SUMMER IN ASCOLI PICENO
As predicted, the summer of 2017 has turning out to be a warm one in Italy. It has been beyond ‘warm,’ it is has been hot! Here in Ascoli Piceno, our daytime summer temperature averages have generally been in the upper ninety-degree Fahrenheit range with some U.S. Midwestern-style humidity to match. But in August, the afternoon temperature in Ascoli has occasionally reached 104 degrees Fahrenheit. This kind of weather is making the Mediterranean tradition of taking a prolonged midday break from activity seem like a sensible idea. Not surprisingly, this community, with a reported population near 50,000, is strangely quiet most afternoons between one to four PM. Added to the town becoming quieter is the long tradition of the August vacation to the beach or the mountains to escape the heat. Tradition has it that the Emperor Augustus made a magnanimous gesture of establishing a break from work which is still known as Ferragosto, the vacation time granted by Augustus in the first century in the Current Era.
Our increasing Italianization is in evidence with our accommodations to the summer heat. As we mentioned in the last Blog post, we have rented a portion of an Italian sand beach for the season on the Adriatic Sea at San Benedetto del Tronto, about a half hour drive from our apartment. A small table supporting a sun umbrella, plus two sun lounges all sits about forty feet from the water’s edge. On most days, the Adriatic is as calm as a very large lake and the water temperature is very pleasant. The air temperature and a gentle breeze at the Adriatic beach is often enough cooler than Ascoli to provide some welcomed relief. On some days, the beach on the Adriatic can be as much as ten degrees’ Fahrenheit cooler than Ascoli.
Additionally, being immersed in the Adriatic up to my neck brought even further relief. Arlene is an all-day beach regular at least three days a week. My more restless nature hasn’t quite gotten into the all-day at the beach stage yet, so I usually go down later in the day to enjoy an on-the-water, mid-afternoon onwards with her.
Our second accommodation to the heat of summer is the utilization of a portable, room air-conditioner in our bedroom at night. Our little ‘Penquino,’ portable cooling unit, sees us through the warm and humid nights. The use of a portable cooling unit is necessitated because it seems there was an insufficient lack of foresight in the late sixteenth century construction of the Palazzo, in which our rented apartment is located, to have anticipated air-conditioning infrastructure. Additionally, being also able to close windows while immersed in the ‘white-noise’ of our little ‘Penguin’ also insulates us from some late night, cool-of-the-evening, Italian socializing on the street below us.
Speaking of socializing, sharing our enthusiasm for our Italian experience always gets a boost when we have visitors. We recently had the pleasure of welcoming the visit of Arlene’s step-brother, wife and fifteen-year-old son to Ascoli. Although they are very frequent, international travelers, this was their first exposure to this area of Italy. The characterization of this region, ‘Being off the beaten path,’ is well deserved. They were generous in their appreciative comments about Ascoli adding that having the opportunity to experience a new place through the eyes of fellow countrymen who live there, was a definite plus for them.
Fortunately, their visit timing coincided with the annual medieval re-enactment festival, the Quintana. For over sixty years, the people of Ascoli Piceno have enthusiastically participated in a month-long series of pageants and medieval contests of skill. Ascoli Piceno is organized into six communities called Sestiere which form the concentrations of local pride like the competitions between the Contrada of Florence and Siena.
There are colorful competitions between the Sestiere involving choreographed flag tossing (Sbandietere), archery and the main event, the Giostra, or Joust, involving a horseman (Cavaliere) armed with a lance to engage a stationary target. Each Sestiere also fields a musical contingent made up of clarion trumpets and drums. The sounds of music reminiscent of the renaissance, combined with the authentic costuming, experienced in the late medieval architectural setting of Ascoli Piceno, reinforces the deep cultural roots of this area and should not to be missed.
