Let’s get the elephant out of the closet right away: I would love to move to Italy.
I must admit that that was not always the case, though. Before my husband retired, we’d been to Europe a few times. We were really just tourists then—in one day and out 10-to-14 days later. Once he retired, we went in search of my grandparents’ birthplace in Italy. We found it and spent most of the rest of that month traveling the country.
We were still tourists, though. We went back a few times more over a three-year period. I still looked at everything through the glazed eyes of a tourist, though. It was after we spent about nine weeks “living” in France and Italy nine years ago that I started to think I could move there.
One Foot Here and One Foot There
After I spent almost two months in Bologna in 2014, I felt like a foreigner when I returned to the States. I craved being in Italy. One of my friends told me that I was living with one foot in the States and one in Italy. I felt it was more of a case of I had my feet in the States and my heart in Italy.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed being in my own house and having the conveniences that spoil us, but I missed being in Italy. I traveled there whenever I could, and I finally got my dual citizenship to make staying there easier (Side note: Non-citizens can stay up to 90 days in Italy without a visa or permesso di soggiorno [permit to stay]}.
When the pandemic hit, most countries closed their borders. I felt lost, and I yearned to get to Italy. To ease the ache in my heart, I looked at apartments that were available to rent in Bologna, Sulmona, Pescara, Lucca, and other cities. I thought that if I found the right place, just maybe I could head there for a few months. Love makes you believe strange things, doesn’t it?
Why Would I Love to Move to Italy?
A lot of my friends cannot believe I would love to move to Italy. Many actually believe I’m joking when I say it. I’ve also discovered that many think that it is akin to a third-world country. Most who think like that of course, have not traveled much, and I try to educate them.
So, why would I love to move to Italy?
The first time I saw my grandparents’ village—Pettorano sul Gizio—in 2010, I felt connected. Nothing had prepared me for the scene that came into focus as we approached the town that day. Rectangular buildings. Creamy beige. Brown. Adobe red. Butter yellow. Cascading from the precipice of a rocky hill, the village fanned out at the hill’s bottom and gave way to verdant pastures bordered by the Gizio River on one side and the highway on the other.
Located in Abruzzo, Pettorano is about 90 kilometers east of Rome. Once home to 6000 people, today’s residents number about 1200. From the first time I set foot in Piazza Zannelli, the people embraced me. It took me four years to learn enough Italian to be able to talk to them, but it didn’t matter. Some universal bond connected us, and I love walking down the cobblestone streets and talking to anyone who happens to be out.
While the life there is not a life I really know and is so different from what we live in the States, it is a life with which I think I’m comfortable. Would I have felt that way 20 years ago? I have no idea, but today is what’s important.
I want to belong.
If I have one foot in the US and one in Italy, I have one half of my heart in Pettorano and another half in Bologna. Located in the Emilia-Romagna region, Bologna has a reputation for being the food capital of Italy. (I think, though, that the Abruzzese would dispute that!)
Under the impression that Bologna was a large, industrial city, I had avoided going there for years. Once I stayed in this modern city situated in medieval buildings connected by miles of porticoes, I was hooked. I love the markets and the culture and the museums (There are 52!) and the people.
As I did in Pettorano, I made very good friends in Bologna. When I am there alone, they look out for me and make sure I am okay. They invite me to their homes for dinner, for wine, to talk. They show me new places. When I landed in the hospital there some years ago, one stayed with me four hours. When I couldn’t get out to buy the medication I needed, others brought it me. They put up with my Italopanglish without laughing. have adopted me as one of their own.
I feel I belong.
Where We Belong
I could write about all of the things that made me fall in love with Italy—people, trains, markets, culture, coffee, culture, history. The truth is, though, that the real reasons are something that I cannot explain. It is something much deeper than all of those “things.” They are just things.
Some years ago, I read an essay that advised we all look for a place we belong. It may be the place we are born, or it may be a place we visit. It may be on the mountains or at the shore or in a city. Many are lucky to find it, while others search and never discover it. Once we find it, though, we know.
When I first read that piece, I was ambivalent to its message. I had lived all over the US, and I had beautiful lives there. My time in Italy, though, proved that there is something deeper than liking a place we inhabit. It is the people, the caring, the love. It is something we cannot explain, but like a charm, it draws us in, and we just know. We just know.
The Bottom Line
I would love to move to Italy. Unfortunately, I doubt a permanent move is in my future, though. I’ll continue spending as much time as possible there.
Because I know I belong.