Friday, November 4, 2011


We left Italy in July and it has taken me this long to write a farewell blog. It seemed impossible to sum up two amazing years in a few words…

We appreciated the opportunity of life abroad while we were there. We truly did. However, looking back, the life we lived was absolutely positively unbelievably amazing. We lived in a 500 year old Italian palazzo (palace) that was broken up into a few apartments after the war. It was still owned by the same family that bought it 300 years ago (and who still lives in one half of the building) so the integrity of the building was preserved. The rooms were the same as they were 500 years ago, with the only new rooms being the bathrooms. We slept under a 300 year old fresco, we walked on gorgeous original herringbone wood floors, our children played in a private Italian garden that was so beautiful it was visited by elite international garden tours. The house was full of history… even the strange door I hated for 2 years because it looked like a wall, turned out to be that way because it was the door the servants once used to enter a room unnoticed. I realize now, this is a part of Italy most tourists will never see and yet we actually lived there.

We traveled to countless cities in many, many countries and were not rushed in our travels. We were able to truly experience the culture in each place, sipping wine at sidewalk cafés with the locals, not rushing from one tourist attraction to the next.

We were forced to assimilate to the culture of our city where very few people spoke English, and everything was different. From the times people ate (dinner at 8, lunch never before 12:30), to buying the basic things we needed to survive. I will never forget our first trip to the big grocery store. Everything was so different, we were there over two hours and came home with little more than wine. We didn’t know how to buy whole milk for our one year old and 2% for us. Even the dish soap was baffling. Yet, at the end of our two years, we could successfully make it though cocktail parties in Italian (Not a dinner party, but we could small talk through aperitivo.) We were on a first name basis with the neighborhood grocer, the pizzeria, the guy who owned the bicycle shop, and the sidewalk café. Oh how I miss morning cappuccino and evening aperitivo at the Jolly bar (our sidewalk café).

We learned to live an urban lifestyle and thrived in it. We lived on a busy street but I loved waking up in the morning to the buzz of the city and the parking lot guy across the street yelling in Italian. I loved walking or biking everywhere. Of course the few times I did drive were precarious, and along with the buzz of the city, we were often woken up at 2 a.m. with drunk Italians singing outside our window. Even so, I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. When we walked out our front door, we were within a 7 minute walk of prestigious museums, a medieval castle, and countless beautiful shops.

More than anything we learned a better way to live. Italians really do know how to live. People are just simply happy and life just flows. We spent our days in “un bellissimo sprecco di tempo” (a wonderful waste of time). We had three hour, multiple course lunches, and when my husband came home from work, we had aperitivo in our 500 year old garden while the children played. We spent weekend mornings sipping cappuccino at sidewalk caffes while beautiful women in stilettos bicycled past. If we found ourselves with nothing to do, we could hop on a train and be in Venice in just over an hour. Our life was extremely social, yet never stressfully busy. With only a handful of Americans in the city, we tended to overcompensate and were often out and about together. Our international friends were quick to invite us to dinner, drinks or even just coffee. From our Italian friend planning elaborate dinner parties for the Americans, to my neighbor sticking her head out second story window and inviting us up for a quick drink before lunch, to chatting with my dear friend for hours in the garden, these moments with friends were what we will never forget.

On that note, I must agree with E.M. Forster that in Italy “the people are more marvelous than the land”. We came back to the United States with dear friends from all over the world… (ex-pats tend to stick together and have so much in common.) From my sweet septuagenarian neighbor who taught me how to cook authentic Italian food, to my wonderfully graceful Italian teacher who taught me the ins and outs of the culture in addition to the language, to my close, close friends who met at the Jolly Bar for cappuccino in the morning and knew my personality even better than I know myself… all are dearly missed every day.

And now, we are into the next chapter of our lives. We are in Idaho (yes, Idaho) in the middle of the desert in a town of 12,000. We are settled into a house that we bought while still in Italy, sight unseen. It turned out to be just as we expected and with new floors, new paint, antique Italian chandeliers, and the treasures we brought back from Italy (my husband bought that black mirror for me!), we have made it our own.

