Friday, February 22, 2019

A second home in Italy

The Stoic One and I are selling the first apartment we bought in Umbertide. In the photo above, looking at the white building, the apartment is on the top floor, the  last two windows on the left. It is quite charming and up until now we have used it only for friends and guests.  But the time has come to let it go.

So if you are thinking about a second home that also has great potential to be let out as an Air B&B when you are not there, take a look at this.

Having been through the buying process in Italy several times, we are happy to walk you through it and connect you to the right people who are honest, speak English and can help.

Life is short. If you are dreaming about spending more time in Italy and want a genuine, small town life experience, Umbertide is a great place to be.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Italian Citizenship Part II

Well, the good news is I didn't slug the Italian bureaucratic, rude woman, or get arrested, but I came close.

We fond the building in Perugia, no small task. We drove to the parking lot at the Mini Metro only to find the entire parking lot filled with items for a fair, carnival rides, you name it. More cheap junk than you have seen in one place in all of Italy. Were directed by the police to on street parking place, walked up to the Mini metro took it to the major train station then took a cab to the Ministry Office. A bit of a convoluted trip, but it kept the Stoic One from having to drive in Perugia, a major goal.

OK so we walk into the building, down a narrow hallway and then into a large room with tons of people. I ask someone if there is a place to take a number, we get in line and finally are seen by a someone. He reviews all of the Stoic One's papers, including the name corrections, the city corrections, all of the bollos...or stamps....and then wait. Here is a copy of the stamp for 200 Euros but where is the original? We don't have it. We lost it. You have to have it. We don't have it. Don't you have a record in your computer I asked the man? Wrong question on my part. He glares at me. No....Sigh. I finally came to my senses and said, since we don't have it and we must have it, what should we do. Finally a nice young woman came to my rescue and said, go to the Post Office and request a certification that you paid for the stamp. And with that we were dismissed and they were on to the next poor soul standing in line.

So we walk out tired, and discouraged. I wasn't sure if we had to go all the way back to Umbertide or any post office would do. I saw a blond woman sitting by herself and walked in to ask a question. I said I have to go to the post office to get a new stamp. What is the stamp for she asked me? I wasn't sure so I asked the Stoic One in English what was it for and the harridan turned on me, and started yelling at me in Italian. I mean literally yelling at me. She told me that I lived in Italy and I should be speaking Italian. I said I am speaking Italian to you I was speaking to my husband. She says speak to him in Italian. This is my country and you need to speak Italian. At this point. I was homicidal. I see why it is a bad idea for people to carry guns just in case you run into an idiot such as this woman. I try a different tack. I say where is the nearest post Italian...She then lectures me on the fact that it is NOT her job to know where the post office is. I swear to god, was like, you have got to be kidding me. I spluttered on in a mixture of Italian and English, which I will not repeat here. The Stoic One, thinking I was going to stroke out, said let's go.

So we ask at the information office, they tell us how to find the Post Office we go. We get there, stand in line with a million people and at that moment, Italy showed me her good side. We had a very nice woman. I told her of my harrowing experience with the woman at the carabinieri, and she said she was sorry. Then she said I am also sorry but we can't verify you bought this bollo. Can Umbertide verify it, which is where I bought it? No. You have to send it in to the National office. It could take months. Oh.....Light goes on. Can we buy another stamp for 200Euros. Absolutely. She does another stamp. We walk back to the Ministry office. I walk past the blond harridan, who is still in her office alone, glare at her and keep walking to the back. We give him the new bollo. You bought a new one, he asked totally shocked. Yes! Ok. Case is now complete. OK. So how long will this take? When do you begin the submittal process? 18 months ago...At least another 2 years. Sigh.

We left and had a lovely lunch.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Italian Citizenship by Marriage Part I

For any of you out there going through this process, remember the 3 P's of living in Italy. Patience, Perseverance and Purpose. Living here it is not enough to be patient, you must also remember the purpose of whatever activity you have started and persevere by never, ever, giving up, as Churchill said. Having said that, I wouldn't blame you if you do give up. Engaging with the Italian bureaucracy is worse than watching 3 Fellini movies back to back.

