Settling Into Southern Italy

In the last group of questions, two specifically addressed my settling into life here in southern Italy. I shall do my best to answer them. (Not sure why these photos aren’t very crisp, but please do click on them to see them in better quality on Flickr.)

(1) AmberBee of Under Western Skies, formerly of Quasi Italiana!, asked “Do you think that you would feel as settled in a large city, or do you think your small community there (and the fact that you can get to know everyone) has helped you feel welcome there, and that it is really ‘home?’ Do you think your happiness quotient would have changed had you lived in a different part of Italy… Or would Italy have been ‘home’ no matter where you live there?”

This is an excellent question, AmberBee. Let me say that I felt at home in this village from the first time I visited, when I knew no one, spoke no Italian let alone Calabrese and had a very responsible job and promising career ahead of me in the States.

When I was here that first time, I felt like my soul connected with this place on a level I couldn’t make sense of myself. I cried when it when it was time to go home, even though I knew I would be back. In fact, I knew a few days into my trip that I would live here–a silly proposition, really, for someone who couldn’t speak the language and knew no one in the country.

I didn’t know when I would live here and for how long, but it was almost like I didn’t have a choice. And looking back, I’m not sure I did.

When I did go back to the States for a few months, this place pulled me back every day even though I was perfectly happy to spend hours on end with my niece and nephew there. But there was just *something* inside of me telling me where I needed to be, and it was here.

No, I don’t think it’s “Italy” in general or even “Calabria” that I call “home.” It’s this village. And yes, I do think that P, his family and the welcoming neighbors have helped me get settled, and I believe that’s exactly the way it was meant to be.

I hope that answers your question.

(2) Vita asked: “Do you have some philosophy or view point about that – like that Italians have simpler, happier lives? I know that’s a very personal question and I know people have asked about what you miss in the States and I’ve read those posts (coffee, etc..) but I’m wondering about more esoteric ideas – like the way Americans are direct. The way things get done more efficiently – or, have you somehow moved through that and found that the way of life in Italy is somehow more satisfying to your soul?”

Oh Vita, where can I begin? I’m not a high-strung person by nature. The rat race never attracted me even when I was in school with quite a few rats (and snakes and worms, etc.). I don’t need things done yesterday, and I certainly don’t need everything I could ever imagine available to me 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Quite frankly, I don’t need very many “things” at all.

So is the laid-back, simpler Italian (village) lifestyle more satisfying to my soul? Well, I’d say yes. I have simple needs when it comes right down to it, and as a Libra, I can even be overwhelmed by too many choices.

But do I think Italians are happier because of the general way of life here? Intrinsically, no, I don’t think so. I know a lot of Italians who get just as fed up with inefficiency and waiting as the average American would and who would love to give Telecom and, ahem, Berlusconi a swift kick where the sole don’t shine.

Here’s my thing: Happiness is an individual thing, and I’m lucky/blessed to be in charge of my own happiness–not everyone has this luxury. Even better, every moment gives me a new opportunity to choose happiness. How cool is that?

I’ve found my happy place, quite literally, and no, it’s not paradise all the time, but what fun would life be if there were no lemons? You all know I love lemons.

More questions answered next Monday!

If you have any, leave them in the comments!

28 Beans of Wisdom to “Settling Into Southern Italy”
  1. Michelle I’ve said it before but you’re an inspiration. To leave a promising career for the unknown like that takes a lot of guts.

    It’s clear you are living the life you were meant to live (ooops didn’t mean to get too Oprah on you).

    Some people never get to experience that. They work themselves into the ground, wake up at 65 and say “that’s it?”

    When I came to Rome for the first time I realized I was turning into one of those people. Three years later (same month) I moved. I too felt like I had no choice. ha

    nyc/caribbean ragazza’s last blog post..Anniversaries, birthdays and Al Green

    I *know* you get it, and yes, without getting too woo-woo about it, I really do feel that things just happen the way they’re meant to. Some of us make it look like it was all so obvious…but that’s because we’ve listened and rode the wave, right? Life circumstances often make that difficult to do, but for me, it was certainly worth pursuing….

  2. 08.05.2008

    I really think that you (and NYC ragazza) did an amazing thing by leaving your successful lives behind to live your lives as you wanted.
    I agree with nyc when she says : ‘
    ‘Some people never get to experience that. They work themselves into the ground, wake up at 65 and say “that’s it?” ‘

    – except I think it’s not ‘some’ people, I think a lot of people just go
    with what is expected from them or what seems most normal to
    do without really questioning what they really want and more
    importantly also pursuing it! you did and that’s an accomplishment on it’s own!

