Laundry Line

On a slow moving Sunday afternoon I went back to and old file on my computer titled IN PROGRESS WRITING. As I had imaged there was the sketch of an essay in there titled “Clothes Line” created on March 5, 2006. I am not sure I have opened it since until today. But clearly there has been a thread running though my consciousness about laundry, wanting to make its way onto a page.

Like many people I know, I grew up with a big drier in the dark basement of an old home. We used it often. It wasn’t until first my summers at camp and then my college days in Vermont that the drier became obsolete and everyone around me used clothes lines to dry their clothes. I found it a delight to, as I wrote in 2006 “putter with clothes pins and rearrange pieces of fabric.” But then as the winter months wore on (and they surely did in Northern Vermont) the laundry would inevitability go into the drier. It’s not as if we didn’t have dryers, we just chose not to use them when the sun and warmth was good enough. Save the planet.

I so enjoyed these moments of arranging my belongings delicately on a line and then gathering them up when they had lost their dampness and became deliciously warm to the touch, smelling like what I imagine to be the scent of the horizon. There was precision in the placement and tenderness in the touch. Today I live in a country where no one owns a dryer. Where hanging your laundry is as much of a daily chore as washing the dishes and making your bed, no matter what season. But somehow it still retains that momentary state of mediation for me. It is in these quick moments before heading off to work for the day or while simultaneously preparing lunch that I feel most human. It is a pause, a moment to breathe. A chore that I actually look forward to.

The difference here is that no matter what season, no matter the weather, your laundry gets hung on the line, or in your living room, in full view of any passerby or any visitor to your home. To a foreigner, the laundry line can scream….hey look at my underwear…and thus, my personal life. To an Italian, the laundry line just is and letting the personal objects of your home life hang out for everyone to see just adds to the beauty of a culture where intimate moments are plainly visible.

Little Victories

ORIGINALLY POSTED OCTOBER 14, 2011

I have a job in Italy working with Southern Visions Travel. Lately though it feels like I have two jobs, the other being battling the Italian bureaucracy in order to live here legally. But the good news is after a couple knock downs its seems that I am winning. As it stands today I have Italian residency and the subsequent Carta D’Identita (quite useful) a renewable permesso di soggiorno (green card) a doctor that I can see at no charge (imagine that!), an Italian driver’s permit (just need to pass that test) and am supposedly just mere steeps away from being a full fledged Italian citizen. And it’s only taken one year to accomplish all of this.

Everyone who knows a thing or two about this country knows that the bureaucracy here can be a real beast. It is time consuming and infuriating at times. There are rules that make no sense, fees that seem absurd and the amount of steps involved to get from point a to point b seems downright insane. Plus, when the person granted you permission to move forward towards point b. goes on vacation or retires your future then lies entirely in the hands of the person who takes their place. They could have a different opinion about you, about their job, about their lunch, their mother and could either move your process along quicker, or in my case of citizenship, block it entirely. But with swift lawyers and rules that can be bent and twisted…..there is always a way. And you just have to find it.

There is a little sweet victory in each of these moments….when I get just one step closer however small that step might be. Every time I wait and wait and wait for my number to be called or wait the 4 months for my next green card appointment and then end speaking to someone, getting some very important document, most often a highly destructible 8 x 11 piece of printer paper, signed and stamped (oh how they love to stamp things) I feel like I won. Yes!  Another victory. Surprisingly though, despite one particularly rude individual at the post office, the guy in Termoli who put a stop to my citizenship application an some totally bent out of shape man at the Italian embassy in Boston, I can say that most every person at every sportello, I’ve visited, down to they guy who gave me my eye exam at driving school, has been kind to me. They have taken at least a little bit of interest in why I am here and how I am finding their town. And yes I do have to go to driving school….me and twenty 16 year old, cigarette smoking Italians…until I pass.

People ask my why I’m doing this all. Wouldn’t you just give up? No way….I am too close and I am going to win this one.

To ride, to push

Three weeks before I leave Italy for the first time in 9 months and I am sitting down to write for the first time since my arrival in Puglia. I don’t know if this is my destined time limit before urgently needing to break for the boarder and make my way across the pond, but I am feeling that it is indeed, time to go home. Home perhaps is not the right word, but time to go back…..to the things that I know, to the people that know me and to the things that make here feel a little different. A month ago I would not have said this but something changed right around the time of my birthday. Perhaps it’s because the departure to Boston is growing nearer and perhaps it is simply the ebb and flow of living in another country, but today I feel more American than I ever have and frankly, I’m ready to get my American self on.

