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 to 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 missteps 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.
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.
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 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.
“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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 – 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!