March 9, 2021
A view of one of my magnificent walks to Centro Storico in Chiavari
In January 2017, I took the leap, leaving all I truly knew and loved behind, and began my new life as an Italian dual citizen living in Italy. After acclimating to life in another country, I instigated my search for an apartment in Chiavari, Liguria.
It is now official—I have lived in Chiavari for over 4 years. Some days it feels as though I have always been here. Other days, I could not feel more foreign.
On move-in day, 2017, I arrived with too much luggage and my keys to the apartment.
Promise me you will NEVER travel with this much luggage!
On arrival, I caught a taxi to take me to my address. Thank goodness, my driver assisted me into the building and packed my things and me into the tiny elevator. At that point, I thought I was ready to enter my home, sit down on the sofa and rest in my furnished apartment.
Surprise! I took out my keys and, either because I was nervous or exhausted, I could not get the skeleton key lock unlocked.
That’s the long key with the teeth.
Now, it is evening, no one is home on my floor, and I have no idea what to do. I thought I heard someone upstairs. Thankfully, the young couple in the apartment above mine understood my Italian, saw my panic and walked downstairs to assist me.
Once we got the doors open and my luggage inside, I thanked them and turned on the lights. Next, I wanted to wash my hands only to find that there was no water running. I ran back up the stairs and asked them what to do. They came back downstairs and helped me find the water turn off which was on my smaller balcony. We turned on the water, walked through the kitchen and thanked them profusely once again.
We walked past my kitchen range.
Here’s the washing machine. How does this work?
My brain was on overload. So was my body. I had a bottle of water and some gluten-free cookies with me. I sat down, drank the water and decided bed was a great idea.
Oh, I forgot. Renting a furnished apartment does not include towels or sheets. My friend had given me an old sheet plus an old towel set. I tucked the sheet on the mattress, hung the towel in the bathroom and began searching for any kind of blanket. I found a pair of old blankets and a couple pillows. But it was so cold that night I lay my coat over the blankets for warmth. I could not figure out how to turn on the radiators in the apartment.
On day two of my rental experience, I woke up early and headed to the lungomare, the promenade along the sea, and enjoyed a coffee with a gluten free breakfast sweet. What a way to begin my day!
I headed to the market in centro storico, city center where I would buy sheets, blankets, towels. I also picked up fresh fruit, vegetables, cheese and prosciutto. I was set for a day or two.
Shopping at the open market in the center of town was a thrill for me. I loved working with the seller of the sheets and towels. He gave me 2 dishtowels so I could wash my dishes and dry them. Attempting to ask for cheese and other supplies was a challenge but fun. Hearing all that beautiful Italian spoken was music to my ears.
Next, I carried my heavy bags home. I had some instant coffee from traveling (god forbid) and wanted to warm up with a cup. But my range did not turn on. In fact, I smelled GAS. I was supposed to have an automatic gas range. Nope. Surprise.
And the apartment was really cold. I could not get any of the radiators to work. This was getting a bit crazy. I contacted the real estate company that I had used for the rental. They told me this was up to me to figure out. I was shocked. And I was angry. I left home and walked back up the center, and into their office. I asked them again to help me. I told them their advertisement was wrong. I said the lease claimed all would be in working order upon the day I arrived. The heat did not work. The stove was not as promised. I wanted someone to come to my apartment today. After acting like the American that I am, they agreed to try. However, it was a second cold night before their handyman could visit.
He arrived with the woman who spoke English. He showed me how to use my range, light the burners, the stove and how to use the grill inside the range if I wanted to use it. Of course, the electric cord was not long enough to plug in the grill, and if I forgot to turn off the gas before plugging it in, I could start a fire. He was so kind that he gave me his lighter to use until I could purchase the longer lighters used for lighting the burners safely.
Next, we tackled the radiators. They needed to be drained since they had not been in use. We drained all four of them and attempted to turn them on. Still, they did not work. They contacted the actual landlady who then explained that the heat only worked during certain hours, in the morning and around dinner time until about 10pm. We missed the morning time. I had to turn them on now and wait for them to work at around 5 or 6pm.
I unpacked more of my belongings, had another cookie, and headed out for a walk.
The sea was lively as I strolled along it. I am always fascinated by the sea when she shows her personality and strength like this.
I met Tiziano and the local corner grocery shop and I spoke the best Italian that I could. He was surprised that I was moving there from the USA. I shared with him that I wanted to understand as much as possible what it was like to live like an ordinary Italian, not visiting as a tourist. I wanted to understand real life in Italy. I also told him that I was a doppia cittadinanza, a dual citizen. After that encounter, for months he would introduce me to other locals shopping there. He made it feel more like home.
Before I left his store, I was armed with milk, sprite, butter, beans and arborio rice. I told him I usually ate gluten-free. The next time I visited he had gluten free cookies and gluten free Corn Flakes in stock. Grazie, Tiziano. Thanks!
As I slowly began to feel more at home in my town, I began to feel more welcome. One thing I did notice almost immediately was the way older people were treated in town and throughout Italy. They were respected. They were quite visible to everyone and often greeted by strangers and friends. Since I was 65 years old when I moved to Italy, it was so apparent that elders were welcomed. Yes, beauty and youth are worshipped here in Italy too. Yet, there is such an allure, such charm, in an elderly woman, dressed well and strolling arm and arm with a friend.
The elderly souls in Italy are a treasure. I never felt that way in the USA once I reached a certain age. It is one of the blessings of living in Italy that I cherish.
Along the sea walk in Chiavari
Moving ahead to 2020.
I had visited so many new places in Italy in those first 3 years of life in Italy.
I fell more and more in love with my new country every single week. Yes, there were so many challenges such as I experienced my first week here. I had made friends and lost friends, facing the challenge of making lasting friendships across cultures and languages. But I was not ready for Covid-19. No one was ready for Covid-19.
Still, in many ways, Italy demonstrated how it could work diligently to save her people. It was a very unpleasant, mostly horrifying time to be living in Italy. However, I truly believe that the respect the people of Italy feel for their elders kept the youth of Italy in check for months. They love their Nonni, their grandparents, and respect them so much, that they curbed their own freedom to save them. The entire culture worked to save them, to save us. So many died, yet so many survived. It is the dichotomy of life in this country that is not universal. There are many cultures who treasure their elders. I hope it worked for them as well or even better than here in Italy. Ultimately, I am so happy that I spent 2020 here.
We have been riding on the back of an undulating snake as we navigate our way through the stresses caused by Covid. One month we have more freedom. The next we are locked in our neighborhoods. Lately, we cannot depend on even one month—maybe 2 weeks, without restrictions changing. The only place in Italy right now where you can actually go out to dinner after 5pm is in Sardinia. The rest of us cannot go out at all for a meal or must cut it off at aperitivo. Eating at bars and restaurants is only allowed in Yellow zones. Orange and red are locked down.
I am not enjoying the bumpy ride. But the life, yes, I enjoy the life in Italy. If I am fortunate, I will be her another 20 or 30 years. There are a lot of very elderly folks living in this country. Maybe if I live that long I will be fluent in Italian, used to the complexities of life, and die with a smile on my face.
Ciao for now!
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Ciao for Now!
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