I can. This word is my mantra, and my favorite word in Italian. I wasn't raised to think I could... do much. My father, dear and darling man that he was, worried that my dreams of writing and making art would not feed me. Oh, but he was wrong. As he got older, and began to understand that he himself was a product of generative norms and expectations , he stopped putting those on me. And I only grew to love him more for it.
I've been absent here for a month or so because I am doing all the things I can to make Italy more than a dream. To make it a true home. Thanks to a woman who started as my realtor, and ended up as a wonderful friend, I've been navigating the healthcare system here. I had international insurance that expires today (Dec 31) so it was important that I take all the steps to get my information into the 'system'. Not much can happen without that.
After a lifetime of trying to work through the US healthcare labyrinth that was a nightmare for a single mother of two, working more than one job at times, and trying to manage the ridiculous premiums, I was more than shocked at how simple an otherwise bureaucratic country makes it. They really only want a few things... to know you are a legal resident (check), that you have plans to stay and a residence you pay for (contributing to the economy) and that you have a National Insurance and Tax ID (Codice Fiscale). (check). In the four months since I moved to Bellano, I managed to knock down all those dominoes. My friend then accompanied me to the local office to apply for the Tessera Sanitaria...the health ID card that will allow me to have a doctor, hospital access and medical care in an emergency. We did that, and in the next two weeks the card should arrive in the mail. Next we tried to schedule an appointment for my booster at the local Farmacia, where they are given in Bellano. But despite all the steps i'd taken, I wasn't in the National Health database. So, on more domino to knock down.
We went to Lecco, the 'capital' of the province that Bellano is part of, and they made magic! In one hour I had been entered into the database, met with a doctor who reviewed my proof of my first two shots, and received my "dose terzo". My booster.
At this point, only one big step remains. On March 3, 2022 I will visit the Polizia in Lecco with my Immigration coordinator to sign official documents requesting dual citizenship, be fingerprinted and granted Indefinite leave to remain (until my documents are researched, approved and citizenship granted). That process can take.... well, as long as it takes. But basically, I'm here for good, or as long as I want to stay. Because I CAN!
One of the other reasons I haven't written much here is that winter is upon us, with very short days, lots of darkness, little traffic in the town and not a lot to do other than walk on the lake and miss my kids and family at the holidays. But as a creative, I don't mind the quiet and time to 'nest'.
I am writing, working on book 2 of 'My Grandmothers' Ghosts" and waiting for the publishing doors to reopen after the holidays. I've submitted half a dozen queries that are waiting on responses, and will begin to submit more after the holiday hiatus. I'm painting lots with the hopes of submitting some pieces to a gallery owner I met in the fall - but likely not until spring. And I'm building out an action plan for work I want to continue to do in Social Justice and Anti- Racism. More on that to come.
So... not a lot of funny or fabulous here. But real life. Like you... I clean the flat, do the laundry (sans dryer but I kind of love that), walk down to town to buy groceries, experiment with new recipes, watch movies and tv, zoom with friends in other countries and read, write and reflect. Real life.
It occurred to me that I am happier than I have been since I was knee deep in the beautiful mess of raising kids and building a career that allowed me to help others. Despite how hard it was at times, I really loved making that life work. On my own. Because I could.
My kids, my dear ones and chosen family are all so supportive of this life that has taken me so far away and like all of you we are dreaming of a time when they can visit me safely. I have so much more than I need and all I want to make this life even better is to become more fluent in the local Italian so that I can volunteer and find ways to contribute. So as of next week I'll be adding an extra tutor session each week to help me do that. With Covid, I haven't been able to complete my internship for my Teaching English as a Foreign Language Certificate, but I have some connections here and will try to do that soon. Of course, I'll have to review most of what I learned, but it's important to me to finish strong.
I am happy because I followed my deepest intuition and took the leap to see if Italy would be the home I thought it would be. I'm happy because I ignored the gentle naysayers (there weren't many, I don't hang out with those folks lol) and even my own inner demons that tried to say it would be too hard, that I was too old to manage it all, or that I'd never be able to make it all work in another language. I'm happy because I have the love and support of chosen friends and family no matter where in the world I live. And I'm happy because as someone once said " She believed she could, so she did". I did. And I'll keep going, making every minute count in this beautiful life.
Perche' posso. Because I can.
Here's to you embracing every possibility, every dream, every yearning. Because you can too.
*Thanks to the fabulous @FrancesCadora, my little diamond necklace she made has my favorite word on the back. The diamond was one of a pair that my dad gave me for my 21st birthday. I'd lost the other one but then Frances and I imagined this piece. BECAUSE WE COULD LOL!<3
Settling into JOY. I've discovered that for me, this has been a long journey, albeit a beautiful one. Sometimes it's difficult to believe I've only been in Italy a little over three months. And so much has happened in that time that gives me joy.
From the big 'exhale' when I first arrived in Milan, easing into this big dream that I've held close for years, to the six weeks in the flat over the incredibly noisy bar with my wonderful view of the lake, to the 'big move' to 'il mio posticino tra gli alberi' ( My little place in the trees). So much.
I've made some friends. I've learned how things work in a village that dates back as far as 900 A.D. I've heard the joyful sound of 'Ciao Tia!' ring out in the piazza, on the lago lungo ( the boardwalk by the lake) and in the small grocery store and Thursday market. It's worth breaking through my introverted wall to introduce myself and say hello week after week. I can feel the community here, something I never found in London or where people live and work far apart. I'm so grateful for my London friends who broke through their walls to invite me in. They will stay in my heart always. In America, I lived in the same neighbourhood for 23 years and barely knew my neighbors, even thoughI tried. Community there is based on 'sameness'. The same schools, the same churches, the same sports. It's transitory and the suburban life rarely feels connected- or at least that is how it felt to me.