A little background about Italian citizenship.

Requirements of Italian citizenship.
A. Citizenship is acquired by jure sanguinis, meaning you are born or adopted by Italian citizens. (Juri sanguinis is how I acquired my Italian citizenship by showing the Italian line from my grandparents to me. Another long and difficult process.) In the US, currently, you must only show that you were born in the US.
B. You can request citizenship if you have resided in Italy for 10 years and can show sufficient income to sustain yourself, have no criminal record, and no issues with the Italian state.
C. You can become an Italian citizen through marriage to an Italian citizen.

We are going with "C".  So what are the basics of the process? They look oh so simple, but remember where you are.
1. Applicant must be married to an Italian citizen. Check

2. Applicant must provide an original birth certificate translated by an officially registered translator, and have it officially stamped and registered by the court. (We had a translator in Florence do all of this for us. We highly recommend her.) Check

3. Applicant must be legally resident in Italy for at least 2 years after the marriage. Check

4. If the applicant's marriage was performed abroad, the marriage certificate must be transcribed and certified in the municipality of residence. Ok here is the first interesting road block. We were married in Newport Beach, Ca. We had to have our marriage registered in Vigo di Cadore where my citizenship was established. You can only imagine calling into this small commune and asking for them to register a marriage of people they have never heard of. Sigh. Luckily we have the nicest commune in the world in Umbertide. They called for us, explained all of the situation, and the commune of Vigo eventually sent a document certifying the marriage. They had never had to do this before and they were stressed out by the request. But finally, check.

5. A legalized criminal background check stating the applicant's judicial history. This needs to be done by the FBI and the state. The results must be apostilled by the US state department for the FBI and the state background check must be apostilled by the state department conducting the background check, in our case, California. This must then be translated by aforementioned registered translator and then taken to court to register with the all important stamp. (There are services in the US that will do the paperwork for you including the apostille.) The background search must be completed, translated and certified  no later than 6 months before you submit your application. Eventually check.

6. Information given in both Italian and foreign documents must be the same in all documents. Discrepancy can be remedied by the Consulate which will certify that the various names and places refer to the same person. (For American citizens, this of course is done in English which means the documents then must be taken to aforementioned translator for translation and stamp.)

Number 6 looks harmless enough but it was almost a deal breaker for us. Some of the Stoic One's documents had his middle name on the document, some did not. So we had to go back to the Consulate. Some documents said he was born in Los Angeles,  California, others said California, back to the Consulate. It is about this time that both patience and perseverance started to wane. Was this really worth all the trouble and expense? Each problem had to be addressed with the certified translator and the certified stamp and that old problem of US logic kicked in. I mean how stupid is this that we have to prove Los Angeles and Los Angeles, Ca. are the same thing? Here is where our sense of purpose carried us through. The Stoic One really wanted to get this done. So did all the documents again and translated and certified.

We received an email from the "Ministero del Interno in Perugia telling us we had one more "name problem to fix" and then to come into the office on Monday or Wednesday between 9:30 and 12:30.

The email also said to bring in all of the original documents including the original bollo for 200 Euros. (The Stoic One had all of the original documents, translations, apostilles stamps, EXCEPT for the bollo, but he had a copy of the bollo so we went off in a hopeful frame of mind.) What could go wrong?

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Olive Harvest/ Raccolta delle olive

Yesterday the Stoic One and I joined our friends from Calagrana, and participated in an olive harvest referred to in Italian as the "raccolta delle olive." Next to the "vendemmia" or grape harvest it is one of the most evocative agricultural experiences in Italy. The memories of this harvest bring to mind a simpler world where families gathered to help grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, but always family, gather in the olive groves to hand-pick the latest crop. Once in the fields, families shared their experience, laughing as the children tried to help but were mainly in the way, and listened as the old ones told stories of times past, and then at the end, when the harvest was complete, sitting down together and enjoying a meal "a tavola", at the table. Now the world has changed. Many families have moved away from the farms and into the cities, separating family members from one another, but the call of the olive harvest remains in the blood of most Italians and they return to the farms to help, if they can. Even if they can't participate, they respond with a far-away, dreamy look in their eyes (that is usually associated with food) followed by that deep Italian sigh and the expression, "che bello" or how beautiful when we tell them we have participated in a raccolta.

