Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Nida Giusti endured hardships of World War II with courage, dignity, and finally, grace for her oppressors

Lucy and I just had a remarkable conversation with a 97-year-old Italian great grandmother who is sharp as a tack. I am always interested in hearing stories about what life was like in Italy during World War II. This wasn’t just a war against other countries, but it also pitted neighbor against neighbor—and then when peace came, some “enemies” were still right next door, and the families had to forget their differences.

Nida Maria Francesca Giusti in her home in San Salvatore
For the most part, the Italians adjusted quite well. Nida Giusti, born Feb. 16, 1918, is old enough to remember the rise and fall of Fascism, the de facto dictatorship of Benito Mussolini, Italy’s ill-fated entrance into the war on the side of Germany and finally its withdrawal from the war and subsequent changing of loyalties.

Nida’s shiny gray hair, ready smile and lively manner of expressing herself made us forget her age. Lucy and I regretted that we couldn’t always understand her witty comments, which made her family break out laughing several times. We laughed, too, but more out of pleasure for seeing how her family enjoyed her sense of humor.

Her family moved several times during her younger years, working the fields of other families as contadini, landless peasant farmers. Before the war, Nida remembers living in Pescaglia and Borgo a Mozzano in the Garfagnana region, and San Ginese di Compito in Capannori. She also worked as a house servant for a wealthy family in Lucca around the time the war started. She recalls that one of the sons of the family sided with the Fascists, and he was later imprisoned and executed, most likely by Italian partisans.

Me, Nida and Elena, who translated our conversation. Photo by Lucy.
Life under Fascism “era brutto,” she said—it was ugly. “My father in law had ten children, and they were not going to the Fascist youth meetings. The commander called him in and threatened him if he didn’t enroll his children immediately. Everybody had to salute and say, ‘Viva Il Duce,’ and they had to parade every Saturday.” The war possibly cost Nida the life of her first child. She was living at Borgo a Mozzano in 1942, but because the area was under bombardment, the midwife wouldn’t risk coming. Instead Nida had to walk about 20 miles to San Genese, and her child died before birth. Another son was born in 1944, just before the war ended.

In 1943, the family moved to San Piero in Campo, near Pescia, to escape the heavy fighting and poor conditions in Borgo a Mozzano as the war escalated. During bombing raids in Pescia, they found a bunker to hide in under the railroad tracks, and they would take hay down with them to make beds. The Germans had their headquarters nearby, but for the most part, the soldiers let the Italian women and children manage their farms in peace. The men, though, had to remain hidden during daylight in the wine cellars or in the hills above Pescia, because they could be taken as prisoners of war or pressed into service at work camps. One man tried to hide by dressing like a woman. It worked for a few days, but when he was discovered, he was executed. Four of her brothers-in-law were taken away as prisoners, but her husband managed to stay free. In 1945, all four imprisoned men returned, and the family threw a party to celebrate.

The farmers also did their best to hide their animals from the soldiers, but that didn’t always work. The Germans would come and take what they needed to feed themselves. While she remembers fearing and resenting the soldiers, she also recalls their human sides.

“From time to time, they were kind,” she said. “We would be sitting out under a mulberry tree mending our clothes,” she said, “and the German soldiers would come up and sit down and try to talk. We were afraid, but then they would point at the children to let us know that they also had wives and children.”

In the end, she said she no longer feels bitterness against the Italians who sided with Mussolini or even the German soldiers who imposed their harsh rule on the country. I asked if she still felt rancor, and she laughed. “Everything passes,” she said. “At the time, we tried to hide our suffering from the children. But now it’s passed. It was war. It was war. We hope we don’t have any more.”
Nida with her extended family at the celebration at San Piero in Campo after the war. Nida is holding one of her children, middle row.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Now comes the hard part: finding a way to finance our dream house

We’re still in a holding pattern on our house purchase, with little to report. We need to put our Gig Harbor view house on the market. We had hoped to reach an agreement for our renter to buy it, but that didn’t work out. We have a couple of other possibilities, but it’s too soon to tell if they are real prospects. Meanwhile, we have decided that even if the view house doesn’t sell by April 25, we will somehow find a way to move ahead with the purchase of the Montecarlo house. We like it that much.

We met with a loan broker in Lucca Thursday and started filling out paperwork to apply for a loan here. I have called my banker in Gig Harbor and also the financial adviser who helps administer my retirement accounts. I have four possible routes to come up with the 160,000 euros we need to complete the purchase: take money out of my retirement account, borrow money from my retirement account, get a personal or business loan from my bank or get a loan from an Italian bank. Probably it will be some combination of the above, depending on the terms and interest rates we are offered.

We can definitely pull some together to make it work, but making loan payments will really stretch us thin come next winter when our road maintenance work slows down. We need to have the view house sold by the end of 2015 if we want to keep eating—not to mention go to Italy to actually use the new house.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Roman and Italian society owes much to Etruscans, early inhabitants of Italy

The Etruscans had wide streets in rectangular patterns.
Ever since I first heard about the Etruscans, their civilization has fascinated me. They were the largest and most powerful of the many tribes that occupied parts of Italy in the seven centuries before the Romans overpowered the Italian peninsula around 300 B.C. We have visited more than a half dozen Etruscan museums and archaeological sites since we first started coming to Italy, and yesterday we went to another with Steve and Patti Gray.

We first toured the museum in Marzabotto, and then we walked outside to explore the ruins of the ancient city of Kainua, which existed for about 200 years from the middle of the 6th to the middle of the 4th century B.C. before being overcome by Gallic invaders.
The remains of the Temple of Tinia, the chief Etruscan diety.

Archeologists have been studying Kainua since 1862, and in 1933, the Italian government purchased the site from a private estate. Its particular claim to fame derives from the fact that Marzabotto is in a sparsely populated valley southwest of Bologna, so the ruins of Kainua have been relatively untouched for about 2,400 years. Although building walls are now at most only a few feet high, the remaining foundations tell much about the way the residential, commercial and cultural areas were organized. The rectangular arrangement of the streets probably comes from Greek influence, but the design is also rooted in Etruscan religious rules. Rural and commercial buildings are mixed together, much the same as in old Italian city centers today. On the outskirts of the city are two necropoli with individual or family graves topped by round grave markers. These differ from the necropoli I saw in the old Etruscan settlement of Sovana, which consist of huge and varied tombs, carved out of solid rock.