But here, this is different. Here's an example. Last week I walked to the 'far' end of town (a 3 minute walk from the 'center' lol) to the Farmacia to renew a prescription. We are all still observing Covid protocols, so only 3 people are allowed in at separate counters at once. There were about 6 people waiting and chatting in the small piazza in front, all masked, all smiling, all patient. A man and his friend walked up to join the queue and an a chorus of 'Ciao Fredo' rang out. He laughed and returned the greeting. Then someone said, 'Auguri Fredo!'. This is the traditional Birthday greeting. One by one everyone waiting added their personal greeting. I was by that point, next in line to go in, facing away from the crowd and smiling so big, and after a moment, I turned to him and added mine. And then I said " Mi piace molto un piccolo village, dove tutti sanno che è il tuo compleanno." ( I love so much a small village where everyone knows when it's your birthday!) . And everyone laughed and nodded and smiled. Because they know that in this sort of community, no one ever has to feel alone. A walk to the 'bar'(for coffee), or to sit on one of the many benches by the lake is like the best kind of family visit. People here might leave for school or work or to 'see the world' , but they come back. For this.
I know that some of you are migrating part of your lives to places where you can have a taste of this, and some of you are moving your whole lives. It's worth it. The last two years has taught many of us of the importance of connection. And for me - this enormous leap of faith across a continent and an ocean, is worth it. I feel this community rising up to welcome me. And I know that feeling will only grow.
I thought that navigating the many steps on the path to formal residency was the most important part of this first few months. But I was wrong.
The truth is, I can't help but believe that the process unfolded so perfectly because I am meant to be here. To become part of this place, to share my joy in all the simple beauty of the history, the land and the people . And to let it fill me up - without apology. We all deserve this, and it's only taken me a lifetime to understand this. I hope that you don't wait another moment to breathe in whatever and whomever gives you that same feeling. The one I get when I look out the windows each day at the glorious mountaintops above the shimmering lake, feeling the power of the universe, and my own beating heart.
Let it soak in to your heart -that joy. Because you deserve it too.
Are you hungry? And if you are, right now, wherever you are, how difficult is it for you to find something to eat? And if you for some reason don't have anything you want at hand, is it feasible for you to hop in your car, or walk, or take a bus or train to a market where you can buy what you need? Hunger, for most of us, is a minor inconvenience. In first world countries hunger is still a problem, but often only the poor and marginalised people really experience the full impact of going hungry on a regular basis. But around the world, starvation and death are happening every day.
After the past two years of isolated zoom based gatherings to celebrate holidays, I am watching the topic of food become a daily subject on social media, and among conversations with friends. And it bothers me , because although I certainly understand our desire as humans to reestablish traditions and enjoy the connections we treasure, I can't ignore what I'm watching happen around the globe.
Covid, Climate Change, and the violence that is more plentiful than any harvest is wreaking havoc on the food supplies around the world. There are small things we can and should do in our personal lives to contribute to the safety of others, the life of our planet, and the election of leaders who will hold others accountable for acts of aggression against the innocent whether in our own country or across the world. Because you are mostly people I know well, I believe you are each doing those things.
But let me tell you why I'm so worried about hunger.
The #1 driver of hunger on the planet is man made conflict.
Did you know...
690 million people are chronically undernourished
99% of people living in hunger are in low and middle income countries
Women and girls account for 60% of people living in hunger worldwide
BABIES are dying from starvation at an unprecedented rate in the most hard hit countries.
The top countries facing the largest incidence of death by starvation at this moment are
The Congo, Afghanistan, Yemen, Nigeria and Ethiopia.
I believe that most of us have so much more than we need. So I'm focusing my holiday budget on something that will help others get just a little of what might help them survive the brutal famine that is affecting our fellow humans. I'm asking if you'd like to help too, I've pulled together some legitimate and well regarded groups that are engaged in these areas and others to help feed the people.
Remember that even the smallest donation will help. (Think your daily pumpkin spice, or glass of vino?) If you prefer to give locally, find a food bank or shelter in your community and do what you can. Make sure that you ask questions about what is most useful to the people who receive the help so that you can make useful contributions.
Together we can do so much.
Talk to your friends ( feel free to share the link to this blog), your churches and other groups that want to help. Get your kids and other family members involved, maybe an Elf on the shelf game that creates donations? Maybe set up a "Piggy Bank" for the new year to build donations over time. Let me know what you come up with!
Thank you for anything you are able to do. After all, isn't learning to share what we have one of the very first lessons we are taught? And in this case, it's actually a matter of life or death.
World Central Kitchen, Chef Jose' Andreas' is focused on stopping hunger and supporting climate change in America and around the world
United Nations World Food Program addresses global need with unique ways to support their efforts. https://www.wfp.org/get-involved
Also check out their 'Share The Meal' App - https://sharethemeal.org/
You can see where your donations go, choose the country to support and see the progress your support creates!
Action Against Hunger - 40 years, 45 countries and 25 million people fed. 93% of all donations go directly into providing food.
Feeding America - This group works with farmers, retailers and manufacturers to prevent food waste by redirecting surplus to the people who need it most.
The Hunger Project focuses their efforts on women and mobilising local communities to create systems that will help them provide their own food, through education, supplies and collaboration with local governments.
Thanks for reading, and sharing, and giving if you are so inclined. Together we can make a difference .
