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Living Slow in Italy - Dreams Do Come True

Valerie Schneider

We are moving to Italy. I have repeated that statement countless times over the last few months as we have made the announcement to family, friends and acquaintances. No matter how many times I utter the phrase it never seems routine and never fails to make me feel a little giddy. We are moving to Italy.

Which just goes to show that dreams can come true. We started imagining what it would be like to live overseas several years and several (slow) trips ago. We decided, finally, after much thought and debating and waffling, to follow the old ad slogan and "just do it". Why? Why not! Life is short. Let's live it while we have breath and energy.

It just seemed like a good time. We decided that the fear of change was far outweighed by the fear of complacency. We didn't want to put off the living part of "making a living" until it seemed that we were - to quote Joe Dominguez in his book Your Money or Your Life - "making a dying" instead. "These hours are all you've got. There is nothing in your life that is more valuable than your time, the moments you have left. You cannot put too much awareness and intention into the way you invest those moments" So we've decided to take some of these precious moments of our lives and invest them in this dream.

Why Italy? We became enamored on our first trip. By the third visit, we returned home and quickly started to long for the piazzas where people gathered; evening strolls where the entire town turns out to flood the streets in a nightly parade of interaction; leisurely meals prepared with fresh, seasonal ingredients. A sense of community. The beautiful rhythms of life being carried on from time immemorial, still a part of daily Italian culture. So many aspects of our own culture began to seem so gaudy, new, shallow, homogenized ... fake. We decided we'd like to experience this historical and beautiful land while it still retains these cultural elements we so admire.

We love the solidly-built stone houses. Buildings that are centuries old being lived in and oozing charm. Heavy wooden shutters on the windows. Kitchens with fireplaces for roasting meats. Colorful weekly markets that roll into town with arrays of fresh produce and other goods. People who know how to enjoy the simple pleasures of life and place heavy emphasis on human relationships. Stunning and awe-inspiring art and architecture at nearly every turn. Picturesque vineyards and olive groves providing healthful harvests. Millennia of history to explore and study. A musical-sounding language to learn. Real cappuccino, not the overly-milky, $3.00 a cup insipid, burned-tasting stuff passed off as "cappuccino" here. These are among the reasons we want to move.

We're not retired. And we're not independently wealthy. Just a couple of average middle-class Americans who decided to cash in by selling our house and using a portion of the funds to spend a year (or more) in bella Italia.

This decision drew some interesting reactions. Most said, "good for you, be happy." Others seemed almost angry. One relation called to say we shouldn't rush into things or run away from responsibility, as if we'd just woke up one morning and said, "golly, let's move to Italy." He continued to offer helpful advice, saying we shouldn't waste our retirement fund on this endeavor. We're adventurous, not moronic! Our retirement accounts are safe. We set aside half the proceeds of our home sale for our eventual return to the U.S., which will provide us with ample funds to re-establish ourselves when the time comes. The rest of the money will allow us to spend at least a year abroad and cover all our necessities. Because we can live frugally, we are confident we'll realistically have enough for two years' living expenses. It also helps that friends in Rome generously offered us the use of their summer home in Anzio rent-free for several months. It will be a tough assignment, but we'll pass the summer months leisurely one block from the Mediterranean in a pretty cottage.

We've spent the past six months navigating the murky waters of bureaucracy, figuring out how to apply for an extended-stay visa and all the accompanying paperwork involved in that. Now that it's mostly complete, we can turn our attention toward the anticipation and planning for our arrival in Rome in April. We can look at webcams and sigh contentedly, knowing we'll be there soon.

What will we do there is the question we are asked most often. Because we can't legally work in Italy, there seems to be concern that we'll be idle and bored. Not on your life! Our full-time occupation will be learning Italian. I'll indulge my great love of history and enjoy the company of my true love, Bryan, unencumbered by stressful work situations. Make friends and renew old friendships. Observe cultural differences and place ourselves into the local rhythm of life. Shop in the local produce and fish markets. Write. Eat. Study. Stroll. Learn. Love. Live.

That is the sum of our dream. We are pursuing it now because we don't want to look back with regret, to wonder "what if" or "if only..." No, that's not for us.

Is it all going to be beautiful and fulfilling? I honestly don't know. But I can't wait to find out.

Valerie Schneider is a freelance writer, who lived in New Mexico for twenty years before trading the high desert for the medieval hill towns of Italy in May, 2006. She is a regular contributor to Slow Travel, pens travel agency newsletters, and has written for Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel. She and her husband, Bryan, currently reside in Ascoli Piceno where they conduct small-group tours called Panorama Italy. Read more on her blog, 2 Baci in a Pinon Tree. See Valerie's Slow Travel Member page.

© Valerie Schneider, 2006

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