An apartment, a film festival, and coffee

On yesterday’s trip to Trieste, I signed the rental contract for my apartment! I’m getting the keys on Friday, and having most of the utilities and services swapped over to my name, though the garbage service doesn’t get swapped over until the 31st. I’ll be able to use the place to bring things in and will stay for a couple of nights while I’m working through a few things there, but will legally take possession of it on February 1st. I’m perfectly okay with this, as I won’t have my Permesso before then anyway, and can’t legally change my residence until that happens.

Friday morning, I’ll go to the rental office to pick up the keys. This means that I still have to get up at an ungodly hour while it’s still dark, but that bit of it will be done, at least. I’ll be going by myself; my brother will drive me to the train station at Pordenone and drop me off and I’m actually on my own in Italy for the first time, just me and my phrasebook and dictionaries. It’s a little intimidating.

Okay, it’s a lot intimidating.

At 12:30 I’m meeting the woman who owns the building, at the fountain in Piazza Unità, so that we can go to swap the utilities over to my name, and in the evening I get together with the folks at the American group for their Trieste orientation evening. It’s also their TGIF and there’s food, so I had to get a ticket (€7) to cover for expenses and I’m supposed to bring along something to share to drink. With any luck, I’ll learn some useful things to help me get by.

My plan is to haul the air mattress and a few other things I’ll need over to my new place so I’ll have a place to stay for the weekend and not have to take the train back on Friday night after the gathering. I can spend the weekend exploring Trieste and getting acquainted with what’s there, both in my neighborhood and around the more accessible parts of town. Until the 1st, the landlord and the various workers will have access to the apartment, so I won’t be leaving anything valuable there, but I will be able to start getting things into the place.

Starting this weekend, Trieste is having a film festival. It runs for, I think, about ten days, and the program at the link is in both Italian and English. Most of the films are subtitled in Italian (if the film is not in Italian already) and English, and I’m considering going to one or two, if something I’m interested in is showing while I’m there. One film that looked like a possibility was about an Italian language teacher and his students – the teacher is an actor but the students are apparently all immigrants learning Italian to integrate into Italian society, so it seems like a thing that’s very relevant to me at the moment. I’ll have to look at the program again to see what day it’s playing, and where. The festival has about a dozen venues located around town, from cafés to theatres; they have dramas, animation, documentaries, and a variety of other genres playing.

I don’t have any new photos to share today, but I’ll be taking some of the inside of the apartment when I am there this weekend. I can’t even tell you how excited I am about the whole thing. I was able to give a delivery address to the people who are shipping my things, so that is finally out of the way.

Today I spent a little time getting a few small, light things to take to Trieste with me and leave at the apartment. I also got a bilingual Italian-English visual dictionary to help me along with the everyday things on a slightly larger scale than a phrasebook. I also discovered that I may not have the same violently bad reaction to Italian coffee as I’ve had to the coffee in Seattle. I had some at home earlier today and had only a vague sense of queasiness that might have been psychosomatic because I’ve had bad reactions before, or it might have been the acid on a nearly-empty stomach. I wanted to wait until I’d settled a bit, and to try it here at home rather than out at a café so as to avoid problems if it did make me ill. In either case, it would be nice to be able to have a bit now and then so as to be a little more sociable with the people here, for whom coffee is a way of life. We shall see.


11 Days: Remembering last summer

Yesterday was dim and chilly, but there was no rain for the moving sale. Over half of the bookshelves went, and a lot of other stuff. Many of my friends came by and got things from me, and some of their goodbyes left me tearful. Others stayed for a while and had dinner with me afterwards; it was very kind of them and I enjoyed their company immensely. One of them, PSV Lupus, wrote an elegiac post about living in my library for two and a half years, and about our friendship.

I will admit, I sniffled a lot when I read it in the dark, early hours this morning, when I wasn’t able to sleep. A word to my friends – you guys have to stop making me cry, damn it!

Today has been rainy, though somewhat warmer. One friend who couldn’t make it yesterday came by today and picked up a bunch of stuff that I’m much happier to see going to a friend than to a charity shop. He also picked up some things I’d given to another couple of friends who’d come by for dinner last week and forgotten what I intended to send home with them. Overall, I pulled together several hundred dollars from the sale, and I feel very good about what’s going off to the Northwest Center on Wednesday morning.

