Three week Italy anniversary is upon us and this new way of life is starting to feel normal, which I can hardly believe I am saying. The old norm of super-stressed, over-scheduled, mostly-panicked life seems almost unimaginable to me now. That goes to show how quickly reality can change. Yesterday was our first day without any commitments and I realized that this was a sample of what the rest of my year would resemble which almost transpired into a panic attack. The first two weeks we attended language school every morning and managed to fill our afternoons with long lunches, playtime at the park followed by little pisolinos (Italian siesta), and then another giant meal which concluded around 11pm each night. We met some friends at Il Sasso, the language school, a lovely family from Connecticut, four kids and a mommy trying to nail down some Italian while their dad (who is already fluent) was back home working. The kiddos immediately connected and I found a wonderful new friend in their mother, thanks to Bobby who is my Italian matchmaker. We spent those first couple of weeks chumming around and indulging in the celebration of moving to a place that does food, wine, gelato and relaxation so well. In the meantime, we have tried to maintain some level of parenting logic but failed around every turn. Multiple gelati each day, no vegetables, midnight bedtimes and way too much screen time as the kids try to stay in touch with friends and family back home via marco polo and whatsapp. I cannot lie, I have already found myself questioning this life choice more than a couple of times.
Not speaking the language poses an interesting challenge. Somewhere in my fairytale brain, I thought everyone would speak English here but that is not the case at all. So, making friends is not coming easy for anyone but Parker who is picking up Italian easily due to his Spanish fluency. Bobby (or Roberto as we now refer to him because Italians absolutely cannot pronounce or accept Bobby as a name) is doing quite well after a year of tutoring but still feels like he is butchering most conversations. He is definitely managing to get us through the functional aspects of daily life like dealing with the post office. This is one of the quirkiest situations that we have had thus far. Roberto and I thought it would be a good idea to ship a few boxes that we could not fit in suitcases. It made perfect sense to us. So, I pre-ordered 6 months of supplements that I normally take and dole out the Roberto and the kids We packed those in one box and then Finnley insisted on sending every stuffed animal she owns (about 50). Lastly, we sent winter ski clothes but tucked weird items like Bobby’s portable scanner in wool socks. Needless to say, customs was suspicious. Like, why would you send old stuffed animals ($100 in shipping) to yourself overseas? I am sure it did not help that I was shipping supplements as well because we all know that stuffies are the perfect place to hide drugs and vitamins. Roberto has been to the post almost daily trying to obtain our contraband. Each day, he speaks broken Italian to post workers that speak no English while they toss forms at him explaining in sign language and fast Italian that he must fill them out to get his goods. We get notices that a box has arrived but when he tries to pick it up they tell him to come back domani (tomorrow). We have received all but one box and have had to pay over $100 in customs for each one. This language barrier is getting expensive.
Another fun fact about moving to Italy is that within 8 days, you must apply for your permesso di soggiorno. This is a packet of Italian forms that you have to fill out in Italian declaring that you are HERE! Then you have to take it to the post (for us that means driving to Siena) and mail it to some mysterious organization. Upon mailing it, you receive a receipt with a date to return and be interviewed by the police. We were not totally clear on this process so we packed the kids up two weeks ago, after Roberto stayed up past 2am filling out Italian forms, and headed to Siena. However, we thought we had to deliver these forms to the police station. The confusion transpired into a 20 minute walk in about 90 degrees through the city ,bustling with tourists, while Parker pouted behind us reminding us that moving to Italy was the worst decision we have ever made and we were ruining his life. Family chaos ensued. After reaching the police station, we were directed to the other police station another 15 minutes away. There are no cars allowed in the city so we trudged, sweating profusely, to the next police station. Parker continued…
We walked in moments before the immigration police were going to close down for the day (11:30AM) and were told that we needed to go to the post to submit the forms. At this point, a meltdown was imminent. The bargaining began. “Come on kids, if you can make it to one more place, you can have two scoops of gelato”. As this was coming out of my mouth, I was wondering what I could bargain with myself…how many glasses of Brunello do I get it I huff it to one more stop. 12 minutes later we arrived at the post which clearly stated it was open until 12:30 but was also clearly closed. Gelato…3 scoops…Brunello…one bottle. 7 minutes later we arrived at the piazza that houses the formal and very-much-open post office where you have to push a button, take a ticket and que up for your turn. Eventually we are told that we need a ticket for each application forcing me to get out of line and push the damn button again for another ticket. Approximately two hours after we parked in the steaming hot city of Siena, our kids were eating gigantic cones of gelato. Mission accomplished.
Aside from language school and hanging with our new friends, there has been eating. The first two weeks, we ate a total of one meal at home. Eating out is not only lovely and luxurious but really cost effective too. Here, the food feels like a human right and not a privilege. Real food is available affordably and our family has had four course meals with wine for under $50. The whole restaurant scene is different here. Unknowing Americans will likely sit for hours waiting for their checks to arrive. Thankfully, our landlords gave us a tip up front that it is customary to get up and go to the front of the restaurant to pay for dinner. In a larger restaurant, you may ask your waiter for the table number and go to the front to pay, while in smaller places they know where you are seated. While some may consider this poor service, I appreciate the relaxation that accompanies a meal when a waiter never hovers or slaps the bill down 2 minutes after you have finished your last bite.
