Embracing my inner Italian

firenze apartment building

Open my freezer and you’ll likely only find ice. I haven’t bought a loaf of bread or salad dressing in over six years. I go to the grocery store once or twice a week, buying only what I need for the next couple of days. I take daily naps. I believe wine is a food group. When I cook dinner at home, I eat my salad after my main course. A stick of butter lasts me for weeks yet I can go through olive oil by the vat.

These thoughts come to my mind after reading a post on my friend Maureen Jenkins’ UrbanTravelGirl blog about her inner Italian. Maureen and I met a few years ago when we both lived in Italy. Sadly, both of us returned to the States for financial reasons after begrudgingly accepting the difficulties in earning enough money as a freelance writer to live in the manner to which we had become accustomed. And sadly, neither of us found un bello ragazzo to marry and hopefully take care of us. Not for lack of trying and not that it was our priority. But that’s a post for another day.

Sharon Sanders, a friend of Maureen’s, spotlighted Maureen in her award-winning blog “Simple Italy: Italian Food, Culture, Lifestyle and Travel. ” Her blog is for “all those who embrace la bella vita.”  As she writes, “Even if we don’t live in Italy, Italy lives inside of us.” (For me that is so unbelievably true.) At the end of the post, Sharon, who lived and worked in Firenze (Florence) many years ago, asked the question: Has Italy changed your life in a profound way?

That question brings me to how I began this post. It’s about how living in Italy changed my life. I’m still amazed that our stores have oodles of shelves of salad dressing when olive oil (and sometimes vinegar) will do just fine. I don’t believe in buying a shopping cart full of groceries and freezing fresh food. I wonder why waiters look at me strangely when I ask for a wine list at lunch time.

When I left Los Angeles for Italy in April 2003, I did so with the intention of never returning to the States. Or at least now for a couple of decades. Not that I dislike the U.S., although with all of these senseless shootings I do sometimes wish it were harder to buy guns like it is in other countries. I love my country but also get a kick out of growing (not taller because I think 6-foot-1 is tall enough). Outside of prison, where I have no plans to go, there is no better way to learn about oneself and test one’s limit than to live in a foreign country. I just figured I would grow old in Italy, either alone or with a husband, and preferably not someone else’s. Although I didn’t want to return to the States in 2005, I like to think I did so a wiser soul with more patience and tolerance being that I know what it’s like to be an immigrant barely able to speak a country’s language, more of an ability to appreciate the simple things in life and with a polished palate.

I don’t miss living in New York just yet but I daydream about returning to my simple life in Italy, where stemware wasn’t a priority when I drank wine and I really didn’t mind when my heel got caught between cobblestones while walking down a charming, dim street. The other night I had a chance to reminisce about those carefree days when I enjoyed a delicious Italian meal at Cafe Angelino with author extraordinaire Tracie Howard, whom I had the pleasure of meeting when she traveled through Firenze with a mutual friend and others. Tracie, whose latest must-read book is Friends and Fauxs, and her crew sailed through Italy in July 2003. I was still a newbie and under the belief that I was in my adopted country forever, thinking my oh-so-Italian apartment (one of the ones whose windows you see above because my bedroom and living room faced the Arno River) was going to be mine until the end of the time. Or until I married, whichever came first.

Maybe one day I’ll have the chance to move back to Italy, a country full of faults and pleasures. Until then, I have to embrace my inner Italian from here and try not to weep in my vino rosso when I look at old photos like these:

living room in firenzeThis was my first apartment in Firenze. An American neighbor eventually loaned me an expensive, antique desk from which to work but initially I sat at the dining table, which faced the Arno, and wrote masterful stories. Yes, that is a USA Today on the coffee table!

lived next to ponte vecchioI lived right next to the Ponte Vecchio, which means “old bridge” in Italian. It used to be full of butcher shops but today has an excessive number of jewelry stores. The Germans spared it, but not the other bridges, during WWII.

first meal i cooked in firenzeThis was the very first meal I cooked in Florence, when drinking wine from a tumbler suited me fine. I wish I had that ravioli and sauce now.

clothes drying in firenze apartmentClothes dryers were uncommon in Firenze so I used a clothes rack after washing my clothes in my little washing machine that took hours to go through one cycle.

lucy in firenzeLucy‘s name was changed to Lucia when we moved to Firenze. She looks evil here but really she loved living in Italy because she likes to hear the Italian language. Just like me!