After spending that brief time with Robert this afternoon, I went back out to the garage and started bagging and boxing things for the Northwest Center. There’s more to do yet, but Charles is coming by this evening, in just a little while, after he gets back from the Irish language class he teaches with my girlfriend Caera on Sunday nights. The class used to be located here, but I haven’t any furniture left, so there’s no place for anyone to sit. When I’m not using my laptop, I have to stand at the breakfast bar to use the desktop computer, and that’s being shipped off to my brother late next week.

In the midst of all the activity, I’ve been reflecting a little on some of the things I saw in Italy last summer, and how much I would love to see them again, to give them a chance to settle into me more. We went to places that astonished and delighted me, and I’ll share a few photos with you here, and my memories of those places.

Mary shrine at the headwaters of the Livenza

Mary shrine at the headwaters of the Livenza

I had never seen an entire river emerging from the base of a mountain before. Fiume Livenza emerges from three sources near the town where my brother lives. We visited the banks of the stream that flows from the underwater cave at Gargazzo; there’s a restaurant there where I’d love to have dinner some summer evening. The water is incredibly clear, and the emerging stream is in a gorgeous wooded area and flows down into the small town below.

Another source of the Livenza is situated next to a busy road. Just slightly downstream from the little shrine pictured here is a ruined mill, broken and painted with graffiti, but there’s a path that runs along both sides of the river and around the resurgence where it emerges from beneath the mountain. There’s a beautiful riparian zone below this, peaceful and filled with life. In the myths that I read and love, “springs” and “wells” play a powerful part, representing not just life but the eruption of poetic power and wisdom from some secret otherworldly source, but I had never really viscerally understood what that meant and why they might feel so sacred before I saw this place.

The Livenza here is not just a little stream. It’s a full sized river coming out of the ground.

Mountain. Road. River. Nothing gentle about this transition at all. It’s nothing like the swamps where the streams and rivers of my childhood rose in the Berkshire hills of Massachusetts. In this place, I knew with my entire body what the poets of Ireland were talking about when they spoke of the sudden, violent emergence of rivers from the otherworld.

Venetian flag on a gondola

Venetian flag on a gondola

We spent only one day in Venice during my visit. Like so many others, I was enchanted by the city and its canals. I’ve always been in love with water, and I wanted very much to spend more time there. This city, without cars and trucks in its streets, was a large part of what inspired me to try to move to Italy when the dizziness hit. If I couldn’t drive anymore, if I had to walk and take public transit for years, or possibly for the rest of my life, I thought it might be a good idea to live in a place where everyone walked.

Public transit in Washington state includes the ferry system. These are moderately sized car ferries that traverse Puget Sound in a wide variety of routes, and I’ve taken quite a few of them over the years. It’s always a pleasure to take my friends on the ferries when they come to visit, and I have loved riding them simply for the love of being on the water, and the view of the Cascade and Olympic mountains rising above the sound before and behind me. Tahoma towers in the distance to the south, an immense, snow-crowned presence that visually defines the region. It is a spiritual presence as well as a physical one.

The vaporetto system in Venice is more like city buses than our ferries are, but they are at least larger than the smallboats I took to work from the mainland of Pearl Harbor when I was stationed at Ford Island back in 1980. I understand there’s a bridge now, and that you can drive to the island if you work there, but my daily commute was standing crammed in with probably thirty or so other people, swaying with the waves, and getting wet from the spray despite the canvas cover, regardless of the weather.

The vaporetti are a lot more comfortable. You get seats. I could get used to the vaporetti.

Lion in Piazza San Marco

Lion in Piazza San Marco

I could get used to the strange, casual beauty of the cities, and to the sense of age and history that non-indigenous North America lacks. While there are interesting architectural moments in Seattle, its buildings are largely utilitarian and they don’t date back past the late 19th century. Some 25 blocks of downtown were lost in the great fire of 1889 that resulted in the burial of most of downtown and raising the streets by about twenty-two feet. There’s nothing particularly elegant about Seattle’s buildings now, though I’ll admit to being amused by the long-tusked walruses on the façade of the Arctic Club building.

