Tag Archives: Italy

ave maria di lourdes

I’m convinced that you can relive memories through your senses more accurately than flipping through a photo album.

When our kids are asked what they remember most about our summer trip to Italy, they often say the taste of rich gelato. More recently, my daughter mentions the memory and sound of bells chiming from church towers.

I know exactly what day she is remembering. We were staying in the hills just south of Florence taking a walk overlooking the olive trees surrounding our apartment.

A nearby church tower began chiming. Then another joined in from farther away. And another. They played off each other and continued for a good five or ten minutes. The bell chimes bounced off the distant hills and filled the air. This chorus of bells against a backdrop of silence stopped us in our tracks as we listened. When my husband and I lived in Italy, the sounds of church bells were an everyday occurrence – we hardly noticed some days. But on that day it was a beautiful and memorable shared experience between mother and daughter.

My daughter’s memory reminds me that I do miss the church bells. I don’t hear them at home. When we lived in Italy,  the local town church chimed an unfogettable and beautiful song only on Sundays. So over the years, I’d often sit on our balcony high up on the hill and listen. I knew I could count on hearing it each week. My mother recognized the song as “Ave Maria di Lourdes” because she listened to it as a child growing up in Germany. To confirm it was the song, I found a version on youtube.  Take a listen and perhaps it will take you back to a country or time that is special to you.


wanted: italian tapparelle stateside

When in Italy a few weeks ago, I took note of some of my favorite Italian things that, for some reason, have not become popular culture on this side of the ocean.


I sleep the best when in Italy. I owe it to the efficient tapparelle that cover the windows (they go up and down either by pulling on a cord manually or pushing an up and down switch electronically which, from experience, is a celebratory way to start a day) and make a room pitch black. At home, blinds and curtains – even black outs – don’t keep the sun out and I wake early, particularly during summer. Italians transplanted here or on vacation will complain of rooms that are too light and how they are prevented from a good night sleep.  I am convinced, like the bidettapparelle is an item searched for stateside, but I have yet to see one dressing a house window. For a country that invented the personal computer and put a man on the moon, my neighborhood’s decorative, can’t-shut shutters on windows blasted with the hot California sun are an embarrassment.


I was as excited to see an Autogrill off the autostrada again as the Duomo in Florence. Seriously.  I almost cried. It’s a consistently quality restaurant off the autostrada (or highway) that will serve you a fresh, delicious prosciutto crudo and rucola panino and one of the best espressos in all Italy. While we have Subway for fresh sandwiches, this all-in-one, easy-exit-off-the-autostrada restaurant & store has also been our go-to place for replacing lost sunglasses or picking up the latest newspaper.

Latte Vending Machines

This trip is the first time I stumbled upon a vending machine for fresh milk. I found one just outside the train station in Desenzano on Lago di Garda. Stepping out of the train, my kids plugged their noses and I smelled what I thought were cows. My guess was right. The milk, we were told by a local, comes from the cows in the area. We have 24 hour convenience and grocery stores but I’d choose the fresh, local latte vending machine any time.

Finally, the machine used at the Italkmark grocery store deli to cut meats like prosciutto crudo is different than here, and I continue to wonder if it’s operator error or the machine that cuts of prosciutto just plain wrong, even in the fanciest American grocery store.  There’s nothing worse than walking out with fifteen dollars worth of too thickly sliced proscuitto crudo. But I’ll save that for another day.

italy in may

We  just returned from our first trip back to Northern Italy since we left and moved back  home. There we embraced a new relationship with the country we once called home. We aren’t quite Italy’s tourists and we certainly aren’t its residents anymore. We’re ex-residents and it’s a lovely thing. While jet lag prevents me from writing further (and keeping my eyes open at the moment), instead in this first post I’ll share some of my favorite images captured during our stay there. Enjoy!

Italian sky over Lago di Garda

Brescia “new” Duomo

Centro Brescia

Outside Crema, Italy

Monte Maderno (our old ‘hood)

Church, Monte Maderno

beach, Toscolano Maderno

beach, Toscolano Maderno


streetside, San Felice del Benaco, Lago di Garda

Palazzo Strozzi, Firenze

Campo Santo Spirito, Firenze

Market at Salo

Stunning Lago di Garda, D.H. Lawrence called it the “milky lake”

streaming italian

We’re going back to Italy for the first time since we moved back. And I’m determined not to slip into English when we are there. But the reality is that after speaking Italian daily during my three years living there, it’s been many more years since I’ve been back in the States with few opportunities to keep it up. Time to dust off my Italian dictionary.

Or not?

I’ve  looked for better opportunities to keep it up. I speak with my Italian friends in town, but their English is so good, we end up slipping back into it in a matter of minutes. We forked out extra money for satellite connection to RAI Italian television but the cost kept going up, and we dropped it.The Italian language course through the local adult school is geared towards “travel Italian”, and I don’t feel I quite fit in. Having lived in Italy , I’m not exactly an Italian travel enthusiast, although I enthusiastically travel Italy. I’ve crossed over that never-to-return fence into Italian residency, and feel a sort of fake surrounded by American Chianti tasters and Tuscany villa renters, attending conversation classes and wine tasting nights with rose-colored glasses on. I could just see myself show up and blurt out real-life horror stories as I kill their dreams of happy, helpful, pasta-eating Italians.  

