off-the-beaten-path gems of Venice. But, this trip presented new challenges and new extremes.

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My Latest Italian Food Find – Agriturismo di Ivan

My new front runner of culinary delights is "Gnocchi di polenta", a discovery we made while visiting friends in Udine.

My new front runner of Italian culinary delights is “Gnocchi di polenta”, a discovery we made while visiting friends in Udine.

Thursday, February 5.

Today we visited friends in Udine, a two-hour train ride northeast of Venice. We left behind powerful, gusty winds, rain mixed with snow, and rising waters. I was happy to be inside the warm train, speeding out-of-town until the waters receded. Little did I know that our journey north would lead to the best dish I’ve had yet here in Italy.

Our friends took us to Agriturismo di Ivan, about 20 minutes outside of Udine, deep in the countryside. This restaurant was heavily populated with locals and workmen. I felt as though I was slipping into a place largely unfrequented by tourists. In fact I felt as though I stood out quite blatantly.

Everything was rustic, and cozy. A mature fire was close by, and low, warm lighting made this a place where I wanted to linger well after the meal.

The menu was simple and incredibly inexpensive. I spied several items of interest. Our friends pointed out a specialty of the house, a gnocchi of polenta with smoked ricotta and speck (a type of ham) and insisted we try it. I shelved my usual low carb restrictions and jumped onboard. This turned out to be one of the wisest culinary decisions I’ve ever made.

I guess I was expecting typical gnocchi shapes, just made with corn flour. Instead, these gnocchi looked like little polenta “cubes” doused with shavings of the smoked ricotta and chunks of speck. I took my first bites and became speechless. I was so engrossed in this new culinary experience that my chatty left brain shut down. I just ate…and ate. I’ll be thinking about this dish for a long time, and a trip back to this area, just to partake of this polenta gnocchi, will be well worth it.

Agriturismo di Ivan, about 20 minutes outside of Udine, in Friuli Venezia Giulia

Agriturismo di Ivan, about 20 minutes outside of Udine, in Friuli Venezia Giulia

This in no way should indicate that Agriturismo di Ivan is a one-trick pony. The cheeses and prepared meats will knock your socks off. The table wines are tasty, and the other pasta dishes, secondi and contorni (particularly the spinach in butter) are delicious.

We’re back on the train to Venice and to yet another fine dining experience at a favorite restaurant there – Osteria Anice Stellato.

Guardia Medica – Urgent Care, Italian Style

Guardia Medica - a form of urgent care available throughout Italy. Here is an office that is dedicated to tourists.

Guardia Medica – a form of urgent care available throughout Italy. Here is an office that is dedicated to tourists.

My sister has been visiting us here in Rome. After a couple of days of acclimating to the time change, her voice starting getting hoarse, and a dry cough began. Because this was at the beginning of her trip, I wanted to make sure she was seen by a doctor so that her condition wouldn’t worsen, and so that she wouldn’t be bed-ridden instead of devouring all the sites at her disposal. Being far away from home and feeling like crap isn’t a great combination.

Enter guardia medica, which is a form of urgent care. In Italy, it isn’t the emergency room, and it usually is reserved for times when a person’s regular doctor isn’t available through normal business hours. Here in Rome, you can find guardia medica offices dedicated mainly to tourists. This is a great convenience. I visited a guardia medica office once in Umbria, and I was seen within 15 minutes. At the time I wasn’t under the Italian Healthcare system, so I had to pay a (very) minor fee.

For my sister’s situation, we took her to a guardia medica at a local hospital. She was seen immediately by the doctor on duty (no, this isn’t a fairy tale), and my partner translated for her so there would be no confusion of symptoms, and subsequent treatment. Within fifteen minutes, a diagnosis had been made, antibiotics, cough syrups, and throat gargle had been prescribed. When asked about payment, the doctor said there would be no charge, and further added that in Italy (unlike in America) they feel a keen responsibility for treating sick people, without onerous financial consequences. This is an interesting and informative perspective from a country whose healthcare system is highly rated in the world.

Thank you guardia medica for “saving the day” and for providing yet another great example of Italians going out of their way to help someone through a crisis.

My sister is on the mend now, and getting the most out of her visit. Grazie a Dio!

The green neon cross of a farmacia.

The green neon cross of a farmacia.

 

 

 

Mattarella Presidente Repubblica

Italy has a new president - Mattarella! Elections held in the parliment January 31.

Italy has a new president – Mattarella! Elections held in the parliament January 31.

Yesterday, Saturday, January 21, 2015, we watched “live” on TV the casting and counting of the votes in the parliament for the new president of the Republic of Italy. I must confess total ignorance regarding the subtle and not-so-subtle aspects of Italian politics, and only with the improvement of my speaking and comprehension of the language (I’m starting a VERY intensive Italian language course in just over a week, gulp!) will I be able to share perspectives which are more informed.

What I have gleaned from reactions is that overall people are happy with Mattarella as Italy’s new president. However, some people believe Berlusconi, who is known for his penchant for orchestrating “things” from the sidelines, isn’t so happy. Speculation exists (there is an amply supply here) he instructed members of his party to submit blank ballots (read as “scheda bianca” during the tallying) so as to prevent a 505 vote majority needed to cinch the election for Mattarella. This would have forced another vote at a later time, allowing Berlusconi and his party to craft a plan to get someone in place who would be friendlier to their causes. Instead, Mattarella blew past this simple majority to garner 665 of 1009 votes. Pretty decisive, I’d say.