I try to read the name on the gravestone to see if I recognize any relatives, but all the writing has worn off.
Abundant examples of their well crafted art shows that Etruscans were a warlike yet fun-loving people, and that women—at least if they were wealthy—enjoyed high positions in society. Many of their reliefs and paintings depict them drinking wine and having family parties, a tradition that would later permeate Italian culture into modern times. Their influence on Roman society has only come to be appreciated in the last century. The Etruscans drained marshes, built underground sewers and created roads and bridges using arches. They promoted trade, the development of metallurgy, and better agriculture in and around Rome. They introduced the Greek alphabet, and, so respected was their knowledge that Roman nobles would send their sons to be educated in Etruscan schools. Christian images of demons are said to be modeled after Etruscan demons.

Overall, the Romans owed a great deal to the Etruscans,” reads the history website Flowofhistory.com. “The genius they (the Romans) would show for urban planning, road and bridge building and civil engineering projects such as public aqueducts and baths was a direct result of the legacy left by the Etruscans.” The first Roman rulers were Etruscans, and eventually, Etruscan society was peacefully absorbed into Roman society.

Where these people came from has been a mystery for more than two millennia. Herodotus wrote around 450 BC that they came from Lydia in Asia Minor, an area now occupied by Turkey, and that they moved because of famine experienced shortly after the Trojan War. A few years ago, I read that initial DNA testing supported this claim, but more extensive testing has accumulated in recent years. Now many experts think the Etruscans were part of the indigenous population.

Larissa Bonfante, an expert on Etruria, writes: “ . . . the history of the Etruscan people extends . . . from c. 1200 to c. 100 B.C. Many sites of the chief Etruscan cities of historical times were continuously occupied from the Iron Age Villanovan period on. Much confusion would have been avoided if archaeologists had used the name ‘Proto-Etruscan’ . . . For in fact the people . . . did not appear suddenly. Nor did they suddenly start to speak Etruscan.”

My respect and fascination for this early civilization has continued to grow as I become more familiar with Italian history. Their ruins are scattered throughout central Italy. The name Tuscany is derived from these people, and since my grandparents come from the heart of where their civilization was located, the odds are that I carry a few drops of Etruscan blood.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Mario Seghieri recalls his youth while still going strong after 91 years

One of the pleasures of living in the Marcucci neighborhood of San Salvatore is being able to visit with some of my distant relatives in the company of our friend and neighbor Elena, who is married to Davide Seghieri, an even more distant cousin. Elena can help with translating so we can ask more in-depth questions than we are able to do on our own. Yesterday we dropped in on Mario Seghieri and his wife Loretta Forasieppi. Mario celebrated his 91st birthday March 11, but he seems more like a man in his 70s. He can ride his bicycle 10 kilometers a day, still doesn’t need glasses, and his mind and memory are as sharp as ever. Elderly people typically undergo testing when they renew their driver’s licenses, but because of his obvious good health, Mario’s license is always renewed without question.
Mario, Fausto, Loretta, Elena and me. Photo by Lucy.

I had previously interviewed them about their experiences under Fascism and during World War II, and now I wanted to find out more about what their younger days were like growing up in the Montecarlo area.

Mario went to school in Chiesanuova for his first two years. Then he went to school in San Salvatore, where the farmacia is now located, and his fifth and final year in Marginone. To get to Marginone, he crossed the river on a log foot bridge that no longer exists and went up through the woods. “The fifth grade was enough in those days.”

Mario, Fausto and I look at a chart showing how the
various local  and U.S. Seghieri families are related..
What did Mario and Loretta do for entertainment growing up? Loretta recalled playing hopscotch and spinning tops, but Mario said he couldn’t remember any particular games the boys played. One of their sons, Fausto, who joined us for a few minutes before going outside to work, chimed in “What childhood? There was no childhood in those days. They could always find something for the children to do.”

“After school, you went to work in the fields, helping to grow and harvest grain, fruit and vegetables,” Loretta said. Around 1954, the family started growing carnations, and their children and grandchildren still work in the flower and plant farming business.

“Now, everything has changed,” Mario said. “With machines, you can harvest a square meter field of grain that once took four people all day in 15 minutes.”

Twice Mario almost moved away from Marcucci. His uncle Dante Seghieri immigrated to the United States in 1913, but Dante returned to Italy several times. On one of those occasions, he proposed taking Mario with him as a companion. However, Dante instead found a wife and returned to America with her.

When Mario was a teenager, he went to Civitavecchia, near Rome, to work in a pizzeria that some of his brothers and sisters had started. The pizzeria is still in existence and family owned, but Mario chose to return to Marcucci to work his father’s land and carry on the family farming business. “We always did well enough,” he said. “I never suffered from hunger.”

He earned extra money by playing the accordion with a little orchestra for parties and at concerts in Montecarlo and nearby cities such as Altopascio, Chiesina Uzzanese and Pescia. “I would go to Pescia carrying my accordion on my bicycle,” he said. “Instead of spending money on the weekends, I was gaining money. I really enjoyed it.”

His father Bruno also played the accordion, and it occurs to me that its possible Bruno learned to play from his uncle Torello Seghieri, who was a professional musician, and my great grandfather. Mario stopped playing and sold his accordion shortly after he married, because Loretta didn’t want to be left home alone with their young children on the weekends.

Mario and Loretta met shortly after the World War II during a fall festa and dance in the theater in Montecarlo. “We were celebrating the arrival of the American soldiers,” Loretta said, “so it must have been 1944.” Two years later, they were a steady couple, but they waited eight years before they married. “I was 31 when I married,” Mario said with a wry smile. “I was old. I didn’t think I deserved anyone.”

The couple has seen many things change over the years, especially for young people. “Before people had more time, more peaceful lives,” Loretta said. “There was no hurry, no rush.” But for the most part, they appreciate living in the present times. Mario said he very much enjoys watching all the soccer matches on his television. “It’s always on, and I pay extra to be able to see all the matches, including the ones from other European countries.”

About 15 years ago, Mario and his family were visited by a van load of cousins from Minnesota, children and grandchildren of his dad’s brother Dante. Mario and Loretta still receive Christmas cards with photos from Giovanna, or Joan, Seghieri, and some of her children. Time, distance and technology have changed the way people interact, but it doesn’t change the fact that there is still an invisible bond between people who are related.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Random observations while doing genealogical & historical research

In the previous four years, I accomplished most of my major genealogical goals, but I continue to go to the parish archives to seek out connections between stray branches of the Spadoni family that most certainly have their origins in Stignano but still lack a few generations of linkage needed for final proof.

