Three months have past since we began the life of Ex-Patriots living in Italy. This blog has generated some inquiries on how we came to make this significant change in our lives. Many have said they emotionally found the idea appealing but could not quite get up any real momentum to make it happen. The question often is, “How did we come to do it?”
In honesty, it is something we still talk about and are not quite sure we yet adequately understand the whole process ourselves. In an effort to respond to those who have asked the question, we are offering a few thoughts we have considered in trying to grasp how we got here.
High on the list to making something like this work for us has been a commonality of desire and conviction. Several people who have asked how we got here have acknowledged that their other significant partner did not quite share the dream. So let us say at the outset that for us having someone to do this with, as a committed life partner, has been an incredibly important factor in being able to ride through the inevitable frustrations. In our case, having a commonality of goal and commitment to see it through as a partnership, has probably been a make-or-break element.
We won’t pretend to have a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution for doing what we have done. We wouldn’t presume to suggest that someone, on their own, couldn’t make something like this work. All we know is that it is very comforting to be walking strange new streets hand-in-hand with someone you care deeply about. Our relationship is a core factor in our sense of security. For us, this is very much a team effort.
Perhaps next on the list is we needed something to shake us out of our comfort zone. When travelling in the past, we used to talk about living in Europe but, frankly, we were much too comfortable in our cozy suburban lives. Then along came the financial crisis of 2007-2008. Like so many other people in retirement, a system that we trusted evaporated a chunk of the financial resources we thought we could count on after so many years of working. That was a ‘nudge’ in causing us to reassess and re-ask that all-important question all over again, “What do we want out of the rest of our lives?”
Here again, this is a very individual question. As we assessed, we realized we were at a very significant juncture. We are, for the time being, blessed with very decent personal health including mobility, and we hope, mental faculties. At our stage of life, how long that is going to last is anyone’s guess. Then we realized as close as we are to our extended family, at this juncture they are, by and large, pretty independent and self sufficient. Then, at our stage of life, there are reminders that the future seems to be a compressed entity and shouldn’t be taken for granted. It has been said that one of the most tragic phrases in the English language is, “If only we would have!”
That brought us to the ‘clean sheet of paper’ point. That is, we sat down and said, given what now looks like the resources available to us and the stage of life we are in, ’If we could do anything we wanted to do, what would it be?’ A change in lifestyle was suggested but the issue was what should that lifestyle be? We see ourselves as attracted to new experiences, having an active curiosity that seeks stimulation and we seem to be invigorated by challenges. It boiled down to either accepting a more constricted lifestyle to continue to enjoy the home we had made or opt for new experiences.
Over some period of reflection we asked ourselves if we could give up the home we were very attached to in order to facilitate immersing ourselves in new experience. We all grew up in a tradition that having your own home, the ‘pied-a-terre,’ was the goal to shoot for. So changing that inbred outlook did not happen over night.
Having something with great appeal to look forward to seems to ease the distress of making decisions to leave behind parts of past experience that had been very satisfying. With that in mind, we asked the most obvious question, ’If we decide to live the Ex-Patriot life, where would it be?’ That part didn’t take long. In past travels we had very much enjoyed Italy so that was high on the list. Coming out of many years in southern California, being somewhere it got very cold didn’t have much appeal. For us, given a choice, snow is something we prefer to go visit and not have to live with. So south of the Alps was an easy decision.
There are many places in the world that hold attraction but we felt we still had a lot more of Europe we wanted to get to know better. Within a radius of travel from Italy that we didn’t think twice about travelling in California, vast new possibilities for experience exist. All of it in the same time zone and without the debilitating nine time zone travel from California let alone the expense. So Italy it was.
As to how we came to choose Ascoli Piceno that is a lengthy discussion in itself. But perhaps some of the other entries in this blog could give some idea. Past travels had revealed a conundrum Italy can present. Some of the most culturally attractive sites, such as Rome, Florence and Venice attract hoards of tourists in high season. That being the case, it can deteriorate much of the experience you came here to have. So we decided to get ‘off the beaten track’ to a more traditional Italy but that had good extended travel option potential and an acceptable climate. We wanted a place with a cultural life and a history we could immerse ourselves in. Ascoli Piceno turns out to have been a great choice for our needs. In conversation with some visiting Canadians who also fell in love with Ascoli, one remarked, “For God’s sake, don’t let Rick Steves find out about this place!”
We won’t pretend that all the hurdles from obtaining an Elective Residence Visa, getting the timing worked out of selling a home and all the rest were a walk in the park. But this brings me to the final comment in this discussion, once you decide to do it – go for it heart and soul! A thought came to us recently about the decision process. We got to thinking about the parallel with the decision on whom you are going to marry. At a certain stage in your life, there could be any number of potential options of whom you want for a life’s partner. In reality, in making that decision you can’t possibly know all there is to know about that person, or yourself for that matter, or what lies ahead. But at some point, a decision is made – and at that point, all other options are off the table! Whether that decision is going to work out is strongly influenced by how committed you are to making it work.
We comment often on how warm, friendly and helpful so many Italians have been to us. That is indeed a characteristic of many Italians. But we think we may have brought something to the table as well. We sense our new Italian friends perceive we want very much to be here, we are enthusiastic about the place and we want it to be our new home. Recognizing that, they seem more than willing to help. So, commitment really makes a difference!
Note: This post is dedicated to Dr. William J. Ceretto, MD, a friend, a very valuable personal physician to me for a number of years and a catalyst in this decision. After a routine and very thorough physical exam in 2012, Bill declared to me, “Larry, you are as healthy as a horse. If there is anything you think you would like to do, this would be a good time to go and do it!” I turned 75 this year. Bill passed away on July 15, 2013 at age 65 of cancer. Sometimes we don’t adequately appreciate the timeliness of the advice we get.
Hi Larry and Arlene: love your new post! When we lived in Ascoli, we got a lot of questions about “how we did it” and as you point out, the answer is fairly multi-layered. Granted, the fact that Ascoli Giorgio’s home town was a huge factor-you both are quite brave in my book! We look forward to seeing you both on our next visit back and hope that you are settled into your new digs! Thanks goodness you sre not in the US for this new round of political stupidity. Suzanne & Giorgio
Thank you Suzanne. Meeting you, Giorio and your exceptional daughter plus the visit to your home in Folignano were high on the list of wonderful experiences. We look forward to your return and renewing sharing Ascoli with you. You are generous in calling us brave. Our take is that at some point, often a little later in life, one has to face some existential realities. So the question is, “What are you going to do with what you have left?” That can be either very frightening or liberating. What is – is. So it is either hunker down in a corner consumed by fear or live life as much as you can while you still can. I’m not sure we are all that brave as much as trying to make the most out of the hand we have all been dealt.
Wow, Larry, I can’t believe you’re 75! You’re my hero.
As always Trina – you are very kind! I think a factor is the kind of close company I keep. Warmest best wishes to our best friends at KPBS.
Arlene & Larry, Italy and anywhere European looks better all the time. A know-nothing Congress and shutdown government and what else for the next 3 years. Rod
Hello Rod. It took awhile to get into this global mess and I fear it is going to take a long time to get it sorted out. The world seems dominated by large, multi-national concentrations of wealth and with it, power. Representational government, with the interests of the people foremost, has become joke in too many places. Oligarchy and not Democracy is now in charge. Inflexible, extreme power blocks have the governmental processes tied in knots. People have asked if the political process in Italy isn’t hopelessly flawed? To which I have to ask, “Compared to what?.”