We have natural beauty in the mountains and the waters here, and the temperate Northwest rainforest can only be understood by backpacking and camping in it, but our cities are too modern to have the depth of history that is found everywhere in Italy. Put a spade in the ground there, and you unearth Romans and Etruscans.

Dolomite mountains

Dolomite mountains

The Dolomites are sharper and more angular than the Cascades and the Olympics, and the environment, while alpine, is very different than the mountains here. My brother took me for a drive up into the Dolomites along a winding road, filled with switchbacks and hairpin turns, that he’d helped improve some years back, when the US Air Force was doing community projects in the area.  I was eager to get out and hike, and we spent time walking along a dirt road in a park, moving slowly up the mountain. I took photos of flowers in the forest, and pictures of the view from the road as we turned and turned again.

When he was out here visiting a few years back, I took him out to the Hoh rainforest, and to the Grove of the Patriarchs on Mount Rainier; his friends back in Italy who saw the photos of him hiking the trails could hardly believe the size of the trees. Jim had been pretty impressed himself. They are some of the most ancient and impressive living things on the west coast. I’ll miss the cedars and hemlocks and Douglas firs. The scent of cedar in the rain is the scent of home to me.

Mosaic in the bascilica at Aquileia

Mosaic in the basilica at Aquileia

Jim took me to Palmanova and Aquileia on a sleepy Sunday afternoon. We had a snack in the piazza in Palmanova and walked out to the city walls. I would have liked to explore more, but Aquileia promised mosaics and a really nice little museum. I’d seen the mosaics in documentaries before and was eager to see them for myself. The whimsy of the sea-life charmed me from a screen, from the octopodes to the sea monster swallowing Jonah. Seeing the mosaic pavement for myself was a wonderful experience.

Aquileia was once one of the major seaports of the Roman empire, on the Natissa. We walked the archaeological trail through the ruins of the ancient port; its waterway was a still green trickle, sailed only by a few ducks. The place was well-supplied with signs in Italian and English, explaining the town’s Roman history.

We ate our lunch at a sunny table outside a small cafe, where the waitress tried to talk to my brother in German. He kept answering, in Italian, “I don’t speak German. I’m not German.” She refused to speak Italian to him – apparently not believing him – but did take our order. I ate my sandwich under the watchful eye of the Lupa, suckling Romulus and Remus atop a column next to the basilica.

The crypt was almost as fascinating to me artistically as the 4th-century mosaics. The paintings had a different sort of charm, with boggle-eyed kings and saints, foliate green men, and beautifully flowing trees.

Heron or crane from the crypt below the Patriarcale Basilica di Aquileia

Heron or crane from the crypt below the Patriarcale Basilica di Aquileia

There were monochrome figures and medieval graffiti. I particularly liked the heron eating a fish. Speckled and cross-hatched, he looks a bit smug and quite pleased with himself.

The damage to the paintings was considerable. In some places entire figures were expunged, while others were missing parts. Yet there is nothing like this here where I live. America is obsessed with newness and youth, and things like this would vanish under the hard machines of developers here. It’s difficult to preserve what history we do have, whether indigenous or immigrant, because profit drives everything, and history isn’t generally considered profitable.

Without history, though, we have no sense of who we are or where we came from. We are adrift in the present and without roots. Without history, we don’t value the past and the forces that have shaped us.

I want to touch an older history. I want to look back beyond my lifetime, beyond even the lifetime of the country where I was born. I want to spend time in cities that have been inhabited for hundreds or thousands of years. I want to have ghosts beneath my skin. I want to read the words written by the people who lived in those places, to see the art that they made as it changed and developed.

This history is distant from Americans, not just temporally but spatially. We are thousands of miles from these places and events. Even more recent history can be difficult for us to feel on a more than theoretical level.

Dragonfly in the WW1 cemetery behind the basilica in Aqileia

Dragonfly in the WW1 cemetery behind the basilica in Aquileia

Behind the basilica in Aquileia is a cemetery filled with the men from the town who died in the first world war. It’s a quiet place, laid out in neat rows of iron wreaths of oak and laurel leaves. Its battles were never fought on my continent, though over a hundred thousand Americans died in the fighting. Its physical distance puts a psychic distance between us and the reality of it all. In Europe, there are still memorials everywhere. Each town has them. Here, they are much more difficult to find and, unless a family member died in that war, no one really remembers. It’s a short segment of a high school American History course and very little more.