For the past two weeks, I have been searching the baptismal records of Borgo a Buggiano, where I have found several Spadoni families who showed up in the late 1600s and early 1700s. Unfortunately, the first two books of baptismal records have been destroyed by humidity, so I may never be able to connect the lines from Borgo to those from Stignano. The third book, which covers from 1713 to 1744 is also in very poor condition, and I had to handle it with extreme care.

I feel great compassion for the people who lived in these centuries. When a child was born and either died in childbirth or very shortly after, a symbol of a cross is placed beside the baptismal record. During the five months from October 1779 to February of 1780, 25 children were baptized in the parish. Fifteen have the sign of the cross, indicating death, including Maria Annuciata Spadoni and Antonio Giuseppe Capocchi, my very distant relatives. In the short period during the spring of 1810, nine of 12 children died. These figures don’t include those children who survived childbirth but still died during their infancy or childhood.

Maria Rosa Orsucci, the wife of Francesco Spadoni, who is an ancestor of Wendy Manganiello of Florida, gave birth to 13 children in 21 years. At least five did not survive childbirth or early infancy. One daugher was born March 17, 1793, and another March 15, 1794. Maria Rosa must have been one tough farm woman.

We also made a couple of interesting discoveries while reading a book on the history of Montecarlo. It has a diagram showing who owned each house in the middle of 18th century on via Roma, the main street. The house we are in the process of buying was of the family Neri, and just across the street and two houses to the north was the house of Cavalliere and Priore Rubieri Seghieri, the son of Simone Seghieri Bizzarri. This was a noble branch of the family to which I am very distantly related. Maybe we should have made an offer on this house instead.

I also found a chapter in which 71 surnames are listed and labeled “strictly Montecarlese,” indicating that these were among the area’s earliest inhabitants. Included are the names of Seghieri and Capocchi. My great grandfather Torello Seghieri was married to Ines Capocchi, so I am definitely putting down roots in the community of my ancestors. The Spadoni family is not listed because its ancient roots are in Stignano, about three miles away.

We found the photo (below) of Montecarlo, taken in the first years of the 1900s. It shows via Grande, now called via Roma, taken just outside Porta Nuova, and it looks pretty much exactly the same as it does today. Our house (to be) is the third one on the left (top story only).

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Do you need a car to live comfortably in Italy? No. Well, maybe.

Can a person live well in Italy without a car? During the previous four years, we lived in Italy for a total of 11 months, most of the time without a car, and I would have said the answer is yes. But now I am having second thoughts, and I would have to answer that it all depends on where one lives.

We always did OK using our bikes and taking trains and the occasional bus. We rode our bikes five minutes to the local grocery store, or to the train station, where we either locked them up or took them with us on the train. We can reach the larger cities of Pescia or Altopascio in about 25 minutes by bike, or less than 10 minutes by train. Riding bikes is good for our health, pocketbook and the environment. For people who live in or near a larger city like Lucca or Firenze, almost everything they need is within the reach of bikes or inexpensive public transit.

We noticed, though, that everyone in San Salvatore under 80 years of age, besides us, has a car. We took some pride in the fact that we did quite well without one. This year, however, thanks to the generosity of friends Eberhard and Dorothea, we have a car for much of our time here. They are letting us use their little Fiat Panda at a very affordable rate, and it has really changed our lives.

It has allowed us to join a gospel choir that practices every Tuesday from 9-11 p.m. We could take a train to the practice, but the trains from the little city where the rehearsals are held don’t run late enough to take us home, and nobody in the choir lives in our direction. There is not even a hotel within three miles of the school where the rehearsals are held.

The car has also allowed us to drive up the hill to Montecarlo to look at houses for sale, and we are close to closing a deal on one. So far, we have had to go to the real estate agency, which is almost 20 miles away, three times to discuss terms and sign papers. Taking a train to the agency is theoretically possible, but we would have to take a circular route and first pass through Lucca and Pisa. This takes two hours one way, so it would essentially take all day.

I usually visit the church archives in Pescia twice a week, riding my bike home in the dark, sometimes in the rain. Now I drive, safe and dry inside the Panda, and I often stop on the way at the large EsseLunga grocery store, which has a much wider selection of products and at lower prices than our neighborhood store. We were also able to drive to some of the otherwise inaccessible little hillside villages like Cozzile, Massa and Malocchio that we have never been able to walk through before.

Next year, we hope to live in our own home in Montecarlo, and the walk from the train station up the hill will take at least half an hour. Riding a bike down takes only about five minute, but it puts some real wear and tear on our brakes. Going uphill on our heavy one-speeds means walking and pushing almost the entire way.

We’re not yet sure what we are going to do next year about transportation. We can’t count on our friends’ car being available every time. We are trying to scrape together enough money to buy the house, so we doubt we will have enough left over to buy a car. Even if we could afford one, Italian law prohibits us from car ownership because we are not full-time residents. It seems strange that we are allowed to own a house but not a car. We would have to ask an Italian friend to put a car in his or her name, something we’d be reluctant to do. We’d also have to pay for insurance, licensing and bi-annual inspections, so we might be better off renting a car for at least part of our time in Italy. We are not even allowed to buy a Vespa, and even if we could, we would need a special license to operate it. 

Another option we are considering is bicycles with an integrated electric motor to provide the boost we need to get up the hill. These do not require insurance, inspections or a special license, and from what I’ve read, they would had sufficient power to get us up the hill. We could also take them on the train. The house we are planning to buy has a sizable and secure storage closet on the ground floor, so we’d not need to carry them up stairs. The only drawbacks are the cost, about 2,000 euros each, and the fact that it can rain in Toscana fairly often in February and March.

Of course these are all questions to be answered in future years, since we have shown we can live here without a car, and we are fairly well set for the rest of this stay. If we had chosen to live in a large city, we would not have any issue at all, but our hearts are set on Montecarlo for reasons of nostalgia and its unique beauty.

Monday, March 16, 2015

We move a step closer to home ownership in Montecarlo

Terrazzo with a Western view.
We scored again in the home-buying game today. The sellers accepted our offer as is! As for the Swedish couple that was going to bid us up . . . well, we don’t know what happened to them. We didn’t ask. Maybe they didn’t come again. Maybe they found something they didn’t like. Maybe they were afraid to bid against the “rich Americans.” Maybe they never even existed. We don’t really care, because we would have made the same offer anyway. We just would have waited a few more days, hoping to first hear some positive news about the potential sale of our Gig Harbor rental house. No news yet on that front, though. We have about a month to sell our rental house, and if we don’t, we can void the offer and get our deposit backor get a bank loan and keep the rental house.
This beautiful wood furniture in the two bedrooms is included.