But I have now found a wonderful outlet to get the Italian flowing again. Italian streaming radio. I even found a talk show on Milan’s Radio DeeJay with a host that has the accent from the area we lived. It’s like being back. While my spoken Italian is not getting much practice, my comprehension is  fine tuned. I understand almost everything. I’m getting ready.

For fellow expats returned home, European travel and language lovers and those just curious, here are several online resources to get you started streaming European radio live to your house or Ipod.

Listen Live EU

Tune In

Live Radio.net

3 paths to working abroad

How exactly does one go from vacationing to living and working abroad?

For some, the seeds of wanderlust were planted early – we had parents who love to travel or come from somewhere foreign, and we experienced different cultures as a child. Others, following college, took part in the obligatory backpacking trip  alla Rick Steves. Then, later, maybe as a single working professional, you saved every penny and vacation day for travel or took part in an extended language immersion or volunteer program. But it wasn’t enough. Each time you returned home, you were already planning the next trip…and for a longer period of time. There comes a point when a shift happens – being a tourist isn’t enough and you want the experience of living and working in another country.  It’s a dream many have and some realize. In this post I’ll highlight three different paths to finding work abroad – from London and Luxembourg, to Germany and Italy.

Jennifer taught at the American School of London. She found the position through a friend of hers already working there. “Living in London was a wonderful experience. I loved the culture, the museums, art, food, city life, being part of Europe. At the age of 26 it gave me a broader perspective on the world. I also loved working with international students and families. Everyone traveled on their breaks and shared their experiences in the classroom. I worked in London for five years and then my husband and I moved to Luxembourg to teach at the International School of Luxembourg. We really enjoyed living there among so many nationalities and languages such as German, French, English and Luxembourgish. There is also a large Scandinavian community and an Italian community there.”

For those interested in teaching abroad, she recommends researching web sites National Association of Independent Schools and International School Services (ISS offers international conferences for job seekers in February in Boston and San Francisco.)

Leslie and Maureen worked for the Gap Corporation as store managers in San Francisco. As Gap was entering the German market in the late ’90s, they both learned of an opportunity to work there, applied and were accepted for partner store manager positions in Stuttgart and Berlin. Leslie described the experience as “wonderful” and found the German people to be “warm and welcoming and made me feel comfortable in my new home.” Maureen said Berlin was “cosmopolitan, full of culture” and she will never forget experiencing the 10-year anniversary of the Berlin wall coming down and the influence of the changing east/west landscape. She also said the German work experience – which included a role in training and development –  advanced her career and helped prepare her for a new job in corporate communications for the international market when she returned home. They both agree that transferring with a company offers many advantages, including handling moving logistics which can save you money and allow you the time to focus on learning the language, the country and its culture. Their advice for someone looking to work abroad is to first look within the company you work for and inquire into any work abroad programs the it may sponsor.

me and my students

I moved abroad to Italy without promise of a job and found work once I arrived there, as an independent English teacher/tutor following efforts to continue my PR career full-time in Milan (see previous post Detour.) This is a riskier path without the safety net of a company transfer, and logistics, bureaucratic red tape and uncertainty were all mine.   Prior to leaving, I read several books including “Living and Working in Italy”  that were somewhat helpful other than Chapter 3’s  “Permits and Visas” . Contrary to Chapter 3’s well-meaning but naive advice (I have my doubts the author ever set foot in an Italian questura immigration office), the process for getting a work visa was not cut and dry or consistent. I didn’t arrive with a visa, nor did I have to return to the States to obtain it, as Chapter 3 suggests. By some back room deal , Italian-style flexibility, minor miracle I received my work permit and permission to stay, when I was hired by an English school catering to small businesses in the area and could supply a contract. Teaching English abroad may sound competitive, but in a city with few native English or Americans (ie; not Florence or Rome), I found there is an abundance of work – either with an English school or on your own. It also may help you with the Very Real Challenge of obtaining a work visa abroad, as employers must prove why you should fill the position instead of an EU citizen. And, surrounded by a demand for English –  the international language for business – you realize that by some random chance you were born in an English-speaking country and hold a highly sought-after skill that can allow you to work abroad.

If you want to teach abroad independently, keep in mind a few things.

  • You won’t get rich teaching english independently, and that is why many supplement their income by tutoring on their own (although some schools unfairly discourage it).
  • Some people pay to take courses to receive “teaching english as a foreign language” certifications. (I didn’t.) If you have a solid and related background (related education, previous teaching experience) and take initiative, you can research and self teach best practices and curriculum on how be creative and effective teacher. Not all schools required it when I worked abroad (although it may be changing).
  • Decide where you think you want to live and research English schools in the area. If you are in the country, meet with each school to learn of their needs, requirements and pay (or connect via email prior to leaving as an introduction). You can also check out the Transitions Abroad site.
  • Look for reputable schools with good reviews and a commitment for a teacher long-term – ask if they offer assistance in obtaining a work permit or visa.
  • Before you leave, visit a teaching supply store and load up! On each visit home, I re-stocked to bring fresh ideas and curriculum back to Italy.

Moving to another country to work requires you to balance adventure with responsibility and a realistic outlook. So, before you go, plan, save money (you’ll need it), research and read up on opportunities, and make connections. Read the”how to” guides to working abroad, but casually and with flexibility (And a sense of humor. ) And prepare to make that transition from dreaming to realizing the dream of working abroad. I have a feeling – much later on – you’ll look back and be glad you did.