    Now on a lighter note : I agree with your answer on the second question. My experience tells me also that some Italians get annoyed because of the inefficiency. They just might be able to relativate it more whereas myself I sometimes can’t understand because I compare it to the Belgian way of doing things.
    ( ‘North’ Europeans tend to be more organized, pragmatical)
    But I’m doing my best at letting it go!

    I think that now more and more people are questioning what they really want…more so than 20 years ago, I’d say. Hopefully this has a good effect on the world, with more people pursuing their passions and just being happier and projecting that.

    About Italians and inefficiency, I agree with you–it’s almost a defense mechanism for them to get over the inefficiency faster otherwise they’d be stressed *all* the time. I still usually have a quick rant to P, my mom, etc., and then I get over it…probably faster and faster as time goes on…becoming more Italian in that way perhaps 😉

  3. 08.05.2008

    Your first answer is scary in its similarity to my own feelings, although I know we’ve been over that already. But, it’s just… scary.

    Re your second answer – I was just about to write a long thing here, but I decided I’m going to respond in a post of my own this week! LOL I find this a fascinating subject, especially because of my experience living here in Frenchieland for so long.

    And that’s all I’ll say!! LOL

    Miss Expatria’s last blog post..Severing Ties: Mail Forwarding Services for Expats

    Love the mystery! Can’t wait to read it 🙂

  4. 08.05.2008

    I know what you mean about feeling like you belong somewhere. I had that same feeling very intensely when I first came to Molfetta. It was overwhelming, in fact. Like the universe was letting me know, this is your place, this is where you belong. And there wasn’t much I could do about it!

    Saratta’s last blog post..Unconditional Love

    Gorgeous feeling, isn’t it Saratta? Happy to see you here 🙂

  5. 08.05.2008

    I can’t agree more with this post. Life is too short. What you have done, NYC, and folks who haven’t left a location but left a bad job, etc. – finding what makes you happy. It’s so important.

    jen of a2eatwrite’s last blog post..Music Monday/Toronto Week: Avenue Q

    Exactly Jen–it doesn’t have to be such a dramatic change to be one for the better.

  6. 08.05.2008

    Very interesting. I know when I went to Portugal two years ago that I could very well be happy in the villages that we visited.

    Good for you for going after what you want and living life with no regrets. (I assume and hope no regrets)

    running42k’s last blog post..Just sitting

    No regrets to speak of, no. I hope you get back to Portugal soon 🙂

  7. Diana

    hmm. Michele, you have (as often happens) touched on one of my favorite subjects — the sense of being home. You beautifully and accurately describe the experiences of following a less-trodden path, come what may, without making it seem like the nirvana it is not.

    Hard to say what the driving force is behind feeling at home. There are so many different definitions that people have of home. I have lived in a wide variety of housing in my life (thinking about all the packing and unpacking I have done makes me tired) but the conscious desire to come to Italy and plant roots come what may felt like the only thing for us to do. I think my partner and I were both longing for home, but did not know how to look for it, where to find it. In fact, speaking for myself, the sense of uneasiness which I carried with me through most of my life led me to think feeling at home would never really happen for me.

    Having done this move, I can say my sense of being home differs now from how I had imagined it. But the uneasiness is no longer there.

    Maybe I am viewing this stage differently, like I am not just experiencing it, but I am unfolding with it, and therefore it has become the home which I always wanted because there is so much more of me in every wall, plant, fence and stone. With that I think that having it work or not work out as I imagined becomes less significant. This is what is. This life is not just what I do but it is also who I am. I cannot and do not expect it to work well all the time. Instead of just being an observer in my own life, judging it subjectively as good or bad, I have been molded and tossed around and embraced by the events of this phase and try to react in a way which brings me further down my own path.

    I don’t need alot of “things” either and that seems to be a very common thread for many of us who have made this kind of move.

    Definitely true on that last sentence, Diana, and the subject of home is something so intriguing to me as well; I could definitely write much more about it, and who knows? Perhaps I will. I hope you will too 🙂 I love your description of embracing events. Simply gorgeous.

  8. Diana

    sorry, I spelled your name with one L instead of 2. I know better.

    No worries Diana, so long as you forgive me if someday I inadvertently change your name to Diane; I don’t know why I revert to Diane, but I always have to stop and correct myself on your site!

