Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Una Tartaruga (A turtle)

“Even a turtle doesn’t get anywhere unless he sticks his neck out”

About a year ago we received the news that we would indeed be returning to the States in July.  Though this was expected, it wasn’t an easy pill to swallow.  We weren't just on vacation, we had a life in Italy.  And a wonderful life at that.  We had learned a better way to live and were so so happy.  It seemed unimaginable at that point to return to the rush of America, to trudge through Walmart, to trade typical long four course meals for restaurants trying to turn tables, to trade outdoor markets for the strip malls of suburbia.  I was worried we would lose it all and go back to the way things were.  So together with my husband, I thought of a plan.  A way to bring  some of the life back with us.  A way to remember the slow pace, the gathering of friends… a way to remember how to spend days in “a wonderful waste of time”. 

In March 2011, I started building company to bring the best of Europe to America.  The goal was a perfectly curated shop of European gifts and home décor with a focus on quality, authentic merchandise.  I spent a year learning the ins and outs of import/ export regulations (not fun), months building relationships with my favorite Italian vendors (more fun), and each day gathering lists and lists of those quintessential items that bring to mind life in Europe (this is where I thrive). 

We found ourselves in places we never thought we would be and establishing relationships with people we would have never met otherwise.  The meetings with the owners of the hand loomed cashmere company were always incredible.  This beautiful couple from Milan and were the most stylish people I have ever met.  He wore super tight blue velvet suits that looked incredible and she was never seen without five inch heels.  In the true Italian way, we always had coffee before talking business.   The drives to Bologna to find the Fed Ex that would ship to the United States were less fun and communicating in Italian about duties for the exports was harrowing but still memorable.  I’ll never forget the day the scarves were photographed.  It was June and at least 90 degrees and we had mannequins dressed in sweaters and scarves on the side of a country Italian road.   People stopped their cars and turned around to ask what was happening.

I must tell you, in so many ways the plan has worked.  Of course we have moved on and are embracing life here.  We don’t live in the past.  However, at the same time I have a DAILY reminder of the life we had and I absolutely love having a way to share it.  Writing the product descriptions is enjoyable as it brings to mind so many memories.  There is a story or a reason behind every item on the website.  I also adore staying in contact with my vendors in Italy (and having a reason to keep up my Italian), from the amazing photographer whose gorgeous photos fill the website to my source for Italian leather bags.

I named the company Via Montebello which was the street we lived on in Ferrara, Italy.  The logo is inspired by the street sign.  The online shop is filled with all things beautiful from Europe.  In fact all of the merchandise has lived the European scene for a portion of its life.  We do not sell reproductions.  From the softest hand loomed cashmere to hand painted ceramics, all items are in limited quantities.  Some are the only one of its kind.

With the founding of Via Montebello, I am definitely sticking my neck out there, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?  So far it is working out to be un bello venture.

Check it out if you wish… www.viamontebello.com

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 elle.com