Filed under Italy, Los Angeles, Travel, Wine

10 responses to “Embracing my inner Italian

  1. Alison Howard-Smith

    That view is to die for!!!! Maybe I can be Lucy in my next life;)

    • urbantravelgirl

      Kelly, just reading your post makes me want to weep (as I often do when reminiscing about our days in bella Italia). Living in Italy, even for a short time, has changed me in ways that will impact my life forever. And while trips abroad really do help reshape us, I agree that probably nothing like LIVING abroad teaches you who you REALLY are, how resilient and resourceful you can be. And I think you become more of who you are when you’re not surrounded by the easy fall-back things you come to rely upon in your native land.

      I can’t WAIT to experience life overseas again. The way I look at it, our earlier stay in Italy was just the “primi.” Next time we return, it will be for “il secondo,” or the main course!

      A presto,
      Maureen (Marina!)

  2. Pingback: Who is your ‘Inner Italian?’ Former Italy dweller Kelly Carter celebrates hers « UrbanTravelGirl

  3. Aw. This brought tears to my eyes even though I have yet to live abroad (outside of living with the parental units), I can’t wait until I experience this next year.

    I hope you both get to go back one day and live your dream. Your apartment was to die for!

  4. Kelly,
    Your writing made me sooo nostalgic for Firenze.
    Had you traveled to Italy before your big move?
    And taking a dog with you. . .that must have required jumping a few bureaucratic hurdles. Anyway, maybe we can share a caffe at Rivoire one of these years.
    a presto,

  5. Hi Sharon,
    I’ve heard so much about you through Maureen and I’ve been enjoying your blog. Though I have to make sure I’ve eaten already before I read it.
    To answer your question, yes I had visited Italy three times before I made the big move. It was during my second visit, which took place a decade after my first, that I decided to move. And I went back again to make sure Italy was my country. I had been trying to find a country that was right for me as I’ve always fancied myself living abroad.
    The dog was not a problem at all. She had been there, and other countries, before. I did have to get a European passport for her while I was there but that was no problem. She just needed another microchip and another rabies shot. Very simple. That was the easiest thing I had to do there. My visa, the shipping, the moving from my home. Those are headaches I don’t look forward to reliving but I will when I make another big move.
    Looking forward to meeting you at Rivoire!
    Un abbraccio,


  6. May I just pick one one thing? Don’t mean to be a smartass, but may I point out that you probably won’t find all that ice in an italian freezer either? No ice for italians. Only in cocktails I suppose. We seem to believe that it is somehow unhealthy or or at least unpleasant to have a chilled drink (May I also add that whereas “Chill” has a positive nuance in English, it’s Italian possible translations all carry a negative meaning related to coldness in general?), or from a more prosaic point of view, the bartender is ripping you off by giving you ice instead of booze. So to get back to cocktails: ice if you care for the looks, no ice if you go for the booze.
    P.s.-sorry about the rambling…

    • Hi Andre,
      I agree about the ice. I had a margarita on the rocks the other day and probably had five sips before it was gone. I ordered a second and asked the bartender to cut down on the ice, which she gladly did. What a ripoff!

  7. June

    OMG! I am in the process of planning my DREAM vacation and can’t wait to get to Italy! I bet it’s all I thought it would be and then some. I love everything about Italy that I’ve ever read and seen and even have Tuscan decor throughout my house in Texas.:-) Unfortunately, I don’t know the language. We are leaving mid June for about 5-6 weeks. It’s so HARD to decide exactly which countries I want to go to. I was told I could pick ANYWHERE nice and romantic that I’ve always wanted to go. I initially chose a 31 day escorted tour and after thoroughly reading and researching it…decided that wasn’t for me. So now, we’re planning to fly into London 1st and then take the train to Paris and on to the South of France. Italy is the difficult part, because there’s so MUCH to choose from. I know I want to do Rome and Florence (Tuscany?). Not sure about other places at the moment. We’re looking for nice B & B’s in all locations. We really want to travel & be among the locals (not just total touristy stuff).
    Can you give some recommendations for must do/eat/see off the hidden path? I am sooooo EXCITED!!

    • Hi June,
      Have you figured out yet where you’re going in Italy?
      And since you have a few months before departure, I hope you’ll start learning a little Italian. You can buy CDs and listen to them in your car or put them on your iPod and listen while at the gym. Sure you can get around the main parts of Italy by speaking English, but the locals sure appreciate Americans who make an effort to speak the local language. One of the reasons we (Americans) are frowned upon so much when we travel is because we think everyone should adapt to us when in fact we are the foreigners.
      And so I don’t forget to tell you later, be sure to pack cheap wash clothes you can toss as you go along. Pretty much only the huge American hotels will have them so if you’re addicted to them (as I am), then take your own.
      Let me know your plans.


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