Dreams of Italy Realized

August 7, 2018

Tanti anni fa, many years ago, in 1971, my life changed forever. And dreaming of Italy became a force in my very existence.

Florence Duomo

Call me Marilyn. I was born into a 100% Italian-American family, originally from Abruzzo and Campania.

Local Italians in St. Paul, MN in the 1930s, including an uncle or two.

I always knew I was Italian. I heard the musical language when my Nonna e Bisnonna, my grandmother and great-grandmother, would argue in front of us. I loved the words I heard and tried to understand them. And I loved when Ofilia, my great-grandmother, spoke with her Italian accent. These two women were so deeply embedded into my psyche that, even today, I can hear their voices talking to me. I miss them and cherish the opportunity I had to know these true Italians as well as those on my father’s side, Nonna and Grandpa Ricci.

As I attended school, I strove to learn more about where these people, my people, came from. I read all about the Romans, their gods and goddesses, their music, their science and their art. It was the beginning of my love affair with Italy. I did two extensive reports in secondary school, one on Michelangelo and one on DaVinci.  I fantasized about learning from them, thinking like them. DaVinci became my life hero and I wanted to know more.

After graduating in 1969, I attended the University of Minnesota and eventually became part of the protesting hippie youths in the changing times of the 60’s and early 70’s. In 1971, I bought a round trip ticket to Luxembourg on Hippie Airlines (Icelandic Air), had $200 in my purse and a backpack.  I stayed in Europe nearly a year. My first Italy visit happened when my cousin from St. Paul met me in Rome.


First, we explored the city. Next I met the first of many cousins in Rome, Rosa Pinna and her son, Gianni. Their home was near the Colosseum and all the food she prepared reminded me of my great-grandmother’s cooking.  Also, we met the family of Vincenzo and Celeste Buzzelli and more.

La mia famiglia Abruzzese, some of my family from Abruzzo

Pizza Napoletana

Everywhere we went in Rome, then Naples and Pompeii, a piece of my heart remained behind. Italy was stealing it. My family was stealing it. When we arrived in Paterno di Avezzano, our town of origin on my mother’s side, I left nearly my entire heart in that basin surrounded by the mountains.

Maureen, my cousin, had visited Paterno before. Everyone was excited to see her. But this was my first experience in Paterno. And, lo and behold, through my Ruscitti grandfather that I never knew, I was related to nearly every single person in Paterno. I was treated like the Prodigal Son in the Bible. They slaughtered an ox and had a town-sized barbeque. I met everyone.

Over and over in my mind I asked myself, why would my family have ever left this paradise? I knew I never wanted to leave.

But I did leave, carrying pieces of their hearts with me, stories of my great-grandmother and the grandparents and their families. The children remained deep in my soul. I wanted to see them again.

When I returned to my so-called normal life, I felt the loss of the European life, especially the Italian life. And I began to have a particular dream. I saw myself living in Italy in a coastal town, walking along the beach and the water often lapped over my bare feet.  All my senses were involved. I caught the scent of the salt in the air, the wind tossing my hair and attire, the warmth of the sun on my skin and the colors of a sunset on the water.  It was so real. And, funny, I had never even been to the sea in Italy.

The dream became a part of my daydreams too. It was always there, with me. Life in the USA changed things. I got married, had a child, moved and divorced. I was a single mother raising a daughter while singing in a Pop/Funk band for years.  After that I worked for builders selling homes for 26 years. My dream collected dust while sitting on a shelf in the back of my mind. But, occasionally, it would pop into my consciousness and I would feel the pull.

Camogli, Liguria

Finally, after my daughter had her own life, and her own child, things began to change. Italy became more intoxicating to me, and not just for a visit but for a home. To have a dream come true, usually there is some work and planning involved. That was my next move.

As I dusted off the dream and kept it fresh in my mind I began the process of becoming a doppia cittadinanza, a dual citizen of the US and Italy. It took work, and 2 years of patience, a thing I have in short supply. Finally, in January of 2015, my daughter, granddaughter and I became citizens of both countries. Now we can choose to live and work in Italy and all the EU.

