Wednesday 28 September 2011

Life in Rome: can I keep it simple?

This is my plan for my time in Italy: try to live as simply as possible.

That may seem counter-intuitive. For one thing, at the moment I have all these plans and arrangements buzzing around my mind like demented bees. What to pack, what to leave in storage, what personal things to leave with friends. And which friends have the space?

For another, Rome itself does not seem to suggest simplicity. Just think of the enormous amount of traffic and people all going about their business within the close confines of a 2,000 year old city. Recipe for chaos, yes?

Even shopping for the basics of daily life in Rome can be so much more involved than it is in North America. Certainly, I won't be driving to Safeway or Loblaws for a one-stop shop!

For the info of friends who haven't run many errands in Italian towns, here's how shopping lists tend to look (and you can see why running errands takes a day.)

  • 1. Need milk and eggs? Walk to the "negozio di generi alimentari," or grocery store.
  • 2. Bread? Find a "panetteria"; that is, bakery.
  • 3. Out of Tylenol? Walk to the "farmacia."
  • 4. Hand cream and shampoo? Head to either the cosmetics store, called a "profumerie," or perhaps the "erbolista"/herbalist. Or that handy little chain, Aqua e Sapone (Water and Soap).
  • 5, Running low on contact lens solution? Find an "optometrista."

Italian shops tend to be far more specialized than we're used to in North America. The "farmacia" is a pharmacy, not a cosmetics store/herbalist/grocery store/gift emporium. Most items are still behind the counter and you queue up to ask a solemn-looking attendant for your bandaids or headache pills.

This will not make life simple for me. Yet, I find it charming. At least I found it all very charming when I was a visitor in Italy. Let's see how charming it remains when I'm living there and in a rush to get through the shopping list!!! I may wind up eating a lot of bread, because I didn't get to all the other places on my shopping list. And I'll be sitting in the dark as I eat my bread because I didn't light bulbs, but that's fine because I won't be able to see anything since I can't wear my contacts because I didn't get to the optometrista to buy lens cleaning solution.

Okay, so shopping itself may not be simple. Many elements of life in a big city aren't simple. Yet there will be so many other elements of life that I'm certain I will be able to simplify. I won't have a car; therefore, no worries about parking, maintenance, putting on winter tires, scrapping frozen windshields.

No snow, so I won't need boots or mitts (maybe gloves, but just for their style)

My studio apartment is tiny. Therefore, I won't be able to shop and cram it full of things that I don't really need. I'll be away from the constant pressure to be upgrading my curtains or couch or taking advantage of that great IKEA price for wine glasses that I don't need.

That, at least, will simplify my life dramatically! It will be great.

Sunday 25 September 2011

I'll miss some things about Ottawa


A beautiful day for a walk along the Rideau Canal, beside the Ottawa Congress Centre and the Chateau Laurier. 

And further along, the walking path turns to follow the Outaouais River and continues below the Supreme Court of Canada.

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Moving to Rome: I may need some help.

It's the damnedest thing.

The more clutter I clear out of my rambling old apartment before the movers come, the more things I seem to have!!!

At his rate, how am I going to keep my packing for Rome down to only two suitcases? And a carry-on? I may need to smuggle a pack animal onto Air Canada to help me with the luggage!

A few days ago, I booked my airline ticket to Rome for Nov. 30, with a vague return date that can be changed. What's more difficult to change is Air Canada's parsimonious packing policy. One suit case per traveller. Madness.

Of course, for $70 I could bring a second suitcase; but a third piece of luggage would be ruinously expensive. So, I am facing hard limits.

Fine. I can work with limits and deadlines. And with the movers coming in only a few weeks, I've been organizing my things into categories:

a. Items for storage with the moving company
b. Items to store with friends (personal papers, my handmade ceramics)
c. Items for charity
d. Items for the rubbish (I really don't need to save mismatched mittens)
e. Items to take to Italy

It's that last one that's proving a challenge.