There, they are present by sheer force of numbers, and by the battles fought on familiar ground. What was theoretical for me became a lived reality when I stood in the presence of these iron wreaths.

I know I have rambled here. I am facing a loss of my own personal history as I leave my country and my friends and family behind. I hope to find a door into another history there, one that I can immerse myself in and learn from. I will read Catullus and Ausonius and Dante and Petrarch, and walk the places they once knew. I’ll follow in the footsteps of Joyce and Rilke in Trieste. And I’ll bring some of that history into my own experience.

Doing the research and filling out the application

My decision was made. I was going to try to move to Italy. Try was my operative word. I never actually believed it would happen, but it was a great fantasy, and one worth pursuing. Grand follies are the best kind, and I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t at least try when I had the opportunity.

Italy isn’t a grand passion for me the way it is for some, nor am I being sent to work over there. I’m not going to get a degree or study at a university. Aside from my brother living near Aviano for most of the last twenty-ish years and knowing that this fact might help, I hadn’t the first idea how to go about applying for an elective residence visa. I didn’t even know it was an elective residence visa that I needed.

I know that some people dream and plan for years before doing something like this. They’re probably far better prepared than I am. Most of the websites I looked at did mention elective residence visas in passing, but said that people should take a couple of years to plan and prepare for the application and the move. And there I was, throwing myself into the abyss with only a few months to work in, hoping there would be a soft landing, or that maybe I’d sprout some wings.

After asking my brother and getting his go-ahead on the project, we talked for a bit. He didn’t know much about the process, as he entered Italy with the Air Force, married an Italian, and got his residence an entirely different way than I need to. Most of the resources I found online about moving to Italy assumed that the person applying for a visa was either going for work or to attend university, and offered information accordingly. Some of it was useful but the majority wasn’t. Being told to talk to my HR department about the transfer wasn’t on my radar for obvious reasons. My HR department has a cold nose and four furry paws. He’d be useless for advising me on an international move. I bought two books on living and working in Italy last month and both of them mention elective residence visas only in passing.

Fortunately, I’m really good at internet research, and I’m also pretty good at figuring out the right questions to ask. This process, however, took a few months. I asked questions on the Fodors travel forum and got some good advice there. I read blogs by people who had successfully moved to Italy and found inspiration and real discussions of the ups and downs of the process, even when first attempts failed. I talked to people who had managed it, and friends who have moved to other countries from their own native lands — France, England, Spain, Thailand, the US. I got information from the Italian consulate in San Francisco. I’ve been told that each consulate handles the process somewhat differently, so my experience may not be what you encounter if you try to move to Italy. My experiences were also different than those of the people I talked to about the process.

On the surface, it looked impossible. I am, quite possibly, a fool or perhaps just blindly optimistic. But I had to move anyway due to my physical circumstances, so there was no reason not to take a whack at the impossible just to stay in practice. We poets are a sorry lot of wild-eyed dreamers, after all.

In searching for what was necessary to apply for an elective residence visa, different websites had slightly differing lists, so I emailed the San Francisco consulate for their specific requirements. I got this list of what was required for the elective residence application from the consulate:

Long term visa application form (you can find it on our website)
Recent photo
Passport valid and photocopy
Documented and detailed guarantee of substantial and steady private income (pensions or annuities) from property, stable economic and commercial activities or from other sources.
Proof of financial means, such as letters from the applicant’s bank indicating the financial status of their accounts, including amount of money in each account, copy of the last pension check, rental agreement or deed for property in Italy
Reservation flight
Valid foreign medical insurance (you will need a declaration from your insurer stating that you are covered abroad)
Financial assets
Fbi criminal report
Bank statements for the last 6 months showing a consolidate balance of at least $50,000 (each individual)
Tax returns for the last three years

Out of everything on that list, the most intimidating was the fact that they wanted proof that I had $50,000. I’ve never had that much money in my life. I probably never will have, unless I win the lottery, and I don’t buy tickets so you can see where that’s going.