We were shopping for groceries at EsseLunga when Rachele called to say that the buyers had agreed to our offer. We had to drive to her office to sign a new list of furniture that goes with the house, though, because there were two items that held sentimental value for family members. They will take those pieces and replace them with something else of our choosing. This will not be difficult, Rachele said, because the sellers are wood-working artisans and they can make or find replacements.

Me, Rachele, Fulvio and Angelika.
She also confirmed what I had suspected: The woman who lives on the first two stories of the house, with a husband and two daughters, is the sister of Rachele’s husband, so the children are her nieces. We are also quite sure that the woman who lived upstairs was her husband’s grandmother. She said that the meeting with the deceased grandmother’s four grown children to discuss our offer lasted two hours, and it was quite an ordeal for her. I can picture all of them talking at the same time, like my dad and his brothers and sisters would do, sometimes all saying the same thing and sometimes each one something different. Rachele would have been in the middle, trying to smooth things over and keep her in-laws happy while hoping to convince them to accept the offer.

Rachele said it helped that 
Lucy had shown her a photo of all of our family, taken last summer, so that Rachele could explain to the sellers that we were like them—we respected the importance of family—and that we had commented on the loving way the house was furnished and we wanted to keep it mostly the same. It probably didn’t hurt that I was an Italo-American trying to return to the birthplace of my own grandparents.

We are very contented that our offer has been accepted, but if you are wondering why I don’t sound more enthusiastic, read my last entry. I still have my game face on.

Southwesterly view from terrazza.

Friday, March 13, 2015

We’re in the ballgame now: We have made an offer, but still far from victory

We looked at the house we like best in Montecarlo twice more this week—once with Angelika, a real estate agent friend of Elena and again the next day with Angelika and Fulvio, who is a local geometra we have hired.

We also consulted with and considered hiring Alberto Spadoni. He has a real estate agency in Ponte Buggianese and is a relative of sorts who speaks a little English. I don’t know him well, and our family connection most likely dates back 400 or 500 years. While it would be nice to be represented by a Spadoni, and Alberto seems competent and knowledgeable, he regards me—and justifiably so—more as an everyday client than as family. Angelika, however, speaks English very well and is quickly becoming a friend. She has actually said that she will not charge us for her help, but we plan to pay her something regardless.

Our second viewing and Angelika’s opinion of the house confirmed what we already thought—this would be the best for what we want. Fulvio checked it out and also went to the town hall, which is only 100 feet from the house, to make sure that all the paperwork is in order for the house to be abitabile. He found nothing out of order, except that the comune had recently inspected the house and found two minor items that don’t meet the current codes. The comune must either approve variances from the regulations or else the problems must be corrected by the owners. In the first instance, the ceiling in the bathroom is too low. It seems fine to us, but Italians like their ceilings high and the codes reflect this preference. The second violation is that the number of windows is too low for the square footage, another issue with which we have no problem. The living room and street-side bedroom have two windows, and there is a large window and door in the kitchen leading out to the terazza. The other bedroom has a door leading to the terrazza. In all likelihood, the variations will be approved as is by the comune.

With all this information in mind, Lucy and I definitely had in mind to make an offer within a week or two—but that idea changed quickly when Rachele, the Remax agent showing the house, said that a Swedish couple who had looked at the house previously was planning to fly back to take a second look on Saturday with their own geometra. If we like it, she said, we should make an offer immediately so we will be in first position. I don’t like being pushed, and I’m not sure I believed her 100 percent, but we didn’t want to take a chance. Angelika, Lucy and I went to Rachele’s office the same afternoon, and we tendered an offer, conditional on the sale of one of our rental houses in Gig Harbor.

And now comes the wait, because the family who owns it—four children of an elderly lady who occupied the house before she died about two years ago—have until next Friday to decide. They will, of course, wait to see if the Swedish couple makes a better offer, and then we could find ourselves in a bidding war—or we could just drop out and wait for another suitable house to come along. We will also be looking at two or three more houses on Monday.

Meanwhile, I went to the Agenzia delle Entrate in Pescia to find the number of my codice fiscale, the Italian equivalent of a social security number. A bilingual friend, Ari, had helped me obtain my number five years ago, but I had misplaced the card before I recorded the number. This time, I was able to go to the office on my own. Now we have to open a bank account here in order to transfer money when we are ready to buy. After that, we will need the account to pay our taxes and other fees.

Lucy asked me if I was excited about the possibility of owning the house. She said I didn’t seem very enthusiastic, and she wondered why. I used a sporting analogy to explain my demeanor. If a player hits a home run in the fourth inning, he doesn’t celebrate; he may not even smile. He has his game face on, because he doesn’t want anything to disrupt his concentration. He knows it is still early in the game, and he will come up to bat two or three more times, and he has to keep his focus. His team may be ahead by a run, but the other team can easily come back and retake the lead.

We made the first offer, true, but the game is far from over. We have to beat the Swedish couple. We have to gain acceptance from the sellers. We have to sell our house in Gig Harbor, and our buyer has to get a loan approved. This is no time to get giddy. If everything finally falls into place, it will be like hitting a game-winning home run in the bottom of the 9th inning. That’s when the game faces come off and you see a real celebration.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Are we ready to take the plunge off the deep end into home ownership?

Mamma mia! Che cosa stiamo facendo? Lucy and I are planning to buy a house in Montecarlo, something we previously considered a romantic but impractical idea. In fact, I wrote just two years ago about how unwise it would be for us to buy a house in Italy (Pros and cons of home ownership . . .). So what kind of fool doesn’t take his own advice?

Probably a romantic and sentimental one who wants to eventually become more than just a tourist in Italy, who wants to become more involved in the community and the culture. We still don’t plan to come to Italy for more than a few months a year, at least not while we are still working in the summers. Our emotional and financial ties to Gig Harbor and our family are too strong for us to pack up and move to Italy, but the idea of having a place to call home in Italy is also very compelling. We resisted this urge successfully for four years and one month, but in the past couple of weeks, we weakened and now have completely given in.

