I live in Italy!
This keeps dawning on me and after eighteen months, I still have to pinch myself to believe it.
We arrived on 3 June 2015. Ever since then it’s been one intriguing thing after one perplexing thing after one hilarious thing and so it keeps going.
Okay, it’s been a wild ride; an almost surreal wild ride.
Towards the end of 2014 Sandra and I both worked for a television station in South Africa. The channel was heading for major changes, so we decided we were too.
Moving to Italy was a no–brainer, as they say. We have citizenship with passports to boot, thanks to my father-in-law never having relinquished his citizenship and Sandra’s foresight and determination to return to the land of her forebears. Our children are both qualified and out of South Africa, so we were good to go.
Another no-brainer: Bringing 2 X 40Kg dogs with us.
That will be the subject of its own post. Not an easy exercise, particularly for the dogs, but incredibly well worth it.
As this is my opening post on coming to Italy, I’ll dedicate it to some of the things I will talk about in the near future:
How Much of Italy do Tourists See?
The tourist and travel industry “post card perception” of Italy is, well…, limited.
It’s not even a 10th of the story.
Now that we’ve been here for all four seasons and are into our second winter, we know for sure tourists are sold into the worst part of the year for almost everything.
Summer in Italy is hot and dry. Granted, it’s stunningly beautiful, but in summer, it’s not at its best. There will be a post on when to come and why.
Italy does Ancient like no other country on earth. To me, it’s mind blowing to see the date “1653” etched above an archway that still looks good to go another thousand years; to see the giant blocks of stone used to build the most incredible structures.
The kicker: No power tools and often no lifting devices. And, after all that incredible work, you would think it was home time. But no, there always seemed to be time for a flourish: “Hey guys, we’re out of here, but wait. Let’s carve an angel out of this three ton piece of stone. For the top of the south tower, just to finish off?”
Detail, design and ingenuity are around every corner; on every ancient building. In some cases, rain and wind have conspired, reducing granite faces and artistic detail rendered in marble, to ghostly glimpses of what the ancient artists wrought.
Staircases also tell stories; so long in service, stepped on so many millions of times, their granite treads are worn to graceful curves in the centre.
The food. THE GELATO
It’s probably Italy’s greatest export. But there are things here that will surprise you, like food isn’t the deal outsiders think it is. It’s vital, sure, but it’s almost as if it arose from necessity and what was available, not from someone trying to make the ultimate taste sensation.
The Italian world doesn’t revolve around food. It’s a necessity, so the effusive Italian temperament makes it into a glorious necessity. Italians are culinary freestylists which is why food differs from region to region, town to town and home to home.
Every Italian cooks “the right way”; no two Italians cook the same dish in exactly the same way. Italians don’t often agree on exactly how to do anything. I have yet to witness a discussion (that’s another mistake foreigners make – Italians don’t argue, they discuss passionately) about how to boil an egg, but I have faith.
Did I mention gelato? That’s a killer. When planning to come to Italy, start a starvation diet immediately. You’re going to need the space on your waistline for all the glorious food, but particularly the gelato.
Look for the “Gelato Artigianale” sign, that’s the real deal.
Driving Licences in Italy
If you don’t have to, don’t. Particularly if, like me, you don’t speak Italian.
New residents can drive for one year with their home country licences and an International Driving Permit; even if the permit is valid for more than a year.
Having moved here permanently, this was particularly relevant to me, but I still managed to mess things up. I missed timed getting my Italian licence through not realising how long the process would take. It’s detailed and the Theory Test is particularly tricky, even for Italians. On top of that, it can only be taken in Italian, a language I have yet to conquer.
Buying and Running a Car in Italy
Again, if you can avoid it, don’t do it. It’s expensive, hellishly expensive.
On the bright side, cars in Italy have to pass roadworthy inspections every two years, so you’re unlikely to buy a lemon.
The prices aren’t too bad either, but you get savaged by insurance, fuel and tyre costs.
The Traffic Hierarchy
To the untrained eye, the traffic in Italy is chaotic. To the trained eye, it’s downright scary, but can be survived with the right nervous disposition. There are certain unwritten rules one finds out about. These make all the difference.
My favourite vehicle is the Ape (pronounced “ah-pay”, meaning “Bee”).
These three wheelers, powered by two-stroke engines ranging from 50cc to 175cc, are used for carrying anything and everything: live sheep, farm implements, towering loads of hay and the results of grape and olive harvests.
They first hit the road in 1948 and while every imaginable type of coachwork has been applied to them, they are still little more than motorised wheelbarrows with massive, indomitable hearts and loads of character. Although meant for agricultural toil, they are sought after by the younger generation, old enough for their first driver’s licence, but not old enough for a full driver’s.
As youth will be youth, you see many optimistically decorated and thoroughly overhauled Apes on the road.
They have full right of way on rural roads where they can often be found at the head of major traffic backups – they are not allowed to exceed 45 kilometres an hour.
The light in Italy is legend. Initially, I wasn’t quite convinced. Coming from South Africa, you couldn’t show me a sunset or a mountain that I hadn’t seen a better example of.
That attitude didn’t last long. The light here is something truly special.
Speaking to locals about it generates passion – most things do, but the light is a particular favourite.
Theory has it that the Tiber Valley, from Florence to Rome is prone to incredible light.
It has a crystal quality, particularly before and after high noon.
If you want to catch it on camera, you’d better trade your “point and shoot” pocket job for something more meaningful and then spend a lot on a really good photography course.
Now, here we get to the real deal: The people of Italy make it special.
They are special because they come from a cohesive society, one that has been here for three thousand years. In their security, they are immensely kind and generous.
As a stranger coming into Italy, tourist or permanent transplant, it’s wise to learn a few basic words of greeting and the details of what they consider to be good manners.
That’s enough for the initial salvo.
Stay tuned for details on how we are navigating living here, what we have found to be the best times of year to visit and why, what we think makes this amazing country tick – we are probably dead wrong on this, I’m sure, but after 18 months, we are finding patterns emerging.