  9. 08.05.2008

    Michelle — I’ve enjoyed all these questions and answers, but today’s particularly. It’s just an amazing gift that you found your place, and I love so much your appreciation for the blessing that it is and the good grace you have to be in charge of your happiness . . .and to take that as seriously as it should be taken!

    The story about all the violet connections is so amazing and how wonderful to have all those signs that were so connected to your dear grandmother. She would be so happy, I imagine, to see you at home there.

    Anyway thanks for your reflections. I always enjoy seeing what you’re up to!


    : )

    Kim B.

    Kim B.’s last blog post..Total Pasta Overload

    Hi Kim, thanks for delurking! Now I can come and visit you too. Thank you so much for your kind words; they are much appreciated 🙂

  10. Joanne at frutto della passione

    Look what you’ve started! I think that while many of us (expats) have had similar experiences, each of us has reacted and been affected in very different ways. I too think that building a life here was somehow in my stars and while I miss so much, this is home. It became even more so after my son was born.
    That gave me a whole new perspective on living here than anything else could ever have done.

    Will I stay here forever? Well, the short answer is …yes, unless we don’t 😉

    Joanne at frutto della passione’s last blog post..Pasta Fredda

    Very interesting about your feelings deepening, if that’s the word, after the birth of your son. And I love your thoughts on “per sempre” 😉

  11. 08.05.2008

    Always inspiring to me first thing in the a morning. Where would I be without you..and my coffee 😉

    Love learning a bit more about ya!

    It’s folks like you that make me think, or know that I could live over there one day!!

    My Mélange’s last blog post..Travel Tip Tuesday- Doin’ Double-Duty

    Come on over Robin! The water’s fine 😉

  12. 08.05.2008

    I always enjoy reading your posts, but these lately, answering questions, have been especially interesting for me. I can relate I suppose, to a lot of your feelings about your life, slower pace, small-town, etc., since I live in a little coal mining village in your home state (north and west though of your home area) and anyway, I love living here. I’ve lived in D.C., in the Baltimore area as well as Harrisburg vicinity too; been to Phoenix as well for two fairly extended stays and though I liked living in all those places, there is still, for me, no place like home -which is here and is where my heart is. I’ve often wondered though, if I had the opportunity ever to travel abroad, to Scotland or Sweden, home countries of my ancestors, if maybe I would feel a distinct pull to want to live there.
    On another note, I don’t know if you access my blog via Reader or not, but my Reader is not working properly -not updating my blog and I’ve had several posts up since July 31st. Irritating the heck out of me it is too cause my blog appears to be the only one on my reader not updating and I can’t figure out what is causing this mess either!

    So sorry about the feeds Jeni; I wish I knew more about it to help you! Anyway, thank you for sharing your thoughts on this; home is such a fabulous topic, isn’t it?

  13. 08.05.2008

    You’re lovely.

    *cyber blushing*

  14. Yeah, Michelle, I’m definitely among those who are enjoying the latest series of posts on more personal subjects. You’ve been a bit (though not TOO much) more reticent in the past… and it makes it all the more interesting for those of us who have gotten to know you through your writing.

    And speaking as an “inpat” (didn’t leave the country, but traveled across it), I have to echo the comments about questioning what you want and pursuing it. I firmly believe more people can do it than think they can – it’s just so important, for yourself AND for those you share your life with.

    paul of crazy like whoa’s last blog post..“All set” in Boston

    That last point is *so* important. It’s a shame that we underestimate our impacts on our loved ones’ lives. Imagine if we each individually were truly happy…what a world….

  15. 08.05.2008

    I’m with Paul – I love these glimpses to the inner you. I have such an interest in your life, it’s kind of weird. Not weird, in the psycho way, but weird in the way of wanting to know what your grocery store is like, where do you buy dishes for your house, what the food products are like in the grocery store, what you watch on TV…just the normal parts of life.

    And I agree with the not needing much thing – I feel the same way being on the road and in the truck. We have a very limited amount of space and although going home to get stuff is never a problem, I find I don’t need it. I change out my summer and winter wardrobes (but keep a little from each season because you never know whe you’ll be swimming or sledding – can happen in the same week sometimes!) but as far as the other stuff that one keeps in a home and uses on a daily basis – I usually wind up bringing things back home because I find I don’t even use them.

    I’m planning on writing a post about this also – just the whole doing without thing – which really doesn’t make me feel as if I’m “doing without.”

