Colorful, multistoried buildings cluster tightly on a hillside overlooking bright beach umbrellas.

Positano, Campania on the Amalfi Coast. Photo © perseomedusa/123rf.

Sometimes when I’m mindlessly stirring cherry tomatoes in a saucepan, or ironing a favorite shirt that I bought at a wedding in Palermo, I think about what my life would be like had a string of coincidences not fallen into place a decade ago.

What if I hadn’t been at a reporter’s desk in Vermont at that time, contemplating a move, when my sister came around looking for a roommate in Italy? What if that job had never opened up in Milan just as I was considering the flight back home? What would life have been like then? It’s like closing your eyes and pondering what would have happened if your parents had never met. Of course, I have no idea what I’d be doing now if I hadn’t moved to Italy, but I know exactly what I would never have done. I would never have been able to drive to the Riviera on a whim. I would never have skied Mount Etna hours before it erupted. I doubt that I would have spared vacation time to walk through Venice on a silent, rainy weekday in February and seen la Serenissima the way it was meant to be seen. The pleasures and beauty of Italy are legendary, but the thing that really keeps you here is the people. The calm pace and perspective of the Italian people will rub off on even the most rigid and restless foreigner.I can say with certainty that I would never have found myself pacing around Giorgio Armani’s empty apartment, dodging cat litter boxes while I waited for him to show up for an interview. These are odd, once-in-a-lifetime experiences that the average traveler would see as a windfall, and the resident of Italy almost takes for granted.

You don’t have to be an adventurer or a collector of bizarre experiences to appreciate Italy. There are as many reasons to move here as there are people who do: to ski in the Alps every weekend in the winter; to cycle through the cypress-lined hills of Tuscany every weekend in spring; to spend your summers loafing on the rose-colored beaches of Sardinia; to eat porcini and drink Brunello di Montalcino in the Apennines; to spend years studying the frescoes of Giotto in the Scrovegni Chapel; to become an expert on a little-known quarter of Rome.

The pleasures and beauty of Italy are legendary, but the thing that really keeps you here is the people. The calm pace and perspective of the Italian people will rub off on even the most rigid and restless foreigner. Living in this beautiful country will also have some effect on your worldview. Whether you believe that Europe’s mores represent the past and that the continentals look to the West for the future, or whether you are beginning to suspect that the opposite may be true, there is still no substitute for living in the cradle of Western civilization to grasp where we have been, how ideas and empires blossomed and died. Discussing current events, your convictions will be either strengthened or tested after sharing dinner tables with people who have survived a war in their backyards and who have lived under the specter of domestic terrorism throughout much of their lives. In the end, I think this is the part of living in Italy that I would have missed the most had I never landed here in the first place. I have made some very good friends.

What I Love About Italy

  • You don’t leave home in the morning without your sunglasses.
  • Espresso, cappuccino, and macchiato are perfect every time.
  • When you order an orange juice, the bartender picks up an orange.
  • Your 3 o’clock meeting is in a frescoed palace that is 700 years old.
  • Everything is a work of art.
  • Five weeks of vacation are the norm, and some of the nicest vacation spots in the world are only a few hours’ drive away.
  • Simple, traditional recipes + fresh, local ingredients = a great meal.
  • You can still find a cobbler to repair a shoe, and it is done with care.
  • A perfectly good bottle of wine at the supermarket costs €5.
  • Friends and family greet you at the airport.
  • Saturday: Ski a steep, powdery slope in the Alps. Sunday: Sunbathe on the Riviera.

Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Living Abroad in Italy.