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NEW YEAR’S PERSPECTIVE – 2017   Since the beginning of this Blog, we have paused after the New Year’s celebrations to reflect on the year just past. Each year as Expatriates has brought new and different experiences.  Thinking back on these events seems to help us better understand this stimulating and different life we are now living. Of course, not all last year’s experiences affected us in positive and reinforcing ways. In reflecting back on 2016, a general refrain we are hearing from others as well is a diminished enthusiasm for some of what the past year brought. The major event in our United States homeland was a presidential election. The overall impression is that process was marked by division, acrimony, and expressions of vitriol largely rooted in fear and exploited anxiety.  What might have been hoped for in reasoned explorations of alternative visions to bring about a better tomorrow was largely drowned out in negativity. The presidential election process projected an overall absence of civilly moderated, reasoned dialog discouraged by the disparaging of ‘political correctness.’ The outcome appears to be we have been forced to confront the reality that just barely beneath the surface of American culture, there lurks coarseness and crude insensitivity. Apparently, a commitment to maintain a cohesive and inclusive American larger sense of common community has been sacrificed in favor of identity politics. This extremely troubling development is a consequence of fomenting division as a political strategy – a classic ‘divide and conquer’ objective. Demagoguery too easily replaces reasoned, civil debate in a society saturated in the stimulating noise of mass media entertainment. A meaningful vision of ‘a larger, We’ somehow gets lost in the process. Americans are now confronted by deep divisions within the fabric of the nation. Reflecting on the words of Abraham Lincoln in the dark days leading up to the American Civil War, we need to consider very seriously the question of ‘whether a house divided against itself can stand?’ America is currently appearing too fractured to promote a cohesive, collaborative community committed to a Common Good. Not all Americans wanted it this way but it seems sufficient numbers of us bought the sound bites probably out of desperation. An opportunity...

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CHRISTMAS 2016

CHRISTMAS 2016

By on Dec 23, 2016 in Blog | 8 comments

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND BEST WISHES FOR THE COMING YEAR   Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and Ascoli Piceno is alive with anticipation.  In Italy, family, food and dear friends are what make the holiday so special.   Our wonderful Italian friends have invited us to a series of festive meals with them. We start with a noontime gathering tomorrow and then a traditional Christmas Eve dinner at the home of another friend. On Christmas Day we join our friend Serafino and his extended family for a Christmas Day feast which will go on for hours. The day after Christmas, Saint Stefano’s Day, we have been invited to the home of our delightful upstairs neighbors for an extended midday meal with their family.   There is a Christmas Market in one of the main piazzas complete with lighted tree, above, and an ice skating rink.  On New Year’s Eve we will host our now traditional party in our home.   This is a season to take the time to reflect on what is most important in life. And that’s why we wanted to say how much we appreciate each of you.   With our warmest best wishes,   Larry and Arlene Ascoli Piceno,...

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EARTHQUAKE SWARM

EARTHQUAKE SWARM

By on Dec 15, 2016 in Blog | 6 comments

EARTHQUAKE SWARM As many of you are aware, Central Italy has been experiencing a series of earthquakes which began in late August this year. Clusters of earthquake tremors are not uncommon worldwide and are referred to as ‘swarms.’On 24 August, a very serious level 6.2 earthquake occurred in the Sibillini Mountain range of the Italian Apennines. Close to 300-people lost their lives and over 25,000 people either lost their homes or were required to evacuate. Countless businesses were destroyed and lives disrupted in the mountain villages. A contributing factor to the high initial loss of life was the late August period is traditionally vacation time in much of Europe.  During this period, it is common for Italians to escape the heat of late summer in the cities to vacation in mountain villages. It is also common to have visitors from outside of Italy come into Italy’s mountains for their vacations. As a result, many small towns and villages were filled to capacity with visitors on 24 August. Regrettably, many of these smaller settlements contained structures built in less prosperous times by people who worked the land and were not constructed in accordance with later, updated building codes more sensitive to seismic issues. After a somewhat moderate quieting down, the so-called earthquake swarm re-intensified adding to the property loss. In late October, more intense earthquake activity was felt in a concentrated area in the Sibillini Mountains.  On 24 October, a level 5.5 earthquake occurred followed on 30 October by a 6.6 level event. These tremors intensified property damage in structures already weakened in the previous series of tremors. Fortunately, the Civil Protection authorities had taken prompt and effective action in the aftermath of the initial 24 August seismic shock and had facilitated evacuations in earthquake prone areas where building structural integrity was felt to be compromised. The increase in late October serious seismic activity intensified the evacuation effort and broadened its scope. The evacuees were moved into temporary housing where many still remain. That prompt response has ensured the post-August re-intensification of the earthquake activity has not resulted in the additional loss of life. The issue of how or even whether to rebuild has yet to be addressed. It is...