A new view. A new season in a new country. A new place to wake up every morning where the days are mine to design. And slowly, the realisation that the life I imagined is happening and it's better than I could have dreamed.
And I'm just getting started.
The goal, in the beginning was to simply gain dual citizenship. Partly to honour my ancestors, partly to give me the opportunity to live in a country I have grown to love and a little bit to have one more chance to reinvent myself.
But it turns out, it is so much more.
After years of sorting through the ashes of a life I spent forgiving myself for things that were not my doing, I realised a few important truths.
1. We get to have the life we want. And while I am all too aware that my privilege and the opportunities it provided helped me find the definition of what I wanted- part of what I want this next 'season' of my life to be will include helping doors open for those without that privilege. How will I do that? By helping those who want to design their own definition of the 'dream', through what I've learned. By teaching English to young men and women in my new community to help them rise in the work they want to do, both here and abroad. And by using the lessons I've learned to help them see a future beyond their own mistakes, or failures.
I learned all of that through my own failings and some fairly rocky detours.
2. We don't need to be forgiven for what we didn't do.
It only took me 47 years to learn this one. Like many women, I spent a lot of time apologising to people who hurt me. Without even realising that many of those people never acknowledged the injuries they inflicted. Until I realised that I was only responsible for my own actions, my own words, and my own mistakes. And apologised for the times I hurt someone, no matter my intention. When I saw the impact of my part in these moments, I made sure to show up and take responsibility, and make amends. But I stopped beginning any other conversation with the words. " I'm sorry". Instead, I have learned to say " What you (said, did, inferred), hurt me. I want you to understand the impact it had on me." I'm grateful I've not had to have too many of those conversations. Because I also learned to walk away from what doesn't serve me.
3. All adventures begin with a brave heart.
I'm so happy that despite all that got in the way of this dream, it worked out. I had wonderful teachers along the way who helped me understand the two most important ingredients for that bravery. The first is to surrender to what is ... the pandemic forced a lot of us to learn this fast. I was able to lean in to the circumstances and direct my frustrations into more positive actions. Educating myself about our true history in the US, working for the campaign to rid America of a tyrant president, learning how to be an ally for people of color, and using my skills to help others who struggled with surrender. Every single action helped me grow into who I am today, and helped me to keep my faith in the future I wanted.
I am thinking about 'fall' today. Autumn, the season were so much change happens in nature, where living things fall to the ground in glorious demise, where creatures stockpile food for the uncertain months ahead and animals and humans alike find ways to stay warm, to find light in the brief hours of sunlight, and to keep the faith that winter will lead to spring, and new birth.
As I walked down the hill today and stopped to admire the beauty around me, I wondered if the universe didn't plan the wondrous colours of this season for simply this reason - to remind us that all life has seasons, that each one has merit and beauty, and that all we need to do is stop and breathe it in, realising we are just falling leaves ourselves, turning and evolving in every moment, finding our place in the landscape. Grateful for every breeze that helps us find home.
This is the easy part. That's my mantra these days when it doesn't feel easy, or manageable or sometimes, even possible. Because after everything ... well, it's true. This is the easy part.
The words that tell the story of my life so far are as varied as a garden store rack of seeds. I wrote a book about the hardest parts, so I don't feel the need to tell those stories anymore. Instead, I plant the seeds that fell from all the things I planted that never bloomed. Sound strange? Here's what I mean. I planted two marriages, but the soil wasn't right. The seeds that fell as the plants withered blossomed into my children, the most glorious things that ever bloomed in my garden.
You see where I'm going?
I planted a career that paid the bills and put food on the table. It blossomed pretty well, but in time the light changed and the flowers failed to bud. But the seeds from those years fostered another career, and another, and each one left me with new strength, new confidence, new goals.
The first time I traveled to Italy I knew that I'd found a place that 'fit'. I remember coming home from that trip... around 10 years ago, and telling everyone I would live in Italy one day. I'm not sure anyone thought I was serious, but it didn't matter. I started planting seeds for what would bloom into the life I dreamed of.
And then I watered them.
In the beginning, all I had was the place. I knew that I wanted to live near water, trees, mountains and somewhere I could get by without a car. On our second trip to Italy, we stopped for a few rainy days in Como. I honestly only have one strong memory and that was taking the ferry in the rain to Villa Carlotta to see the amazing sculptures there. But the seeds were taking root, and I knew I'd found my place. I started researching the process for becoming a citizen, and a resident in Italy and gathering documents. When it simply became impossible because I was then living in London, I hired an immigration specialist. I have a direct bloodline to Italy, so I thought it wouldn't be so hard.
It took four years to complete the process.
The rest of the story is old news. We managed my daughter's Como wedding in September of 2019, never dreaming how the world would change in just a few months. I threw a tarp over those baby dream plants and kept the faith. And then in August, I managed to get on a plane in the two weeks before Delta closed the borders to non essential travel again.
When I got here everything was a little bit harder, a little bit slower, a little bit stranger than I had imagined. But I found an apartment and my seeds were starting to bud. The moving of my things from Milan to this little village seemed a little bit impossible, but two good humoured, very strong and determined movers managed to get everything up the road and into the flat and a good friend spent the day reassuring me it would all be ok.
The dream was here. Everything was happening. The flowers would bloom.