    Also – I’m trying to talk Ed into taking a year off to go live in another country. He always says “Sure!” but it never takes place.

    Maybe this will be the year…..


    Salena’s last blog post..Corn Fed Summer

    I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you! Would be a fabulous adventure for sure.

    It *is* amazing how little we actually *use* isn’t it? I’ve had boxes packed away here for months and only dug into them a few times…that definitely tells me something about what’s in them!

    And someday I’ll take you on a virtual tour with me to the grocery store, etc. Try to contain your excitement 😉

  16. 08.05.2008

    Thank you for a very interesting learning more about people. Yes your photo looks crisper in Flickr. It is amazing where you live… far up, and so many houses together.

    anne’s last blog post..Latest Art/Ceramic work.

    Glad you enjoyed Anne; and yes, this place is rather amazing to me as well 🙂

  17. 08.05.2008

    i just clicked on the pic and i love that you’ve pointed out exactly which house is yours. so very cool… big exactly is your house? I know that (esp. in Italy) looks from the outside can be deceiving.

    I would love to see more pics of your home…..if you’re willing to let us in 🙂

    Eryn’s last blog post..My Weekend…..plog!

    Actually I’m moving Eryn, so the house is so *not* in condition for photos right now! The house is 60 sq meters; three rooms on three floors.

  18. 08.05.2008

    The soul’s home… is there are term for that in Italian? Some Latin based version of it in one of the romantic languages? I am so very glad that you’ve found yours. Truly contented, happy and loving life… all of it, with lemonade by the sea, in the sun and under the stars.
    Brava Cara… so very happy for you, and proud of you for being brave enough to make your life what you want it to be. So many people don’t do that, and I cannot imagine living a life in shadows of dreams.

    Happiness is what you make of it. It’s there to be had, if one chooses to enjoy it, in every little nuance of life.

    Scarlett & Viaggiatore

    Wanderlust Scarlett’s last blog post..Cardinal Rules V

    Ah in the shadow of dreams…no, doesn’t sound like a fun place to me either. The soul’s home…I don’t know of a really great Italian way to say that…l’anima è tornata a casa…there’s surely something more poetic and less directly translated though.

  19. SabineM

    I really envy you for having just gone and followed your dream. It must not have been an easy thing to just leave a good job and “home” to start fresh somewhere completely foreign, even if you felt comfortable in that village!
    I never gave where I live much thought until just recently. Lately I KNOW that where I LIVE is not WHERE I AM MEANT to be…but now it is complicated, I am married, not the bread winner, and have two girls. WE moved alot with my husband and with my now 14 year old. Now she is about to enter High School. We need to stay put, but both hubby and I agree that in 4 years we will find our spot. Our younger one will only be 7 so she will be ok to still move…..What I am trying to say is that I ADMIRE you for what you have done!!!!
    And I am GREEN with envy! ;-)))

    SabineM’s last blog post..Even my Blog doesn’t know what IT is about…

    No need for envy Sabine; you’ll be on a similar road soon enough 🙂

  20. Hi — I have been a lonnnnggg-time lurker, ever since you were sognatrice in fact. I used to write a beauty blog ( but have expanded it to more of a lifestyle/balance blog. My resolution with this blog was to delurk on all the blogs I am reading 😀 I love reading your blog for so many reasons — it’s inspiring and you have a great tone. But another reason is that I speak Italian (though to be fair am very rusty at this point) and love to read about life in Italy. My mother is from the Italian part of Switzerland and we used to travel there a lot when we visited her family. I have never been as far South as where you are so it’s always a treat to learn more.

    Valerie aka City Girl’s last blog post..Now for a Shorter Post

    So great to see you Valerie! Congrats on the new blog and on delurking 🙂 I hope you’ll enjoy blogging a lot more this way…I know I do!

  21. 08.06.2008

    And come on, now, it’s all about the lemons. 🙂 Of course, I think limes are better, but what do I know.

    I answered my own questions this evening. Thanks for the idea!!

    Chel’s last blog post..There Are No Stupid Questions …

    So happy to see your answers Chel!

  22. 08.06.2008

    You have the most refreshing view on life, and I know that wherever you would have ended up living, you would have been happy, because it’s just in your personality to appreciate the things you have. That said, I really see how you were “meant” to end up in Calabria…and we’re all blessed for it, because you share it with us.

    Karina’s last blog post..Soul Sisters

    Thank you Karina 🙂

  23. 08.06.2008

    It’s wonderful reading about that wonderful life of yours.

