My Move to Italy and the House of Violets

The back of my house rests on Vico Fiore, loosely Flower Street, and so all the houses have (informally) been given flowery names. Mine is “Casa delle Violette,” or the House of Violets.

I’ve always loved violets and my favorite color is purple, but that’s certainly not what sold me on the house and living in Italy. Didn’t hurt though either.

I’m a believer in fate and destiny and all that stuff, and although I’m not one to wait for Signs From Above before I make a big decision, I do keep my eyes open for little clues that tell me I’m on the right (or wrong) track.

Looking back, it seems my path to Italy was, and is, paved in violets.

I came to Italy for the first time in the summer of 2002, eight months after the death of my Italian- American grandmother. Born in America to Italian immigrants, she had never even visited, and at that time, I was reaching deeper into our family’s history than anyone ever had.

And so, when I stumbled upon a falling down mess optimistically called the House of Violets in my family’s ancestral village, I was obliged to take a second look.

Anyone who knew her knew that my grandmother’s favorite color had been purple, which dotted her house even though the rest of the color scheme was firmly 1970s browns and rusts. I even wore a deep purple suit to her funeral because it had been her favorite of all my dreary lawyer-wear.

I had developed quite a fondness for the color over the years myself, going from my favorite pink as a little girl to blue as a young adult and now settling on a color that combined them–purple is as calming, solid, and safe as blue but mixes in pink’s playfulness and innocence.

After seeing the house the first time, I went back to where I was staying to record the day’s events in the journal my friend had given me before the trip. I laughed to myself as I saw what graced the textured lavender cover: a lone violet protected by a clear plastic, raised box.

So as the trip went on, I started to imagine what life might be like in a southern Italian village. I didn’t have very much time there on that trip, so I knew I’d have to return. And I did a few times before making the big move, which, to be clear, was not so big in my mind at the time–I was planning on a couple years tops.

But through all the thinking and evaluating, another incident stuck in mind. Upon returning from that first trip, I lugged my bags upstairs to my bedroom in my Philadelphia apartment. While I was gone, a friend took care of my cat and plants–yes, I’m anal enough that I drew a map of all the plants and a chart of watering frequency (thanks Sue!). All still alive downstairs (including Kudzu kitty), the last plant left for me to check up on was the one on my nightstand–my prized collection of African violets.

Well, to be honest, it was a collection of African violet leaves. Three Easters before, my Mom had gotten me three of them planted together in a flat, white basket. There were lots of pink and purple flowers when I got them, and although I had kept the leaves green and furry for years, I hadn’t seen a flower again after I snapped off the last dying one from its original bloom.

But there, upon returning from my first trip to Italy, with thoughts of transferring my life overseas floating around my mind, wouldn’t you know it? Three deep purple violets had bloomed in my absence.

The House of Violets.

Three rooms. Three flowers. Alrighty then. So here I am, probably pushed by violets (better than pushing *up* violets, eh?). And after living here for about a year and a half, I met P.

And just in case I was beginning to wonder whether life in Calabria is for me, whether I should be trying to talk P into moving to the States, a few months ago, P’s mom gave me…yeah, this is getting weird isn’t it? I saw the furry leaves one day at her house, and she told me that although the plant had flowers originally, it hadn’t bloomed since. So she passed it to me. I think the violets are happy here.

And for those who can’t get enough of this: the African violet is of the genus Saintpaulia. My grandmother’s name was Paulina. And a clever reader might take a stab on what follows the P in P’s name.

I’m not making this up either.

20 Beans of Wisdom to “My Move to Italy and the House of Violets”
  1. katerinafiore

    Michelle that is amazing….how surreal!! Everything fell into place for you then. Another great story amica! I have goose bumps just reading it. I am so happy for you!!

  2. christina

    I’m also a firm believer in signs! Sounds like you were definitely getting some clear mesages there. Loved the story about what took you to Italy. It gives your decision to live there so much more of a special meaning, I’m sure. 🙂


  3. BedArrest

    What an awesome story. I definitely believe in following signs as well. Who knows? Maybe you and P will someday have a little Violet of your own (ala Ben and Jen?)

