Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Goldilocks: Choice or Luck?

I'm feeling a bit like Goldilocks these days...having found a comfy place that suits me just fine. During my first extended stay in Italy, I had a quaint little apartment in the historical center or centro of Florence. Initially, I was delighted with it, since it was close to my favorite piazzas and it even had a terrace.

A view of the terrace on Borgo degli Albizi
However, my delight wore off when I realized how little space there was to move around in, how cold it got in October, how ill-equipped it was with supplies, and how uncomfortable the bed was.  It was also icky to take a shower in a corner of the bathroom: no stall, which meant the water spilled onto the bathroom floor. Did I mention the cold? I was cold every day for two of the three months that I stayed there. I was wary of using the heater, as utilities are very expensive in Italy, so I used it as little as possible. And though I met a variety of people, I had no real friends to hang out with, so I was lonely much of the time as well.

Next, I tried house-sitting, which also had its benefits. For two years I spent several months during the spring in Zagarolo, a small village southeast of Rome. There was a large house and a huge yard, with fruit, nut and olive trees, located in the countryside, surrounded by vineyards. I had the use of a car, since the house was miles from town, and the company of eight cats. I had easy access to visit Rome via a 30-minute train ride.

The house in Zagarolo
But living in Zagarolo also had many limitations, even though the lodgings were "free." I could only go on day trips, since I had to be there to feed the cats, morning and night. I had to watch out for any ailments with the cats and ward off a predator cat that toured the neighborhood. I had to take care of the enormous yard, which involved mowing the grass and trimming the hedges all along the alley. In the spring, when everything grew quickly, this took many hours each week. Though I met a few people and had weekend visits from some of my friends, I felt lonely and isolated much of the time.

The owner of the house also had specific rules that compromised my comfort: for instance, I was not allowed to open the shutters in the front room of the house when the sun was shining in, and it was the only place where direct sun came in for a few hours in the morning. (She didn't want the paint to fade.) So guess what? It was cold in the house much of the time I was there: I'm talking 60-64 degrees F. There was no heat, since the owner used a wood stove and had closed the chimney up before she left town. Being cold in Italy seemed to be a recurring theme for me.

And last year, the house-sitting situation became a liability for me when the owner returned six weeks early from her travels, and we had to share the house, or trade off being in the house at the same time. It ended up being stressful and costly for me, and put me off the idea of house-sitting again.

San Niccolo
Fast forward to this year. I had started thinking that maybe my time in Italy was nearing an end. I don't want to keep traveling around for weeks at a time, as it's expensive and exhausting. Any extended stay requires me to be in one place, with a DSL internet connection so I can work when I need to. I decided to give Florence another try, and I'm so GLAD I did! I feel as if I've finally found the right fit for my needs, here in San Niccolo. I have several good friends who live in Florence now and others in nearby cities. San Niccolo is somewhat like a small village, but a ten-minute walk across the river takes me to the heart of culture and art in Florence's historic center. The apartment hasn't been cold at all, and I'll be leaving before it's necessary to use the heat. I'm hoping to come back next year and stay longer. Like Goldilocks, the third choice was the best one for me. However, unlike her, my life is NOT a fairy tale.

Outside the city wall: exploring the unknown
And speaking of choices: Many people have said that I'm lucky, or that I live a charmed life due to my travels in Italy. But luck has little, if anything to do with it, and I'd be doing myself and others a disservice to accept that comment as truth. The definition of luck is "Success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one's own actions." Being lucky suggests that there was little choice or will involved in how I live. It also suggests that only "lucky'' people can travel to Italy or live as I do. Our lives are a series of choices, and my choice since 2006 has been to figure out ways to travel and live in Italy. I'm motivated by the desire to understand a foreign country and language as best I can.

It hasn't been easy to get to this point, and I don't always share the struggles that go along with this choice. I live simply and I spend little on material goods. I often work long hours when I'm home, and short hours when I travel to be able to afford my adventures. I'm willing to live with the hassles, uncertainty and anxiety that go along with traveling and living on my own in a foreign country. I'm 63 and I don't have a pension waiting for me in the future, so I'll be working at least until I'm 70, all for the sake of being able to spend more time in Italy. This is my choice. So, while it's true that I'm fortunate in many ways, I wouldn't attribute my situation to luck. For those who want to come to Italy, here's a suggestion: plan a trip, buy a ticket, and go! If you really want to do it, most people can find a way. And if you don't travel, realize that it's your choice (perhaps with good reason) not to: it's not because you're unlucky. Make your own dreams come true: Italy awaits you!

My bed in San Niccolo: this one is just right!

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