In acquiring information from the consulate in San Francisco, I found that the best way to get actual useful answers was to ask one short question in each email, and make it a clear enough question that it could be answered in one or perhaps two sentences. Our correspondence was cordial and quite clear once I figured that out. Initially it had been slightly frustrating for me, because I tend to want to get all my answers in one place and will ask questions accordingly. Lots of them. In great detail. I’m sure I’m terribly annoying. I had sent an email with four or five questions on it and got a one sentence response that didn’t actually make sense to me and only peripherally addressed one of my questions. Breaking it down helped immensely, probably for both of us.

For the FBI report, I went to their website, printed out the form for a criminal records search, and went down to the county sheriff’s office to get fingerprinted. This was one of my earliest acts toward applying for the visa, as I had no idea how long the paperwork was going to take.

The letter from my credit union was actually easier than I anticipated. They apparently see things like this from time to time, and have a standard form for immigration purposes. It didn’t cost me a dime and they were very friendly and efficient about it. I had it about three days after my request. In later correspondence with the consulate, they said they wanted two letters of this sort from different financial institutions, but I explained that the credit union was the only place where I had accounts, and I had no other assets, so they said that the one letter would be acceptable.

Their requirement for a residence actually waiting for me in Italy was solved by my brother stepping in and sending a formal invitation, allowing me to live at his residence when I move there. I’ll stay with him until I can find my own place. It took him several talks with his friends at the town hall and friends of friends at the Questura in order to get the proper form and have it filled out properly. This invitation, however, makes him legally responsible for supporting me for a year when I arrive, so he had to be absolutely willing to take that chance on me. With the invitation form, he also had to include a copy of his Permesso di Soggiorno and he tossed in his most recent bank statement and his Italian identity documents for good measure, just in case. When it comes to Byzantine bureaucracies coughveteransadministrationcough, one can never be too prepared.

My brother has been a legal permanent resident of Italy for some time now. Because of that status, he is entitled to invite any member of his immediate family — parents, children if he had any, or siblings — to join him in Italy. I’m convinced that this is why my visa was granted. Between the two of us we could not come up with $50,000 even after I’d sold my car, half my library, and almost everything else I own, though we came fairly close. Even then, that was mostly his doing. The Questura told him that I should be sure to tell the consulate very clearly that I was applying for the elective residence visa and that I have no current military affiliation. Apparently, being so close to the base at Aviano, they often see people issued the wrong kind of visa because of the American military presence, and these individuals then have to return to the US to apply for the proper category of visa; visas cannot be applied for while you are actually in Italy. They did, however, assure him that with this invitation the consulate should grant my visa with no trouble.

Medical was partly taken care of by virtue of my being a disabled veteran. The VA system has a Foreign Medical Program in place for many countries. When you sign up for the program, the VA will pay any medical expenses related to your service-connected disabilities just like a civilian insurance company would. I still had to get civilian medical insurance for the purposes of the visa application and may well need it over there at some point, if only for emergencies. Medicare and Medicaid don’t apply over there, and they will not pay for medical care when you are overseas. When I visited the VA yesterday for a regular appointment, I collected a cd with my medical records on it and talked to several other departments. I was told that the VA can mail my medications to me at an APO box, which my brother has, for as long as my doctors will renew prescriptions. I was also told that when I return to the US for visits, I can get my annual exams and appointments with my meds doc and other clinics just as though I still lived in the US. It will keep me in the system, and it will let me get my regular long-term medical care dealt with by people who already know me. I’ve been going to the Seattle VA since 1988 and it’s reassuring to deal with the same people on a long-term basis. Even when the doctors change fairly frequently, the support staff knows and likes me, and they’re very willing to help out if I have questions or particular sticky issues to deal with.

Tax forms and proof of income were a bit of consternation for me. Because I live on VA disability compensation and Social Security disability, I don’t get check stubs. Everything gets directly deposited to my credit union account electronically and there’s no monthly income documentation beyond my monthly credit union account statement. Neither of these sources of income are taxable, so I haven’t filed a tax return in years. I went to the VA office and got official documents stating my annual income for the past three years, got similar forms from the Social Security office, then went to the IRS office and brought the question to them. They gave me Verification of Non-Filing documents that the consulate said would be acceptable alternate documentation to tax returns. I can continue to receive both of these types of disability income while I am living overseas, so I have a stable income that is sufficient to live on in Italy.

