Thursday 30 May 2013

Living in Rome: 18 month anniversary

I am now marking my 18-month anniversary of living in Rome, yay! To veterans of living in a foreign land, the number probably sounds insignificant. But since I left Canada with a primarily goal of stretching my money to stay for just three months, reaching 18 is a milestone!

And although no one has asked this of me, I thought I would offer a bit of advice on what I've learned so far.

I have learned to fear and hate the Italian post office. I'm doing my Italian taxes now and it's mind-numbing. I can confirm that it's much cheaper to order coffee standing at the bar than it is being served at a table - but I never stand at the bar because I love sitting in cafes, savouring my cappuccino and drawing out the ritual for as long as possible.  I really enjoy shopping at the mercato and chatting with the (mostly elderly) ladies waiting their turn with the fruit and vegetable vendors.

No surprises there.But on the chance my experiences might be useful for someone else, here are a few other things I've learned.

1. Get Documents
Not everyone can do this, of course, but obtaining an EU passport was the best thing I did to prepare for this move. I thank my lucky stars that my father was born in Ireland which makes me a citizen of that country and therefore entitled to a European passport. Anyone considering a move to Europe would do well to scour the family tree to see if there are any links that would lead to an EU passport.

I'm not sure that I really understood when I got that passport (after much hassle, I might add) just how valuable it would be. It has opened many doors, from giving me access to employment and health care in Italy, to reducing the already overwhelming amount of bureaucracy involved in living here.

2. Make Contacts
The second most valuable step was connecting with people living here in Rome before I arrived. I reached out to people I didn't know, but who were in the same business (journalism). Through a chain of connections, I have become friends with someone at the Italian news agency who has been incredibly kind and helpful, particularly in linking me with work opportunities. It hasn't been easy but Anna Maria has opened doors for me, given me advice on navigating the hellish bureaucracy, introduced me to the right people.

Making contacts is vital before, during, and after a move. Emailing strangers isn't always easy - I know because I'm very shy - but there is an enormous pool of help and generosity out there.

3. Make Personal Connections
It is hard sometimes to practice a foreign language AND doubly hard to meet Italians when you don't speak the language. But a year ago, someone turned me on to a web group Conversation Exchange, which connects people who want to practice new languages with a native speaker also interested in practising new languages.

A bit like online dating, I met several people who weren't a good fit. However, I have also met some wonderful, generous people and made Italian friends (all of whom speak better English than my Italian.) It has given me lots of language practice, insights into life in Italy, and helped ease the inevitable loneliness of living in a foreign country.

4. Middle age is okay
Okay, this one will likely seem very odd, and obviously doesn't apply to everyone who wants to move to Italy (or anywhere else.) But changing one's life and leaping without a net isn't only for 20-somethings. Frankly, I'm not sure I could have made a move to a new country, a new language, a new life when I was much younger than I am now.

Partly, that's because I was SO ambitious for so long.  Everything I did from about age 15 to 50 was in the cause of moving ahead in my career. I still have plenty of personal ambitions, but I think that only now am I able to think about those.

Now, my goals have changed, broadened and softened and this has made room for a wider life.

5. Use Courage
I really don't see myself as a courageous person, possibly because I know how hard it is to force myself to do difficult things. But, I have learned not to fear fear. It is always going to be there, but it doesn't mean you have to let fear run your life or contain it to something smaller than you want.

Courage is like a muscle; the more you make yourself exercise it, the more habitual it becomes to use it. Whether it's learning a new skill (and looking foolish in the process) or going to the movies alone or moving to a new job, a new city, a new life - the only way to do it is to accept the fear and then push through it.

6. Accept Loneliness
Just as it's important not to fear being afraid, I think it's really important to not fear loneliness. It is going to happen sometime, somewhere to everyone so you might as well accept it, let it happen, learn to cope. Trust yourself,  and believe that you will be okay. Loneliness will come and go, it won't last forever.

Thursday 23 May 2013


A luminous exhibition of paintings by Italian artist Titian has been showing here in Rome, at the delightful Scuderie del Quirinale, the former stables of the Italian presidential palace, turned exhibition space.

The paintings range from my favourite, Flora (seen above) which now lives in Florence's Uffizi Gallery, to his late altarpiece, “The Martyrdom of St Lawrence” which has been wonderfully restored for the exhibition.

Born as Tiziano Vecelli or Tiziano Vecellio in about 1490, Titian - as he is known in English - lived for about 86 years and became known as one of the most important members of the 16th-century Venetian school.

Unlike many artists, Titian won acclaim during his lifetime. Some sources say he was known by his contemporaries as "The Sun Amidst Small Stars" (a quote from Florentine writer Dante's Paradiso),

Art historians say that Titian was extremely versatile, equally adept with portraits, landscape backgrounds, and mythological and religious subjects. That versatility is on display at the Scuderie, with canvasses ranging from self portraits to altarpieces to landscapes to rather scary depictions of mythological themes.

The exhibition has been arranged in chronological order and it was interesting to see the changes as his style developed and expanded throughout his lifetime.

Titian died of a plague that raged through Venice, where he lived almost his entire life and the city most associated with his work. It is said that he is the only plague victim who was ever allowed a church funeral. (I'm sure that my friend Annie, who knows Venice extremely well, could pinpoint his burial site.)

Experts say that his painting methods, particularly in the application and use of color, would exercise a profound influence not only on painters of the Italian Renaissance, but on future generations of Western art.

Saturday 11 May 2013

Letizia's beautiful holiday apartment

My dear friend Letizia has a beautiful B&B, a true oasis in the mountains above Assisi that gives the visitor the perfect break from the sometimes-frantic pace of travel.

And now, she has added a really lovely holiday apartment attached to the B&B where she and her family live! I recently had a tour of the new spot and it looks perfect: two bedrooms, two bathrooms, an excellent kitchen that is fully equipped (naturally, as an expert cook, Letizia would pay close attention to the kitchen) to say nothing of all of her beautiful views across the valley to Assisi.

The furniture was selected with care and an eye to authenticity, as were the cool tile floors, linens and of course, new firm beds. The perfect escape.

In this blog post two years ago, Letizia explained how she and her husband Ruurd struggled to establish their B&B, and cooking school; and their most recent expansion.

Congratulations, Letizia! I'm only sorry that my photos don't do this beautiful new holiday rental justice. (Except for the top photo of her herb garden, which was taken by Letizia herself!)

Here's a photo of a plate similar to the original found in the farmhouse purchased by Letizia and Ruurd and which inspired the name of their B&B Alla Madonna del Piatto.