  4. Shan

    What an incredible story.

  5. Judith in Umbria

    I appreciate that you can find maps inside and not depend entirely on the rules of the road. Some things can’t be planned, explained or overcome.

  6. Elle

    What a super story, thank you for sharing it.

  7. guinness girl

    That’s an amazing story! 🙂

  8. nyc/caribbean ragazza

    Fate is an interesting thing. I loved your story.

    I hope someday you will post on how you went from being a lawyer to moving overseas to write.

  9. Eileen

    I loved this story and in all our endless (“I don’t feel like working…”) conversations regarding Calabria and your move you never once mentioned the signs! You are a bit sneaky. Please keep writing, I really am looking forward to your book.

  10. Cynthia Rae

    What a wonderful story. You brought tears to my eyes this morning. Good for you, for listening to heart, to your soul and to those beautiful purple flowers!


  11. I’m looking forward to your book, too, carina…

    paul of crazy like whoa’s last blog post..Soaring

    Heh, me too….

  12. helena

    When I moved back to NZ for several years, my mother (one of the world’s best gardeners) gave me two African violets, one pink, one purple. They survived what I considered to be indifferent nurturing and outright neglect. I’m back in Sydney now, and a month ago I bought a pink one, gorgeous with lots of pink flowers and an abundance of furry leaves, and I promised it I would take really good care of it. It is gorgeous no longer. There are about four leaves left and one flower. Where have I gone wrong? The leaves got yellow patches on them and I had to remove them, and the flowers just, well, died.

    And brave thing you did, moving to your village. Usually the traffic is the other way!

    Well the flowers do die off, but there is a trick to water them (should be from the bottom, as from a dish below) and the leaves should never get wet–and they really actually don’t need a lot of water. Remember they’re from Africa 😉 They are *not* easy plants to keep though, so don’t feel bad.

  13. Shebella

    Wow, your story brought tears to my eyes. It makes me think that your Nonna is watching out for you. What a blessing. You are very inspiring.

    Aw, thank you, and thanks for reading 🙂

  14. Carlo

    Thanks for this story I only read this morning. My Italian mother was also fond of African violets. I remember her fondly taking care of the little plants, and cautioning me never to wet the upperside of the large hairy leaves when watering the low pots, as this might make them rot. I remember she used the name saintpaulia, too.
    When I make some order in my recent and final home, I must definitely put some saintpaulias out on the little terrace ledges. YOur story added a smile to my morning.


    So happy you enjoyed it, Carlo. I still love those violets 🙂

  15. Caterina B

    Oh, I loved this story! Everything happens for a reason, you know.

    Thanks Caterina 🙂

  16. 04.06.2011

    What a great story . All my life I have only one ambition and that is to live the life of the early Italians. My best freind as a child was Italian and she was the only one I knew until I met my second husband whose grandparents are Italian immagrants. He unfortunately does not want to travel abroad. But it is my dream and desire to some day at least visit. I am now 68 so this is probably just a dream But I want to thank you so much for sharing your life events in Italy in such depth You have made my dream so very vivid. and seem that I am there with you experiencing life there as it is today
    I have read every page on your site more than once since I found it just 2 days ago and will continue to do so. Please continue to post happenings and pictures.
    Thank you so very much

    I do hope you get to visit, Connie 🙂 Thanks so much for reading!

  17. 03.22.2012

    Reading this story with my breakfast. Love it!

    michelle Reply:

    Thx Penny!

  18. Nancy

    Wow, so glad I found your post. How is it going? My niece is moving to Italy and I am thinking about joining her in a year or two. I am the family historian (grandparents from Salerno). And I raise African Violets, which I have to many of now.
    Are you still in Italy?

    michelle Reply:

    I am, Nancy; have been here since 2003. Best of luck to your niece and to you on your possible move as well 🙂

Michelle FabioMichelle Fabio is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer living in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy and savoring simplicity one sip at a time. 

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