Why Italy? And not one of the many other incredible places to call home in this world. All I know is my own reality and life in il bel paese has come with its fair share of hardships, sure, but has given me far more than I’ve probably provided in return. In honor of Thanksgiving, a holiday I have always loved despite its dubious birth, here is my own personal list of (just a few) reasons why I grateful for this country. It’s hard to put it all on words, like explaining why a certain comforting smell takes you to a certain universe, but I’m going to try. Over at ITALY Magazine, my work and really a sort of awesome family at this point, we did the same.
Today I plan on taking the bus to a little Tuscan town called Colle di Val d’Elsa, where together with a few friends we will be making Thanksgiving dinner together. A blend of Italians, Americans, French, Chinese whom all live in Italy. This truly embodies what for me is the spirit of this day of coming together from everywhere on this planet and…collectively getting a Turkey hangover (or maybe it’ll be from the amaro del capo).
1. Finally feeling like I have a home. Back in 2014, I wrote a post talking about the concept of “home” and what it mean to live abroad long term. I never felt like Texas was my end all, be all and similarly felt the same about Los Angeles where I moved during university. Something about Florence just clicked, it wasn’t it’s beauty or even the handsome men, but it felt like the place where I felt most like me. Flaws and all.
I still feel this way after 10 years. I feel like that has a lot to do with the fact that I wasn’t expecting it, heck I wanted to study and live in London instead, but that no matter if one day we live in another place for a few years, coming home will always mean Florence.
2. Surprise is an everyday reality. Florence is so small, in the historical center you could quite literally walk across the city in around 20 minutes. You would think that we would get bored here, considering the Florentines reputation for snobbery and its small stature. However I am constantly surprise and delighted at new “finds” on a weekly basis. It could be a new restaurant, a young passionate chef, a gallery, a shop I missed, new street art, a beautiful building. There is a wonderful contemporary side to this Renaissance city that people often miss. On streets like via maggio, you’ll see a juxtaposition of contemporary art galleries and antique shops, and it doesn’t stop there. Artisans are omnipresent, both in the traditional sense and the ones paving the way for this generation. I’m always inspired by the people I meet and their stories.
3. I met my husband here. And he’s not Italian. If anyone would have told me 10+ years ago that I would be married to a dashing French man and living in Florence, I would have probably laughed (sorry Nico). However for different reasons that brought me here, he was here too on his own path. Somehow fate and plenty of cointreau over ice brought us together, the thing is we were friends first. We both chose to live in Italy and made it our adoptive home which can sometimes feel like we’re alone on a complicated and confusing island, but mostly we appreciate what we have made… here, together. On Monday we will celebrate our first wedding anniversary and all I can say is wow, what a year. This man isn’t just my love, but also the best person I know. A respectful, compassionate, kind and generous soul who treats others as he would like to be treated. Something I learned as a child but hardly have seen as an adult.
My dog Ginger? Well she’s as Florentine as they get. Jaded with a sarcastic smile, her favorite hobbies are eating panini and burying under the covers, not necessarily in that order. Luckily she’s stopped eating our couches.
4. The art of being patient. There will be no screaming due to a mistake in my latte order at Starbucks (which yes I’ve actually seen in L.A.). If you’re not patient here, you’ll simply self combust and no one wants that to happen. A trip to the local questura for a visa renewal is a great first step in that journey or a trip to the commercialista (my accountant Tommaso is a gem!) could mean scrambling for something last minute or a huge bill from the government. I’m coincidentally both terrified and in complete awe of him and his work. Here life is often about overcoming roadblocks, which never seem to ever stop, but let’s be honest. That’s hardly unique to Italy itself. As a blogger, I try to be careful about not painting only the best parts of life in Italy, we owe it to our audience to mention the bad, the messy side too.
Another note, when we got married, there were plenty of hurdles that made my skin breakout in complete stress, but that’s part of the game. Of course Italians (especially in Florence) take the art of complaining to another level, in fact if there was nobel prize in this category, they would win, but it’s not really taken that seriously. Consider it a good venting session.
5. Being happier with less everything (except wine). Before Italy, I was a nervous wreck. I remember being so stressed over the minor details of life that my eyelids would twitch as a result. I was constantly comparing my situation to other people in Los Angeles: my education level, work position – future work position, car, money, it’s stupid but it’s true. I constantly felt like I wasn’t doing “enough,” and I wasn’t sure how to change that. Think of it as a sort of purgatory for people in their twenties.
Obviously that doesn’t make a very happy person and moving here, I’m grateful for the littlest things, soft toilet paper or Indian takeout on a rainy day. My dad sends me a box in the mail with tortillas, goodies from Trader Joes and copies of the New Yorker and Newsweek and its as if I won the lottery.
You could say life here, it’s a little different. My small two-bedroom apartment isn’t a huge loft, and I don’t own anything more expensive than my computer, but I’m absolutely ok with that. There is something very real and genuine about the phrase “less is more” in a place where the average salary is 1000€ or more. Italians are amazing savers, they have familial help sure but I’m so jealous at how easy it can see to save large amounts of money while never having a credit card and at the same time, a shitty salary. This might mean you go out rarely and nurse a “birra piccola” for three hours outside of a bar, but ok. Where is that mentioned in BBC Travel? ;-).