Let’s take a step back and look though. I am a legal resident of a town on the southern Italian coast. I work for a company where I get to plan culinary events and collaborate with the incredible food professionals I’ve met along my travels thus far. I swim in the aqua blue sea, shop at the market and delight in delicious food everyday. I have a kitten. I can conversate in Italian and I am currently drinking a lovely bottle or rose that I bought for 7 euro. In effect, everything I set out to do is happening. For this I am proud, grateful, amazed and bewildered.

A week or so ago I was skyping with two of my closest friends. Together the three of us have helped each other verbalize and figure out was to achieve our goals–mostly professional but the line gets easily blurred when you’re chatting with close girl friends over a bottle of wine (or 3) while mapping out each others lives. It’s been a big year. A book deal, a business launch and a move overseas. “So what are your long-term goals?” Suzi asked. ……………………..Silence. I had no answer.

For two plus years I had done nothing but think about this. A gut wrenching state of transition unclear of what changes I wanted to make just hoping to push down some new road. But these last 5 months I have been focusing so much on here, taking it all in and doing my best job that for a period I lost track of my long-term goals. This is clearly not a bad thing as I can easily say this has been a very happy time in my life. And that letting go? Yeah, knowingly one of my biggest lessons in life. But the time has come now to process and evaluate, as I am wont to do, and map out a plan that some includes some thought about the more distant future….whether or not it actually goes that way. I stand by the claim that getting what you desire out of life is a delicate balance between making it happen and letting it happen…….learning when to push and when to ride. And these coming weeks surrounded by the people I love, I think will give me the energy and perspective I need to begin to push again.

In giro in Molise

After a two day journey covering six regions of Italy I have arrived at my new desk and home in Monopoli. I set out on Monday morning from Florence in a rented Fiat Punto packed full of my things (a few more bags than I arrived with 4 months ago) and headed south. Finding my way out of the center of Florence by car was perhaps the most difficult part of the entire journey. After that I settled in, gathered my thoughts and drove, Through Tuscany, through Umbria, through Lazio through the snowy mountains of Abruzzo and finally into Molise where I took a 24 hour detour in Montelongo, the town of my grandfather.

I had been to Montelongo before, once in 2002 with my mom and then again in November. We had somewhat maintained a connection to our friends there (cousins of distant cousins) and of course, nine years later they were eager to host us and hopeful for our return. I had called Pepino, my main contact and also somewhat of the town mayor, a few days before letting him know that I would be passing through and making a stop at the police station in Campobasso to pick up my permesso di soggiorno. He told me not to worry about a thing and that he would be there whenever I arrived. And he was. Right there by the fountain in the town piazza in the freezing cold. I followed him to the bed and breakfast of a friend (who had heat–this was a key factor) where I rested while the small heater in the corner of the room with enormous ceilings began to warm the place up. After a little rest I went back downstairs where it seemed the locals gather for drinks and to play video games to wait for Pepino. We went to one of the two restaurants in town for dinner–a small pizzeria–where the only other diners were Pepino’s 11 year old nephew and his friends. Road weary and cold I ate well. Pizza, bisteca and red wine. Off to bed.

The next day my host Maria served me a breakfast while she and her friend, also Maria gossiped about the local goings on. They asked about me and my life and before twenty minutes were up we were Facebook friends. From there anything is possible. The Italian was flowing but the local dialect tripped me up a bit. We were on our second macciato when Pepino arrived to tour me around a bit more. We went to the house he had inherited from his aunt that he is currently renovating. It is old and beautiful and will be even more so when it is finished. We stopped in to see his mother and aunt who were busying themselves in the kitchen pouring olive oil into jars and finding telephone numbers written on scratches of paper. From there we went to the other restaurant “La Nostrana” a beautiful trattoria in the Slow Food guide book that I had eaten at in November. Maria Concetta does it all herself, cures the meat, makes the cheese, makes the pasta, the whole thing. She had two big groups coming that day and was just lighting the fireplace when we arrived. She desperately wants me to help her spread the word about her in Italy and North America. And I want to help–she is incredible. I told her I’d be back soon. After Maria Concetta is was time for lunch so back to the house with mom, aunt, both brothers and nephews.