And suddenly the overwhelm of being alone with all the bits and pieces of 66 years of living threatened to bury me. The boxes, the plastic, the missing screws for almost every piece of furniture that needed to be reassembled, those boxes... did I mention how much cardboard goes into this kind of move? And then has to be disposed of. I won't lie, on the day I moved the last two suitcases out of the airbnb and into the new apartment, and saw those four washing machine sized boxes of cardboard waiting for me to somehow get them down the hill for the trash pickup, the tears started to come. It seemed like there was no way I could manage all of this by myself. But I knew I had to keep going.
I wiped my eyes, took a deep breath and changed my clothes, and my mindset.
I put my hands on my hips and said out loud to no one in particular, the thing that I had just realised, even though at least two weeks of non stop unpacking, arranging, rearranging, and cleanup lay. ahead....
"This is the easy part".
Turns out that was all my garden was missing. Perspective. Faith. And the same determination it took to get me to now. I'm sharing this because if you are where I was ten. years ago, or even last week... if you are facing a garden full of blooms that are struggling, or even a hallway full of things you must let go of... maybe this will help. I'm sure you have navigated harder things. Felt deeper pain. But you're here, and you have a garden to tend. This really is the easiest part.
Slowly, slowly. We learn the things we need to learn, this is how life works. And if we don't slow down enough to let the million little lessons in, then - we learn them again. You know this. I know this... and still.
The last two weeks have been a lesson in slowing down. I thought I had conquered the idea of surrender during the 18 months of isolation during lockdown. I thought that I understood patience.
I had a lot to learn.
Part of this pleases me because I love experiencing things that also teach me. Part of me, however is surprised about how much I still need to understand about going slow. And about surrendering to what is.
Here's what I mean. I'm a planner, and while I leave room ( or think I do) for the way that the road or the weather can change without warning, in Italy the entire culture abhors a plan. There are two words one hears often.
and my least favourite....Domani. (Tomorrow)
Come mai? (Why?)..... here's the good news. It's not some sense of being arbitrary. It's not because people are lazy. It's not because they don't like you or want to help. It's because they want to do it right, and because of Covid, a lot of things that used to be quick ( the Italian definition of quick, mind you) now, the resources are less easy to locate, to transport, to process, etc. Everything takes time. And people learn not to mind.
I'm getting there by reminding myself that I have time. And I am not the most important person in anyone's day.
After the entire country was locked down for almost a year, people's already small sense of urgency relaxed. Instead they relished the time with family, if they were fortunate. They sang from balconies and were grateful for the little markets that stayed open and the food they could share. And when vaccines finally eased the restrictions they SLOWLY moved back into some new kind of life and work. Piano, piano.
If you've been in Italy on holiday, you know how the pace of life makes you feel instantly restful. How the light fills you in a way like no other. You slow your pace. You take 20 minutes to eat a gelato by whatever view is near. You sit on benches and let the air soothe all the edges that other places carve into you. 'la dolce fa niente'- the sweetness of doing nothing. It's not just a slogan for tourists. It's a mantra.
So, by now, if you're following this journey of mine, you'll know that I've gotten my Coda Fiscale ( sort of the Italian social security number), an Italian phone number, and an apartment up on a hill with amazing views. I am so grateful for all the dominoes that fell into place to come this far. And, to be honest, I thought that the hard part was pretty much done.
I haven't written here for the last two weeks because it took me nearly every day to research, discuss, and finally agree to the terms of a mover to bring my former London household (furnishings and personal items) from my storage box in Milan the 75 kilometres to Bellano. The number of companies that just failed to respond to their own request forms was mind boggling. Somewhere around 40. I had responses in German, French, Belgian and Dutch, though. And thanks to google translate, I did my best to consider their offers, except none of these were able to also provide an extra helper to lift the heavy pieces. Or a truck with a lift gate. And while I'll admit that for more than a minute I considered just doing it myself, the reality of my age and strength these days is ever present in my bones. I even had two personal referrals from the storage company, both of which told me they'd call me back and never did.
And at that point I realised I had slowly started to hold my breath about 4 days into the search. And in my American 'get er' done' mindset, I was constantly wheedling, bartering, 'MacGyvering' the process that I could make work because I had a plan. And a timeline. And that plan. And then I realised there was something the universe was trying to teach me. AGAIN.
Like many things in my life, it almost always comes down to 'letting go' of the plan. I don't mean the goal, I mean the plan to get there. When we stop being flexible and patient, and understanding that the universe does not exist simply for us, or our plan, or the way we think it should go -things just automatically get easier. So I reminded myself of that and decided to just look around some more, and fill out some more request forms, let go of any expectations and wait and see.
The very next company I queried responded within a few minutes. In English. Over the course of 24 hours we discussed what I needed, and when, and came to an agreement. I signed a contract and will meet the movers this weekend to transport 'the contents of my life" as my Italian friend likes to call them - to the new place.
As I write, I'm waiting for a response to confirm some timings but I'm also reminding myself that it's Italy, that things take time, and that everything will be fine. As long as I relax into the slow and patient beauty of this new country that I have chosen to make my home. As long as I remember to stay in gratitude for all the things that have fallen into place and the people who helped me.
I know that at this point of my life, I truly have the luxury of so much time. But here's the thing. So do you. You have time to relax into learning where and what and when you can slow down too. When I was a single mother raising two busy kids, finding that slowness meant getting up earlier than anyone to sit in the almost morning and think. Or not think. When I was a corporate executive traveling 80% of the year, slowness came in taking at least 20 minutes of the flight or taxi ride to just look out the window, or close my eyes and slow my breathing. In lockdown, I kept myself busy to combat loneliness and fear, but I took a walk every day that I could to slow my mind. Here, when the sun sets, I take a slow stroll on the lido by the lake t to drink in the sky and the lights that dot the mountains.