Buying a plane ticket was a huge source of anxiety for me. I wasn’t sure how long the visa process would take. The website said up to sixty days. So before I could get a ticket, I had to book an appointment online at the consulate, and get my tickets for San Francisco. I had to decide if I was going to take a chance on a cheap non-refundable ticket to Venice, or pay about $1,400 more for a ticket that I could refund if the visa were denied. After much thought and soul-searching, I decided on the cheap ticket and dated it for three days after the sixty day deadline noted by the consulate. It was the scariest button I’ve ever clicked on a website. Booking that appointment and buying that ticket suddenly made the whole thing more than just a shot at a fantasy. It was no longer theory; it had suddenly become real. There was a clock ticking now.

I figured that, if they denied the visa, I’d just buy a return ticket and go visit my brother for the holidays. At least that way, I wouldn’t be losing money, and either way I’d wind up with a trip to Italy. With that in mind, I figured I couldn’t lose. If I got the visa, I’d saved $1,400 extra for moving expenses and starting my life over there. Either option resulted in me at least visiting Italy, and if the visa were denied, I would still get to move to Seattle. Not a bad outcome, at least to me.

Filling out the visa application required several emails to the consulate for clarification. I had specific questions about individual blanks on the form, because it wasn’t clear to me which answers were the appropriate ones for a residence visa. My ticket to Venice included a transfer through Madrid — was my port of entry into the EU the Madrid airport where I was just going from one gate to another, or the Venice airport, where I was actually leaving the grounds? Madrid, they said. I filled in the blank.

And then, I prepared for the appointment.

Rewind: March 2013

Deciding to move was not something I had anticipated. Certainly not this year, and not likely in the next ten, either. I love the Northwest. I live across the street from a lake where ospreys and bald eagles fish. I’m in easy distance of Seattle, where I spent the better part of sixteen years. Within just a few hours, I can be at the coast, in the Cascades, in Vancouver BC, or in Portland, Oregon. I love the forests and the mountains and the water here. I thought I would spend the rest of my life here.

Sometimes, life has other plans.

Around the beginning of the year, I started having dizzy spells. They occurred only occasionally and never lasted very long, a few minutes at most. I had a couple of them, a bit longer lasting, in February on my way down to California and back, for a conference that I present at every year. As long as they didn’t happen when I was driving, I wasn’t worried about it.

On March 14th, that changed.

I was driving down to the VA hospital for a weekly appointment when it hit, and it hit hard. I was in the middle of the downtown Seattle I-5 traffic mess, so I wasn’t far from my destination, but I was white-knuckled on the steering wheel, hoping I wasn’t going to get into an accident. There really wasn’t anywhere I could safely pull off the road, so I continued to the VA, hoping the dizziness would abate by the time my one-hour appointment was over.

An hour later I was still dizzy so when I was done with my appointment I went to the emergency room to get checked out. They couldn’t find anything superficially wrong with me, but I was instructed not to drive until the dizziness resolved, and to get checked out by my regular physician. Here I am, nine months later, still dizzy and still unable to drive.

I feel like I’m drunk all the time. I’ve been through a wide variety of tests at the VA, without any concrete result. What this means is, it’s not a tumor, not my inner ears or my eyes, not Meniere’s disease. At the moment, their best guesses are menopause (I am living in a female body of a certain age) or a shift in the pattern of my migraines. In either case, there’s nothing that can currently be done about it and yes, I’ve tried everything that has been suggested.

Initially, I was told that sudden, unexplained dizziness sometimes happens, but it most often resolves within three to six months of onset. Obviously, this hasn’t happened for me. I’m using hiking poles to get around. A cane puts too much pressure on one arm, and doesn’t help with the fact that I can feel like I’m listing in either direction even when I’m entirely upright. A walker would be very much over the top for my situation. I’m not that old! I get around very well, but not being able to drive means that I’m entirely dependent upon friends and public transportation for everything. I live in a place where the nearest useful bus stop is a twenty minute walk away and, though my friends love me, they have their own lives and it’s hard for them to get me everywhere I need to go. I’ve gone from having an active social life to being nearly a shut-in, and have felt that it was hard to ask them to help with anything but medical appointments and the grocery shopping.

