I often get (and appreciate!) the compliments on my blog posts where we visit cities, churches, events, etc. and I post lots of pretty pictures. But I also get questions about day-to-day life in Italy. That’s a bit tougher to capture in a blog post, so this one includes a series of “vignettes” that I’ve collected over the last month to give a sense of the what it is like to live in Lucca.
Free coffee at our favorite bar!
Our favorite bar is across the street from our apartment; we often have coffee there in the morning or a Spritz in the evening. BTW, a “bar” in Italy is mostly for coffee and small snacks, but this one does serve wine and some cocktails in the early evening. It opened a year or so ago and we have been very impressed with Alessio, the young man who opened it. He is a hard worker and is very friendly to us and everyone else. He speaks little to no English. Over time, we are building a friendship – a few sentences at a time. My first fun outing after knee surgery was to his bar for a Spritz and he surprised me with sparkly candles with our snack. Fast forward to last week… we noticed that Alessio was gone for several days and the young woman who also works there seemed to be covering all of the hours. On Tuesday we saw her opening around 8:30am and closing at 7pm. That’s a long day to be running a busy bar by yourself! This morning we had coffee there and was pleased to see that the Alessio has returned. I told him that she had done a great job while he was out and had been working very long hours. He was very pleased to hear this and explained that he had been away for his birthday. When we finished our coffee and Jim’s breakfast pastry, Alessio informed us that it was his treat. Not sure why… because we gave him feedback on his staff or because it was his birthday or something else? But it was a very nice gesture and makes us feel like we truly belong here. (23 June 2022)
Italy or America?
Today I spoke to a woman from TurboTax as I am finishing up our American tax returns and I wanted her to review my Foreign Tax Credit form. I explained that I live in Italy now and she asked a question that I get asked quite often – do you like living in Italy better than America? People ask it with much curiosity but I struggle to answer the question. Part of me wants to say with a big grin “Of course!” But it really feels like such an unfair comparison. When we were living in America, we worked 40-60 hours per week. Now we are retired and living in Italy. How can I compare the two? (23 June 2022)
Around the wall on my bicycle
This morning was my second time to ride my bicycle around the wall after my knee surgery. There is a long ramp to ride up onto the wall and I walked my bicycle up it for the first time. Today I was able to ride up the ramp. It felt good to know that my quad muscles were up to the task. I felt much more confident on my bicycle this time. Until I realized that Jim wasn’t behind me. I waited patiently and he finally appeared. Then stopped again. Clearly, he was having problems with his bicycle. I walked my bicycle back to him; he was having a problem with the chain. Not only had the chain fallen off of the gear, but it had gotten wedged between the gear and the bike frame. He was trying to get it sorted out and a police car slowly drove past us. They pulled over and walked back to help us! They had all the right tools – gloves and a key to push the chain out of the stuck spot. Lots of grazie’s later, they slowly pulled off. I always wondered why the police patrolled the wall. (24 June 2022)
The Gas Bill
Gas is expensive in Italy and it takes a lot to heat a 500-year-old building. Our palazzo has a central system and so the cost for heating is included in our condominium fee. We also get a gas bill every two months that covers the gas used for cooking. Of course, we don’t use much so the bill is low – around €20 or €30 for two months. We have it set up to be paid automatically, so frankly I didn’t really pay attention to it. In March Jim noticed that it was €90! How could that be? Turns out that for the first year or so, our real estate agent was “self-reporting” the actual amount used each month. She stopped doing this and we didn’t realize it. So, the gas company estimated the usage. And their estimates increased substantially for every bill! Jim figured out how to check the meter and we went to the website to “self-report” but our actual was so different from their estimate that they didn’t accept our “self-report” actual value. A few emails later everything seemed to be fixed and we received the next bill with €0 due and a negative balance. And we added a monthly task to our calendar to “self-report”. But we were still out of sync and the website wouldn’t take our actual values. This morning, Jim checked the value and I entered the actual reading into the website and it accepted our “self-report”. I felt a huge sense of accomplishment. Just one more example of the Italian bureaucracy that can drive you crazy… (26 June 2022)
Opera students in Lucca
Lucca is the birthplace of Puccini, who is one of Italy’s most famous opera composers. There are several music schools in town: a high school focused on music, a world-renown school that attracts students and professionals from around the world to study classical music, and many more. The Opera Lucca program brings young people (17 years old to almost 30 this year) to Lucca for the summer to study the Italian language and opera (singing, piano, and even composition). This group has been practicing across the street from our friend Theresa and she has been quite an advocate for them. They held a concert in Lucca in a lovely garden tonight at 7pm. We headed out the door about 10 minutes before 7pm because it is only a 3-minute walk from where we live. But on the way, we found a bunch of our friends sitting at our favorite bar, so had to stop to chat. Several of us then wandered to the venue, assuming that they would start at least 20 minutes late like normal. Oops! This program is led by Americans and so the concert started promptly at 7pm! We were a few minutes late, but sat down trying not to disturb the others. There were about 50 people present – locals, expats, and staff from the Italian school. It really was a lovely concert. (1 July 2022)
It’s usually very hot here in July and August – like the 96°F expected today. This year the heat started at the end of May and hasn’t let up. We have air conditioning in our apartment, but it is not “central air”. Our apartment has 5 units, scattered among the bigger rooms. And it costs a lot to run them. Many people seldom run them, either because of the high cost or the fear of getting sick from the cold breeze. Jim and I have settled into a routine during these hot days… head outside in the morning for exercise and errands… stay inside with the air conditioning during the hottest part of the day… back outside after sun down. We turn on the air conditioning in the rooms that we are in and turn it off when we leave the room. Hence the apartment has cool and warm zones throughout the day. No wonder people think that they cause sickness… (3 July 2022)
Celebrations with friends
So how to celebrate the Fourth of July when living in Italy? We were invited to Gary & Ilene’s house for a BBQ on their terrazzo. Barbara, a visitor from the USA, had mailed us a bunch of Red, White, and Blue party products so we were set. Hot dogs, hamburgers, ribs and all of the fixins. It was a lot of fun to celebrate with a group of Americans and one Brit! The next day was Ilene’s birthday, so we gathered at Vinarkià for a birthday celebration. We share many of these kinds of celebrations with local friends, given that our families are so far away. (4 and 5 July 2022)
Learning the Language
A few months ago, a friend from the United States asked if I was fluent yet. Sadly, the answer is no. So, I did some research – how long does it take to get fluent or “fluent enough”? The US State Department figures that it takes 600-750 classroom hours to reach “Professional Working Proficiency” in Italian. My back of the envelope estimate says that I’ve had about 300 classroom hours, so I guess that I’m half way there. I think that a better gauge is my ability to converse with Italians that I know that don’t speak English. They tend to speak slowly with me and probably use simpler sentence structure and vocabulary. I can usually understand 80% of what they say and they understand me – despite my imperfect grammar. I’m back to studying with Elenora, my online tutor, whom I worked with during lockdown. We are meeting once per week, but I plan to increase that to twice per week once her schedule frees up. I made slow but steady program working with her. I also plan to return to the Lucca Italian School for a few more weeks this year; at LIS we spend about 4 hours per day listening and speaking only Italian and the immersion is very helpful. (14 July 2022)
Is life perfect here?
Nope, but it is pretty darn good! We are loving day-to-day life in Lucca and haven’t regretted the move.