Mattarella is Sicilian, a widower, and a father of three. Renzi lobbied hard for his election. I have quite an education ahead of me to understand what power the president of Italy actually wields. Many people consider him more of a figurehead. Time for me to get deeper into the swirling and confusing politics and alliances within Italy. I can’t promise I’ll be able to add clarity in future posts. I can hope, however.

In the meantime, this online article from the New York Times will give you a succinct overview of this recent development.

Cellulari – Photo by Jed

"Cellulari" - Mobile phones in a story of movement here in central Rome.

“Cellulari” – Mobile phones in a story of movement here in central Rome.

 

I love capturing people as they go about their daily lives here in central Rome. At times, I resist inclusion of elements that demonstrate how the digital world is taking over people’s lives (no, I’m not immune), preferring to capture the old world charm of this city whenever possible. But, I believe art and photography moves with the evolution of societies. It makes me wonder where and how mobile phones will be viewed by future generations, and if technology will have advanced in such a way that these phones depicted here, will be perceived as old and clunky as rotary dial phones. Will the use of these devices be perceived as something that became nostalgic and romantic?

Pondering these questions, I was very happy to capture this pedestrian scene, which almost feels orchestrated in the movements of the characters. The older woman, stylishly put together (and her dog, too) clearly is engrossed with the contents of her phone, and she has the agility to do this “one-handed”, which shows she’s not a novice. Off to the right a father with stroller makes his entrance, also with the same focus and involvement with the cellphone in hand.

See this and other photos and painting in the online gallery.

 

Bella – Painting by Jed

Watercolor of "Bella"

Bella – Private Collection – Jed is a Signature Member of the National Watercolor Society

“Bella” is one of my favorite paintings, inspired by a chance encounter I had, several years ago, with a wonderful Italian woman on the isle of Burano, just outside of Venice. If you haven’t visited Burano, it is a fishing village of colorfully painted houses. Often times you will see women sitting outside their houses along the canals intently making lace. Most visitors to Venice flock to Murano to see the glass-blowers (and make purchases), leaving Burano in its shadow. Do yourself a favor, especially is you’re an artist or photographer, and spend time in Burano. You will find ample subject matter.

From time to time, I will post earlier works as a trip down memory lane. Also, in this particular instance, I want to pay tribute to my dear friend Sherry, who had “Bella” in her private collection. Sherry recently passed away and she frequently told me how much she loved having the company of this painting in her home.

See this and other paintings and photography in my online gallery.

Calcio in Piazza della Minerva – Photo by Jed

Calcio (Soccer) in Piazza della Minerva

Calcio in Piazza della Minerva

Piazza della Minerva is one of my favorite places in Rome – not only for the architecture, and this wonderful obelisk with the elephant, but for people watching. Here, the scene is punctuated with boys playing soccer – a rare moment when the piazza isn’t crawling with tourists. See this and other photography and paintings in my online gallery.

Personal Reflections on Making a Big Life Change

Even the best of big life changes can challenge you in unexpected ways.

Even the best of big life changes can challenge you in unexpected ways.

I’m writing a lot about the practical experiences of building a life in Italy. Now, I’d like to pause and talk about the incredible mind shifts and life shifts that have been occurring as a result of making a big life change. I’ve loved how the adventure has unfolded, but it has challenged some long-held beliefs and ways of relating to the world. I suspected the move wouldn’t just be a romantic, magical manifestation (though there has been plenty of magic). I suspected I really would have to see how comfortable I was in my own skin.

I had a wonderful career in creative marketing, working with many talented and kind-hearted people. Friends thought I was insane to leave such a great gig to venture into a world that didn’t provide me a regular paycheck, and a matured social network and support system. I can understand such concerns, because I knew I would have to weather the transition of suddenly living in a dramatically different place and culture – one in which I would feel like a complete novice, and one in which I would be have significantly more time for personal creativity, and reflection.

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At Last! My Tessera Sanitaria – Italian Health Care

At last! My Tessera Sanitaria card that shows enrollment in Italy's National Health Plan.

At last! My Tessera Sanitaria card showing enrollment in Italy’s National Health Plan.

After almost two years of living in Italy as an expat I now have my tessera sanitaria and I have health care coverage in Italy! Woohoo!

By some surveys Italian health care is rated #2 in the world.

Until just a few day ago I was covered with an affordable Cigna major medical plan – good anywhere in the world, except the United States (no surprise). Medical care here is pretty cheap, especially by American standards, so if I had run into a health crisis I simply would have paid my deductible and then filed a claim. Fortunately I’m in good health, so I never had to enact such a scenario.

With so many other things on my plate in my first year here, I decided to forgo making the health insurance change until 2015. Getting the tessera sanitaria isn’t necessarily a difficult thing. In fact in can go quite smoothly. But, a few factors aren’t always consistent, so educate yourself on the process, and be aware of the parts that might veer off your anticipated course.

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