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LOGISTICS REVISITED

LOGISTICS REVISITED

By on Dec 7, 2016 in Blog | 6 comments

LOGISTICS REVISITED Consistency is supposed to be a virtue, except when it no longer is. We are now well into the fourth year of our Expatriate adventure in the Central Italian, provincial capital of Ascoli Piceno. What has remained consistent is our enjoyment of this place, its people and the quality of life we are experiencing. Some decisions make a lot of sense at a given point in time. One of our early decisions was to do without owning a car. We did, on occasion, rent a car or a van but that was largely for IKEA runs or visitor tours. But like the song says, times they are a changing – yes, we just bought a car. A 2005 Fiat Panda diesel powered vehicle is now part of the family. Arlene has decided to name the Panda “The Boss,” derived, or so I understand, from the Fiat Marketing Department’s name for the color in which the car is painted – ‘Bossa Nova Blue.’ I also understand there is no allusion to Bruce Springsteen implied. This change in our life has come on gradually. Our initial concentration had been on becoming more comfortable being part of the life around our home in the historic center of Ascoli Piceno. A factor in choosing this place was because of the many options it presents within easy walking distance of our apartment. The terrain is generally flat and the visuals in this distinctly historic and architecturally stimulating setting still excite us. Other than some excursions into the countryside with friends plus trips by air or rail to more  distant places, we had not  wandered very far out of central Ascoli in the process of daily life. It seems as time has gone on, our circle of Italian friends has widened with the result that not all of them live within central Ascoli. Many of our friends with cars have been more than generous in transporting us to social events outside of Ascoli. But after a while, imposing on friendship not only gets awkward, our self imposed limit in taking advantage of spontaneous possibilities has run it’s natural course. Reinforcing that aspect, over time, we have been exposed to small, picturesque villages and...

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HOME Home is more than a mere geographic reference; the emotional significance of home is much deeper than that. We seem to need a place of sanctuary where we can have a break from the inevitable stresses of interacting in a larger world. For us, home has always been a very special place. A relocation within a native homeland carries stresses enough but relocating to a different country only multiplies the dislocation issues involved. Among the complexities of a major relocation to a far distant place is the disruption to a comfortable feeling of where home now actually exists. It seems accepting a place to be called home does not come instantly. That feeling only seems to grow over time with an overlaying accumulation of events and emotional experiences that provide reassurance. In adapting to Expatriate life, as expected, some additional time has been required for us to reach a level of emotional comfort in a new and different place before it has started to really feel like home. In a recent post, we discussed our plan to return to California this past summer to not only visit family and friends but to sort through items left in storage, dispose of some things and then ship the remainder to Ascoli Piceno. Sorting and deciding what to ship and what was to be disposed of was both physically and emotionally exhausting. But we had reached a stage of comfort with our lives in Ascoli that having items that have been part of our lives for so long around us again would further solidify the feeling of establishing a new home. As expected, the dynamics of accomplishing the shipment were complex. Matters proceeded more comfortably on the U.S. end than in Italy. More on that in a separate commentary of our experience under the heading of ‘Logistics II.’ Bound for the U.S., we left Rome by air in mid-June for New York. We returned to Ascoli during the first week of August – seven weeks on the go and just a couple of weeks before the earthquake experience Arlene recently wrote about. We started with a visit with my brother, the lady in his life plus our nephew and his family....

