Italy has always inspired the world's artists and judging from my new sketchbook, it has certainly inspired me. Here's a smattering of pencil sketches I've recently worked on. People and faces I've tended to have avoided in the past as I'm too prone to perfection with portraits and I can't seem to embrace the inevitable asymmetrical nature of it all.
Learning a second language is a story that never ends which is both a beautiful and ominous thing. Some days, you feel like you're the next Einstein with how much language you've managed to cram into your brain and pull out and conjugate all at once. Other days, you stumble over your words, searching like a lost child for a way to say something so darned simple it's infuriating and shameful to say the very least. The dreaded question asked of expats is "so are you fluent yet?". I think this is the dumbest question. If you've moved to a foreign country as an adult and learnt a second language, I just don't think fluency should be the goal. People should ask instead about how you feel about a language. What your relationship with it is because that's what it is, a relationship with highs and lows, good days and bad days. I'm quite the advocate for continuous learning. I meet alot of people who do their few classes, or their study abroad semester, or finish with a language-learning app and they often give themselves a pat on the back and that's where the story stops. It doesn't stop there though, not for me at least. The photographs above are of my little vocabulary book that I carry around with me, filled to the brim with (colmare is the verb in Italian, it's actually written in that book!) words that I had to look up, phrases that struck me and expressions I can never remember. I think this is a great thing to do if you're learning Italian. Every now and then, I flip through the book and see if any of the words I've committed to memory now. I believe Jhumpa Lahiri did the same thing during her year of living in Rome, she claims to have filled notebooks full of words that she wanted to learn. The truth of the matter is, I'll probably never learn 100% of the words in my book but even if I manage a mere 5-10%, that's a nice handful of words that I never knew before- in fact, the second photo is of the first page of my book from years ago and today I now know most of those words.
I started the blog in 2014 and since then, I've had the opportunity to chat with a surprising number of people from all over the world with one thing in common- a dream to one day, live in Italy. I have in no way been here a long time relative to other expats, but even after talking to my share of them here, I've come to one very key conclusion. Before you start thinking seriously about moving to Italy, you should ask yourself this question: am I someone that sees the silver lining and the glass half full?
While every expat situation is different and is linked to so many factors such as job, support networks, language ability etc...I truly believe your answer to this question needs to be yes if you are going to live in Italy. It's going to be the very foundation on which to build your experience. If you made a list of pros and cons for life in Italy, you'd probably end up with an equal number on both sides which is why I've come to realize that the happy expats here share the optimism trait; they see Italy for what she is but choose to revel in the beauty and not the bureaucracy. These are the people that can have the worst day ever but can take a simple walk in Piazza Navona at dusk to right all wrongs.
Everyone likes to think themselves an eternal optimist, but we're not. Everyone likes to think they would find the silver lining in any situation but Italy will prove you wrong. I would have described myself as patient, even very patient, before moving here. After 7 days of (not)-lining up for hours at the immigration office, I learned something new about myself- that I'm not as patient as I liked to believe. And it's the same for whether you are able to focus on the good things, day in and day out. Italy will demand that of you and if you can't give her that, you will grow to resent her.
This post is not meant to dissuade anyone from the dream. I absolutely adore Italy and the choice I made to move here was the right one for me personally, but I also wanted to emphasize that it's not necessarily that right choice for everyone. Just make sure Italy is really, truly your dream and then by all means, dare to live it!
Milan has long been far from my favourite city, but I'm starting to bump her up on my list slowly but surely. Especially after Tuesday when I was introduced to her charm by a friend and local, Tiziana. It's actually quite a small world as Tiziana moved from Milan to Canada so we share not only the ability to annoyingly switch languages with each other, but also the awareness of cultural nuances in both countries. We took the train in from Bergamo, specifically to see Da Vinci's rendering of The Last Supper which is really like a dinner at a coveted Milanese restaurant because you absolutely need reservations and you must make them a great deal in advance. The Last Supper is haunting and also a bit sad in the state that it's in (despite having being recently restored)- sometimes seeing art like this, the fading colors, the cracks, reminds me of time and the slow decomposition of beauty. On the flip side, I guess we must think to use this knowledge and really luxuriate in the beauty of every moment, as it's fleeting, unless it's art done by fresco, in which case, it will last a very long time. Surprisingly the best part of the day (next to the two gelato stops we made), was La Vigna di Leonardo (Leonardo's Vineyard) which can be found right across from The Last Supper. A ten Euro ticket gets you into a wonderfully well-kept villa (belonging to a family of which the name escapes me) and in the backyard, in the middle of bustling Milan, you'll find a small vineyard growing the exact grape variety that was once gifted and curated by Leonardo when he lived in the city. Spring is upon us here in Italy, the pink blossoms on the magnolia trees and the sweetness of almond flowers are everywhere. Oh, and so are the lemons...on Dolce and Gabbana purses, dresses, and shoes that is.
