Spring is finally here in Ascoli Piceno. This area in Central Italy represents a complex, transitional weather zone involving the Apennine Mountain chain to the west and the nearby Adriatic Sea to the east. Against that setting, a continuous interplay between weather systems flowing north out of Africa, moderated by the Mediterranean Sea, interacts over this area with weather systems coming from the north from over the Alps. All that complexity adds a little uncertainty to weather forecasting. But we supplement forecasts by looking out the window before going out anyway.
Spring anywhere can have its temperature oscillations between a refreshing sunny warmth one day and a damp, windy, chilly day the next. Central Italy is no exception to that pattern but it does seem the oscillations here have finally given way to very welcome milder days. However, the long-range forecasts are promising a very warm summer.
In response to the promise of a warmer summer we are exercising our developing Italianism. We have just decided to rent a spot with two chairs, a table and an umbrella for the summer on an Adriatic beach probably ten meters from the water’s edge. Better yet, the spot is next to our wonderful friend ‘Jo’. For Arlene, summers spent on a beach on the Atlantic are ingrained in her idea of what the season is about. Having traded the Atlantic for the Adriatic, life now seems in better balance.
Some friends recently commented they hadn’t seen much in the way of Posts to this Blog since the first of the year. And I’m afraid that’s true. But that doesn’t mean the writing compulsion has abated. My writing urge has been exercising itself in some other directions. But our underlying goal for this Blog remains to comment on our fascination with the process of acclimating ourselves into a new life in a very old place that is quite different than our prior experiences in the land of our birth. And so, that is the theme we will try and stick to.
However, the absence of Blog commentary doesn’t mean there hasn’t been activity in Ascoli Piceno. The Lunar cycle timing for religious events such as Passover and Easter, changes when they annually occur. This year, Easter was relatively early resulting in the Lenten observance being pushed forward. That in turn kicked off the pre-Lenten celebration of Carnevale into the final week of February. Of course, Carnevale is celebrated in the United States as Mardi Gras of New Orleans fame.
We were delighted with Carnevale this year because of the spirit we saw in the people. The previous year had not been kind to Central Italy. A series of earthquakes concentrated in a zone along the spine of the Apennine Mountains had brought devastation to some mountain villages west of Ascoli. A few of those mountain villages are no longer habitable resulting in major disruptions to people’s lives and relationships. Social connectedness is very vital to the Italian persona. The disruptions to that vital piece of the Central Italian social fabric is still in process of being reckoned with.
Ascoli is situated at a sufficient distance from the epicenters of the seismic activity to have suffered very limited structural damage. What damage occurred is in process of being repaired. A few buildings now have external supplementary framework or reinforcing bands installed to stabilize the structures while further repairs are made. Our apartment suffered a few superficial cracks in the thick plaster interior wall surfaces but the structural integrity of this old palazzo remains very sound. The full recovery process throughout the region will be lengthy and expensive but it is, at last, underway.
In addition to the series of seismic disasters, unusually severe winter storms dumped significant quantities of wet, heavy snow throughout the region. There were some protracted power outages and a few families living in the surrounding foothills were stranded for a time. We had our power restored after some twelve hours. Fortunately, food stores near us were reopened within a day or two as both power and better road access was restored. Friends of ours who have a country property just outside Ascoli, managed to get out despite the conditions and joined us in our apartment until their residential services were restored and the roads in their area were made more serviceable.
Perhaps as a release from all the tension in dealing with last year’s misfortunes, the Italians came out in large numbers to celebrate Carnevale with a week-long series of exuberant parties. Some visiting Americans commented on Carnevale as exhibiting a high level of energy without projecting the feeling that something could get out of hand at any moment. Although boisterous, the fun was good natured. The visitors also commented that unlike their impressions of some Mardi Gras observances in the U.S., alcohol use was not as conspicuously in evidence. Italians, apparently, seem to know how to have an enthusiastic, good time without first getting ‘sloshed.’ As spirited and demonstrative as Italians can be, there is also general disapproval of anyone who drinks to excess to become intoxicated. And the positive effect that can have in feeling safe in a large exuberate crowd enjoying itself cannot be overstated.
Unlike previous years, we haven’t made specific plans for trips away from Ascoli, at least not yet. Plus, we decided to hide out on the local beach during Europe’s tourist season. And, we are currently engaged in several administrative matters the final resolution of which will give us a better idea of our timing options. First, we are currently in process of a renewal of our Permesso di Soggiorno, our official permission to legally remain in Italy as non-citizen, elective residents. For individuals coming from outside the European Union, that authorization can be given and renewed for a two-year period at a time and then, after five years of residency, requested for up to five years.
