I think it’s important to explain how this all started even if, for no other reason, then to remind myself in moments of “why? why am I doing this?!!” that I actually DO have a good reason.
I remember having a very strong desire to explore the world even as a young girl. The typical family holiday back then only extended to remote regions of SA where we’d usually go camping and generally tour the sites in the family car. Sometimes we’d go further afield as far as Canberra (to visit Aunty) but we never left Australia. Indeed, I never even set foot on a plane until I met my husband. Don’t get me wrong, those family holidays gave me treasured memories of my happy childhood that will stay with me forever, but I always wondered what life was like “on the other side of the pond”.
At age 19 I met my future husband: an Italian American living in Australia. Being around him allowed me to experience life as a foreigner, albeit vicariously. I could see that there were other places to visit, other cultures to experience, other ways to live. Over the years, we visited the US (4 times) including Hawaii, Mexico and Canada. We travelled to New Zealand and Fiji. All of this, as well as many trips within Australia, only increased our wanderlust.
Throughout these years we were also running a very successful photography business, which rewarded us well financially but didn’t give us the lifestyle we wanted with our children. Finally in 2007 we had one of those life changing discussions that began while we were folding sheets at home and continued for the whole weekend! What if we just changed our lives? What if we just stopped what we were doing and did something totally different? What have we always wanted to do? What is stopping us from doing exactly what we want to? The answer to the latter question was “nothing”. There was really no good reason why we shouldn’t just go for it, and no better time than right now in our lives to do it. There were wheels to be set in motion so that we could wind down our business and sell our premises. We had land that could be developed and used as investment properties. We didn’t have our “dream house” yet, so nothing was tying us to SA. Our children are young enough to be shifted from their schools, but old enough to appreciate the experience we can give them. It was as if the planets had aligned!
We spent the next couple of years preparing. We still weren’t sure exactly where we wanted to live though and thought perhaps the US would be an option. We visited in 2008 to check it out, but decided it could not really offer us the lifestyle we were seeking and didn’t think it was suitable for our children at this stage of their lives. We considered New Zealand as we had visited there some years earlier, but internet property searches showed that The Lord of the Rings had indeed been kind to their real estate market! We were priced out of all the good parts. Then we thought of Italy. Chris has an Italian father who comes from a walled medieval village called Lucca in Tuscany. Why not reconnect with his Italian heritage? Chris had spent 6 months there as an 8 yr old boy and it had a profound effect on his life. The fact that neither of us spoke Italian didn’t worry us at all, and we decided to investigate further.
Property in and around Lucca proved to be very expensive, so I looked further afield. The thought of living in the rural parts of Italy was very appealing as we wanted to experience the authentic Italian lifestyle and not be a part of city life. I tentatively organised a long term rental villa in the small village of Bagnone (about a 40 min drive from Lucca) and promptly joined the Bagnone group on Facebook. Shortly after, I was contacted by a lovely English lady who was curious as to why an Australian would join such an obscure group and we got to emailing. It turned out that she had a house there which she was willing to let for 12 months. Some minor details later, and the house was sorted! Then there was the small matter of the boys attending school there. Happily, there is a public school in the village and several emails to the local head mistress served to notify them of our arrival. The Italian Consulate here in SA helped us to organise a codice fiscale (needed for all sorts of services in Italy, such as buying a SIM card) and a long term visa. In the process, we discovered that Chris’s father is NOT an Italian citizen any more as it was automatically relinquished when he arrived in the US as a child. Such a pity, as it would have been quite handy! We organised flights, a language teacher, a car, bank account and all those things you take for granted when you live your life in your own country.
Now here we are, 2 weeks away from leaving on our big adventure!
Finally, I want to outline our other existential reasons for doing this:
- we’re not comfortable being comfortable. I don’t think you’re really living life to it’s fullest if you stay in your safe zone. It’s good to get out and shake things up a bit.
- I’ve spent my whole life being “native” to my environment. I’ve never been the “new kid” or the foreigner. Just from my personal observations, I think it’s a valuable experience to have and I feel that we’ll all learn a lot about ourselves and other people. I also think it will bring us even closer as a family unit.
- Learning a new language is good for the brain. It’s my goal to be quite fluent in Italian in 12 months time and to speak it correctly. I find the language to be quite beautiful and I want to do it justice by speaking it well.
- There are some things you just can’t learn in school. I feel so fortunate to be able to offer my kids this experience. They will learn so much about geography, history, sociology, psychology and hopefully gain more confidence that will help them in every aspect of their lives.
- I want to know what we’re capable of. How will we cope in this strange new environment? How resourceful are we? How resilient?
- Won’t it be great to sit in our retirement home and reminisce about the time we lived in Tuscany?
It’s not going to be easy but then nothing worth doing ever is. I’m excited! Although my Italian language is not fantastic, I’m reasonably confident we can do this thing. I invite you to watch this space and take the journey with us.