Far away from the 'should's, and 'ought to's', I am learning that I have a choice to bend and flex, to surrender to what takes time, and to embrace the joy of living slowly.
Piano, piano. Find yours. Thanks for coming along for the slow ride. xo
News travels fast.... in a small town. Yes, theres a story there. Per favore, abbi pazienza. ( Have patience) The last week or so has been filled with learning essential new language in order to take all the steps I've been telling you about to become a resident of Italy. And as you might have seen, I took two of those really important steps this week!
*Warning- long detailed, possibly annoyingly detailed post. I suggest an espresso and biscotti or wine. Then it'll just be like we are hanging out.
Of course, like most things here, it isn't a straight road. It's a winding one. First, you dream of what might be your new home by browsing the listings on the two most dominant websites for homes abroad. But these are just 'listings'. There is the name of an agent for each property and an email/ phone. contact if you want to inquire. There's only one problem, and it's a big one. NO ONE EVER UPDATES THOSE LISTINGS. So, if you have your heart set on that cute little 2 bed with a lake view that has a garden - don't bet on it being available. Despite what the listing says. The reason, I am told, is that the agents like to leave the listings to entice potential clients to contact them, and then they can show them whatever they want, or actually have. This - was disappointing. But there is a flip side. ( Isn't there always?)
My first experience was with the biggest agency in northern Italy. I had been emailing, and leaving messages via the listing sites for a month before I arrived to try to arrange some viewings in advance. I never received any response. Ok. Fair enough, they don't want to deal with people who aren't here yet. SIGH. When I did arrive the office was closed till , um, let me see - YESTERDAY. The main agent was on holiday, but I emailed just in case. This time I received a brief reply that told me I could talk to her 'person' in the office if I could manage to catch her. I thanked her and asked for some guidance -days, times, hours, anything? No response. Finally, by sheer accident I almost tripped over this woman who was exiting the office to collect the mail when I was walking by. I introduced myself and asked if she had time to talk. She had almost no English but we managed. She said she wasn't actually an agent but she would check to see what they had in inventory and if she could show me before the 'real' agent returned on the 15th. (This was on the 4th)
A few days later she messaged me and said there was one that I'd seen a photo of, fully furnished (not what I wanted, but ok) and she could show me the following week. I met her and we walked to the apartment. It was nice, a two bedroom with a good size living room and a nice bathroom. The kitchen, despite having a unique tile on ALL the walls featuring large pineapples, was odd. The sink was tiny, pushed against a wall with only a few cabinets that had seen better days. And the also tiny 4 burner gas stove was pushed up against a wall by itself. I asked her if it worked and she replied ' si, un bombola'. Now my spoken Italian can be a bit fiddly, but my vocabulary is pretty thorough. And 'bombola' is not the word for stove or oven. Non capito. ( I don't understand). That's what I said. She stared at me and then opened the terrace door in the kitchen and motioned for me to come look. I did, and saw that the stove was actually connected through the wall to a large propane tank. Bombola is the word for cylinder...? OkSIGH. I asked in Italian how it worked when it ran out of gas She looked at me like I was un idiota and said ' you take and you fill up'. (you unhook, carry down from the 4th floor, and somehow get to a gas station to refill and then bring back?). I reminded her that I don't have 'un macchina'. ( a car). She shook her head and raised her palms. ( classic 'I don't know' ).
The price was ok, but there wasn't room for anything but my clothes and a few other personal things. Which meant I'd continue to pay almost the same amount as the rent for my storage . (picture face palm emoji here) The furniture was meh, but in a pinch, I thought maybe I could make it work. Also it was near the lake with great views but at the top of a very steep road that I'd need to navigate on the regular. I thanked her and asked if there was anything else she could show me. She said I'd have to wait for the 'real agent'. Ok. I probably don't have to add that despite sending some listing numbers and a message to that person, I didn't hear anything for a few days. Oh, except that she wrote me the next day to say they needed an immediate decision on 'la bombola' (my affectionate name for the flat I'd seen.). I thanked her, said no thank you and asked her to contact me when she had something else for me to see.
And then I came home and had a not so tiny date with my anxiety.
When one decides to move to another country, one expects there to be bumps in the road. Kinks in the process. Twists on the path. But in Italy, those rules I told you about last week say that you have to figure this out, have a lease and file your papers within 90 days or you have to LEAVE THE COUNTRY. FOR 90 DAYS. These rules are not a suggestion. They are law. They do not play. If you 'overstay' you can be fined, and banned from entry. And the longer it takes to get the lease, etc, the less time you have to do all the rest.
Breathe. Exhale. Believe. Call on your ancestors, your angels, your guides, your faith and confidence which you know you packed in one of those suitcases. Repeat until you trust yourself again.
The next day I was walking through the village to look at a church built in 1290 (seriously) and I noticed a different realty agency. One I'd not seen before, though I'd absolutely walked by it a dozen times. The door was open, and there were people inside. I approached the man behind the desk and told him I didn't have an appointment but wondered if I could arrange to meet with someone about my search. He smiled, and shouted to a woman in the back- who spoke very good English and invited me to her office to chat. We connected immediately. She asked me about myself, what I was looking for, why I wanted to live here and I almost forgot why I was there. It was the first conversation I had with a stranger here in Bellano that felt like meeting a new friend. That was last Thursday.
Alice (pronounced Ah-lee-chay), my new friend, told me she had three places. Two furnished. One big, one tiny. And one 'teeny tiny' that was empty. Would I like to see them the next day? Yes please. They were all private listings, so I couldn't see photos. She told me what she could and we set a time to meet.