I'm a writer, therefore I need electronics. Seriously; no one uses the fountain pen any longer. A laptop, net-book, various power cords and plug adaptors. Headset for Skype. Cellphone and charger; iPod and chargers. External keyboard, mouse and hard drive. Camera and its charger. All to go into the  carry-on along with $1,000 worth of prescriptions (asthma and ulcers get expensive.)

Books. I need to bring a few favourite books, plus Italian study guides, dictionaries (English and Italian.) A few CDs and DVDs (at least they're flat.)
A file of favourite recipes, especially for lentil soup (cheap protein); tax receipts so I can claim all those damned prescriptions; notes for both novels, the one that's completed and the work in progress.

Jewelry and cosmetics -- what if I stay a year or more? I can't keep wearing the same earrings! Sox and Spanx tights. Underwear. Jammies.

And the clothing -- oy vey! Winter boots, summer sandals and everything in between. (And no, I can't buy shoes when I get there. I'm very tall with long long feet. Nothing in Italy fits me -- other than the lifestyle.)

Work clothes, gym clothes, sitting-at-home-studying-Italian/watching-those -engrossing-Italian-TV-game-shows clothes. A raincoat, a wool winter coat.

I have lists, and lists of lists that I should make.

I think I need a Sherpa. Then, a scotch.

Friday 16 September 2011

If my mother asks, I'm just in Rome on an extended visit!

Each week, my elderly mother double-checks: I'm not <strong>moving </strong>to Rome, right? I'm merely taking an extended visit, correct?

I reassure her with partial truths. I have rented a studio apartment in Rome for three months, beginning in December. True. I've also told her that I hope to find some work to pay the bills, but my focus will be studying Italian and working on my second novel. Also true. Sort of.

What I don't mention is that I'm preparing to stay in Italy many, many months. Say, 60 months. Or maybe 100 months if all goes well.

It's also true that I've gotten some leads on work in Rome that might allow me to stay much longer. But why trouble her with these details now, in case things don't go well and I come scurrying back to Canada next spring, broke and downcast.

Whatever. I'll jump off that bridge when I get to it.

Meanwhile, I'm practising using Skype so I can call Mom frequently from Rome (whether I can catch her in her room at the senior's home in rural Alberta is another question. She loves it there and is in a social whirl the likes of which I have never seen!)

Skyping to Mom's phone will, hopefully, be less expensive than calling from my Italian cellphone. Just one of the few ways I can find to save money in Rome.

For it’s becoming clear that My Life as an Italian is going to be rather expensive. So it has become all the more important that I find some decent work there. At least things are finally looking up on that front!
I've applied for some writers grants to help with my fiction writing.

It seems there will be some solid opportunities for me to work as a freelance reporter in Rome, which would be a great way to meet more Italians, oil up my rusty reporting skills, and practise my beginner Italian language abilities. God help us all.

Meanwhile, my speechwriting contacts are hinting that I should be able to continue to do “remote” work for them. Remote at this point means my apartment, instead of their offices; but thanks to the Internet, remote should also translate into me writing speeches from Rome. So that's helpful.

And there are a number of UN agencies in Rome that I'm hoping will need the communications skills of a reporter/speechwriter/comms strategist right there on the ground. My new business cards should read “Will write 4 food.”

But for now, the money is pouring out as I pay for business cards; hire movers; and arrange for my belongings to be put into storage next month. And buy a winter coat and new shoes (since I'm too tall to fit Italian sizes so can't buy them there.)

I've switched to a bank account that charges a higher monthly fee, but offers free ATM transactions, saving me the usual $5 charge every time I use a foreign bank machine. I crunched the numbers and the more expensive account actually does mean savings -- or, to be more precise, lower overall expenses.

Soon, I'll have to get a six month supply of prescriptions which is going to cost a small fortune.

And -- a top priority -- my hair stylist will give me the formula for my highlights, to take to Rome so my coiffure can be maintained (though I'm certain that the Aveda salon in Rome is going to be pricey.)

On that last point, PLEASE don't tell my Mom -- the money I spend on my hair, more than anything else, would scandalize her!