You may be wondering what all this has to do with deciding to move to Italy. We’re getting there.

In May, I realized that I was likely not going to be able to drive again for a long time, and knew that I couldn’t continue living here in Everett. My apartment is in a fairly suburban place. There are a couple of stores and restaurants I can walk to, but most of my life is ten or more miles from my door, and difficult to get to without a car.

In July I sold my car. Of all the things I’ve done so far, that has been the hardest. It wasn’t because I’m particularly a fan of cars, but because it represented my independence, and my ability to do things for and by myself. I cancelled a summer road trip I’d been planning from Everett out to Cape Cod and back, visiting friends, teaching at a Druid retreat in upstate New York, and seeing parts of the country that I had never visited before.

I started seriously researching the possibility of moving to Italy in June. As I’ve noted in previous posts, my brother lives over there and was eager to help me when I told him that I was considering the move. Looking at the necessary paperwork and requirements, I was fairly certain my residence visa application would be turned down but, as the adage goes, “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” I decided to go through with the attempt, while planning to move back to Seattle. There are a couple of neighborhoods where I could both walk to everything and would need to take only one bus up to my medical appointments at the VA, and I thought it would make a better and much more independent life for me.

Venice had attracted me on many levels when I visited and I thought, there’s a city where everyone walks, and where public transit is really good. I love boats, and ferries are part of the public transit system around Puget Sound, so the vaporetto system really appealed to me. My brother is less sanguine about Venice, due to the huge number of tourists, but I don’t mind crowds as long as I can get out of them into quiet places when I need to. He said that most of the cities in Italy had walkable city cores where you could actually get to nearly everything you might need, and that public transit was pretty good over there. Compared to what we have in most places in the US, public transit in Italy is excellent. If I had to be stuck walking for the rest of my life, I figured, why not walk in beauty?

In August I started working on my residence visa application in earnest, not expecting anything to come of it. That, though, is a topic for another post.




I am no stranger to leaving. I’ve been doing it most of my life. My family was military and we were always leaving somewhere, someone. When we finally settled in a small New England town after my dad retired from the Navy, we moved into the little house my great grandfather built. There were people there I loved, but I wanted to leave, and as soon as I was able I joined the Navy myself and left. I never really looked back. I don’t regret that decision in the least.

Peregrinatio: A leaving of one’s homeland.

I have been good at leaving. Even settled in one place, I’ve been restless. I have traveled thousands of miles to see things, to visit friends and strangers, to share what knowledge I have. I have been from New England to Hawaii, from Canada to Mexico, from Ireland to Italy. I have been across the great, wide seas and driven mountain passes in white-out blizzards. I have been a traveler, following a traveling god.

In my poem Sugaring I wrote:

I do not miss the cold, or the work of the woodpile.
I do not miss
the axe.
Childhood is gone. I have gone from my Berkshires
to a different life.
I have shed my down and grown flight feathers.
My heart has found a new home, in boughs of cedar and the salt-washed Sound.
I am glad of the rain, of mica skies over grey-green isles.
I welcome the distance between myself and that hill time,
that child’s place.
But this I remember — this I cherish:
the black moonless sky was sharp and clear and the stars
of themselves lit the snow.

This region, this forest on the Salish Sea, has been my home for over thirty years. I’ve grown roots and community. I have friends and loves and chosen family. I have a support network, and I speak the language of this place. Its green is in my bones.

I will carry it with me.

Peregrinatio: An exile for the sake of god.

The Cambrai Homily, an early Irish religious text, speaks of three types of “martyrdom”: red (death), glas (asceticism), and white (exile). This “exile” was not looked upon with dread, but joyfully embraced. Those who undertook the white martyrdom left Ireland to teach, to found monasteries, or to go into isolation as did the early Christian desert hermits. They left knowing that they did not intend to return home again. They carried home with them, in their hearts and in their writing.