Some agents only deal with customers who are actually here, in Italy, ready to view and rent. So they put photos of their listings in their windows, for sale and for rent, and they hold some as private and decide when they meet the client what might work for them based on their needs.
The next day, I met her at the office and she and I ,and the gentleman I'd spoken to before, ( turns out he is her father lol, hence the shouting ...) drove in her car to see the first listing. As we drove up the main road and turned before the train station, we continued on a road that went up and around to a massive iron gated drive. That drive is about two and a half blocks long that curves up and around again to a beautiful 4 story villa in the traditional northern Italian 19th century style.
I was already in love.
Inside, the marble foyer held a beautiful curving stairway, about 8 feet wide across that got slightly narrower as it rose to the first floor. The steps were wide and gradual and an easy climb. There's also a lift - small but efficient in case you need to carry something upstairs. At the top there were only two doors. And one of them opened for us.
A long hallway with rooms to the right led to an L-shaped 'soggiorno' (living/dining room) with 12 foot high ceilings, and several extra large windows with spectacular views of the lake. Alice had told me it was 'furnished' but actually all that turned out to be was an odd dining table with chairs, a small coffee table, a cute table and chairs in the 'eat in' part of the kitchen (brand new) and beds (a great thing because I left mine in the UK to save space in the moving van) in the master and guest room. The third bedroom was empty except for a built in wardrobe. (Studio? Yes please!)
I'm not good at meters but I'd guess this place was about 950SF... or 89SM. Almost unheard of in European mid range rentals. The bathroom with separate shower and tub is also brand new. The views from the windows look out at the lake in the front, and gorgeous greenery and trees from the sides. Most of all there are built in floor to ceiling wardrobes in every room including the hallway.
EVERYTHING in my storage unit that I'd been paying for the past 19 months would fit.
Alice and Walter (the dad) explained the process to make the 'contratto' to rent, and the best part is that in Italy, the agent acts as the property manager as well. At least in this case. They handle the arrangements for Electric, gas, water and even internet. You pay them a fee (very low) anyway, but you get so much in return.
There were only a few issues. The villa is up and away from the main road, but there is a long set of stone steps that takes you down to avoid the traffic, and another set that takes you down directly into the train station. You only cross the road once in a marked crossing. Walter and I walked it down so I could make sure I felt safe. Took about 6 minutes. From the train station, you walk through the newer part of town back to the historic centre and the lake in less than ten. Issue #1 solved.
The other two had to be resolved by the owner. For some reason, and although the new kitchen had an empty space that was clearly built for an oven, it was missing. Also, there was no washing machine- which is usually in the kitchen, the bathroom, or a large closet. Nope, also missing. Alice didn't blink when I told her I would need both if I was going to be there for a year. She said she would speak to the owner and also would remove any furnishings I didn't want to keep. Just like that. That was last Friday. She promised me an answer by Monday.
Anxiety called me up for another date but I declined. I felt good about this. I called my advocate Massimo who will help me with the citizenship process to make sure I'd not missed a step and felt secure in signing the contract. Alice also offered to sign my application for the elusive 'Codice Fiscale' - a sort of National Identiy number that you need to do pretty much anything 'official'. SCORE.
On Monday morning Alice messaged me that the owner happily agreed to furnish the appliances and in the afternoon I went to the office to pay the deposit and complete the application for the CF. And the next day I received the approval and my new ID.
I feel so officially me. lol.
The next steps are in process- finding a mover and an extra guy to help load and unload my storage. In the meantime I'm daydreaming about seeing my things after almost two years, and what will go where and how I'll set up the studio. It's a wonderful way to spend the next 15 days till I move in.
Oh. I almost forgot. I told you there'd be a story. Right. I mean besides all the bits I just told you. But you kind of need that part to understand the story.
Remember Lela from the boat store? I met her Friday morning. When Alice dropped me off at my airbnb Friday afternoon, Lela was just re-opening the store after the pausa. We said hello and she asked me how the apartment search was going. I told her I'd seen one I really liked but hadn't decided yet. That was the sum of the conversation minus the obligatory 'buonagiornata.' About 15 minutes later I had just sat down with a cuppa when I received a message on what'sapp. From the FIRST realtor. The one I'd yet to meet.
The message said this... (in Italian) " I heard you have found an apartment. Can you confirm this to me?". I was really confused and a little bit shocked. I had ZERO relationship with this person. And did Alice tell her this? If so , that would be bad because I hadn't confirmed. But that didn't seem right, Alice didn't seem like that kind of person, to share my personal business with someone else. So I sent a one sentence response, in Italian. " Who told you that?".
Guess who? Lela. The Boat store lady. I responded to the agent that this seemed strange. She responded by saying it was... just a coincidence because she is friends with Lela, who didn't know I'd been in conversation with her and mentioned she'd met an American looking for a place, but then later told her she thought that I'd found one. That sounded legit, so I sent an 'lol' and said I guess news travels fast in a small town. She sent a laughing emoji back to me and suddenly I realised something else.
Guess what. ANY kind of news travels even faster in a teeny tiny 13th century village where everyone knows everyone. And now, they know me. lol.
And it turns out, that's kind of nice.
I hope that whatever road you're on, the bumps, twists and turns take you somewhere beautiful. Somewhere you are dreaming of right now. Thanks for reading, and please like or comment if you are enjoying these little stories.
Arrivederci ( till we meet again )
There are rules. Living in a small 13th century comune' (municipality) the rules are not so much law as habit. But those habits are fiercely enforced and protected. And so far, I'm happy to live where the rules seem to be in place to protect and care for the land, and the people.