To be blatantly honest, I think the appeal of blogs/Instagram/Snapchat etc is to allow us all to be a tad voyeuristic and just get a sneak peek into the lives of people we don't know. Personally, I know that I've always been interested in the lives of expats abroad, hence my House Hunters International obsession. Everything seems like normal life but cooler and with more wine (ok, maybe I'm only talking about if you live in France or Italy here!). So instead of blabbing on, here's how my weekend went presented as a mini photostory.
Friday Night: dinner at an agriturismo with friends from Massi's soccer team, took minimal pictures but essentially we stayed there from 9pm until midnight and then rolled home.
Saturday: this was a particularly unique weekend because one of my childhood friends (+ her work friend) from Alberta came to visit me and so we met up in Milan for shopping and eats!
Missing: aperitivo on the 7th floor of La Rinascente.
Sunday: started off the morning with a run/hike up to this hilltop church in order to stave away the impending guilt from the 'pranzo della domenica' that was about to happen.
...basically after Sunday lunch you're so stuffed that you have to 'digest' for a couple hours and we usually lay around like sloths or have a quick walk in the city before heading back home and preparing for Monday. The End.
Today was Palm Sunday and we were terrible Catholics and didn't make it out of bed to morning mass. We did, however, make it to the Sunday lunch table which was more packed than a routine church service (except for that of our favourite priest). It was a wonderfully sunny first day of spring here in Bergamo and we simply could not waste it. So off we went on the trusty motorcycle. We were feeling the Sunday blues by late afternoon and though we had originally had our hearts set on Lake Como, we contented ourselves instead with going in search of castles fit for a bonafide princess (me). Here is a quick smattering of what we found literally ten minutes from Bergamo. It felt like we could have been stepping onto the set of Game of Thrones. When life gives you lemons, days like today- being able to literally walk around castles a stone's throw from your house is my version of lemonade.
I am clearly not your constant gardener so first off, can someone please tell me what kind of flowers the pink ones I painted are? I painted from an untitled photograph so excuse my terrible floral ignorance. I have a thumb stained with paints, but none of those colors are green. A quick commentary on these- I've been working with oils and acrylics lately but the last two days I've been wanting to do watercolors. Problem is, I don't have any here in Italy and while I could have just hopped, skipped, and jumped over to the supermarket, I started experimenting with the "Giotto" brand water-based markers that are basically a commonplace in all Italian elementary schools. Essentially your standard Mr. Sketch markers minus the artificial fragrance. Turns out, if you add water (and fairy dust), they make a great substitute for watercolors! Here are two paintings done with them. The colors are a bit muted compared to in real life, but it's a bit grey here in Northern Italy today so I blame that.
(Unknown) Pink Flowers:
Our Sunday went a bit like this: Mass, bread-buying, prosecco and Campari spritz at Balzar, pranzo, the longest passeggiata in heels completed by yours truly in the Upper City, pizza, and Spotlight. I'm not feeling particularly verbacious today, in fact I've been a painting machine these last few days so I'll just say have a fantastic start to your week a tutti!
Let's just tag this post #storyofmylifeinItaly. It's Tuesday night and we've just finished dinner (it's 22:15 by the way). I'm simply amused by the fact that we went out for a run before dinner and then promptly sat down to platefuls of chestnut gnocchi smothered in butter and sage sauce with freshly grated Parmigiano. And this is precisely why my beloved wedding dress ordered 2.5 years ago no longer fits. What's really exciting is that this is the first time I've made these gnocchi in the correct way as the recipe calls for 'chestnut flour' which I could never seem to find in Canada. This specific flour gives the gnocchi a very slight sweetness which makes for the perfect combination with butter and sage from our winter garden. Here's the recipe from one of my old posts:
Chestnut Gnocchi with a Butter and Sage Sauce from Two Greedy Italians Eat Italy (Gnocchi di Castagne con Burron e Salvia)
Try it out and let me know how it goes, it's probably my new favourite dish (for this week at least)!
Jasmine is a former pharmacist turned freelance writer, foodie, and fashionista from Alberta, Canada living "the sweet life" in Bergamo, Italy.