This shows via Roma, Montecarlo's main street, from the fortress. The house we want is at the end on the right, just before the Porta Nuova, which can be seen at the end of the street.
It was a visit with Kurt and Lauren Newcomer at their house in Guardiagrele in late February that pushed us over the edge. We saw how convenient and yet beautiful it was to live in the historical centro of a small- or medium-sized city. Suddenly I remembered that we had first chosen to live in the comune of Montecarlo because the city itself appealed to us. It was just large enough to have most of the services we would need within walking distance and yet small enough that we would not be anonymous faces in the crowd. If we bought a home in Montecarlo, it surely wouldn’t take long before every resident knew that una coppia americani had moved in.

We have been living instead in San Salvatore, at the base of the hill, because it is easier to ride our bikes on the flat terrain, and the train station is there. We also wanted to meet my Seghieri relatives on via Mattonaia and find out how I am related to them, which we have done.

The moment I suggested that we should start looking at homes in Montecarlo, Lucy jumped on the computer and spent several hours searching for homes that met our criteria and price range. She found four and sent the real estate agents our names and phone numbers, and we have since looked at four houses within the city walls and one just outside. We will see two more on Monday. However, the very first one we looked at we have fallen for hard; it is head and shoulders above the others.

It is an apartment on the top story of a three-level house located on the main street, via Roma. Montecarlo really has only about five streets, and that’s being generous.
Porta Nuova viewed from one of the bedroom windows.
We would have a street-side view to the south of Porta Nuova, the city’s newest stone-framed entrance, which was rebuilt and re-opened in 1598. It is only about 100 feet away. If we stick our heads out the windows just a little and look north, we can see all the way to the opposite end of via Roma and gaze at the Fortezza, the fortress of Montecarlo. But it’s the view on the opposite side that is really spectacular. The apartment has a terrazza from where we can see the Alpi Apuane mountains to the north and watch the sun set over the plains of Lucca to the west.

The apartment has two bedrooms, one bathroom, a living room and a kitchen/dining room.
View from the terazza just before dusk.
It also has a storage room on the street level where we can securely store our bikes. It was remodeled around 1965, not that long ago in Italian time, but it is definitely looking a bit worn and would need a few adjustments. The former occupant was an older lady who died a couple of years ago, and all her furniture is still in place. The real estate agent said we can also make an offer on the furniture, and if we can reach a deal on that, it would save us a lot of time.

So now we are looking into selling a rental house we have in Gig Harbor, and we are hoping to work out a deal with the current renter, who has shown some interest. If he doesn’t want it, we will list it and make an offer on the Italy house conditional on the sale of our Gig Harbor house.

If all goes well, when we come back to Italy next winter, we will be home owners in Montecarlo instead of renting an apartment in San Salvatore. It’s exciting, but still a frightening thought, because I am pretty conservative when it comes to personal finances. On paper, renting may make more sense than buying. But we don’t live our lives on paper.

Monday, March 9, 2015

An American describes her brief experience in an Italian high school

Italian high schools have difference strengths and weaknesses from American schools. How do Italian high schools compare with those in America? I have invited a guest blogger to describe her experiences. My daughter Lindsey, along with her sister Suzye, attended high school in both countries. They attended Instituto Gramsci in Padova in 2001-02, and although they did not spend the entire year there, they attended long enough to make some valid observations.

Suzye and Lindsey in 2007
Their attendance at the school caused them some distress because they had just started to learn Italian, and after about two months, their teachers had some concerns of their own. The principal told us that the teachers didn’t understand why the girls weren’t trying harder at their classwork the way the other foreign students were. The school had made an effort to put Lindsey and Suzye in the best classes, but they weren’t doing their homework or participating in class. As our conversation continued, I realized that we were at cross purposes. The other foreign students were immigrants who had come to Italy for a good education and a better life, so they were highly motivated. Lindsey and Suzye simply wanted to make friends and experience Italian culture. They were keeping up with their American school requirements in their free time, and they would probably not get credit for their work in the Italian school, so they saw little reason to worry about their academic performance. After I talked to them about the problem, Lindsey withdrew from Gramsci and started taking Italian classes at a language institute. Suzye opted to stay in Gramsci for a few more months and try to work harder to satisfy the teachers. She said it was hard to listen all day to teachers when she still didn’t understand Italian, but she wanted to put up with boredom for the sake of friendships she was developing. Lindsey has agreed to share some thoughts about her experience.


Italian high school was nothing like I was used to. The classroom walls were entirely blank, and students stayed in a single room for the entire day. Each hour for six hours, an insegnante would come in, deliver a string of words that were unintelligible to me, and then be replaced by another instructor who would do the same. Students also stayed with a single group of classmates year after year, so they got to know their “school friends,” as they referred to each other, quite well. Groups of school friends were like family, and no one was friendless or lost in the shuffle in the way students at American schools can be.

At first I was bothered by the lack of color and the lecture-only style of instruction, and thought it must be boring to see the same people every day, year after year. American teachers were always plastering the walls with motivational posters and maps and designing small group activities that encouraged movement and discussion. I never thought I would miss all that, but I did. Over time, however, I realized that neither school system was not necessarily better or worse—just different. Italian students are treated more like young adults, while American students are often viewed as teenagers on the verge of rebellion. As a result, I suppose, my Italian classmates seemed to take school quite seriously. They were always studying for some exam or another, and they were extremely well-behaved. They had one old teacher who was the bad kind of eccentric, the kind who babbled nonsense and was mildly inappropriate towards female students, and some of the students complained quietly when he wasn’t around. And yet, even he was treated with the utmost respect. And though they studied hard, Italian high schoolers generally maintained a sense of lightheartedness and humor. Students were always playing jokes on each other, going out dancing together or finding something to talk and laugh about in the most animated way.

They were allowed to smoke cigarettes at school, outside the classroom or even in the bathroom if it was too cold. They could bring in a bottle of wine to share with the class on special occasions, and when they had parties, everyone drank, though no one got drunk. Instead of having a history of prohibition, Italians have a history of enjoying fine wine, so there was not the emphasis on excess that permeated American high school parties. I’ve heard that in Italy, if someone was considered an alcoholic, his or her goal was not to stop drinking entirely but to learn to drink socially—to stop at maybe one or two glasses. It seemed like a pretty balanced approach to me.

Italian students did occasionally have grievances with their school system, and on several occasions I arrived at school to find everyone leaving in one big cluster. The students would hold impromptu strikes, though I never saw one last more than a day. Young people would blast loud music from cars and renegade sound systems, dance in the streets, shout slogans and paint colorful graffiti onto stone pillars and walls. I never really understood what they were striking about, but since just about every industry in Italy enjoys a good strike now and then, perhaps the students were just practicing for the future. Or perhaps they were also annoyed about the lack of stimulation in their classes.