Shopping here is less about getting a Louis Vuitton purse on Ebay, it’s about (hopefully) getting to know the people who make your handbags. Which includes learning how to tell the difference between good leather and bad, which makes you value your things a heck of a lot more. I shop less sure, no new dress for every occasion, but now I’m a lot smarter now with what I actually buy.
Travel is pretty affordable here too, with less than 100€, I can fly or take the train to plenty of places and afford a decent lunch with wine. This is what I love most, it isn’t saving for a huge house with a garden (which is cool too) but experiencing new things with my husband or friends. It’s accessibility to a life I never I could have.
However with all the things I don’t own, the things I do are unmeasurable in their bounty. Access to an art heritage almost unrivaled elsewhere and not just in museums, it’s everywhere, in squares, under loggias, in the most surprising places possible.
6. Learning to truly enjoy food. I can admit that before Italy, I was a hot mess when it came to having a normal diet. My cooking skills were mediocre at best and I was much more interested in eating anything no-fat, no-sugar, thus no taste in the competitive and insecure hub of Los Angeles where diet issues thrive as much as meeting wannabe actors. Moving here and not able to find all of my fake diet food, I had to learn how to really cook, especially in season.
Also at this time, I didn’t live in the historical center so I didn’t have access to expat-havens like Vivi Market, so it was pretty much all Italian, everyday. It taught me that variety in local cuisine is vast, the myth that Italians just consume pasta is outdated at best.
All of the soups, the stews, the vegetables, using ingredients like fennel or artichoke would have induced a heart attack as I stood above the cutting board 10 years ago, now I simple slice away and revel in bitter vs. sweet. Cooking isn’t elitist or “clean” here, it is just what it is, striving to put the best possible in your body, overdoing it at times, cutting back later. Which is why talking about your digestion openly is pretty ok too ;-).
Travel outside of Tuscany and you find a beautiful bounty of items that make me salivate the second we hop on a flight or catch a train. Heading south you can enjoy the spicy ‘nduja on pizza, slice aged parmigiano in Emilia-Romagna paired with balsamic vinegar, or my favorite spicy Mostarda, made from fruit preserves and served best with a slice of sheep cheese. Depending on what region you’re in, discovering the local cuisine is part of the journey. You have to throw yourself into it if you want to appreciate it, you’ll be surprised at how much your palate actually grows.
7. Truffles! If anyone told me that I would get the chance to join a truffle hunt in the regions of Tuscany and Le Marche, and actually feel confident enough to choose one for my own meal in Italy. I would have gently reminded you of the days when I thought “cheese wiz” was a food group along with Goldfish crackers. Um, Thank you Italy for my health. Right now, the town of San Miniato is hosting their annual white truffle fair every weekend until the 4th/5th of December and it’s just a bus ride/train stop away. In Italy, it’s not just the fancy restaurants in NYC that shave truffles for their deep-pocketed guests, anyone can find a food festival or restaurant during this period in truffle-laden places for a mind-blowing meal.
8. My friends. Living abroad sounds wonderful, and fun, and special and according to instagram or blogs everyone should do so once in their lifetime. Truth be told, I never thought I would long term, but it worked out for me and I love it but I certainly am up front about the downsides of long term life elsewhere.
One such “issue” is the concept of constantly meeting people, getting attached and finding them leaving a few year’s later as Florence especially can be quite a transient place. At first it’s heartbreaking, after you spent so much time with these people, but eventually you get used to it. I’ve touched more on the expectations of expats here, but I feel like my friends are the ones that keep me sane in Italy and well anywhere. I even dedicated a series called “Locals I Love” to friends and inspirational people alike to celebrate their stories. Not knowing if someone is going to leave can also make you really appreciate them in the long run. We have whatsapp, FB, instagram, plenty of tools for keeping in touch.
Also when it comes to work and blogging, there is a very real community of like-minded and wonderful people in both the blogging/creative world who aren’t just looking for contacts, but whom actually care. We have dinners with one another not to instagram the shit out of our pizza (well, not always) but also just to share advice, stories and give support.
Female friendships are so utterly important (and male too).
Sometimes you just need a sounding board for your thoughts, or someone to shake you and give you a little real-talk. Someone to tell us when we have cavolo nero in our teeth or get a little giggly after the fourth glass of wine. We should be supportive and not competitive and that’s the people I’ve sought out during my decade abroad. We need to laugh, we need to cry, especially when you are having an “off” moment or feeling homesick abroad. I have met some of the amazing people in Italy, both Italian and foreign and I really feel like they’re my family.
Being here has also strengthened the friendships and relationships back home that actually matter. The ones where you slip back into a comfortable rhythm the second the plane touches the tarmac and you’re laughing it up over queso and tortilla chips in downtown San Antonio.
Thank you friends, grazie a voi, merci beaucoup!
And the most important part..
Is YOU! How could I forget? Thank you all for following this blog, being a part of the story and keeping me motivated and positive, always encouraging me to write and share or post on instagram. If you want to know the truth, I’m not always confident about what I write — I know I make mistakes and you will not see “grammar- queen” anywhere in my bio. However, thanks to the support of both my friends and you guys, cari blog readers, Girl in Florence, has a platform that I never thought possible. For that I am eternally grateful.
I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving… off to roast some sweet potatoes, use my last stash of pecans, and call it a day. Please share what you are grateful to Italy for, I’d love to hear it!