The nutritionist part of me does not want to admit what I am about to say but the foodie just has to tell you that I am obsessed with pici which is the pasta that is known in this area. Think of a thick homemade spaghetti. It is amazing. I basically ate pici, drank wine and consumed a block of cheese at every meal for the first two weeks until it became apparent that no matter how many times I hiked up and down the painfully steep streets of Montepulciano toting groceries and jugs of spring water from the community fountain, I was not going to be able to keep up with the caloric intake of these meals.
The hills are something that you cannot take lightly. The first few days, I thought I was going to bust a lung walking up to the Piazza Grande (alongside 85 year olds that were not breaking a sweat). But now, it is one of things I most enjoy about this town. There is a rigor in finishing up the day with a long sultry meal and the traditional passeggiata or evening stroll.
Just on the tail of our new friends flying back to the states, our good friends and neighbors stopped in for a couple of days for a visit as part of their three week Europe trip. Our kids were overjoyed to see their dearest friends and run around town sharing their new freedom together. This little city has very few cars (only residents with passes can drive) and the streets are lines with shops. My kids run around with total independence grabbing panini, gelati and running to the park for evening calico (soccer) games. So, when our friends arrived, we hit the town with cocktails at the park while the kids played soccer with the local boys. This is one of the cultural norms that we are acclimating to. There is a park at the base of the historic district just outside of the giant wall that surrounds the town (about a 2 minute walk from our front door) that erects a netted turf soccer field for the summer next to the large snack shack that serves ice cream, chips, cocktails, and wine while watching over foosball and old arcade games that kiddos can play for €0.50. The Montepulciano residents of all ages (0-100) emerge from their homes and commune in the park beginning at 4-5pm, wrapping things up just shy of 1am (kiddos included). Eventually we made our way up the giant hill to Osteria Acquacheta. I could write an entire blog post about this restaurant and I will go into more detail in my travel post next week but for now, I will just say that is it an incredibly memorable dining experience. We finished up our evening when we came upon a Spanish guitarist that we had also seen and fallen in love with in Cortona a few nights prior. He is a magician with a guitar so we sat at a nearby café and drank a bottle of wine at midnight while our kids sat in the middle of the road with gelato in hand.
The following day, we embarked on our most recent adventure which was tagging along with our friends to Cinque Terre. After a quick pit stop in Pisa to make sure the tower was still standing and to grab some outrageous and delicious panini from I Porci Comodi, we arrived in Monterosso to hike the trail between Monterosso and Corniglia the following day. It was epic, to say the least, with incredible views of the sea and bright colored coastal towns. The kids hiked their butts off in about 90 degrees for 3.5 hours while the adults tried to keep up. We finished that awesome day with a beautiful seafood meal at Ciak in Monterosso (again more on that trip in the travel post). We sadly bid our good friends farewell, knowing it would be almost a year until we were face to face again, and drove the narrow and terrifying roads out of Cinque Terre.
That brings me back to yesterday, the day I realized we must find a routine or at least some idea of how we are going to fill our days. Life is pretty incredible here but all of the normal challenges of daily life are not left behind. One of the reasons I pushed for this move was because I wanted more time with my kids before their teen brains totally develop and I am obsolete. However, I struggle to accept that eating 3-hour dinners and sipping wine is not their idea of quality family time. For them, I have to strap on my tennis shoes and kick the ball around, or play make-believe-princess-in-a-castle-imagination-gone-wild stuff with my daughter. I have to plan outings and be ready for quarrels and complaints along the way. I have to take a deep breath and put my own desires aside. I have to indulge in my children’s childhood which is significantly more difficult without breaks or playmates. All of this being said, I realize that I need to find some balance for us. There has to be a little screen time, a lot of gelato, occasional 3-hour dinners, and some time for me to develop my own curiosities and goals (hence, the blog). The ratios have definitely flipped from my life back in the states where 90% was over-scheduled routine and 10% was free-flow. So, this is my first growth opportunity; learn how to play and enjoy non-productive time. First experiment was heading to Lake Trasimeno to escape this 100 degree Tuscan day and practice having a little fun with a deck of playing cards, a beach blanket, a few buckets and shovels and two pretty cute kiddos (the smart phones are staying at home)!
And…8 hours later…I did it! Fun was had, relaxation was reached, peddle boats were rented and splashing, joking and smiles were abundant! I have renewed faith in myself. I can be fun, just ask my kids! I don’t think I can free-flow every day for a year but this is a good start. So, here were are settling in and creating our new norm with a little more pasta and a little less stress. All for now…Ciao and Buonanotte!