My son asked the other day if we would live here forever. When I told him no, he said “Good. I like having adventures.” I think I can finally agree. I’m content to experience this part of the country for a while and even more excited to see where life takes us next.

Ciao ciao,

Monday, May 9, 2011

Right now I'm loving...

Pink pearls!

Perfect for spring... perfect for Mother's Day.  Ti piace?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mmmmm... Pizza!

Italain pizza...  Common toppings include tuna, vegetables, artichokes, arugula (not all together of course).  Salami Piccante is similar to the American pepperoni and Pepperoni translates to red bell peppers.  Confused?

If you want to blend in, eat with a fork and knife.  The only people who pick it up are Americans and kids under twelve. 

Buon Apetito!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Buon Compleano Italia!

Last month we celebrated the 150th anniversary of Italy being a united country.  Strange that it is so old and has only been united for 150 years, isn't it?  This day is not celebrated here every year like the Fourth of July in the States.  This was the first year it was recognized and in typical Italy fashion, the government declared it a national holiday just a few weeks before the actual day.

As far as I could tell, there were no organized events but perhaps I missed it.  Yet still everyone piled into the city center with flags and signs of patriotism everywhere. 

The best I saw was this gorgeous lady who was at least 60 years old.  She was dressed from head to toe in Italy's colors- red, green, and white- but she wasn't dressed like Americans dress for patriotism.  No oversized flag t-shirt for her.  No, she looked fabulous wearing a fitted red leather jacket, perfectly starched white button down, green pencil skirt, fishnet hose and four inch red stilettos.  Only in Italy.

Even the dogs were dressed for the occasion

Apartments, all flying flags

Flags out of every window in the castle

La Vita

"I wanted to wander through Europe to hear pop songs that could not by even the most charitable stretch of the imagination be a hit in any country but their own, encounter people whose lives would never again intersect with mine, be hopelessly unfamiliar with everything, from the workings of a phone box to the identity of a foodstuff. I wanted to be puzzled and charmed, to experience the endless, beguiling of a continent where you can board a train and an hour later be somewhere where the inhabitants speak a different language, eat different foods, work different hours, live lives that are at once so different and yet so oddly similiar..."

-Bill Bryson, Neither Here Nor There
My friend Cindy sent me her favorite quote from a book she read while living in France.  I could never find a better way to describe life abroad.  It's this crazy mix of experiencing something new every time I step out my front door, of having amazing, interesting international friends, and at the same time having to relearn simple tasks like buying soap for the dishwasher (not as simple as you would think).  Everything is different.  But it is a fabulous kind of different.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

il Trucco di Primavera

Spring make-up...  I am seeing a lot of colored eyeshadow in Italy this season.  The look is a bold sweep of color right on the browbone and it is actually pretty.  This is not a look just for evening.  I'm seeing it mostly during the day.  Would you ever be brave enough to try it?  I might but I'm not sure I have the time in the morning to be so artistic.

image credit

Friday, March 11, 2011

Fare la Spesa

This is not a glamorous post, but something I think is brilliant.  Locked shopping carts.  Here, all the shopping carts are locked in the parking lot (much like luggage carts in the airport).  To get a cart, you put in a euro and unlock the cart.  When you return the cart, you get your euro back.  I think it is the best idea because guess what, everyone wants their euro back so everyone returns their cart.  The stores don't have to hire anyone to gather the carts in the parking lot, and there are no loose carts blocking parking spaces or rolling into cars.  Also, if you only need a few things and choose not to get a cart, you can truly only buy a few things because the carts are all the way in the parking lot.  No impulse buys.

While we are talking about the glamorous task of grocery shopping, another Italian way I would love to see in the States is this:  you have to pay for all your grocery bags.  Amazingly, as soon as I am forced to pay 5 or 10 cents for every plasitc bag, all of a sudden I am a great environmentalist.  Now I bring my own bags, or when I forget my bags, I cram everything into just a few bags.  