In the space of this post, it is impossible to do justice to the Quintana. As Americans who are now feeling more like Ascolani, we are enthusiastic to see close at hand the exuberant involvement of virtually the entire population in this pageant. The grand procession of the Quintana, through these streets alone involves upwards of fifteen-hundred Ascolani in medieval costumes on the major days of the festival observance. It is beyond anything we had ever previously experienced. Made even more immediate because we have gotten to know personally some of these active participants. This Blog has photos from previous experiences of the Quintana in addition to photos from this year’s festival.
Writing this Blog has produced some unexpected, very pleasant dividends. Our circle of acquaintances has grown through the contacts that have been established with some wonderful people who are interested in an Expat experience in a place like Ascoli. Exchanged Emails have resulted in several couples making visits to Ascoli. Some who earlier came to scout out possibilities here, are arriving this coming Fall to take up residence. Additionally, there have been others with whom we have a friend in common and who have Italian roots, are also looking for an Ascoli residence. In the process, they have all also become new friends of ours.
Our little Expat community seems to be slowly growing and we are sensing there seems to be an interesting set of common denominators. Many of us are in very compatible, long-term, loving relationships and all of us seem to exhibit a decidedly active curiosity about and comfort in the larger world. We all seem to have an independent self-sufficiency but also enjoy social interaction which includes a distinct desire to be very comfortable within the Italian community in which we live. That is, we are not inclined to be dependent on an inwardly directed, Expat ‘ghetto.’ But we also know we can count on each other without a sense of ‘dependence.’ We all have our unique backgrounds and histories which only adds to the enjoyment of our occasional get-togethers. But the social interactions among our fellow Expats is not at the expense of our relationships with Italians.
There may be some form of ‘self-selection’ process involved in how one goes about becoming an Expat to begin with. In our case, we passed up possibilities of immersing ourselves in what seemed like an already established community of ‘American Expats.’ That wasn’t what we were looking for. When we arrived in Ascoli, there may have been some Americans around but we weren’t aware of them. As a result, we concentrated on developing a widening circle of Italian friends. As we have commented before, that wasn’t difficult to do in an open, socially inclined Italian environment.
As other Expats have arrived, our circle of Expat friends and acquaintances has been enriched and widened. At the same time, so has our circle of Italian friends expanded. In many instances, our new, outwardly thinking Expat friends have been a vehicle for introducing us to Italians we had not yet met.
Now on to a Lesson Learned. In addition to keeping family and close friends informed about what was going on, we started writing this Blog with the idea that others might be considering the Expat life and would be looking for some ideas. In that spirit, we offer the following about State Income Taxes. Fundamentally, it is understood if you reside in a State that levies taxes on personal income, you must pay those taxes for as long as you remain a resident. However, if you move out of a State taxing personal income, your obligation for taxes to that State ceases. How your State treats partial residence tax obligation is beyond this discussion.
When we left California in late June 2013 to become Expats, we filed a partial year residency return and paid a prorated tax to the State of California. We also retained a California bank account into which our Social Security benefits are electronically transferred. We have used the home address of one of our daughters in California to receive and forward domestic mail. She is also a signatory on our bank account which was useful in the early days to settle final utility bills and deposit refunds.
But as the Bard said, “Aye there’s the rub!” Because we still had an apparent California mailing address, we have been going through an extended bureaucratic process to convince the State of California we have not been domiciliary residents of California since late June 2013 and, therefore, owe no taxes to California since that date.
A recommendation: If you are leaving the U.S. to become Expatriates having resided in a State that levies taxes on personal income, it is advisable to not use a mailing address in that State for domestic mail. We have chosen to follow the advice of others and to pay the costs of a commercial mail forwarding service located in a State that does not levy taxes on personal income. The bank we use accepted the official mailing address for our bank account to the new mail forwarding address. With these changes, we hope to have removed the triggers that cause the State of California to waste their time and ours, attempting to collect taxes we rightfully do not owe.
We suggest that if these circumstances may affect you, you research commercial mail forwarding services to determine which on might suit your needs. We wish to refrain from making particular provider recommendations because individual circumstances probably vary.
But for all the headaches to be overcome, for us the Expat life in this part of Italy remains one of the wisest decisions we ever made, after marrying each other, of course.