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LOGISTICS II Sometime back we wrote about a series of logistical considerations we decided upon in the process of becoming Expatriates in Italy. That included where to concentrate our search for a location in which to live, whether to rent or purchase a home and whether or not to buy a car. And now, after a little over three years of living in a Provincial Capital, ‘off the beaten track’ near the Adriatic Coast of Central Italy, our continuing assessment of the decisions reached in each of those areas is that the results have continued to work well for us. When we approached developing the criteria to use in making logistical decisions, the core factors we used were; to aim for more simplicity in our lives, being mindful of cost issues in an economy we were unfamiliar with and attempting to reduce sources of stress and frustration. One of the means of achieving that latter objective was to reduce, as much as possible, the necessity of having to interface with the Italian bureaucracy. As it turns out, that latter objective was even more prescient than we realized at the time. The following example will illustrate the point. The experience we are about to relate involved bringing our remaining personal items from California to our new home in Italy. In the process of the relocation to become Expats, we deferred the decision on bringing furniture and household items with us to Italy until we were more sure of what might better fit into our adopted homeland lifestyle. There were also concerns at the time involving the extended family that made firm, long-term planning difficult. So, we decided to leave some items in storage in California that would also provide a fallback reserve ‘just in case’ we were to return to the U.S. As it turns out, not bringing household items with us in an early stage of becoming Expats in Italy, created an unforeseen complication. Unfortunately, we did not realize at the time there is a finite window of one year once immigrating into Italy within which personal items can be imported from outside the European Union to avoid import duty. We waited over three years. That turned out to...

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Il Terremoto, The Earthquake

Il Terremoto, The Earthquake

By on Aug 27, 2016 in Blog | 6 comments

The Terremoto Many of our very kind readers contacted us to ask if we are okay after the horrific earthquake (terremoto).  Thank you for your concern and yes we are physically just fine.  Our beautiful city of Ascoli Piceno had no major damage and our apartment sustained no damage.  There are reports of cracked or crumbling plaster but nothing major that we know of.   A sincere thanks to Saint Emidio, out patron saint, for protecting us.  That being said, we are stunned to live so close to such a catastrophe and yet we are unscathed.  We are overcome with a feeling of helplessness when so many so close need help.  Lighting a few candles in the Cathedral and donating a bit of relief money feels inadequate. Next we think it is very important to say that, while we are grateful for the extensive national news coverage, for those not familiar with Italy and it’s terrain it sounds like all of central Italy is shut down.  With the exception of the immediate areas affected by the quake Italy is still open for business and in one piece.  The best thing you can do for Italy is not to cancel or delay your plans to visit.  Tourism is a major part of the economy here which is still suffering from the economic crisis of 2008.  If you don’t have plans to visit Italy, we encourage you to make some.  You will be welcomed, as always, by the easygoing, jovial and curious Italians that we love so much. More details on the earthquake.  At 3:36 AM on Wednesday, 24 August, we were awakened by a pretty violent shaking of the 500 year-old palazzo our apartment is in.  The shaking lasted less than 15 seconds, which always seems longer, the power went out and car alarms started going off.  We got up to check the time and looked out our open windows to see a few people coming out in the street and talking.  The power came back on about 15 minutes later, the car alarms were silenced and our neighbor said our building was okay so we went back to bed.  Based on our fine-tuned “California earthquake gauge” it felt like a...

