August 19, 2017

A day in the life.




Like a growing number of Americans, my wife and I became interested in the possibility of retiring to Europe. We narrowed our search down to Italy and France, both of which have locations where one can live very comfortably on a modest income. We settled on Italy because we have some Italian friends, and through visiting them, we got to know Italy on a deeper level than you can get on tourist trips. We came to appreciate the traditions of family and culture.


For those who ask advice how to start a new life in Italy, I repeat one of the best pieces of advice I was given when we first got here. Engage in the normal flow of life in your city. Go to the bar and just sit and read, walk down the street everyday, shop in the local stores. I also suggest you find an expat group; you will need that support and help from those that came before you, but don’t fall prey to the temptation that some do and wrap yourself in an English speaking world. It is possible to live here with very little command of the language, but you will be missing out on so much. Take lessons; people will very much appreciate that you are making the effort. The pace of life here is often described as “piano, piano.” Or slowly, slowly.


What is a normal life living in Italy? In many ways, much like life was back in the States. Culturally, Italy has much in common with America. Abruzzo, is a more rural area, with mountains on one side and the Adriatic Sea on the other. It is a very green region and the scenery is stunning. Country roads twist and turn up to classic hill towns. Farms vineyards and olive groves utilize every bit of space, often seeming to be nearly vertical fields running up the hills. You can buy the local Montepulciano red wine and Trebbiano white wines direct from producers and olive oil is sold the same way.


One thing we noticed was that stores do not have the seemingly endless variety that people have in the States. Americans get used to having any kind of fruit or vegetable at any time of year. In Italy, things go by the rhythm of the seasons. Out of season items are very hard to find. The frozen food aisles are not the three or four aisle long sections in American grocery stores. On the other hand, the deli, cheese, bread, and pasta sections have amazing variety. Most larger stores also have large fresh fish sections.


Abruzzo food is often described as rustic and authentic. Lamb and fish feature prominently in addition to wonderful homemade pastas. The emphasis is on using ingredients that are fresh and in season. We often go to lunches with friends at small restaurants with wonderful fixed price menus of two courses, pitchers of house wine, refilled for no extra cost all for ten to fifteen euro per person. Lunches are typically a social affair; a pleasant couple of hours spent in conversation with friends over good food and wine.


Summer is festa time in Italy. Every town has a festa for the patron saint. Additionally there are festas to celebrate the harvest, to showcase local food specialties, and in between there are just festas because people like to party. The bigger towns have more elaborate celebrations, but even a country town will decorate the main street with lights, and the entire town will dance and party the night away to a band playing traditional Italian songs. Most of the festas are all in a month long span that ends with Ferragusto on the fifteenth of August. After this people start going home from vacation and life quiets down again.


Lastly, give yourself time to adjust. At first, everything is new and exciting, but eventually you will hit bumps. The bureaucracy can be difficult to navigate, especially if do not speak much Italian, but we found being polite and patient, along with having the courage to just dive right in and make mistakes carried us through. It is well worth the effort!

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