I have been hesitating over this post.
I’ve moved around a great deal in my life and I have yet to figure out how to do it without making people feel as if I am somehow insulting them and rejecting their town or city or country. I never intend it that way. I have my own odd preferences, my own peculiar tastes, and of course my own agenda.
Long story short, we’re leaving Italy and moving back to the States.
Our visa will expire in spring, so one way or the other we were going to leave in a few months. But we’re bailing early. Like in a week. And here’s the part that’ll make you spit up your Amarone: we’ve chosen southern California. Trading villas and vineyards for used car lots and, um, new car lots.
I am the most impatient person I’ve ever met. I go through life wishing everyone, everywhere would get the hell out of my way. On the road, on the sidewalk, in lines at the store: move! I want all my questions answered instantly. I want everything right now. I am in a huge rush and have been my entire life. Which is odd considering that I’m pretty much inert most of the time.
So you’re thinking, “Well, Michael, it’s good that you’re self-aware enough to know this. Now, what in hell are you doing in Italy? Why didn’t you move to Japan or Germany or New York?”
That’s an excellent question there, theoretical interlocutor. And I have an inadequate answer: I thought I might change. I thought I might slow down, take on less work, stop and smell the flowers. Instead, in the seven months I’ve been here I’ve gone from one book a year and one blog, to two books a year and three blogs. And I’m angling for a third book a year. And I want to start doing a lot more promo. And I’m tangentially involved in a new technology company. Plus I’m thinking of getting involved in book packaging. And e-books. And I’d love to learn how to write scripts.
You’d think a writer would know that core character doesn’t change that much. I’m still impatient and ambitious and greedy and controlling. And to put it bluntly, Italy is getting in my way.
Partly it’s just this rustic lifestyle. It takes forever to get anywhere. If I were willing to shop old-school Italian — make the daily pilgrimage to macelleria to polleria to salumeria and all the other rias — I’d still have to drive fifteen minutes into Pontassieve, search for scarce parking, maybe find it, maybe not, climb the hill to the Centro and spend an hour waiting in line, waiting for things to be wrapped, waiting and walking around with all the string-bag ladies, and all for what? So that I could spend an hour cooking dinner? Who has time for that?
So it’s the local mini-supermarket or a major haul to an Ipercoop. Down narrow, windy roads dodging cars that cross the line into my lane, resisting the urge to nail a passing motorino just for the hell of it. All of it taking time. Time on the road. Time in the absurdly long lines. Time here and time there in little increments, but all of it coming from either my work time or my precious inertness time.
Partly it’s rusticity. Partly it’s Italian rusticity.
Mostly it’s the lack of control. Control freak? Yeah. Just a little. I hate that if I’m hungry at 4:00 pm I won’t find anything, anywhere but a stale prosciutto sandwich. I hate that I can’t just pull into a Wendy’s. I hate the way I can’t do business from noon till 2:30, or 3:00 or 4:00. And I hate the way the country shuts down on Sundays. It offends me. I want to decide for myself what I’ll do and where I’ll go and when and for how long. And as far as I’m concerned the world should wait with bated breath for me to make those decisions and then leap to satisfy my every wish.
I can’t get phone calls returned, or emails answered. Even when all I’m trying to do is get someone to provide the service they presumably need to provide in order to pay their rent. I can’t stand it! I can’t stand the fact that I can’t just wave an American Express card and get people to actually deliver what they are in business to deliver. Don’t these people understand that money makes the world go round?
I can’t get Italy to give me what I want when I want it. I want 250 Advil in a bottle I grab from the shelf, not 12 ibuprofen I have to wait in line for. I want fried eggs in the evening. I want coffee in a take-out cup. I want an ATM card that dispenses more than 750 Euros a month. Italians seem to think that just because they’re a two thousand year-old civilization that they have a right to do things in ways of which I disapprove. They seem determined to deny my God-given American right to have whatever the hell I want whenever the hell I want it. And in a wide variety of sizes.
And then, there’s the girl. (No, not a mistress: my effort to convince Katherine that I should adopt what I was hoping was the local custom went nowhere.) I mean our daughter. Kid likes people. Go figure. She needs friends. She needs a group. She likes sports. She wants to be on a soccer team and take gymnastics and fencing and surfing and skateboarding. (Strange the way she likes humans and physical activity. She may need therapy.)
Arranging to ship our car home I ran into a brick wall. No answers. No one who seemed to know anything. 10 days and it was like I was howling into the void. But after numerous unanswered emails and ignored phone calls I finally found a responsive, competent person who could answer my questions directly. She replied instantly to my emails. She knew her business. She had definitive answers. She was . . . Finnish.
Our competent Finn has lived in Italy for 20 years. Here’s what she told us, unprompted: Italy is for visiting. It’s a great place to visit. But you wouldn’t want to work here.
And unfortunately that’s my conclusion as well. I will probably never live any place as beautiful as Tuscany. I walk the dogs in the morning with the mist rolling over the vineyard and it’s lovely. It’s a beautiful, beautiful place. If I was retired it might work. But I’m an impatient workaholic and man, this is just the wrong country for me. I just don’t have the time for Italy.
A week from now we’ll be in L.A. A week after that I’ll be bitching about it.