Olive oil has deep roots in Italian culture. There are more than 600 varietals of olives in Italy, the most common variety in our part of Umbria is Moraiolo which is known to produce olive oil that is both potent and elegant. Olive trees in Italy have been around since pre-Roman times. The oldest trees in Puglia are estimated to be more than 1,000 years old, although the majority of trees used now to harvest oil are less than 50.

Although olive oil is produced in all 20 regions of Italy,  Puglia, Calabria, and Sicily bring in more than 80% of Italy's total olive oil production. Tuscany comes in at 3% and our beloved Umbria at a little more than 1%. Spain leads the worldwide olive oil production, at over 1 million tons per year, and Italy ranks second with about half of that production. If you are buying olive oil in the US there is a good chance that it comes from Italy, Spain or Turkey. Check the bottle to make sure that you are getting what you think you are paying for.  There have been many scandals in recent years regarding people who have diluted olive oil with other oils, so make sure you check the label.

The "raccolta" in Umbria, as in most of Italy, is done by hand. It is for this reason that olive grove owners call up family, friends and neighbors to come and help once the time for harvest has been proclaimed. (In California recently some of the olive harvest is done by machines that wrap around the olive tree trunks, shake the tree and then, once the olives have fallen to the ground, they are picked and sorted. Needless to say this is not a popular idea on the small farms in Umbria who look alarmed as I described this American efficiency.) Our friends Nancy and Luther had participated in the raccolta previously and this year, we decided to join them and help pick.

Hand picking olives is a slow if basic process. Find the tree you want, make sure there is netting underneath it, and  with your bare hands and pull the olives from the branch, and let them fall in the net below. Some people use short handled plastic rakes or very long handled rakes to reach the top of the trees. I liked to use my bare hands and enjoyed the feel of the olives as I slid my hand down the branch and watched the olives roll into the net. It was very satisfying if exhausting work.

The Stoic One was particularly prized because of his height and so was able to reach the higher branches. The trees we worked on were in sore need of a good pruning. I now see why this is such an important part of the spring ritual. It certainly makes the autumn picking much easier.

The olives were mixed in color. Some were a ripe, dark purple color, others were the colors of plums and others the green you would expect.

Luca was his ever helpful self.

If ever you have the opportunity to help out in an olive harvest, I recommend it. It is a grounding, connective experience in a world that often seems at loose ends.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Miami, Florida and the sister

Why Miami at the end of June, you may reasonably ask. Well, for one thing, it was cheap. But the most important thing is that there is a direct flight from Milan to Miami. No need to change planes, the bane of travel these days. My sister and I try to take at least one week a year  to spend with one another, away from kids, husbands and friends. It is a time of rejuvenation and reconnection for us and a time we both really treasure.

This is the second time we visited Carillon in North Miami Beach. The bad news is that the hotel is located in a rather seedy part of town, the good news is the location on the beach. It is private, uncrowded and the sea is beautiful. The rooms have been repurposed from a Canyon Ranch Spa, so they are all suites, with living rooms and little kitchenettes. We had a fantastic view of the ocean and since I was jet lagged, I was awake to witness beautiful sunrises from my balcony.

The above photo is what the sky looks like just before the sun breaks through. The colors of the clouds are yellows, pinks and oranges. And then in a moment, there it is. Just a fleck of little thing that heralds a new day. I could hardly believe it was the sun the first time I saw it.

Being from California, I am used to seeing the sun on the opposite coast, and it is going down over the Pacific Ocean not coming up. I suppose if I were a geoscientist, I could tell by the photo which way the sun was going, but quite frankly, it looked remarkably like a sunset in reverse to me!

