The Big Leap

Camilla Pagliaroli tells her story about moving from New York to Livorno

About two years ago it all started with a possibility. A Bologna connection, one that was a long shot. It put Italy on the map for us. So we started talking about moving here, about what it would be like to jump off the rat race into the slow lane. In the middle of life, and not wait till we retire. But we knew it was a very long shot so we didn't want to get too excited. What if nothing would come of it?

And that's when it hit me. All of a sudden I saw us a decade down the road, sitting back there in New York, wondering what our life would have been like had we taken the plunge and moved to Italy? And that's when you know, you just KNOW, you have to do it. Come what may.

The Bologna connection did not work out, and in hindsight - we were glad it didn't. But the arrows started pointing towards a place called Livorno. I knew nothing about it. Literally. Wow, it's in Tuscany? I found out it was right on the west coast, which is great; we prefer sunsets to sunrises, and we love being by the sea. We both grew up by the sea. Different ones, on different continents but still, there's nothing like the calming effect of waves hitting the shore and the endless horizon stretching out before you. 

A year and a half later I feel like I am just beginning to scratch the surface of Livorno. It goes slowly, as language fluency is still a way off and I have that Scandinavian look about me, which just screams: "she's a tourist off today's cruise ship". But I'm learning, mixing with the locals, and I look forward to continuing to do so.

It isn't pretty here, like Florence or Pisa with their world-famous attractions and pretty classical facades reflecting in the waters under the bridges of the river Arno. Oh well; these places are close enough for me to visit when I want, and when I come home at night I don't have to wade through camera-ladened tour groups, or look for that hidden (tourist) service charge on the multilingual food menu.

Livorno is not an easy place to love. I see lots of graffiti, overgrown bombed-out ruins left from the second world war, but there is a simple straightforwardness in its people I admire. I do miss that certain intellectual feeling & all its cultural offerings that comes with living a university town. I miss being able to pick food of any ethnicity and find a restaurant that serves it, and the possibility to have a good conversation in English.

But the 'Livornese' have their own way of doing things, and it's pretty fascinating when you take time to get to know them. So I hop on the local bus to the beach, get my fruit and vegetables fresher and cheaper at the Livorno market, and I'm making a point to talk to some of the shop-keepers on our street. 

Livorno has potential, and it's easy to see glimpses of its by-gone charm, and I wonder: will we be here long enough to see some of it restored? It's a blue-collar town flying a red flag. Which doesn't make it easy for progress to take root. But we didn't come here to change things. We wanted to be changed by Italy. Slow down.

So I am learning to live here and enjoy life the Italian way:  the food, the culture, the wine, the country-side, and life itself. As I'm slowing down enough to enjoy these things, I find that I am more willing to contend with the bureaucratic hurdles and the equally slow pace with which things get accomplished here.

You can follow Camilla's experiences on her blog