Hey, remember when JennieBoo tagged me with the eight things meme and you wrote in with your questions after I asked for help?
For those who haven't been following, go read parts one, two, and three of my answers to catch up because now we're on the fourth installment of responses...and I *still* won't have gotten to all the questions by the time I'm done here.
You are such an inquisitive bunch!
These questions all have to do with Italy in some way or another, so let's start with a photo to get us in the mood.
Now settle in and get a cup of whatever it is will get you through this--it's a long one.
1. Sharon in Sicily asked me to name the strangest thing I've seen in everyday Italian life.
Oh where to begin? I'm going to go with something that truly baffles me and that no one has been able to adequately explain to me thus far.
Italians are notoriously obsessive about the cleanliness of the inside of their homes. So then why, oh why, is there so much litter, graffiti, and occasional bouts with garbage piles *outside* of them?
The juxtaposition of the two extremes is just...well...it's quite simply the strangest thing I have seen in everyday Italian life.
2. My Melange would like to know what my favorite spot in Italy is and where I'd like to go that I haven't yet been; in a related question, Kimberly wants to know where I'd suggest a first time overseas traveler head first.
You probably don't know this and maybe won't even believe it, but I'm not well-traveled within Italy at all--Calabria, yes, as I've seen everything in depth and many times (except the area around Cosenza--no offense to the Cosentini!). But I've never been to the biggies like Rome (gasp!) and Florence.
Wow. That felt like confession. I feel better now.
Anyway, right now, I'd have to say that my favorite spot in Italy is, well, home.
But a close second is Serra San Bruno, the site of an 11th century monastery nestled up in the Serra mountains (part of the Sila range) about 45 minutes away from me. It's a wooded area with walking trails and spots for picnics--there's even a little stream running through it. So peaceful and relaxing.
I also like Taormina in Sicily, which is gorgeous although quite touristy.
I've meant to travel more, I swear, but it's kind of expensive especially since I've been busy working to save up for various other things; travel just hasn't been a priority.
But on Kimberly's point, the first place we'll probably head once we get out and about is Rome--I think it's the most logical starting point for discovering Italy (but then I've never been very logical, which explains my roundabout route). Plus P's sister lives just outside the city, so that'll cut down on our costs.
3. Bec wants to know more about how long it took me to be fluent in Italian, or at least to be able to understand and respond.
First, as background for those who don't know--I came here without speaking Italian aside from "ciao" and some food words.
Now on becoming fluent, let me put it this way: the basics are easy, especially when you're immersed and don't have a choice but to learn, as was my situation. I went back to the US after six months here, and I was getting along just fine on a day to day basis by the time I left.
That said, four years later, I'm still not where I'd like to be, but I can hold my own in pretty much any situation. I think in Italian, dream in Italian, and often count in Italian, so I'd say I'm well on my way. What I need to do now is really study grammar and expand my vocabulary, and then I'll consider myself truly fluent.
I'd say it'll take a couple more years, though, because this, unfortunately, isn't much of a priority either. I've gotten a bit lazy, I'm afraid, and I'm quite happy to simply not struggle every day with easy things. When I'm ready for a challenge again, I'll pick up some books and study.
4. Stefania wanted to know if Italy's lifestyle really is more laid back and how I spend my days.
Great question, and I'm so glad you asked!
I live in a 350-person village in southern Italy, so yes, the lifestyle here *is* pretty laid back; people do things on their own time and when they want, thus our many expat complaints about lines at the post office and the doctor's office and not having our phone lines fixed for months.
That said, there are also cities in Italy, especially the farther north you go, that are very much like cities anywhere--a lot of rushing around and, unfortunately, a lot of stress. Our friend Michellanea is in Milano, and I think she'd be the first to tell you that she ain't taking afternoon naps and sipping limoncello all day.
Of course, neither am I, but I'm also not rushing around trying to get as much done in a day as possible--or having to cover great physical distances to get those things done (this is a general difference between city and rural life, I think, and not Italy-specific).
My average day? I do the same things as most everyone else only I work from home (except when I'm teaching) so I can schedule things when I want--some mornings I have errands, for example, and those are always more stressful than anything else I do. Other than that, I do yoga, take Luna on walks, work, get cappuccino at the bar with a friend, work, cook, eat, do laundry, clean, talk to my mom on the phone, blah blah blah.
Oh, and blog of course.
5. And finally, we have Anno:
It seems to me that there are so many romantic memoirs published about life in Italy (Eat Pray Love, which I Loved Loved Loved; and Under the Tuscan Sun); when you read these books, do you snort in derision, or is there something in them that still resonates with you?
This is a fabulous question. I'm laughing as I imagine my snorts of derision. I'll have to work on those--sounds like fun!
Hmm. How can I say this? There are some authors' styles that I appreciate more than others. Frances Mayes in Under the Tuscan Sun really pours it on; she's a flowery writer recounting the stresses of restoring a villa while she's in the US and trying to find creative ways to use all the wonderful flowers and vegetables in her Tuscan garden. She's half in the US and half out and obviously had a considerable amount of cash to work with.
Let's just say we didn't share the same experience.
That said, I didn't hate the book, and indeed, I found some passages that I liked enough to copy into my quote book such as:
Where you are is who you are. The further inside you the place moves, the more your identity is intertwined with it. Never casual, the choice of place is the choice of something you crave.
I identified with this sentiment as I read it during the year between when I decided to move here and when I did. So no snorts there.
On the other hand, I *really* enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert, and yes, I keep promising a review, and it'll come at some point. I definitely recommend it as I enjoyed following Gilbert's journey, but interestingly, more on a spiritual level than anything.
Again, no snorting.
But I will say that if you want to read a spirited, down-to-earth "I moved to Italy" book, check out Extra Virgin: A Young Woman Discovers the Italian Riviera, Where Every Month is Enchanted by Annie Hawes.
Here are some of my favorite parts:
No matter how much you feel you're in the middle of nowhere around here, completely unobserved, you're sure to come across someone who saw exactly what you were up to--or who knows someone else who did.
Expats in small towns? You with me on this one?
I mentally take my hat off to whatever unbelievably desperate person first discovered the edibility of the olive--I'm sure I would have starved without ever guessing for a moment that the things weren't poisonous.
For those who don't know, raw olives aren't fit to be eaten--and if you don't believe me, you're welcome to try for yourself.
Lucy [Hawes' sister] and I are thinking longingly of a quiet place up a mountain, a place where people only speak one at a time, and in English. We need to rest our reeling brains.
And finally, addressing a subject near and dear to my heart:
I, meanwhile, far from being modernized, have recently found myself being put through a typically Italian trauma...I have transmuted, inexplicably yet inexorably, from a signorina to a signora.
Perhaps I should explain that "signorina" means a young woman, and "signora," well, doesn't.
And that wraps up today's Italy Edition answers.
P.S. Figs Olives Wine--I haven't forgotten about your Italy-related question; I just have bigger plans for it.
P.P.S. If you haven't checked out the Bella Bags E-Party and Contest, get there! And do keep checking Bella Bags because Marcía's adding new bags all the time.