Then to Campobasso where I’d been told I could pick up my permesso di soggiorno between the hours of 3-5. Having heard horror stories of this experience in Florence, the one person ahead of me in line was a pleasant sight. 10 minutes later I was walking out of there, totally legal in Italy for one year.

The ride back to Montelongo to pick up my car was a long and windy one through nowhere Molise. These roads twist and turn through the mountains as little villages dot the hill tops. Nobody talks about Molise, including Italians. It seems that they don’t even know where it is. However everyone who lives there wants me to come back to live, for good.

Back to the house to collect a gift bag of olive oil, homemade wine and biscotti. Set the GPS to Bari, said my goodbyes and off I went winding back down to the autostrada and further south.

Email to Friends and Family

For posterity. Sent February 27, 2011 Dearest friends and family, It’s been a little bit since my last official update from Italy. But today, a rainy Sunday afternoon, seems perfect for writing. Today is also exactly one week before I pack up some kind of rented Fiat, leave Florence and head back down south. I have been offered a job with Southern Visions Travel. (www.pugliaitalytravel.com) a small travel company based in Puglia–the heel of the boot. They do cycling tours for mostly Americans and Canadians and are amping up their culinary offerings. They just now restoring this beautiful farmhouse into a cooking school and culinary retreat. Should be open by May. It’s a team of Italians, Americans and South Africans in the town of Monopoli….on the Adriatic coast. My job is to handle their marketing for the season–through October. After that we’ll see. I’ll basically be helping them tell the story of the company and the area through the eyes of an American, as Puglia is just now getting on the travel radar. One of my big projects is writing a blog (now that I’m a blogger) about my day to day interactions as an American (the only American) living in there. I will be really forced to get out and talk to the locals, in Italian and sink in to the local scene. Should be fodder for some great experiences. I think the blog is going to be southernvisionspuglia.wordpress.com but I will let you know for sure. It’s an exciting change. And for sure a change. I look forward to the new adventure, to getting to know an amazing part of the world and to doing what it is I came here to do. But at the same time I will miss the comforts of the life I’ve created here. No more small group of girlfriends, 4 am pasta with my housemates or quiet evenings with a sweet guy. The transition feels a bit strange as transitions often do, but soon enough I will wake up in sunny southern Italy with a sea view from my apartment in the center of the old city. I’m not an Italian citizen yet, still waiting on that. But I am legal, which is something. More than a lot of Americans living and working in Florence. Next hurdle is opening a bank account. Another delicate issue with a lot of bureaucracy attached. These days I miss scones (from Sherman) and oysters. And all of you. Good news is that I’ve negotiated 4 weeks off in the summer to come home. Likely August so mark your calendars. By the pool, in the ‘ville, in the berks, on the island…..I can’t wait. Good luck getting to spring. I’m pulling for you. And I am ALWAYS open for visitors. First one gets a prize. May and June are lovely in Puglia…… All my love, Leigh

Southern Visions and Monopoli

I returned last night on a flight from Bari to Pisa (first experience on Ryanair) after spending 3 days with Anontello and team in Monopoli. The days were a blend of meeting and planning sessions, getting to know the (many) projects of the company and of course eating and drinking.

Basically it breaks down like this……Antonello owns Southern Visions Travel (google it) which started as a bike touring company throughout Puglia and is now growing to incorporate more “cultural” travel which includes food and wine. My job with the company is to basically do their marketing, but not only for the company but for life in Puglia–an emerging destination for Americans. You can check this out too on the Google–true story. So I’ve been outfitted with a camera and telecamera (video) and will facebook, twitter and blog my head off about my life as an American living in Puglia. Look out for my NEW blog, Southern Visions Puglia, daily life on the heel of the boot. The two might eventually merge in some cases. The other part of the job is doing a little PR….story pitching, press releases and the like. Can’t seem to get away from this but it’s part of the game I suppose. And then some work on the culinary end of things like connecting with US chefs and the whole localvore thing stateside.

So in two weeks I pack up and move down there–hopefully into what feels like the Puglese version of my Marblehead apartment…..just add two huge decks with a sea view. No joke.