I am leaving my home here, but I am embracing that leaving with joy as well as trepidation. I don’t know if I will return here again for more than visits. The future is unseen and unknowable, at least by me.

Each thing in my life is a spiritual act. Moving to a new place will mean learning to know a new land, a new culture, a new language, a new people. It will mean folding all this into the fabric of my life, and weaving myself into a new pattern.

I wonder what it will look like.

Rewind: August, 2012

I’d only been to Europe once before, in 2007. I’d been given a trip to Ireland by a friend who ended up having to move the same week as the tour she’d booked. She couldn’t get a refund and called me up out of the blue, saying, “If you can get yourself to New York and back, you can have this trip to Ireland. I want someone to have it who would really appreciate it.”

I said yes, of course. I had the time, and managed to pull together enough money for a round trip ticket to New York in very short order. I wouldn’t be lying if I told you it took magic.

Last year, I went back to Ireland, this time to lead a pilgrimage to sacred sites. Since I would already be in Europe, and since the pilgrimage organizers were paying for my flight to Dublin and back to Seattle, I asked if it mattered where I flew home from. “No,” they said. “We don’t mind, we’ll book your round trip ticket.”

“How does Venice sound? Then I can visit my brother.”

They were agreeable, so I spent a couple of months planning my couch-surf across Europe as we planned our pilgrimage and our writing exercises.

My second trip to Europe was as much a gift as my first. In July and August of 2012, I traveled around Ireland with the pilgrimage for ten days, then took a ferry to the Isle of Man, where I spent the better part of a week in a backpacking tent, with gales blowing every night. I sailed to Liverpool and took a train north to visit some friends in England — Pendle Hill and the Lake District and Penrith. I flew from Manchester to Brittany and stayed with friends there, in a village whose population consisted of ten people and eight dogs. A few days later, I was on a plane again, visiting friends who teach English in Prague.

My brother lives in Italy. He’s been stationed at the Air Force base at Aviano off and on for the better part of twenty years. He drove up to Prague to pick me up and we road tripped south through Austria, spent the night in Salzburg during the Mozart festival, and the next day ended up at his place in Montereale Valcellina, a small town at the foot of the Dolomites, not far outside the base.

I spent four days in Italy. We went to Venice, and out to Aquileia, had a snack in the walled city of Palmanova, and visited the small mountain town of Poffabro, where I took the photo that heads the blog here. I walked the shores of Lake Barcis. I saw an entire river emerging from the side of a mountain, and walked along a stream rising from the deep underwater cave of Gorgazzo.

I had wonderful food and met some delightful and very friendly people. The mountains were gorgeous, the scenery was beautiful, and I was enchanted by Italy, though after Prague I will admit I was a bit cathedraled out. We visited Murano instead of St Mark’s, and I don’t regret it. I think I would not have appreciated St Mark’s half as much after St Vitus’s cathedral at Prague Castle. I needed a rest before I dealt with that much artistic intensity again.

I wanted to spend more time in Venice, and thought that perhaps in a year or so I might be able to spend a couple of months there to see all the things I didn’t have time for in our one day lightning visit. I talked with my brother about the idea after I got home to Everett and he said, “If you really mean it, I’ll help you find a way to do it. Just let me know.”

I never imagined that I would actually be moving to Italy a little over a year later.

I get on a plane in six weeks. I’ve been selling nearly everything. I’ve packed my library for shipping — you can’t expect a poet to live without her books, after all. They are the bulk of what I’ll be taking with me.

When I arrive, I’ll be living with my brother until I get my own apartment. He’s in a small town and I need to be in a city, where I can walk to things, and where I can get public transit for the things I can’t walk to. But I love cities, and the thought excites me and sets my heart alight.

I’ll need to come back for my dog once I’ve settled in my own place, as I can’t bring him with me initially. I’m already dealing with paperwork and looking at my options for transporting him. Even after having been in the military many years ago, the process of getting my residence visa and dealing with everything that needs doing before I get on that plane has been a huge project; it’s one I’ll talk about in other posts. The work of it won’t be over when I arrive in Italy. There’s so much still to do.

I hope you’ll join me for the journey.