However, I do really miss baggers.  Here you bag your own groceries which is way more stressful than it sounds.  I must bag my own groceries while trying to have a conversation in Italian and pay for the groceries at the same time, while the people in line behind me get more and more impatient.  I have often come home with produce crushed by the bottles of wine I threw on top of it or shampoo leaking into the pasta.  Perhaps I should have paid for an extra bag for that shampoo...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

La Bella Figura

La Bella Figura.  The literal translation is "the beautiful figure" but it really means always putting your best foot forward.  In the Italian culture, there is a huge emphasis on looking your best, but it is even more than that. It is really a way of life.  This is a great article that, in my opinion, perfectly describes "La Bella Figura"

I agree with the writer of the article that it is difficult to compete with the perfectly elegant Italians, BUT I think I have figured out part of the secret.  BLATANLY HONEST SALESPEOPLE.  I have found none of the fluff that you experience in the States.  Here, if it looks bad, they tell you.  A few examples...

I received a gorgeous caramel colored leather skirt for Christmas but had nothing to wear with it.  I took it to a shop and picked out a few ivory sweaters to try with it.  When the saleslady asked if I need help, I said in my caveman Italian "yes this was a gift and I need something to go with it.  I am trying ivory."  She amazing understood my Italian and smiled and firmly said, "NO.  BEIGE."  She put away the ivory sweaters pulled out the beige and she was right.  They looked 100% better with the color of the skirt.

At my favorite shoe store, the saleslady is so honest, I won't buy anything without asking her opinion first.  Often, her suggestions are even the lower priced shoes.  She even was bossy to my husband, but his shoes look great.

At the salon, I asked for a shorter cut for my three year old and they refused.  They said because he still has so little hair, it wouldn't look good.  At my salon in America, they would have done whatever I asked and cut it right off.

I could go on and on, but I truly think that part of the reason Italians look so great is that they have help.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Giorno Mio (My Day)

Sorry I've been missing for so long.  Things have been rather regular around here with nothing new to blog about.  After a year and a half here, Italy seems like just normal life.  (Although a great life!)

Here's a day in the life...

8:30:  take kids to school on the bike.  We are late because it is Monday and we couldn't get it together in time.  Luckily, this is Italy and there is no school bell that rings.  When we show up (10 minutes after school starts) I realize everyone else is late too.  Whew.

8:45:  cappuccino and brioshe at my favorite bar (cafe).

9:30: walking and browsing Monday market (outdoor market with vendors selling everything from underwear to fresh vegetables to vintage furs... seriously.)  I bought 2 huge ceramic vases (perhaps for umbrellas) and a huge ceramic pedestal bowl.  Then I realized I couldn't get home with them.  Left them at the vendor and decided to try to bring the car back.

11:00: stop by my favorite antique dealer's store on the way home.  We get a sneak peek at his new location.  He just locks up his store and we walk down the street to check out his new store.  We say something about how his house must be beautiful with all these antiques.  He tells us that in his house he has only art deco furnishings.  Everyone in Italy (even antique restorers) love the modern things.  I can't imagine it, but I guess they are tired of all the old.

11:30:  I squeeze the car out of the parking lot and head back to the market.  We can't get anywhere near my vases.  Cars are prohibited because of the market and polizia are blocking the street.  We end up pleading (and smiling a lot) with one of the police and he lets us through.  I have learned that in Italy, everything is negotiable.  We park kind of close but still have to walk a several blocks carrying these really, really heavy ceramics.  No wonder they were a good deal.

12:30  Back at home to catch up on the mundane things of life.  This afternoon is a meeting in school, mostly in Italian.  It should be great practice for my Italian, but honestly, after 20 minutes of listening I get a headache.  I don't know how my children do it all day long.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Le Mura

The walls of Ferrara. . .

Our city is literally a walled city. The walls are hundreds of years old and circle the entire city (9 km). At one time they were an impressive defense system and were even studied by Michealangelo. Today, not only are they still standing, they are wide and lined with trees and are the perfect place to bike or walk. Really, one of the only places our kids can ride bikes in the city is on top of a 12 meter, 700 year old wall. Crazy.