In a nanosecond, or so it seemed, the sun would be up and a new day had begun.

Sarah, not being jet lagged, slept through the whole thing. She would usually drag herself out onto the balcony look at the sun and squawk that it was already hot.

In spite of the squawking, hers and mine, we enjoy each other's company. We have the same sense of humor, the same politics, and a very similar view of life, which makes for easy conversation.  I usually try to get her to do one "foo-foo" as she calls it, appointment a year. This year, I left her alone after we both were scanned and weighed and told our percentage of body fat. It was a humbling experience and the beginning of a type of spiritual awakening for the both of us.

She discovered treadmills after that, and I remarked how much technology on treadmills had changed in the last 6 years. We slept through movies together, talked of family, and laughed a lot. I recently read an article in the NYTimes entitled, "A Sibling Fight Survival Guide." A sentence in the article struck home..."Our hope is that our children will be one another's playmates at home and allies out in the world, and that they will be there for one another long after we are gone." This perfectly describes the relationship I have with my sister. We were playmates as children and are allies as adults. It's a life long, profound relationship for the two of us.

Before I knew it the week was over. Future ocean sunrises will be unseen by me until next time.

We did have a Moon over Miami moment.

With all of the craziness in our world, nature never disappoints. It is always larger than me and more spectacular than I remember.

Happy Summer!

Monday, May 28, 2018


It has been a while since I have checked in. The Stoic One and I have been busy playing host to visitors and traveling.

Our latest stop was Trieste a city and seaport on the northeast corner of Italy bordered by Slovenia. A city I had never visited before. As a matter of fact, ask most Italians, and they will not have visited Trieste either, which is a shame. It is a city definitely worth a stop. Here are my reflections on the city.

Like a butterfly pinned to a board, Trieste is a city we admire up close and personal for her past splendor and unique beauty, and yet we, like her inhabitants yearn for this city to take flight. Like so many grand Italian cities, Trieste has one foot in the past, in this case the Austro-Hungarian Empire of the 18th century, and the other desperately seeking a solid footing in the 21st century.

This is a city whose history is long, complex and often bloody. She was colonized in second century BC by the Romans who called the city Tergeste.

The remains of this Roman theater are open to explore. Originally with a seating capacity of 6,000 the theater is only partially excavated.

 During Roman times the Adriatic sea reached all the way to the edge of this Roman theater, so patrons could enjoy a beautiful sunset over the water in accompaniment of their entertainment. The theater was discovered in 1814 by Piero Nobile, but was not unearthed again until 1938 when Mussolini had plans to replace the Jewish ghetto with monuments to himself and Facism.  Once he demolished the buildings, he was shocked to find the old Roman theater under his ambitious designs. As our guide told us, something good came out of the hatred and destruction. Mussolini's plans were put on hold and the ruins of the Roman theater remain.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the city was variously ruled by the Byzantine Empire, Charlemagne, and most unhappily, by Venice. In 1382 Trieste begged Leopold III of the Hapsburgs to take over their city, and it seems to me their hearts have been with the Hapsburgs ever since. 

I am always amazed when Italians talk about their history as if it just happened rather than events that occurred centuries ago. Wander the quarter of Borgo Teresiano and listen to how important MarieTheresa is to Trieste history, and architecture.  She is talked about as if she visited and left her imprint on the city just last week.

One of the lasting gifts from the Hapsburgs is the Piazza Unita', which the Triestini say is more beautiful than St. Mark's square in Venice since it is open directly to the sea. If you look out between the two posts in the photo below, you will see the Adriatic Sea on the horizon. 

The piazza is remarkable both in size and the fact that it is the only large piazza in Italy that does not have a cathedral or duomo as a center piece. The buildings that surround the piazza are all secular.  Straight ahead, in the photo below, you are looking at the municipal building.

It is stunning at night and artfully lit.

