Today sees the eleventh in our series of interviews with Expats in Italy, taking us to Florence to meet Eugene Martinez of Ars Opulenta which provides private custom tours of Florence and its environs and cooking in Chianti.
Eugene says: “Over 2000 years of history, art, culture, tradition, folkore and legend come together in this most special place. Let me accompany you on your discovery of one of the world’s most captivating cities and its surrounding Province. Together we’ll walk the same narrow streets that were the haunts of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Dante, Machiavelli, Galileo, Lorenzo the Magnificent and so many others!”
Ars Opulenta’s Walking and Museum Tours in Florence are always private and personal. You have 100% of Eugene’s attention, 100% of the time. You can personalize your tour to focus on your own special interests. Tell him your favorite artists, architects, special places you’d like to explore. Perhaps you’d enjoy an exclusive private tasting of Tuscan delicacies and wines followed by a walk about the bustling food market before visiting Michelangelo in San Lorenzo! Or you’re a fan of of the medieval guilds and would like to learn more about them! Let Eugene develop a custom itinerary just for you and make your Florentine vacation an experience you’ll never forget.
The Questions and Answers:
How long have you been living in Italy?
I’ve been living in Italy on and off since 1980. From 1980-1990, on. From 1990-2003, back and forth (sometimes mostly here, sometimes mostly in New York), from 2003 to present, always here.
Who came up with the idea of living in Italy?
I met my partner in New York – we were both working as freelance textile designers at the time. He is from Salerno. At one point he suggested we go to work with a studio he knew in Rome. I said, Well that sounds like it could be fun for a few months. The rest is history.
How are you getting on with The Italian language?
The question is, how does the Italian language get on with me! Our problem is that since he is from here and I am from there, we have always spoken a mix of English and Italian, with a good dollop of Salernitano and a great dash of Spanish (my first language) thrown in. So I sometimes wind up sounding like Ricky Ricardo, but that’s just too bad.
Do you miss your home and family?
My home is here, in San Casciano Val di Pesa. I miss New York more in my head than in reality. Last time I was there, about 4 years ago, it only took a few hours to be done with it. As for my family, everyone has passed away except for my sister who comes to visit. Thanks to the internet, we talk or write almost every day. Otherwise, my family is here under the roof with me: the Other Half, our four dogs and our 22-year-old macaw.
Did you buy, or are you renting the place where you live?
That’s a very Italian question.
What do you think about the Italians?
Well, I did decide to spend my life with one of them 31 years ago… but that doesn’t necessarily mean I love all 60 million of them. I find that Italians have changed dramatically in the last 30 years, and not necessarily for the better. Generally, I find people to be more rude, more sloppy, less generous than before. That’s not to say that there aren’t polite, spiffy and open armed folks here – just that what I used to consider the hallmarks of ‘italianità’ no longer exist. One of the measures I use to clock this is the rapid disappearance of the use of ‘Lei’ and the omnipresence of ‘Ciao’. I can remember entering a store one day many years ago. The clerk said ‘Ciao’ to the Other Half – he got totally bent out of shape. What do you mean, Ciao? CIAO?!? You don’t even know me! Today, we’re all buds, we all hang together and skateboard or Wii or whatever it is we do. I don’t like it. Harumph.
5 Good aspects of living in Italy?
1) I’m an art historian, specialized in central italian medieval art. This is the place.
2) Food and wine. And food. And wine. And not only… the culture, history, tradition of food and wine. And food. And wine.
3) Speaking of tradition… Tradition. I’m a big believer in it. New Yorkers have traditions too, but nothing beats Italy, where it takes thousands of years to change one’s mind about something. Related to tradition, dialects. I love dialects and defend them fiercely.
4)The South. I love Salerno, Napoli, the Cilento. What they eat in Campania is what’s on the menu on Cloud 9. Being from New York, the chaos and unruliness is comforting.
5) Last and absolutely not least: Florence. This city has it all. History, beauty, tradition, food, wine, art, music. It’s big enough to meet every need yet small enough to act like an overgrown town. I can’t walk down the street in Florence without bumping into someone I know. Florentines are like New Yorkers – crunchy on the outside and mushy on the inside. When florentines are rude, it’s mostly because they tire quickly of having to put on the happy face for the throngs of tourists. But they always rally. Almost always. It’s a privilege to be part of this city, and I still have to pinch myself to make sure I’m awake. When the day is done, I come home to by beautiful little corner of Chianti… and what could be better than that?
5 Bad aspects of living in Italy?
1) Weird infrastructure: the blackout caused by a bird flying to close to a wire, the hours or days without water because the aqueduct washed out, the post office that doesn’t forward mail because they can’t find the right form to fill out, the road that’s closed for over a year because they’re building a sidewalk that’s about one block long……
2) Kafkanian burocracy, and the local way of dealing with it: <SHRUG>, Siamo in Italia!
3) Internalized, institutionalized homo/xenophobia/racism/sexism/ageism.
4) The octopusish reach that the Vatican has into so many aspects of life.
5) The tendency towards fascism, which I attribute in part to #4… but that’s a whole other can o’ worms.
5 Top tips for our readers about living in Italy?
1) Stop comparing life here to life where you came from. There is no comparison, or if there is you’ll only drive yourself nuts thinking about it.
2) Keep an entire drawer stocked with doppia-prese, riduzioni, prese tedesche and all that crap. You can never have enough.
3) Face the fact that no matter how long you’ve been here or how long you’ll stay, you will never be accepted as a local. You can be well loved, appreciated, enjoyed and held in regard but you’ll never be a local.
4) Go native, but not so much. Embrace living here but proudly pour ketchup over your patatine, have cocktails, guffaw at jokes and go MMMMmmmm when you taste something yummy.
5) Remember why you came here, love being here. And turn to IRG for help, advice and healthy venting!
Thanks Eugene, I had a feeling you’d add some spice to the answers!