I didn’t have my camera, for fear of exceeding the strict Ryanair weight limits so I just have a few snapshots from the cellulare.

Not so straight line

The days of late have moved up and down from highs to lows and a few notches in between. There have been job offers that haven’t come through, promised phone calls that never happened, a few nights sleep of exceptional sleep, a quick trip to the gynocologist, job prospects that entice me, random encounters with interesting people, and more predictable encounters with those that are growing on me. I do believe that I have finally had the chance to catch up with myself and come to terms with what I’ve done here. What better a place to let it all come to the surface than at an Irish pub with a friend. We all need these moments and I am thankful for the friend, the neighborhood pub and all the experiences that got me there sitting on a bar stool wiping away the tears. The healthy pour of prosecco helped too.

Just returned from yoga I am on the more even side of that night. I have an actual job offer and an actual meeting with a one Gianluca next week to discuss the details. This feels good. The rest is beginning to crystalize in my mind and I am slowly formulating a plan to be able to spend the time I want in Puglia. I am marking dates on my calendar for the end of April and while that seems like just the beginning of spring it is actually three months from now…..a longer period of time than I have actually been here already. It leaves a lot of space for things to happen…..to unfold…. and feel like I have a place in this life here.

Life in Italy could be changing my concept of what kind of lifestyle is livable, acceptable. Nobody has money here but still the days roll on contently. A beat up motorino for long distance winter transport, no problem. A full-time job making photocopies, bring it. Dinner out at a cheap hole in the wall, yes please. An apartment that’s not always warm, getting used to it. And yeah sure, smoke inside if you want….just open the window.

The day to day

Firenze, December 7

Thanksgiving has come and Mom and Alan have returned home. I miss them dearly but it almost feels like another life ago when they were here and I was still acting somewhat of a tourist with them. Yesterday my plane left for Boston without me and yesterday I think I said for the first time, I live here. And that I do. Emails were shot across the Atlantic to all my Edible Boston accounts from the last few years telling them that I was moving on. Step one to becoming official. I’m not sure what step two is but somehow I feel that there is one more important milestone before I say that it’s official. Plane is gone, job is gone. What else do I need? Perhaps it’s just a matter of moving into my new apartment next week that will make me feel that the deal is sealed. Each day I feel that my slate is cleaned a little more and I am ready for a new beginning.
Holiday Celebrations

The days continue to be a jumble of fun wining and dining and walking around the city and crossing off things on my to do list. Tie up job stuff, call T mobile, figure out how to get birth control, import olive oil, send affidavit for green card. It’s a funny thing here, or anywhere new I imagine, getting things done. Each errand or thing that needs accomplishing requires a certain amount of learning. Weighing and pricing produce yourself at the market, understanding who exactly sells envelopes, waiting a full hour and a half for the wash to finish its cycle, figuring out how to order meat in kilos. There is fun in that and when the task is complete there is a sense of victory. Little victories everyday.

Supermercato

Florence is an easy city to move to as an ex-pat. There are so many resources here for us that I can’t believe I didn’t do this sooner. At this point I wouldn’t give up my small circle of friends for anything. It is there company that make the days pass with pleasure and keep my mind off the sometimes overwhelming things that lie ahead. At the same time though I sometimes stop and wonder, is this too easy? I know for sure my language isn’t progressing as fast as I’d like because I’m surrounded by English speakers and I’m pretty sure that there are cities that feel more authentically Italian. There is a difference between being an ex-pat in Florence and living in Italy. The Canadian woman I am renting this apartment from has lived her fifteen years and has never really been South.  That’s crazy to me. Eventually I would like to get out of this city but for now it feels a bit like home and I like that.

Something Different

There is something about this trip that feels different. And I’d like to think that it’s not because I’m thinking of staying, Something feels easier. Like there’s more room to find my way and lose my way in the process. The language for one is clicking without as much effort. Maybe I’m just trying less, trusting more.

 

Why is it that I want this? Why do I need this?

I need this because everything is a bit confusing right now and it makes more sense than anything else.

I need this in part because I need things to be hard for a while. I need to have a dream and make it a reality and in the process see what I’m actually made of. I need to be down on my luck a bit and recognize where the blessings come from. I need to push my limits and do something I’ve dreamed of doing for so long. If it doesn’t work then so be it….something will.