Trieste, like Venice, boasts a Grand Canal, but truth be told, it is hardly the same. It was built between 1754 and 1766 upon salt marshes. The Triestini wanted an easy place to load and unload merchandise that was coming in from the port. The original intent was to have canals throughout the city, but the Grand Canal is the only canal that was actually built.

Today it is lined with cafes and restaurants which make for a picturesque tourist walk.

Trieste is known throughout Italy for its coffee. It is the home and headquarters of Illy coffee that was founded by Francesco Illy in 1933. He developed the first prototype of the modern espresso machine. Trieste prides itself on being a coffee society fit for intellectuals. There are coffee bars everywhere and the pace for drinking and chatting is slow and mellow. Trieste is not Milan or Venice or Rome. This is a city with its very own rhythm and style. illy coffee trieste 
To say that Trieste is serious about coffee would be an understatement.

Since Trieste has been at the crossroads of various civilizations, the churches reflect this diverse history. There is a Serbian and Greek Orthodox Church that are definitely worth a visit.

Miramare Castle on the outskirts of town is worth a visit particularly for the gardens. The castle was started in 1856 and finished in 1860 for the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian and his wife Charlotte of Belgium. Unfortunately the Archduke was executed in Mexico in June 1867 so he never really stayed here.

After the end of World War I, the city and surrounding territory were given to Italy. After the Italian Armistice of 1943, the Germans occupied Trieste. Under their rule, the only concentration camp with a crematorium on Italian soil was built. It is estimated that 5,000 Slavs, Italian anti-racists and Jews died at Risiera di San Sabba.

In May 1945 the Allies rushed up the Italian peninsula wanting to liberate Trieste but they were beaten by one day by the troops of Yugoslavia. Trieste was divided into two separate zones, one administered by the Americans and the British and the other part administered byYugoslavs. Trieste became a hot bed of spy versus spy during the Cold War.  Finally, in October 1954 The London Memorandum was signed by the US, Great Britain and Yugoslavia giving the city back to Italy.  There is a movement underfoot to change this relationship.

The city is mainly unhappy about the Italian taxes. They are at one with the rest of the country in this regard. 

James Joyce lived in this city from 1904 to 1920. He supported his drinking and writing habit by teaching English through Berlitz school. Dubliners was written here. There is a bronze statue of Joyce on one of the bridges. 

Trieste has not only excellent coffee but also excellent pastries and food. My favorite meal was had at Trattoria NerodiSeppia. It is a family owned trattoria with creative fish and wonderful pastries. Highly recommend it.

In 2017 a new Eataly opened on the waterfront of Trieste. Wonderful produce and products.

Trieste is a city that is trying very hard to reinvent itself. Although the past is what will draw you as a tourist, the people will entice you to return. If you are tempted to go to Venice, do yourself a favor and take a tour to Trieste. The people are very welcoming, looking for tourists to help their economy. The restaurants and cafes are reasonably priced with excellent food. I can not say the same for Venice.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Summer Food Part II

Of course being in Italy is not only about escaping to the sea in the summer months, it is also about eating well in spite of the heat.

Our piazza celebrated the summer season with food and lots of wine. A perfect Italian rememdy, great food, great company and lots of laughter.

Eating on a terrace with lots of friends is another way to beat the heat. Just make sure that the sun has gone down first.

Smaller portions will still allow you to eat the most delicious things such as these spinach ravioli and not feel as if there is a bowling ball in your stomach.

Then again you may want to skip the primi or first dish and go directly to the secondi. In this case, a sauteed fresh tuna with shrimp dish and lemon wine sauce. The dish was both light and delicious.

The Stoic One has gotten into the idea of summer and made his first ever Salade Nicosie. It was as excellent as it was beautiful.

Good job, hon. Very delicious.

Finally, a great way to escape the heat is to head up to a roof top bar at a local hotel and enjoy an "apricena" which literally dinner. It is a time for cocktails, appetizers had at your leisure from 6:00 until sunset.

Hope your summer is filled with beauty, great food and wine and most of all friends who love you.