Seven Years in Italy

January 18, 2024

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Can you believe that I moved to Italy just over seven years ago? Some days I feel as though I have always been here in Bella Italia. Other days, I feel like I am still jet-lagged and up all night, a stranger in a strange land.

At this time, 7 years ago, I was in Lazio with my cousin Sonseere. She moved to Italy before I did, found a town in Lazio that she loved and was remodeling her new apartment. That is a story only she can tell you. But note that we stayed in a hotel in this little town of 7000 people—we each had our own hotel room and breakfast was included. Thank God for the separate rooms. I came down with Pneumonia 2 weeks after arrival. I was so frightened by the  hospital experience that I refused to stay overnight. I went back to my hotel room and paid a nurse 5 Euros, twice a day, for my shots. I had my privacy and a good space to recuperate. 

Sonseere helped me get my codice fiscale and more. Luckily, she had a car to use—her town was too small to offer all we both needed as Italian citizens.

When I began this incredible journey, my excitement of my new life was colored by those I was leaving behind. It was so difficult to say goodbye to my daughter and granddaughter, my girls. 

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My sister was also difficult to leave behind. My father had dementia and I had been one of his principal caregivers. I left it all in the hands of my siblings. My father was actually very supportive of my move to Italy. He said it was time that I did what I wanted. He repeated that same speech just a few days ago.  And then we sang together. 

The photo above is of me singing with my father at a Veteran’s Day gathering where he was honored.

I was also so afraid of what would happen. Would I be able to move across the Pond, start a life in Italy alone, in a town where I knew no one? It has been a true grown experience. It is so different from visiting Italy. Despite my fear and all the differences, I made it through the ups and downs of adjusting to life in Italy. 

Here are some of the comical and challenging learning experiences.

  • When I moved into my apartment, I had no idea that I had to light my gas range burners and oven. I also did not know how to turn on the gas. I had the key to the apartment and was on my own.
  • How do I turn on the heat—using the radiators?  I also need to defrost my tiny refrigerator periodically. Did I mention that I do not have a dryer? I find a bit of serenity as I hang my laundry off my smaller balcony. Who knew?
  • It took months to get my modem set up. Apparently, I missed one phone call that occurred one month after ordering service and, because I did not answer it, they took me off their delivery list. Remember I am attempting to do this all by myself with limited Italian language skills. I was always so nervous that I could barely speak what I knew. Thankfully, the sales staff was kind.
  • When I moved into my place, there was a small television here. It only worked on Channel 3 and was about the size of my computer screen. I bought a little television, And it was delivered and installed for me. The funny part of this story is that the company called me two more times to deliver my new television! I was honest. Otherwise, I could have had 3 TVs in my tiny apartment. And it actually made me laugh especially the second time. 
  • Finding a doctor was a big challenge. One day I was sitting at one of the bars by the sea, drinking green tea and coughing. The owners there knew me and became concerned. I did my best to say I think I have bronchitis, but I will be okay. The owner told me I could see his doctor. He had his daughter (who waited tables there) walk me to his doctor’s office and help me. That was so kind. Seven years later I am still going to that office. I have a new doctor now but I am so thankful to them for their kindness.
  • Doctors in Italy: in my humble opinion, they are well trained and comparable to the doctors in the USA. However, medical experiences here are quite different.  Your general practitioner talks with you, sends you for blood tests, etc. However, they rarely do much with examinations. They send you to specialists for their expertise. They also send you out for your blood and urine tests. In fact, you need to go to the farmacia to buy your sterile urine test container. THEN, you need to carry it to the hospital when you go there for your blood draw. I had visions of people walking the streets as I was with a jug of something very personal and I just hoped I would not drop it.  After leaving it at the hospital and taking vials of blood, I was told to return in 1 week for the results. Then I make an appointment for my doctor to read it and decide if I need meds. It’s a long process. If you need a specialist or an MRI, etc., you make a separate appointment. Sometimes you get in within a week. Other times it is months later. 
  • Exams and specialist doctor appointments: Usually your appointment is at a hospital. Visits to my general practitioner cost NOTHING. We have national health care. Visiting specialists can cost $30-$60 for an MRI, a CT Scan, a Stress Test, an Electrocardiogram. Again, you must wait for the results. I am ok with all of that. What shocked me is the attitude in my medical experiences in Italy. When I went for my stress test, I had a choice of using the bike or the treadmill. THANK GOD I chose the bike. You see, after removing my top so they could put the electrodes on my body, I was left naked for the test. I asked if I could put my shirt back on but NO. I was mortified. They do not have body shame the way many Americans do. That was 6 years ago. Last week, I had an EKG and an Echocardiogram and, once again, I was half naked for it. This time I didn’t even blink an eye.
  • In the seven years that I have lived here in Italy, I have cherished my opportunity to experience life with these Italians. Even though I have always thought of myself as Italian, and even though I am an Italian citizen as well as an American, I am not truly the same as the true Italians born and raised here. During the Covid lockdown of 2 years, I shared some of their angst. I suffered the lockdown with them. I watched the deaths and hospitalizations and had Covid very early in the outbreak. I feel closer to my neighbors after the Covid nightmare we shared as the first western country to have the epidemic.  These people and their families have lived through War in their back yard. We Americans have not had a war on our soil since the Civil War. This shapes people. The country of Italy is actually YOUNGER than the USA. Prior to they became one nation, most people did not speak true Italian. They spoke dialects and even completely different languages such as Napolitano, the language of Naples. Often they are teased for talking with their hands. Their physical language assisted people to communicate with others who spoke a different dialect. I love that they can communicate without even speaking. I now know some of th hand gestures and use them.
  • Language study:  I studied Italian in College at the University of Minnesota—52 years ago. The language has actually changed since then and I have forgotten more than I ever knew. I have studied it since then in 2004 and since I have been here. Yet, after 7 years in Italy I am not fluent.  It’s like my brain is not the same as it used to be. Besides that, I think it is nerves. I think that holds me back. My Italian relatives tell me that I speak Italian better after I drink some wine. Wine washes away some of my insecurity and I do fine. Too bad I cannot walk around town drinking wine.