I was surprised that the teachers at Gramsci expected me to study and keep up with the lectures when I hardly knew a lick of Italian. I had tried to study from my language books during the long and tedious lectures, but the teachers thought that was rude. I should pay attention in class, they said. So instead of looking at language books, I stared off into space. I believe learning a language through immersion is possible, but one should possess some basic knowledge of the language and be exposed to more simple sentence structures and repetition in the beginning.

The benefit I got from attending Italian school was entirely social. I lived for the breaks between classes, when all the students would crowd around me to practice their English skills. Although I was only fourteen, I was much more interested in befriending the upperclassman, who were in their late teens and early twenties. They possessed the greatest skills in English and were the most open to true friendship. Once I established relationships with some of the students and Suzye and I began receiving regular invitations to go out on the weekends, I saw no reason to keep up the facade of listening to lectures in class. It was a relief when I was offered the opportunity to drop out and take language classes instead. I’m sure my Italian teachers were just as relieved as I was when we said our final arrivederci.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

"Where your parents and grandparents come from is also part of who you are"

For many North Americans, and especially those of Italian descent, the desire to visit or live in Italy lies deep inside. Some of us succumb to this desire, including Canadian Maria Coletta McLean, who has written two very fine books about her experiences: My Father Came from Italy, and Summers in Supino. I am honored that she has consented to write a guest blog for me.
Supino rooftops
When I was young, I used to say that my father came from Italy, but I was born here, as if the old country didn’t affect me. It wasn’t until I grew older and wiser that I began to learn that where your parents and grandparents come from is also part of who you are. My images of Italy were based on little boxes of nougat candy, with scenes of Italy printed on them, that my father brought home at Christmas time–gifts from his customers on his delivery route for Toronto Macaroni. My opportunity to actually go to Italy came because my husband Bob was a city councilor and our city was twinning with a city in Italy and we were invited to be part of the official tour.

It started with a phone call to a cousin who lived in Rome, progressed to a quick tour of my father’s village an hour south of Rome and an introduction to other distant cousins and eventually to our buying a house in my father’s village of Supino. We bought it sight unseen, based on a cousin’s assurance that he had seen it about a decade before and it “looked pretty good although maybe it needed a little work.”   We hired strangers in the village to fix it up so we could bring my father back to the old country for the first time in 64 years. In many ways, nothing had changed in the village during that time.

Over the past twenty years, we have spent part of every summer in my father’s village of Supino, and every year, we are introduced to yet another relative through blood or marriage and perhaps we are related to the entire village.
via Condotto Vecchio

People often ask who takes care of our house when we are not there and the answer is twofold. Our neighbours across the street are the official caretakers as they have the key but everyone on the street, “Keeps an eye.” Sometimes people who’ve read my books come to Supino to find via Condotto Vecchio and walk uphill to our house, which is #10, just to take a look. As often as not, a neighbour will appear and engage them in conversation and before you know it, they’re all down at the Bar Italia having a coffee and a chat. If we happen to be in Supino but away from the house when an interested stranger comes along, the neighbours send them, or bring them, to wherever we are. As you may have surmised, everyone in the village knows everything that’s going on.

I’ve done some book tours to different cities in Canada and the United States, and two things always surprise and delight me. Supino is a small village, yet there are immigrants from Supino in cities from Dearborn, Michigan, to Moss Point Mississippi, to Aliquippa and Pittsburg and Greensburg, Pennsylvania, and from New Haven to New York. In Canada, you’ll find Supinese from Vancouver to Toronto to Halifax and most major cities in between. The other thing (the most delightful thing) is that every one of them I have met has been very much like my father: gentle, calm, kind, friendly, helpful and ordinary in the best sense of the word.

Sometimes I think of those little gift boxes of nougat that my father’s Toronto Macaroni customers gave to him at Christmas time. If only they knew that their small, but generous, gift started me on a path that took me from a young girl whose father came from Italy to a woman who has grown to love Italy.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

American grocery products more common now in Italian stores

Some products that were difficult or impossible to find in
Italy 15 years ago.
When we first lived in Italy in 2001, many familiar products were unavailable or extremely difficult to find in grocery stores. We knew a family at the American military base who would buy us things like Bisquick, Cheerios (the kind without honey), chocolate chips, oatmeal, maple syrup, coconut flakes and peanut butter. Gradually, some of these harder to buy items started showing up at the larger grocery stores. Last year was the first time I found pancake mix (it wasn’t Bisquick, but just as good if not better). This year, we have found actual bacon and chocolate chip cookie mix, and yesterday, I finally saw chocolate chips for the first time.

Of course, there are so many good foods here that we can’t find in America, so I’m not asking for sympathy, just making observations. It is nice to have some familiar favorites in our diet now and then. It makes living in Italy even more simple and pleasurable. So if any executives from EsseLunga, Conad, Iper, Coop or Despar are reading this, thanks. And we’re still waiting for the rest of the ingredients for making magic cookie bars, including graham crackers, condensed sweetened milk and those sweetened coconut flakes.

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Tower of Spadoni has been restored to its former splendor

How could I have lived in San Salvatore for four winters and not known there was a 50-foot tall Torre degli Spadoni only 12 miles away? I first heard about it last summer from Alessandro Bondi in a Facebook group called “Spadoni in the World.” He posted a photo of it that included its approximate location in Capannori, and yesterday Lucy and I drove there to take some photos.

This discovery raises many questions about the history of the Spadoni family in the Lucca area. A newly installed sign on the door says the tower dates from 1500. This is after the date that the earliest known ancestor in our family line—Bartolomeo—was born in the 1400s. But he came from Marliana, which is about 20 miles to the northeast. Of course, some of the most important questions may never be answered: How did the tower get its name, and how long ago? Was it tied to a Spadoni family from the 1500s, or did the name come from a Spadoni family who owned the property more recently? I will try to find out, but I am not optimistic that I have the resources to discover this on my own, and perhaps there are no records available at all.

Taken around 2012, before the restoration
research is made even more difficult by the fact that the tower is known by several different names. I have found articles online that call it Torre degli Spadoni, Torre dello Spada or Torre di San Donnini. It is located about four miles southeast of Lucca in a swampy area between the little communities of Parezzana and Massa Macinaia. It can be viewed from above by typing in the address via dello Spada, 4, Capannori, Lucca, on Google maps. Some articles stated that the building was likely a watchtower to guard against encroachment of the Florentine army against the gates of Lucca, which are only four miles away. I have since been told that because that area used to be covered with water during the winter months, the tower served as a lighthouse to keep people traveling by boat from running aground.