If you don't know the 'rules' people generally lean over, whisper and pat your arm as if to say "it's ok. now you know."
First, the only things that open early are the traghetti (ferries) and 'bars', some cafes and some pasticcerie (bakeries ). Most open at 7 am. The bars serve either sit down or stand up espresso- any variety you like. Basically with my 4th floor windows open all I smell is baking bread and coffee in the morning. Nothing else in town opens until 10. And nobody cares because it keeps the pace slow and easy. Va bene.
Espresso is essential to begin the day here.
There are no rules about noise. Italians are by nature a loud people, mostly because everyone likes to talk at once and joke and laugh and the only way to be heard is to raise your voice. In this town, particularly on the weekends it is a favourite spot for bikers who come in groups and stop for una birra, or an espresso on their way around the lake. They are welcomed as they bring a consistent stream of revenue to Bellano. So if they are noisy, if the bikes are noisy, if the boats bleating there announcements are noisy - va bene. (it's all good).
Living right next to the main road on the lake is fun for a while. I'm not sure it's a long term plan.
There are rules about keeping each other safe. During Covid, Italians banded together to fight the virus with solidarity and a shared mission. For many this meant moving in together as families and riding out the storm. It is required to wear una maschera (a mask) any time you are in close quarters (inside the boats, on the train, on the bus, or in a store), or if you are in a crowd or queue unable to social distance. You may not eat inside a restaurant without a 'green pass' which is validation of being fully vaccinated. And no one argues about it. There is an unspoken agreement that people will do what is right for themselves and for each other.
The shops open around ten each day, close at noon or one o'clock for 'la pausa' and reopen at four, and remain open until seven or seven thirty. This allows the families to eat lunch together at home and take a rest. The trattorias and lakeside cafes remain open to accommodate tourists. In the evening, after the shops close, you will see the families with even the tiniest children and babies taking the passeggiata (stroll) to greet their friends, have a glass of wine or a gelato into the late hours. The sound of children playing mixed with the sound of dogs and people chatting becomes a familiar music that reminds you that life is meant to be lived out loud.
There is joy in that music.
Every step to become a permanent resident and citizen of Italy must be completed before the next step can be attempted. Ci sono regole. There are rules. You must present yourself to the polizia to announce your intention to present your documents. You cannot purchase a phone plan, or rent an apartment, or buy a car, or anything else without a coda fiscale ( like a social security number or a national ID). To do that you need to find someone to help you because they want to sell you something or help you rent.
I found that person this week. Woot!
Finally, and maybe most impressive to me in this time of climate change and awareness of. the need to take every action more seriously, there are rules about the 'spazzatura'. The trash.
Italians take this very seriously. There are 5 different categories of garbage, and each must be bagged in a compostable bag of a specific colour.
Vetro-(glass bottles or jars ) in a Green bin, or bag
Plastica e' Metallo (just what it sounds like) In a yellow. transparent bag. no lids. no corks. Nothing that has held food)
Carta e' Cartone - (paper and. cardboard) broken down and put into the white bin.
Organico (food waste- disposals are virtually non existent) The bin is called 'umido' and the bag is cream colored.
Indifferenziato ( a bunch of other items mixed together - non sorted because they. don't exactly fit the other categories.
Oh, and there is a 54 page book to tell you every single detail of this process along with which days to put out your spazzatura for collection.
Thankfully there is not a test.
I like the rules. They seem to help everyone feel at home and cultivate a culture of respect. And I like knowing what is expected. The people here greet their friends with a loud Ciao, or Bongiorno, and a smile.
Yesterday I met Lela who runs the boat rental store next door. I wanted to find out about kayaking on the lake. We had a nice talk and introduced ourselves. Today on my way to buy some fruit, I was surprised to hear a loud and friendly ' ciao Tia!' as I passed her. It made me smile a smile that is still inside me as I write this.
It made me feel 'at home'.
I hope wherever you are today you stop and say hello to someone new if you can. Make them feel at home, if only for a moment. It means a lot.
Ciao amici! xo
What makes you cry? For me it's always been two things. The beauty of nature and animals, and the love of humans. The one's I am blessed to call my family, whether blood ties us or not. The friends who always find a way to show up when you need a hug, even if it comes in the form of emojis.
Often, it's the simple kindness of strangers.
On Saturday, having conquered the schedule of the traghetti ( the ferry boats), I checked my bag for my passport, my credit cards, and sunscreen, and headed once again to the far end of the lago, to Como city. I needed to get the Sim card for Italy and the EU, because it's nearly impossible to navigate with any kind of speed or clarity without it. So after the hour and a half ride in the fast boat, the phone store was my first stop.
Unlike my first visit, none of the staff on duty had any English to speak of. Still, with google translate and my burgeoning Italian, we figured things out. Turns out one can't sign up for phone service here without something called a 'coda fiscale' which is sort of a national identity code. And I won't have that until I gain my residency, which can't happen until I present my documents for citizenship, which can't happen until I have a rental lease. So. I had to settle for a long term Sim that works just as well for now.
It took a while to sort this out.
Let me rewind a bit. That morning I'd received a text from a close family member, letting me know that one of our dear ones was in the ICU facing some dire health issues. Still, they were getting good care and the doctors were doing all they could. They were cautiously hopeful. All we could do was wait, and pray. So I added my prayers to theirs, and asked my friends to do the same. And as always, I could feel the love and hope moving through the air. That made me cry, seeing all the prayers and kindness appearing like little blessings on my phone screen as the boat made its way across the lake.
