Thursday 26 July 2012

Life in Italy: my 8-month update

As I hunt for a new apartment here in Rome, I've been reflecting on how my first 8 months here have been. In sum: wonderful, but far more challenging than I had expected.

But first, to the apartment hunt.

I love the place I'm in now: Monti is a wonderful neighbourhood, my street is very quiet (for Rome); I can see the Colosseum from the end of my street, it's that historic.

But, it is also very expensive as I struggle to live on an Italian salary. I've discovered there is a serious mis-match between the cost of living in Rome, and the average salary. Just one of the country's many economic problems.

So, it's time to begin looking for a my third apartment in just 8 months in Rome.

Actually, I wasn't very confident when I arrived here last December that I would be able to financially last this long, so 8 months is something of a milestone for me.

I had no doubt when I left Canada that I could make it here in every other aspect. I knew I would be lonely, but that's something I've made peace with long ago.

I knew I would feel out of place and struggle with the language, but I also knew I could cope.

The one area where I knew I would struggle would be earning enough euros to survive in Italy.

Now that I have more and more work coming from the Italian news agency ANSA, I'm feeling a bit more secure. Not secure enough to ship all of my furniture from Canada and sell my beloved car - not yet, anyway. But secure enough to think I can make it until at least the one-year anniversary of my arrival here.

There are so many things I do not understand about the beautiful, and very complicated country.

But I feel I'm making progress!

I found a doctor, who is working out very well. And I've found a great hairdresser.

After more hassle than I expected, I obtained my codice fiscale, which is similar to a social security number. (You can get unofficial codice fiscale on line, but they're of no use for official purposes like opening a bank account, applying for work, and paying taxes.)

After much less hassle than I expected, I obtained my health card, the tessera sanitaria.

After little hassle but an enormous amount of paperwork, I opened a bank account with a tiny one-euro monthly service fee. I still haven't worked out how to really use this account, since it's mostly empty. But still.

I've been practising my Italian and even made some new Italian friends in Rome through Conversation Exchange, an online program that matches people by language skills. I have the English skills my new friends want; they help me with Italian.

Most importantly, I've obtained my official card to work as a journalist here, and with a lot of help I've found more and more contract work with the news agency. There's absolutely no job security, but it's a good start.

Daily life in Rome is more work than I realized. I'm constantly running errands, since there is no one-stop shop for everything, similar to the giant supermarkets in Canada. I can only find contact lens solution at the opticians. Vitamins from a drug store. Cleaning products from an alimentari.

The nearest grocery store doesn't have very good fruit and vegetables, so I go to the fruit and vegetable lady on Via Serpenti.

And since I carry my groceries home, I don't buy too much a time (and you can't anyway, since many items, including milk, don't contain many preservatives so they don't last long.)

I don't mean to complain; I'm just remarking on how different this life is.

But I think the biggest surprise for me is learning how much I can actually live without.

I don't miss my furniture and clothes and books and all the things now packed in storage. Of course, it has only been 8 months, so it's probably a bit early to say.

Still, I was always so certain that I needed my things around me; that they were essential. Maybe they're not.

I thought I couldn't live without screens on the windows. I hate bugs and it bothered me if there was even a hole in the screen back in my old apartment in Canada. Here, screens are rare and I've survived leaving the windows wide open.

I was certain I couldn't live without air-conditioning running all night. Turns out, I'm fine without it. It would be nice, but apparently, it's not essential.

I deeply miss my friends in Canada; they're certainly something that I cannot do without. But thanks to email and Skype, I can talk with them and stay in touch. Knowing that I have so much love and support behind me has been invaluable in this.

Allora. I'm off to look at a new apartment this afternoon with a friend of a friend who seems to be some kind of real estate broker. Gemma doesn't speak any English, so I'm not completely confident that I know where we're going, how many apartments she can show me in my price range. I'm not even entirely sure when we're meeting, or where.

This is my new normal -- and at least I know that it's bound to be interesting.

Sunday 15 July 2012

The Virgin and the Griffin

That's the title of my novel, which I am close to publishing as an e-book. The manuscript is now being formatted, the cover is ready, so once all the technical details are wrapped up, I'll be publishing.

My novel, which I began work on three years ago, is a piece of historical fiction, set in Perugia at the beginning of the 16th century. In many ways, it was inspired by a gorgeous textile that I bought several years ago from Marta Cucchia, a very talented weaver in Perugia who is trying to keep the Umbrian weaving tradition alive at her family's Giuditta Brozzetti laboratorio.

This is my first novel, so I suspect there will be mistakes and criticisms but I hope these will help me to improve my  writing in my next novel, now in the works.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself!

The Virgin and the Griffin tells of a young woman's struggle to find a measure of joy and beauty in a violent, fear-filled society in a Renaissance Italian city fractured by politics and war, yet a place where great beauty and love are still possible.

In 1504 Perugia, an ancient city in central Italy, is a place of great art, great violence – and a great many secrets. Isabella Bevilacqua, a young weaver in her family's small workshop, understands this very well. Her dreams of creating a work of great beauty must, like her burgeoning relationship with the enigmatic Father Michele Gialletti, remain carefully hidden from her family and from Perugia's powerful weavers' guild.

Keeping secrets is essential to survival in this city, where wealthy and jealous noble families clash viciously on the streets, in the piazzas – even within the Cathedral of San Lorenzo....

Much of the background to my novel is based on facts: Pope Julius, known so well for commissioning Michelangelo to paint the Sistine ceiling, did in fact march an army on Perugia to control the warring families. Great painters discussed in the novel, such as Raphael, really did live and work in Perugia.

And Perugia is, of course, a beautiful, mysterious, sometimes marble-hard city that fascinates.

I can't wait to publish my novel and bring my characters to life!