We are back with yet another interview, this time by my friend Alexandra Korey. She is Canadian, an all-round communicator and an art historian. What’s her favorite drink, it may surprise you in being nature’s glory – water. I met her while working at The Florentine and we often see each other at various Yelp Firenze events.
Truth be told, If I ever need some real advice, she is the one of the first people I run to :-). She works in marketing and communications and whenever possible combines this with her old love of art history. Recently she has published a Kindle ebook (Uffizi Art History Guide) to help people get through the Uffizi Gallery without getting exhausted, for example, part of her quest to make art accessible to everyone!
Without further ado, Let’s get to know her a little better.
How long have you lived in Florence and where are you from originally?
I’m from Toronto Canada and I came to Florence to study in 1999. I was back and forth for a few years but in 2003 I moved her permanently (or at least, I think so!).
What brought you to bella Firenze and why did you decide to stay?
What brought me here was the art. I was studying art history so this was a logical place for study abroad, and later, for researching my doctoral thesis. I stayed for my husband, let’s be truthful. Otherwise I would have been one of those people who love Italy and visit it often, but live most of the year in small town Ohio or something.
You know what, there is nothing wrong with going somewhere for the one you love, thanks for being honest! What are you up to in Florence? Work, daily life, passions?
I work in communications for a fun company called Flod where I’m a project manager, specializing whenever possible in digital strategy and marketing for the arts. We also produce The Florentine newspaper in English. I guess I am pretty boring – most days it’s just work and home, and if I am lucky I go to the gym to do advanced choreographic step classes with which I am a bit obsessed (I wrote about that on my blog, actually!).
Weekends, however, we often spend in the Maremma area of Tuscany, which I guess is my real passion. After so many years, I am still struck by its beauty. I think I photograph the sunrise and sunset a few times a month… With my husband Tommaso, we enjoy exploring obscure archaeological sites, ruined castles, small towns and hiking paths in the area.
What annoys you about Florence? Tell me the truth!
Oh, let me count the ways! As you know, my daily struggle is with ATAF (the public bus service). If it weren’t for their terrible service, I might be a happier person. I try not to let it get me down though .
On a larger level though, I find inertia frustrating, and unfortunately it is one of the characteristics of a large percentage of Italians – not the ones you and I know, but the ones I meet at the bus stop… If we want Italy to get out of this slump we need to take action ourselves, and there is still a fair-weather sensation in this country that someone, the government, will take care of everything for you. I know that’s not a Florence thing but a larger problem, however on a local level it means that, for a lot of people, “nothing happens.”
What’s absurd is that you and I know there’s so much going on in Florence, because we hang around what probably is just a small slice of the population that is active in the start-up and business networking and new social scene, so you and I see progress, where most of the old people in my area just complain. Does that make sense? Hey, I’ll send you a photo of some old people. They are probably bitching about something in this photo.
Those ladies do look like they have something to say… Do you think life in Italy is for everyone? Why does it work for you?
No. Most recent arrivals are struck with the “oh it is so beautiful” syndrome, and sometimes it takes a year or two to wear off. It IS so beautiful on the surface, but it has its daily and larger challenges and I think you have to have a certain attitude to embrace it and decide to live with it. One thing I think most people don’t realize is how very low the salaries are here, compared to the rest of Europe even, and certainly compared to the States. It’s impossible to save money when you see how rent comes close to being the same number as net salary.
Why does it work for me? I chose to live where my husband’s family lives. My family is small and comes to visit often. One thing I love about Italy and Florence in particular is how easy it is to get around, both around the city (especially if you drive a Vespa!) and around the whole country. We’re a lot closer to other towns and beautiful natural landscapes here than I was in Toronto, where I think it’s rare to get away as often as we do here. I am from a country in which the next major city is 8 hours’ drive away. Here, I can visit say, Siena in an hour, and pass by about a dozen worthy towns on the way. 8 hours and I’m at the bottom of the boot, on the coast of Puglia! The population density is killer but the traveler in me loves it.
What advice would you give a person who has just arrived?
Turn right around, if you can.
Failing that, embrace it. Explore, actively attempt to meet people, learn Italian… all the usual stuff. Try not to complain about things you miss about home that are no good here. I have my issues with Italy, but when I go (rarely) back to Canada I find myself explaining it to my husband as “they” and saying ten times a day how everything is better in Italy. I guess I have embraced it.
Three finds/places everyone should know about in Florence?
Weeellll… let me play with your question a bit. If you’re an incoming expat, three places you SHOULD know about are: the questura, the central post office, and that horrible place on via santa caterina where you get your codice fiscale!! Armed with an intimate knowledge of these and a few of the city’s offices (like the one to get residency and the one to get your ID card), you’re set for a life of bureaucracy.
HAHA, well you know what, that is what people probably should know first, Brava Alex! What’s the weirdest thing you have seen/experienced in Italy?
SORRY I HAVE NO IDEA
Well then you my friend, are lucky ;-). I see/experience ‘odd’ things daily here. What can you do here and nowhere else?
- Eat totally salty, oily schiacciata, or, in contrast, totally unsalted bread. But rarely anything in between.
- Walk to work passing by numerous buildings from the 13th and 14th centuries.
- Speak Italian with additional H’s thrown in.
- Lots of things!
How did you make friends and assimilate?
When I was here alone as a student, I didn’t make friends beyond my masters’ student group. I met my husband after I graduated, while I was taking German classes. Sad to say, but at least at first, he introduced me to his friends. Later, I made some of my own. Nowadays would be different – I am more outgoing than I was before! Both you and I have recently written articles about how to make friends in Florence, and my advice tended to regard some of the more structured activities and communities like Yelp (which Michaela Simoncini also cited in her interview), ToscanaIN, Girl Geek Dinners and the like. I also have met a few like-minded people through blogging and Twitter. I first spotted you on the insiders abroad forum around 2009, right?!
You certainly did! I also agree that Yelp, Girl Geek etc. are great ways to share ideas and meet like-minded friends. Favorite food? (I had to ask).
I am a woman of simple tastes. I like flavours to be clear and food to be fresh. I like food that is in season. Right now, it’s zucca (pumpkin) time so I am excited about eating zucca risotto which is so warm and creamy, as well as crisp new apples. In the summer I go crazy for peaches, which may actually be my favourite food in the world. The food I most enjoy is whatever I can buy from the farms around our home in Maremma, where you can find cheap, seasonal ingredients.
Thanks Alexandra for answering my questions and submitting these wonderful photos. I am craving pumpkin soup as the weather gets a little cooler and another visit with you!