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  • Traveling in Italy—since I have lived in Italy and before moving here, I have visited 16 of the 20 provinces (States) in Italy.  Post Covid I have slowed down my travel and spent more time enjoying life in Chiavari, my home in Liguria. When I first arrived here, I traveled much of my time. It was like I was on holiday but I cannot be on vacation year round. I  treasure my time exploring Liguria, my neck of the woods, and I love to travel to Rome and to Florence where I have friends and family. Even without seeing those people, my heart sings when I walk in Florence and in Rome. The history, the beauty, the architecture, archeology, the art—they do fill me with joy. I feel like I belong here in Italy where art is taught in schools, as is wine tasting and kindness. 
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  • Now things are changing for me. I do have a few physical issues slowing me down. Also, there are family issues affecting my life, my mood, my heart. I love living in Italy. I love being surrounded by people who remind me of my great-grandmother and my grandparents. I love the food, the slow life, I love so much of it. But, I also need some of my other loves. Now that I feel more secure here, I am spending hours a day enjoying music, music from my past, new music, Italian rockers and crooners plus the American music scene. I am dancing alone in my home on rainy days. I am sharing music with friends. And I am talking about my musical past. I am meditating again. These are parts of me that I also need in my life. 
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  • Spending time in the US: I live in Italy but I go back to Minnesota and elsewhere to see my family. My father will be 100 years old in July. We think he will make it. And I will be there. My daughter and granddaughter are at the top of my list for time spent in America. My sister is a great friend to me and our sisterhood deepens every year. Even though we are 12 years apart, as we age, that narrows. My cousins were my best friends growing up. I need to see them, to hug them, to share stories with them. I don’t expect them to come to Italy although I would love it. I must go to them. The same goes for my musician friends. I need to share time with them. It is a place where there is no judgement, and no explanations required. I will be in the US this summer again and I hope to have a month or so with my girls.
  • Travel in Italy this year—I am deciding on which Carnevale I will attend this year. Easter is early this year. I plan to visit at least one Carnevale in late January/Early February. I plan to return to Florence to hang out with my friends there. My sister will be visiting me for two weeks. We are now making plans for what she wants to do. Also, we will spend time In Liguria where I can share my discoveries here. 
  • Creativity: I am still creating travel adventures for my clients. It is a rewarding experience for me as well as, hopefully, for them. I am picking up my book on the hidden Liguria spots that I love. It has been on the back burner. I hope to finish it this year. I have also begun to plot a memoir. Then there is my science fiction fantasy novel that needs finishing. 

Life is change. It is healthy to experience life as much as you can. Sometimes it is painful. Other times joyous. But the dream is Dolce far niente.

A narrow street with buildings and a person walking

I am on the Road Taken. 

The Road not Taken by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both…

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in the wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Ciao for now!

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