    The question about life being less rushed and stressful…….oh my, as soon as I land in any Italian city, I am instantly transported back to a simpler time… the 50’s, yikes!….I was here in the 50’s.

    Thanks for sharing, Michelle.

    karen cole’s last blog post..THE BEACH PART 2-THE BEACH IS A PAINT BOX

    P and I always joke that Calabria, in particular, is about 50 years behind America…sometimes that’s not such a bad thing 😉

  24. 08.06.2008

    When you came to Calabria, did you initially live with a family or find an apartment right away? I know your village is small and I am curious how you found a place to him, because small villages = small supply of available housing – at least in my experience. My mother grew up in a village in Ticino that today has 1600 inhabitants, but had more like 1200 in the 1980s (when I spent most of my time there) — and there were maybe two available apartments or houses at any time. Often, people who were from the village, went to a big city (Zurich, Geneva, Milan, Rome) for a few years, and then came back to settle down would move back in with their parents because of lack of available housing. If they wanted a home of their own, they often would HAVE to build a house, or renovate a really old one that no one had lived in for a long time etc. Fortunately, there are some enormous quarries in Ticino (and, IIRC a brick factory), so if they went with local materials, it is doable. Plus these houses are small — a big house has 900 sq feet there. My grandparents’ house is probably about 650 square feet of living space, but has the typical cellar and attic to help with storage space.

    City Girl’s last blog post..What’s Cooking Wednesday – Catalan Chickpeas with Almonds and Tomatoes

    Oh there’s *no* trouble finding housing in most of the medieval hilltop towns in Calabria…they’re nearly all abandoned! Some of the properties aren’t really in living condition, but there’s definitely room. I bought a house, which I wrote about in The House of Violets.

  25. 08.06.2008

    As a Libra this lifestyle would suit me just fine! In fact living in Chicago for 16 years finished me off.
    Enjoyed reading your thoughts about this subject and Calabria. Thanks!

    nonizamboni’s last blog post..C for ABC Wednesday

    Woohoo for Libras 🙂

  26. I just wanted to let you know that I’m really enjoying this series on your move to Italy.

    Sometimes your heart knows just exactly what to do even if it takes your brain a bit to catch up. I love stories where people follow their heart and it leads them to an entirely new life.

    judy haley (coffeejitters)’s last blog post..The Great Tree

    Thank you Judy; indeed, sometimes (if not always) the heart knows best 🙂

  27. Vita

    Hey Michelle,

    Thanks so much for taking on my question and answering it so beautifully!

    I’m really fascinated with this topic of home, too. Well, you know, I’ve talked to you about it endlessly. And it helps to know that it’s a theme among Libra people.

    I keep dreaming up my life in three places – something like, summer in Maine, winter and spring in Italy, some time down in New York/New Jersey with my friends and family.

    Could I live in three places? 🙂

    Diana, your comments really resonated too… and you should write a blog!

    But Michelle, I’m still shaking my head amazed at your going to that village knowing not a word of Italian (of however the story goes) and just having your life blossom . . .

    Diana does have a blog, Vita–just click on her name! As for the amazement factor, you know, I feel that too. Do you ever look back on something and think “How could I have ever done that/ What was I thinking (in a good way)?” That’s a bit how I feel about this move. Like I ask myself would I have the courage, the drive, the energy, the passion to do that now? Impossible to answer, of course, because I’m a different person, it’s a different time, I’ve had different experiences between then and now…but still…I’m pretty amazed by it myself 🙂

    Oh, and I don’t see why you couldn’t live in three places, so long as financially it’s feasible!

  28. I know I’ve said it before but you are a great example of keeping a positive outlook, and yeah I know it’s not always easy to do but you still push on.

    I think it’s such a blessing to have P, his family and some great neighbours. Good on ya for making lemonade (and other things) with life’s lemons.

    collette~all over the map’s last blog post..circa 1977

    Thanks Collette 🙂 I think at some point, you realize that dwelling on the negatives really just makes everything worse–or at least I did.



Homemade apple butter
Green beans, potatoes, and pancetta
Glazed Apple Oatmeal Cinnamon Muffins
Pasta with snails alla calabrese
Onion, Oregano, and Thyme Focaccia
Oatmeal Banana Craisin Muffins
Prosciutto wrapped watermelon with bel paese cheese
Fried eggs with red onion and cheese
Calabrian sausage and fava beans
Ricotta Pound Cake