It’s easy, while on vacation in some sun-drenched, fabulous corner of Italy, to fantasize about how it would be to live there. Great food every day, eye-popping beauty in the landscape and the people, oodles of charm, culture and history, a heart-melting language.
It’s all true. My husband and I moved to Milan when our daughters were two and four years old. We stayed for seven years, learned that heart-melting language, and loved it all so much we bought an ancient pile of stone that we are slowly turning back into a habitable home.
This is our story. The house is in the pristine hills of an uninvaded, largely unknown valley in Liguria, in which the language you hear is almost exclusively Italian. The people who live there are rebuilding our house. They are some of the most solid, hardest-working people I’ve ever met, and this story is also about them. More importantly, this is not a report on the past; we’re working in real-time. You get to participate in the reconstruction, which has started but has so much yet to come. Comment! Advise! Cheer! Weep!
In case you’re thinking this is going to be one continuously fabulous, romantic romp, let me tell you about some of the things that make expats (the ones who succumbed to their fantasies on vacation) turn grumpy about the country they expected to love. Paralyzing bureaucracy is a frequent starting point. Then come some key cultural differences, such as a confusing tendency for Italians to tell you what you want to hear instead of what is true (this is not considered lying); a fluid concept of time in which urgency is a pointless construct; and an almost serene acceptance of crisis as one of many things one should simply expect of life.
It’s a great atmosphere in which to tackle a massive renovation project.
On the plus side, I can tell you this experience has already taught me a lot about community, connectedness, commitment, and yes, patience. The project is turning out to be about a lot more than just building a house.