Between the sunglasses and the mask, no one could see the tears. A small blessing.
It was still the middle of the night in America. It felt like there was nothing I could do but keep hoping. So I headed for the Vodafone shop across from il Duomo, and, well, got on with it. As we neared the end of our business, and all that was left was to sign documents and submit payment, my phone rang. And it was that same family member who'd texted, so I knew I had to answer.
And then the tears wouldn't stop.
Sometimes, no matter how much we wish something would go a different way- it won't. Because it's just not what is meant to happen. This doesn't change the pain of it. But you know what does? Absolute strangers who comfort you. Who look at you with understanding and compassion and care. And a girl who doesn't speak really any english who finds the words to say. "It's ok you cry. It's ok."
After I found some kind of quiet inside me, I finished my business and thanked both the people who helped me for all of it. The words in Italian are ' Grazie, sei molto gentile'. You are very kind. That doesn't begin to cover it.
What I wanted to do was get on another fast boat and come back to my little flat and cry some more. And talk to my family. Talk to my friends who I miss and who are always there. Put on soft clothes and cuddle up on the sofa with tea. Cry until I had no more tears.
But the next fast boat wasn't for hours.
So I found a table in the shade in a little cafe, and ordered comfort food. Seriously they listed french fries as comfort food on the menu. Who was I to disagree. So I had french fries and a warm-ish coca cola and watched a little fencing demonstration ,which made me get all philosophical about how often we do that little back and forth jabbing at each other when what we really need to do is put the swords down and listen.
I won't lie, it helped. The food and the fencing thing.
I tried to shake off the gloom and headed for the next stop on my list. The Nespresso store. Because life is too short for bad coffee, and buying the two or three espresso's I crave every day adds up in a village that makes a lot of its income from tourists buying coffee and gelato. Also it requires the up and down of six flights and I'm not even going to pretend I'll do that at 7 am.
I bought the smallest machine they sold, and the milk steamer thing and a few boxes of coffee. Because the stores are just opening after the August break, there was a really good sale, although I've stopped rationalising essential purchases for the few things I really love. Like canvas, oil paint, good brushes and really good coffee makers that make really good coffee with the bonus of making the whole flat smell divine.
I would have paid full price.
Another hour later and I sat waiting for the boat and fighting the emotions that kept coming. I put my earbuds in and played Billie Eilish and hoped for a world that wouldn't be so hard on people who were only doing their best. I thought of all the people I've loved and lost and all the ways they made life better. And when I got home I found a photo of my dear one as a child, a picture that's always made me fill up with joy, and wished I could have told her that one more time.
And then I cried some more.
Thanks to all of you for your kindness, your compassion, your thoughts. Tell someone that brings you joy that you feel it. Thank them for it. Don't wait.
xoxo , Tia
Little Miracles. Like when I decided to move way past my comfort zone and tell the grumpy ticket guy ( in Italian) that I was new to Bellano, had in fact just moved here to live permanently and I was sorry that the boat schedule was so confusing to me. And then I asked him with my sweetest ( masked, so, well, you know) smile..."Possiamo essere amici?" (Can we be friends?). And he actually smiled, maybe blushed and then nodded and said "Si, Si, Si." I'll call that Miracola Una.
But you have to agree, it's kind of a big one.
Numero Due. My host stopped by for the requisite photo of il passaporto, and the city tax payment, and took the time to show me some little secrets of the village. The first was that I could walk in the mornings all the way to either end of the village along the lake and reach a food market. But also that there is a smaller one just to the left of my apartment that I hadn't noticed! So, no more worrying how much I can carry when I walk to the big store, because the little one sells wine.
I do not need to remind you of the importance of safe transport of precious cargo. You get it.
Numero Tre. (but possibly the BEST bit) Lorla. A bakery in a little piazza that sends the magical scent of sugar, butter and flour winding through the streets and up the walls of every building in town. Best of all, for lest than 3 Euro, one can have a lovely cappuccino and one tiny exquisite pastry and satisfy the carb cravings that seem to appear the minute your passport is stamped on arrival!
The history on the image of Agosto Lorla that hangs on the wall outside took a bit to translate - and is a kind of hysterically odd selection of old myths about the man and his family, from a tunnel under a graveyard to secret doors to host meetings for local men to the bakery that stands today as a legacy of the man. The final note was that while prior 'Lorla's used to want to 'try' their brides before marriage, the last Lorla was a good person'. OK then. ( insert eye roll?)
When was the last time you got that much strange and delightful info with your coffee?
The last one. You can believe me or not, but I know for a fact that when I need to hear something, the angels, or guides or my dead grandmother wake me up in the middle of the night to make sure I listen. When I arrived, I had a sort of schedule in mind to find an apartment and settle in. What I hadn't counted on was the extent of the 'August break' here in Bellano. You see, it doesn't really end at the end of August. It actually ends whenever they feel like it in September. And for the realtors here, that means mid month. I had originally thought a month in an airbnb would be more than enough. But Nonna woke me up the other night to say - nope. You need to extend so that you don't rush to a decision once the agents return to town. So I listened, and was lucky to find this place available for an additional two weeks. Thanks Nonna, that was worth the wake up call.
Suffice to say after almost a week here in this lovely little town, I am finding myself breathing differently, sleeping deeply and waking with so much gratitude for where I've landed. I hope you find yourself in a place as special too.
And be on the lookout for those little miracles, because they make anywhere special. (PS, have the pastry)
Ciao amici. Ci vediamo prossimo xo