When I first started my research, I met with some discouraging news. The tower was leaning and in disrepair. Here is a translation of an article I found in Il Tirreno, by Arianna Bottari, dated Nov. 20, 2010:

The state of maintenance of the Tower of Spadoni in the Marshes of Moscheni continues to worsen. The small circular building that is located in the middle of the marsh is now in the hands of vandals and is in absolute neglect. Despite the many cries of alarm launched by insiders (in the case of the president of Italy Nostra Lucca, the architect Roberto Mannocci), but also by ordinary citizens, the tower remains on the back burner.

Overgrown with weeds (there’s even a fig tree growing in the middle of the roof tiles), battered by vandals who have covered it with graffiti, with doors that are going to give in, there are those who predict the collapse, seemingly with total indifference. Thus, only two months ago, after yet another cry of alarm, Mannocci explained the reasons for such carelessness: “The building is a typical element of the landscape and should have a better fate. The problem is that it can't be used for particular initiatives or activities, nor can it be transformed as the seat of associations or similar activities. This means that a restoration would be just a cost on those who undertake it, but without benefits, except for having saved an asset of great value in terms of landscape and architecture.”

Giving voice to the concerns of citizens and experts in history and local architecture is councilor UDC Gaetano Ceccarelli, who said, “The conditions in which the tower is heading are nothing short of shameful. The state of neglect has reached embarrassing levels. We believe the council should be interested in the problem and, if necessary, promote the recovery of a structure of great value from a historical and architectural perspective.”

I found several other similar and sad articles, and knowing how slow the wheels of government can be in Italy, the future did not look promising for our tower. But as I continued to search for more information, I found some awesome and surprising news: In June of 2013, the comune of Capannori hired a construction company to repair the tower. The tower was enclosed in a protective cage in October, and by November, the work was complete. The plants growing from the tower have been removed, the grafitti was covered with new plaster, the stones at the top were cleaned and a coat of white paint was added. 

As pleased as I was to see the renewed tower in person, I did suffer a disappointment. A plaque on door of the building calls it the Torre of Parezzana, based on its location. None of the stories I had read used that name, and I fear that its historical names will someday be forgotten. It wouldn’t have take much more space to add the other names, and I hope that a more detailed history of the tower can be added in the future, one which includes the traditional names.

Update Oct. 16, 2022: The tower has a new sign! Credit is given to the historical names, including Spadoni!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

L’Aquila is rebuilding after disastrous quake; lessons to be learned from controversial public meeting

Barack Obama and Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi meet in Onna near L'Aquila after the 2009 earthquake. Photo: Maurizio Brambatti, EPA
This coming April 6 will mark the six-year anniversary of a devastating earthquake centered in L’Aquila in Central Italy, an event that killed 309 people in the region and leveled much of the mid-sized city’s historic center. Several buildings completely collapsed in the 6.3 quake, and approximately 1,500 people were injured. Twenty of the victims were children. About 65,000 people were left homeless. We visited L’Aquila this week with Kurt and Lauren Newcomer and found that the earth is still shaking, but now it is from the myriad excavators, cranes, loaders, forklifts, jackhammers and other machines at work, cleaning up rubble and rebuilding walls.

Several things about the visit surprised us.
Exterior beams hold up existing walls.
The first thing we noticed is that many buildings on the edges of the town look much the same as they did just after the quake. They are cracked, crumbling and abandoned. But after we parked and entered the centro storico on foot, we saw several dozen huge cranes at work, lifting beams and concrete walls into place. Nearly every building was wrapped with a framework of wooden or metal beams to make sure all the old walls stayed in place, and shields had been placed to prevent crumbling plaster from falling on pedestrians. On the ground, crews were scooping up rubble by hand and with Bobcat mini-loaders from the insides of buildings and hauling it to dumpsters. The bustle of activity encouraged us with the thought that life will someday get back to normal in L’Aquila.

It also surprised us that pedestrians like us were allowed to roam the streets a midst the construction workers.
We could have walked right in.
 We could have climbed through open windows to look inside the crumbling interiors, had we been foolish enough. Lucy peeked inside one window just in time to see a piece of ceiling drop off and land on top of previously accumulated debris, sending a dust cloud up and out the window. At one time, I was watching a crane high overhead as it rotated with its load when I realized that the hook and its cargo were probably directly over my head. In the lawsuit-wary United States, we don’t think we would have been allowed to get so close to the action. But if the contractors fenced off every construction site in town, it would prevent residents from accessing their homes and businesses. Italians are already accustomed to walking on sidewalks and alleys that are rough and uneven, so a few more obstacles is nothing unusual.

Despite my observation about the high amount of construction activity in the city, the residents have not been pleased with the progress. For the past six years, students have been housed in prefabricated temporary metal classrooms. Newspaper La Stampa wrote that though the portable buildings were “first class” when new, “time takes its toll, and even the most solid of metal turns tin-like, and Scotch tape is used to seal cracks on the floor, ceilings collect water, sewers don’t work, windows don’t open and a heating system is blamed for a surge in allergies and respiratory infections.”

L’Aquila made the news again in October 2011 when seven men–four scientists, two engineers and a government official–were convicted on charges of criminal manslaughter because “they failed in their institutional duty” by not properly assessing and communicating risk and provided “incomplete, imprecise and contradictory” information. They were sentenced to six years in prison. Scientists worldwide decried the verdict, arguing, correctly, that earthquakes can’t be predicted at this time. The verdict for the scientists and engineers was overturned in November of 2014, but the government official still received a two-year sentence.

Initially, I was also amazed and upset at the guilty verdict, but after reading more about it, I understand the reasoning of the judge. In explaining his sentence, he made an effort to emphasize that he had not convicted the experts for having failed to predict the earthquake—something, he said, that is beyond the powers of current science—but rather for having failed to carry out their legally binding duties to study factors indicating a heightened seismic risk, including the fact that previous quakes that destroyed the town were accompanied by smaller tremors, as they were in 2009. The public official who was sentenced had argued that the ongoing seismic activity was “discharging energy” from the fault and therefore was to be seen as positive. He encouraged the public to stop worrying and to raise a glass of wine instead.

According to BBC News, in the closing statement, the prosecution quoted Guido Fioravanti, whose father died in the earthquake. He had called his mother at about 11 p.m. on the night of the earthquake, right after the first tremor.