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  THE ROAD LESS TRAVELLED BY For those of us who had the good fortune to have our High School English teachers expose us to the poetry of Robert Frost, his words come back to us in later life with so much more meaning.  In 1920, Robert Frost was age 46 when he wrote his poem, The Road Not Taken. His final stanza is perhaps the more familiar:   I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I- I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.   In high school, one is not well equipped to relate to explorations based on retrospective reflection.  I recall at the time a sense of ambivalence with Frost’s reference to “. . . telling this with a sigh” combined with his chosen title, The Road Not Taken. Was this perhaps an indication of regret?  In high school a question occurred to me whether Frost was suggesting caution in deviating from the more common norm. That was likely a reflection of the influences that reinforced conformity in the New York City of the 1950’s. But not surprisingly, as I have made the long journey into ages hence, I have a fuller appreciation of what Frost was suggesting. There are sometimes elements of awareness that become apparent in what seems like a moment of epiphany. And then there seem to be others that germinate over time and become more slowly refined and redefined.  In the course of musing over the extent to which I have a distinct sense of calm comfort walking these ancient streets in Ascoli Piceno, I have come to realize I have made an older person’s transition.  Typical of a younger person with so much of life yet to unfold, my focus in youth was on the future and how best to prepare myself for it.  But now, in a much later phase of my life, focus has shifted to one more centered on reflection. The emphasis for me now is to make the most of each present moment. Later in life, contemplations on what the future holds become less enticing.  In many respects,...

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Making a Home

Making a Home

By on May 13, 2016 in Blog | 13 comments

Making a Home: Hello dear readers.  It’s been a long while since I have shared my thoughts with you.  Thank goodness Larry is still feeling inspired to write and keeping the blog going.  I really can’t say why I lost my writing mojo other than we have a very active life here now and writing takes a lot of time and mind space – both of which are in less supply these days. My weeks are now filled with Pilates classes, a Stitch & Bitch group, Italian lessons from my ever-patient teacher and friend, plus Larry and I are in our 5th week of a 9-session cooking class with a chef.  We have also joined a group called Universitá della Terza Etá (University of the Third Age) that hosts very high-quality lectures on art, history and architecture, trips within Italy with qualified experts, and all manner of classes in the arts and crafts for mature adults (through which we are taking our cooking classes).  As with most things here in Ascoli the costs are amazingly low as this is a non-profit enterprise, possibly subsidized.  For example, we are paying the same for our nine four-hour-each cooking classes, taught by a local chef, as I paid for one four-hour cooking class through the Culinary Institute in San Diego – and we get to eat what we cook.. The addition of some more American expats has really enriched our lives as well.  They are all very interesting people and we have much in common – i.e. we love Italy, specifically Ascoli, are curious, independent and crazy enough to pull up roots and live in a foreign country.  We love and enjoy our Italian friends but communication with those who do not speak any English (fortunately many speak or understand some English) remains a challenge for me but Larry’s Italian is progressing rapidly.  Mom always hinted that I could be a bit lazy and stubborn, and the truth is, with the English speakers it is just easier.  “Total immersion language learning” is not as automatic as we are lead to believe, especially since every Italian community has their own dialect. I can write Italian, am pretty good at reading, and am proficient...

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ITALY IS GOOD FOR ME We are grateful to those of you who have kindly offered comments and encouragement on our Blog effort.  It seems the Blog may be stimulating thinking by others on what a post-working life might be for them. Much of what I have attempted to communicate has been reflections on our unfolding lives in Italy. I haven’t set out to explicitly say very much about changes to the person I may be in process of becoming.  That is simply because I have to believe it is something about which there would be little interest.  Additionally, I’m still trying to figure out what is happening while I’m standing right in the middle of the process. And then the other day, a reoccurring awareness came into sharper focus for me. It seemed we might have begun to grasp there had been changes to the process of how we went about decision making. In doing some minor tasks, I realized I was reacting and behaving in a manner that was different than how I might have responded in the past. Yes of course, if we are paying attention to what is going on around us, we probably react by adjusting our response to what we feel is appropriate in that particular situation.  But the point that came to me was the yardstick I now seemed to be using in gauging ‘appropriate,’ had been realigned. A more fundamental change seems to have been going on. In the event what we are now sensing might be helpful, I thought I would pass along a few thoughts and further-ranging speculations. Clearly, retirement brings changes. There are obviously any number of factors involved. In retiring, the daily demands of the job are no longer the driving force behind many of our actions.  For some, contemplating a change that significant can be very intimidating. That is particularly true if the primary criteria you use to define yourself is your job. Starting early to begin thinking those implications through can be a very productive and probably important process. Those of you who have read previous Blog comments of mine have probably picked up on my increasing sensitivity to the idea of being more open...

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