This week sees the third in our series of interviews with Expats in Italy and a takes us to Umbia to meet Rebecca, originally from Chicago and her Italian husband Stefano, a native of the area. Just outside Assisi they run, Brigolante Guest Apartments, three self catering holiday flats, all part of the original farmhouse of the Brigolante Agritourism.
Rebecca moved to Italy from Chicago in 1993 and shortly thereafter opened an agriturismo in her husband’s renovated family farmhouse at the foot of Mount Subasio near Assisi, Umbria. She spends her time taking care of guests at Brigolante, blogging about the lovely region she now calls home at Rebecca’s Ruminations, and wondering about what strange winds blew an urban vegetarian to a farm in Umbria.
Rebecca says: “We live here in these beautiful Umbrian hills because we are passionate about this area, its history and culture, and we want to share our passion with you.”
Brigolante nestles amongst the foothills of St. Francis’ beloved Mount Subasio in Umbria. This 16th century stone farmhouse, once part of a larger castle, has been carefully remodeled into apartment holiday rentals which blend historic features and modern amenities. The terracotta floors, hand painted tiles, antique and period country furnishings, and beautiful views overlooking the surrounding hills are just some of the features admired by guests of their vacation rentals in Assisi. Each of the three apartments in their holiday home in Umbria provides self catering accommodations for two to four guests, making them a perfect agritourism holiday rental near Assisi for couples, families or small groups traveling together.
The Questions and Answers:
How long have you been living in Italy?
I moved to Italy from Chicago in 1993 which, on an expat timeline which begins when the first Neanderthal mother shipped her sullen teenager off to the village on the opposite side of the river to widen his horizons and get him away from his clingy girlfriend, falls at the very end of the Paleolithic age before email, texting, Skype, and online social networking changed the game forever.
I feel I’ve had the unique experience of living abroad both during the intensely isolating pre-internet age and during the intensely connected post-internet age. Neither of these expat experiences are more “real”, but having had the first I claim the right to be just a bit smug with these young whippersnappers and regale them with tales of walking ten miles barefoot through the snow just to post an overseas letter on onion-skin airmail paper (do they even make that anymore?!?).
Who came up with the idea of living in Italy?
My good friends Fate and Destiny. My college roommate Indecision had a say. My accountant Strong Dollar put a word in, as well.
How are you getting on with The Italian language?
I’ve lived here through many phases of life, and each has been fantastic for my vocabulary. I can restore a house, purchase a car, attend law school, give birth, navigate the public school system, pay my income taxes, and run a business pretty well. I’m not so good with things I haven’t had much experience with. Negotiating a real estate purchase, dealing with a medical emergency, car repair, obnoxious adolescent offspring, and gracious Nobel Prize acceptance speeches haven’t yet popped up on my linguistic radar.
I was very fortunate in that I had a baptism by fire by immediately living in an Italian-speaking household and working in an Italian-speaking office. My Italian language skills followed a very sharp upward curve (which has flattened out over the years…I am pretty resigned to the fact that some things I will never get right. The conditional. The passato remoto. Prepositions. The fact that “il prossimo weekend” in Italian means the one after this one, not this upcoming weekend.), which has made living here infinitely easier and more rewarding.
Do you miss your home and family?
My home and family are at Via Costa di Trex, n. 31, Assisi, Umbria, Italy. I do miss bagels, however. They don’t live here.
Did you buy, or are you renting the place where you live?
Neither. This is my husband’s family’s farmhouse, which fell into our laps as a ruin and which we then restored. I know a lot about historic restoration, but not that much about the ins and outs of purchasing or renting a home.
What do you think about the Italians?
The who? As Massimo D’Azeglio, statesman and one of the founders of unified Italy, said in 1861: “Fatta l’Italia, bisogna fare gli Italiani” and one can argue that 150 years on“Italians” per se still do not exist. In their place, there is a conglomerate of smaller, regional peoples with their unique cultures, characters, and foibles; what I might think about Italians is probably completely different than what an expat who has always lived in Naples or Turin might think. We are the proverbial blind men, each of whom touches a different part of an elephant and forms a mental image of what the animal looks like: a snake, a wall, a fan. The truth lies in piecing them together to form the whole.
That said, my experience in Umbria is that the people here are a study in contrasts: welcoming yet clannish, devout yet secular, proud yet self-depreciating, diplomatic yet confrontational, industrious yet relaxed, loyal yet unfaithful, pruddish yet libidinous, reserved yet warm, traditional yet progressive. They are, however, nationwide and to a man, obsessed with their digestion.
5 Good aspects of living in Italy?
1) Universal health care
2) A more immediate relationship between food producers and consumers
3) A deep cultural appreciation for beauty
4) The incredible diversity between regions
5) The lack of “sanctimommies”
5 Bad aspects of living in Italy?
I think everything that ticks me off about living in Italy can be grouped under one umbrella cultural difference. In Italy, it’s all about family, and then close friends, and then–in distant third place and only in a pinch–perhaps your hometown. This does not lend itself to the development to a very strong sense of a larger comunity, feeling of civic duty, or national solidarity. This is a country in which it was very much every man (or family) for themselves for centuries, so the inefficient public administration, corrupt policitians, glaring building code violations, organized crime, queue jumpers, corner cutters, tailgaters, litterers, dog-poo abandoners, spray painters, and sundry other rather uncouth behaviours can all be traced back to this lingering sense of “me and my family first and everyone else second”. This has probably been necessary for survival in the past but seems anacronistic and counterproductive for the modern society in Italy today.
5 Top tips for our readers about living in Italy?
1) Set up a support network of fellow expats online and in life. You will need a personal Virgil to guide you.
2) Learn the language. I mean, really learn it. You can’t love Italy without loving Italian, and vice-versa.
3) Remember the difference between living in Italy and vacationing in Italy. Unless you are independently wealthy and have a large staff to deal with all the bureaucratic tangles, Italy will soon jog your memory about how different those two things are.
4) Engage yourself in Italian culture. It’s easy to slip into the expat bubble of news, politics, current events, and pop culture from your “home” country readily available online and miss out on the experience of participating in the comunity outside your front door.
5) Bring your own deodorant. Deodorant sucks here.
Maybe coming down your way soon, can we pop in and say hello?
Excellent Rebecca, and a big thank you for your time and answers.
Rebecca can also be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Brigolante Guest Apartment’s Website: http://www.brigolante.com/