At this time, I also created my business, Take Me Home Italy, a custom travel business helping others find their Italian Soul (www.takemehomeitaly.com).  I plan exclusive travel to fit your budget and lifestyle and personalize it to meet your needs, not the needs of a tour. I wanted to share my love of Italy with everyone, especially others, like me, who may be Italian-American and seek information on where their Italian family came from.

But where would I live and work? I thought of all the places I had been and I knew I needed to look further.  I needed to go on a hunt for my home by the sea.

The sea near Gaeta

I visited 3 times more, searching. I spent time with my dad’s family and I adore them. But they are also in the mountains. I love the Amalfi Coast but it is difficult to travel to and from there without a car—I don’t want a car.  I checked out the east coast of Abruzzo and northern Puglia. It had the sea but it did not really work for me.

Finally, I had a writing assignment in Sestri Levante last June, 2016. Frankly, I had never heard of it. But when I saw its location along the Mediterranean Sea, I was intrigued. I planned a sea hunt trip.

  • It began in Santa Marinella, near Rome. It was my second visit and, logically, I thought it would work well. But my heart did not buy it.
  • Next, I traveled by train along the west coast of Italy. Orbetello had train service but not my place, La Spezia, no.
  • But from La Spezia I traveled to Tellaro and fell in love with this little town. Unfortunately, it is too small, has no train service and almost no one lives there in the winter.



  • Next, I visited Portovenere and never wanted to leave. Again, it is difficult to travel there by train and few people live there year-round.


  • Finally, I went to Sestri Levante via Cinque Terre. Wow, what a coastline! The sea and the towns of Cinque Terre are incredible. There is train service but nowhere to live for me. And the tourists overwhelm these Five Lands from Spring until the end of Fall. That won’t work.

Riomaggiore, one of the five towns, Cinque Terre

  • Sestri Levante is a lovely coastal town. I could live there, I thought. And at least half the people are there year-round. It has all the things one needs to live in a town, shopping, hospital, movie theatre, arts, music. It was there. In the summer, you can take ferries to Portovenere, Cinque Terre, and Portofino, another gorgeous town but one I could not afford. Maybe this was the place for me.
  • My host suggested Chiavari, the next town on the train and a quieter place with less tourists than Sestri Levante. I decided to have a look.  I only spent an hour or so there and yet, my gut feelings told me “This is IT!”


After going home, I did more research into costs of living in Chiavari, who lives there, what is there, and why it would be a good place.  And I made my plan.

I needed to divest myself of most of my earthly goods, including my car and furniture. I needed to try to save a little cash to feel comfortable and I needed to find a 1 year rental near the sea in Chiavari.

Chiavari trompe l’oeil paintings, faux painting

Today, I live in Chiavari and I am in love.  My one bedroom furnished apartment is a 2-minute walk to la passagiata, the promenade, along the beach and I go there nearly every day. Centro storico, the center, is less than one kilometer’s walk and I do that several times per week. On market days, I have gotten fresh veggies, fruit and purchased my sheets and towels.

I visit the bar/restaurants on the promenade. The natives are getting used to me and the owners of the Gelateria, Renato and Mario, have become my goodwill ambassadors to the area.

I am beginning to make friends and people recognize me when I return. Tiziano, the owner of the local market, tells everyone my story when I arrive. And he even started carrying Gluten Free Cookies for me. I was so surprised.

I have realized my dream. It was not easy. I had to do my work and I had to leave the people behind in Washington and Minnesota who mean the most to me. I paid my dues to get here. I am learning to surrender to the complexities of Italian bureaucracy. It was worth every cent and drop of perspiration.

It is a long way from my past life. You can accomplish your dreams too. Hold them in your soul always. Make a plan. Do research.  Give yourself permission to do it and then JUMP! If your dream includes a visit to Italy or finding your Italian heritage, let me know. Contact me if you would like to visit Italy by yourself or with a group of friends. I know exclusive locations of small wineries, excellent food, great art, and lovely seaside escapes.  I can organize transportation, small day tours and great local hotels from one star to five. Or I can create a plan for you that makes sense and you can do all the booking yourself. We can Skype and work out the details.

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Buona fortuna a tutti. A dopo.

Ciao for now!

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