Many of you who have lived overseas could readily relate to my prior post - It is a PAIN to live in Europe! Trust me... However, I did get some rebuttals and a few friends questioning our decision to live in Italy and asking, "If it is such a pain, then why stay?" I am not going to gloss over the PAINs that we have experienced, but as I reiterated, much of it has been self-imposed.
I've learned that I should not set expectations but rather look to experience local culture. That simple adjustment makes a world of difference in terms of reducing frustrations (not necessarily eliminating them) . More importantly, when I find myself concentrating on the cultural experience, then I can better appreciate what this local culture values (versus what I am looking for). Additionally, it provides fabulous introspective opportunities to gauge the lessons learned.
Here's my Top Ten reason why IT IS worth living in Italy:
1. Pace/Rhythm. Italy is a Mediterranean country and naturally the pace of life is more laid back. For someone who consistently worked 50+ hours per week, putting the brakes on and adjusting to a slower pace of life was a welcome relief. More importantly, the Italian pace of walking, conversing and appreciating things made me more cognizant of the different rhythms of days, weeks and seasons. All of sudden, I was paying more attention to the light at different times of the day, the best weeks of November when new olive oil is harvested, and enjoying the subtle changes at vendors and streets for different holidays and events. In Italy the pace is imposed. It is not a personal choice, but rather a cultural shift - you must slow down. And, I've come to realize that is a good thing; life is not going anywhere. Non c'e fretta.
2. Artisan Food/Wine. Americans are consumed with quantities of calories, fats, carbohydrates, sugars, blah, blah, blah! We eat food that is shipped to us from all over the world, without any appreciation of seasonality (bananas in February?). The Italians are at the opposite end of the spectrum. Italians are consumed with the quality of good food and wine, which means local, artisanal foods and wines made by certain families for generations and only available in-season (when flavor is at its peak). Ironically, artisanal food and wine is local and organic - thereby more sustainable, supporting local producers, and reducing environmental impacts of shipping. And, it simply tastes extraordinary! Tomatoes ripened on the vine under the Tuscan sun, olives bursting until the point they are harvested in late Fall, and Chianti wines uncorked when they are 'ready' (NO preservatives either!). Seasonal variety necessitates natural diversity in our eating habits, while also inspiring and challenging the cook as well! (Note, I got lucky here - Janelle is a fantastic chef!)
3. People/Vitality. Being 2nd generation Italian, I am biased: the Italians live thier lives with vitality (I think this is true across Europe generally). Attend just one professional soccer match, calcio, anywhere in Europe (or at a pub) and you will see just how passionate and emotional Europeans can be about kicking a ball. Ask any Florentine their opinion about which Italian city makes the best Cinghiale Ragu and you will get multiple opinions. Our hometown, Seattle, is always politically correct (rule #1: do not offend anyone); Italy is at the opposite end of the spectrum (rule #1: express yourself).
4. Art/Design. Florence is known as the birthplace of the Renaissance. Many of the great painters, sculptors, architects, poets, philosophers, mathematicians and political thinkers are from Florence and its surrounding communities. A few you may have heard of: Michelangelo, Dante, Da Vinci, Galileo, Fibonacci, the Medici, Petrarch, Machiavelli, Lippi, Brunelleschi, and countless others. Italy's influence in terms of art and design are far-reaching. However, beyond the obvious and priceless works, Italian artistry and design permeates throughout their daily lives in ordinary places: a basket display of vegetables, a collection of scarves, a stone pattern for a walkway, a wrought iron gate, a sculpted garden, and, of course, beautiful florentine paper. All are simple, elegant designs that are timeless works of art in their own rite. It is a pleasure to soak it up on a daily basis.
5. History/Timelessness. Intrinsic to European culture is a sense of history. As an American who was born and raised on the West Coast, our concept of "old" is entirely different than the Italians. In Italy, most buildings are centuries old and foundations in historic centers date back several millenia (e.g. 400 BC for several Etruscan hill towns). The timelessness of the Italian cityscape is evidenced in the ammalgamation of buildings, twisting streets, archways, windows and stairways. It is a constant reminder that many, many, many generations were living here before you. Life is always moving ahead and the sun will rise tomorrow (despite your problems, real or perceived). As a result, this historical context naturally inspires a degree of introspection (at least it does for me!).
6. Prayer/Peace. In the US prayer is something deliberate and personal, which I, admittedly, must remind myself to do regularly. In Italy prayer is a part of the daily routine, integrated into the fabric of the society when walking to work or during the evening passegiata. Chapels, statues, crosses and other religious symbols are everywhere. For some, it is numbing (I am sure). For others, myself included, it is a constant reminder of thankfulness. On our routine morning walk, Janelle and I stop by a chapel on the Arno each day - a brief opportunity to give thanks for our blessings. However, what often moves me in that little chapel is the continuous stream of individuals who stop on their walk to work to pray and light a candle (perhaps for a sick relative, a lost job, or a thanksgiving for an answered prayer). Regardless of your personal religious views, an opportunity to be quiet and peaceful on a daily basis is healthy.
7. Natural Beauty. Coming from Seattle, we were already spoiled to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Seattle has a crisp, raw and rugged beauty that reminds you that nature is powerful. Italy offers a completely different sort of natural beauty. Italy has a more serene, tranquil and alluring beauty that breathes of romance and history (certainly an aphrodisiac!). The rolling hills, cyprus trees, vineyards, and olive groves bathed in Tuscany's golden sunlight are simply indescribable.
8. Culture Mashing. Europe is proximate to many diverse cultures: the world is literally at your doorstep. People from Northern Europe, Eastern Europe, Russia, Northern Africa, the Middle East and Asia all flock to Italy. In fact, we could fly to many of those destinations in 2 hours or less! While Seattle is a small cosmopolitan attracting a variety of visitors; it is a stark contrast to Europe. During our travels, we have enjoyed listening to the diversity of languages, including those who can readily speak 3 or 4 languages (the Dutch!). It reminds us that English, while pervasive, is not the only language on our planet. Investing in another language and culture is an exercise of learning and respect. I am so pleased that my entire family is learning such a useful language - Italiano!
9. Festivities. Europe does seem to have a constant succession of holidays throughout the entire year. In addition to religious traditions (All Souls, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter), there are a multitude of festivals to celebrate the seasonality of different foods (wine grapes, olives, truffles, chocolate) and historic events (past battles among city-states, unification of the country). Because our apartment is literally down the street from Piazza Santa Croce, we have been near the pulse of all Italian festivities in Florence. The Italians do live with vitality and they do know how to celebrate (until 2:00am+). This ongoing calendar events is enticing to any outsider who wants to experience Italian culture. In addition, many festivals are educational and further connect you with the local community (churches, farmers, artists and history). I love it!
10. Carpe Diem. Perhaps the most gratifying aspect of living in Italy is the sense of seizing the moment and enjoying life to its fullest. Our lives are short! While it is important to educate, invest and plan ahead; Italy has reminded us that it is wise to slow down and taste, smell, observe, laugh and enjoy.
Janelle and I recognize how fortunate we have been to live in Europe. Granted, it did take a lot of planning and required many sacrifices to facilitate the opportunity (selling our home, cars, etc.), but we have NO regrets.
Living in Europe has been WORTH the effort: it has been a life-changing experience for our entire family, it will forever shape our sons' perspectives of the world, and better inform all of our decisions as we move forward with our lives. I am 100% confident that neither Janelle or myself will ever miss a nickel when we are elderly and look back with affection on our European experience together. You only live once. Carpe diem!