“I remember the fear in her voice,” he said. “On other occasions, they would have fled, but that night, with my father, they repeated to themselves what the risk commission had said. And they stayed.”

I still side with the scientists and even the convicted public official, but it is true that lessons can be learned about how to deal with the public in similar situations. Massimo Mazzotti, director of the Center for Science, Technology, Medicine and Society, and associate professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote in Times Higher Education, “The documents of the trial, however, make it clear that what was at stake in the courtroom at L’Aquila was not the scientists’ inability to predict earthquakes, but rather their inability to address public concerns and to communicate risk effectively. Earthquake experts must communicate public risk more effectively to avoid a repetition of the Italian media fiasco . . .”

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Guardiagrele: Hard to pronounce, but still we pronounce it very liveable

Kurt and Lauren in front of their home in Italy.
This does not show the upper floor and terrace.
We had to wonder why our friends Kurt and Lauren Newcomer, whom we knew from Believers Fellowship church in Gig Harbor, chose to buy a house in Guardiagrele in the Abruzzo region of Italy. We didn’t wonder why they chose Italy, but how did they settle on a relatively remote city in a region that is not widely known? It turns out, they had researched their location carefully, and after Lucy and I visited them in Guardiagrele for three days, we can confirm that they made a great choice.

They are both still working in the United States, so they can only come to their Italian home two or three times a year for fairly short stays. As our good fortune would have it, they happened to be here for three weeks during the two months that we are in San Salvatore. We took a six-hour train ride from San Salvatore to Pescara on Saturday, and Kurt and Lauren picked us up at the station in their rental car and drove us about 45 minutes to their home.

After arriving, we took a walk in Guardiagrele and immediately noticed its charms. It has many of the characteristics that we had been looking for when we chose our own location—yet in several ways, it was even better. Even though they have lived in Guardiagrele for only three months total over the past couple of years, they have met and befriended many people in the town. Because they have purchased and remodeled a home within the city walls, their neighbors recognize them as residents. While the fact that the Newcomers speak little Italian can be a barrier, the neighbors who speak some English seem to jump at the opportunity to show and practice their own language skills.

How is it better than San Salvatore? It is much larger, so Kurt and Lauren just need to go outside their door for all the daily services they need—including coffee or hot chocolate, along with a brioche, to begin the day. But more importantly, they can buy their groceries and other products for their home in minutes. We have to ride a bike for at least 10 minutes to get to a coffee bar or grocery store, and our choices are much more limited. The Newcomers also have many neighbors, and they usually see them when they go for a stroll. Lucy and I live in a rural area and we rarely see our neighbors when we go out.
Lucy took this view of the mountains from the terrace on the top floor.
We had originally thought we’d meet people when we went to nearby Montecarlo, but it is three miles from home and up a steep hill, so we rarely go there unless there is an event in the town.

How did they end up buying a home in Italy, and Guardiagrele in particular?

“We started coming to Europe because Kurt had a job that was incredibly stressful,” Lauren said. “Whenever we took vacations, if we were in the same time zone as his office, he’d be on the phone all the time. He was the boss, and whenever someone had a question, they’d call him.”

They decided to vacation in Europe so that Kurt wouldn’t be so accessible due to the time difference of eight or nine hours.

It worked out really well,” Lauren said. “If someone had a question, they could touch base with him in the morning or the evening. When the Americans were asleep, we weren’t tied to the phone.”

The Newcomers started in northern Europe, traveling in London, Germany and Austria. They found them all fascinating, especially Bavaria.
We loved it,” Lauren said. “We thought it was just beautiful. It was pristine, clean, pretty—it looked like a storybook. The first time we dipped down into Italy, we thought, Oh my gosh, this place is dirty. It was messy and loud and chaotic, and we didn’t know if we’d like it.”

They tried Northern Italy and liked the food, but it wasn’t until they spent a few vacations in Lombardia and Toscana that “we really kind of fell in love with the whole laid-back culture, with great food, and nobody stressed about anything,” Lauren said. “You get out and do your passeggiata in the evening, and we really liked that. The people—it was just crazy! The people were so friendly, so warm and so genuine.”

They rented a house in the Garfagnana area of Toscana from an American friend several times, and they developed some pleasant relationships there. They inquired about the possibility of buying the home from the friend, but it was not for sale at the time. Then Kurt saw something on television that said Abruzzo was a beautiful region with a lower cost of living than Toscana. They began focusing their attention on Abruzzo instead, looking at more than a dozen houses before picking the right one. They initially rejected their house, but they ended up buying after coming back to look at it four more times.

They considered homes in the countryside that included land, but they realized that they would not be around enough to grow flowers and vegetables. Besides that, living in the country would isolate them, and they had discovered that meeting people is the best part of coming to Italy. Now they are surrounded by people, but Guardiagrele is not so large as to render them just another face in the crowd, which can happen in larger cities.

“It all came down to lifestyle,” Lauren said. “We can walk right out of our door and up to the town and to the market. We don’t even have to take our car out of the garage. We can park the car and never go anywhere else, just stay in our city for two weeks and not feel we are missing anything.”

Their house has four levels, with a one-car garage occupying most of the ground floor.
Lauren, Kurt and Lucy relax in a coffee bar while the morning sun shines through the window.
Above that, on level one, is a combined living room and kitchen. Piano due consists of their bedroom and a combination bathroom and laundry, and the upper floor is the guest bathroom and bedroom, which also opens onto an ample terrazzo, where they have table and chairs, a clothesline and barbecue. The house had been unoccupied for many years and was nearly in ruins when they bought it. The total cost of the building and the reconstruction came to around 150,000 euros. Their annual taxes and utilities run a little more than 1500 euros, Kurt estimated.

Guadiagrele has an elevation of about 1900 feet and is only about half an hour from the Adriatic Sea and another half hour from a ski resort in the Appinnini mountains. It is on the same latitude as southern Oregon, so the weather is warmer than Bremerton, where they maintain their permanent home.

“The only downside is that we picked a city that is really hard for our American family and friends to pronounce,” Lauren said. “Also, you need a car to go anywhere outside of the city, so we have to rent one from the airport in Rome whenever we come.”
The Newcomers showed us the sights of Guardiagrele and several nearby cities, but more than anything else, we enjoyed sharing experiences with friends who shared our passion for the Italian lifestyle. We could relate to their joys and struggles and felt they appreciated hearing about our adventures and misadventure in Toscana.