Inside the walls (where we live), the city is very urban and outstide the walls almost immediately begins the countryside. So from the top, you can look down one side and see the hustle and bustle of the city and from the other, the peaceful country. Bello.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

La Nebbia

The Ferrara fog. It covers the city almost every morning in winter. Before I experienced it myself, I met a girl from England who now lives here and told me about it. Of course I thought, "how depressing" but she said in her lovely British accent "no, it is really quite mystical". She's right... it is eerie and mysterious to see all these centuries old buildings bathed in fog. Mystical is the perfect word to describe it.

So I've tried to remember that and as my hair is limp and plastered to my forehead from the fog, I repeat to myself... "it is mystical, it is mystical, it is mystical". When visibility is really low, the children and I play "guess what that is" while walking to school. Someone points out something and we try to guess what it is. One time we guessed sign and it was actually a dog.

These tricks work pretty well until mid-January.  By then, I am desperate for the sun.  Last year during the fog, I ordered a bunch of spring clothes in bright yellow.  Of course I never wore them.  I don't wear bright yellow but in the midst of the fog, I seemed to forget that.  This year, on day 16 of no sun we booked a trip to the Canary Islands (Spanish islands off the coast to Africa) to go lay in the sun for a few days.  Luckily, this week, the sun has appeared.  Who knows what we would have done next.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Vado a Bicicletta

It is becoming increasing difficult to think of things to blog about because life in Italy is becoming increasingly normal to me.  Don't get me wrong, it is wonderful, but I'm just not noticing the things that are different anymore.  For example, I didn't think anything was strange or different about the way I get around now.  I'm simply doing as everyone else does... but when my family was in town, they were a bit surprised.

Driving in this city is less than ideal and parking is even worse. Within a few months of living here, I already "bend the BMW" as the Italians say. So last year I walked everywhere because I had a two year old in a stroller. (If you have ever tried to shop with a two year old on the loose, you understand why I needed that stroller.)   Even when my two year old needed stitches, we walked to the emergency room.  It is a few blocks from my house and there is no parking at the hospital. 

This year, however, I have joined all the other Ferrese and I go by bike.

Ferrara is the city of bicycles. The number of people biking here is among the highest in Europe. I'm not talking about Sunday afternoon leisurely bike rides. No, this is a way to get from A to B. It is common to see 80 year old women loaded down with shopping bags, whizzing past you on a bike. I often see people smoking a cigarette and talking on the phone pedaling down the street. People eat gelato while riding, teenage boys ride with their girlfriend on the bar in front and kiss while they ride down the street, people ride with their dogs in the basket. I've even seen a waiter in an apron biking while balancing a tray of espresso. This all used to amuse me, but after living here so long, it all seems quite normal.

Outside of the train station:

When I take the kids to school...

Saturday morning in centro...

On the way to dinner with my husband...

Sempre a bicicletta.  (Always by bike).  It is actually faster than driving but I'll be honest, the biggest advantage is that I can wear heels again. 

Friday, January 7, 2011

Sono Qui

I can't believe it has been almost a month since my last post.  It has been a wonderful, but very busy month.  December is absolutely lovely in this city and I spent most of the last month just enjoying it instead of writing about it.  The city is busy and bustling with everyone out bundled in their furs doing their Christmas shopping.  Seriously, it is like living the Christmas song "Silver Bells".  Right down to the bells in the bell towers ringing while strolling the outdoor Christmas market.

We've had family in town and enjoyed cooking big meals and talking over wine, shopping, a trip to Venice, a trip to Verona, a night out with an eight course dinner... I've been to Sorrento, the Almafi Coast, Naples, and Pompei.  So much to write about but first I must catch up on the mundane things I've been ignoring.  Like two weeks worth of laundry to plow through one 2 hour load at a time.  Stay tuned.  I might be finished by February :)