Our current authorizations expire in early July but we decided to allow some extra processing time for contingency sake. Given the extent to which the immigration process in Italy is being heavily impacted by the flow of refugees, we thought the extra time allowance was probably prudent. Although technically legal from an immigration standpoint by having made application for the renewal of the residence authorization on a timely basis, the eligibility for our continued coverage under the Italian National Health Plan is contingent upon having a current, valid authorization for residence in effect. Consequently, we want to have the peace of mind by having our immigrations status resolved once more.
And then this month we will be completing the filing of our Italian Income Tax return. As residents of Italy, we are obligated to pay Italy an annual income tax based on our world-wide income. As U.S. citizens, we are also still required to file a Federal Tax Return although we are not in residence in the U.S. It seems the U.S. is understood to be one of the very few developed countries with such a requirement. But the Tax Treaties between the U.S. and Italy eliminate ‘dual taxation’ which means taxes we pay to Italy are a direct credit against any U.S. Federal tax obligation. Fortunately, the State of California no longer considers we have a tax obligation to them because we are no longer residents.
The saga also continues in the process of my qualifying for the issuance of an Italian Driver’s License. In the European Union, after one year of residency, regardless if you have in your possession a valid driver’s license from outside the European Union, that license is no longer considered valid. The Italian Driver’s License issuance process makes no allowance for holding a valid license issued within the U.S. because of the absence of reciprocity arrangements with the fifty individual American states issuing driving licenses.
For a Driving License in Italy, a medical certification must be obtained and then a forty-question, true-false written examination, in Italian, on driving regulations must be passed with at least a ninety-percent positive score. That is then the prerequisite for the issuance of the Italian equivalent to a learner’s permit to drive under supervision. In due course, a practical driving test must be passed under the watchful eye of an examiner of the Italian Ministry of Transport. And again, having experience and a valid license from elsewhere doesn’t eliminate having to take the driving test as if you were a brand-new driver.
As I try to discipline myself to pour over the Italian Driver License Written Test study guides, I sense there is progress but I’m not there yet. The actual driving part of the Italian driving qualification should not be a serious obstacle. Getting through the written is my immediate challenge and soon after achieving that, we might start thinking seriously about timing for some road trips under our own power to more distant places we want to see. An autumn trip possibility crosses our minds occasionally, maybe during the wine grape harvest.
From time-to-time, we find ourselves in over wine conversation with a few of our fellow Expatriates who have also become very close friends. As expected, we sometimes compare notes on how we are feeling about the experience we are having. What emerges from these discussions is a confirmation of our mutual contentment that we still feel it has been a very good choice to be American Expatriates in Ascoli Piceno, Italy. We are clearly living differently than we had in the past in the U.S. and no doubt, differently than we would if we were to return there. But at core, we each felt we continue to live lives full of stimulation and being invigorated by a sense of exploration, discovery and personal growth.
The discussion sometimes turns to having confirmed a lifestyle grounded in consumerism is not a very reliable way to finding contentment. Being happy with what we already have rather than becoming susceptible to manipulation promoting ‘what we should want’, has become very liberating. Our costs of living are generally lower here. One obvious factor is our appetites for acquisition of ‘stuff’ has become diminished. And critically, everyday living expenses are more reasonable with some possible exceptions of natural gas heating, electricity costs and transportation fuel. And the net income tax rate is higher. But then, we are living with a smaller ‘carbon footprint’ and very comfortably within a smaller space volume. All of which reduces cost demands. And there is no question that most of our other costs are lower than the cost of living we had experienced in southern California. And of course, quality health care is not the financial drain it is in the U.S. But we are also convinced, our quality of life has improved in the process.
This area of Italy is not a region where there has been an excess of discretionary income. As a result, for the most part, our Italian neighbors have learned to prioritize their economic decisions very wisely. The Italian economy is under strain as elsewhere in the world but we don’t sense the same level of apprehension here that is now apparent in our homeland. Say what you will about social safety nets, it is more than physical health that is safeguarded. With a probably lower average family income in Ascoli compared to an average American family, somehow, we sense people here are freer from anxiety. They simply seem to have less to worry about in becoming economic warfare, collateral damage casualties. And the Italian higher sense of security is probably also bolstered through their social inter-connectedness.
As we have observed previously in this Blog, what we are doing is probably not for everyone. After some careful reflection, this is what we decided to do to reinvent ourselves at this stage of our lives. We continue to believe what we have done is absolutely the right thing for us. And after nearly four years into this adventure, it still seems like the best thing we could have done.
Fundamentally, I like to think we are probably in the process of re-defining, ‘contentment.’