the world might be a dumpster on fire, but make it your oyster when you can

Oh why hello! And how have I stalled a bit on this special space of mine. I’ve been reflecting a lot on the direction of my blog, what its meant to me in the past and where I shall take it in the future. If you’ve been following are are brand new here, after 7 years of loving yet tolerating Florence (plus 4 years of undergrad studies in Italian prior which brought me to Rome and Perugia to study/live abroad, so probably 10+ years of living/traveling between US/Italy all together), I decided to make a mega move. I recently reshaped my life to live between San Francisco and Florence. For now, of course! Who knows, life is unpredictable.

To answer the questions I posed subito: This blog has been a special place to me to document my reflections as an American navigating life in Florence with a food obsessed lens and I will always consider it my eternal beloved. I will continue to write about food in Florence here when I get a chance. In fact, this space will be getting a lot more Florence food TLC as I will be there next week- follow along via the grams! (@curiousappetite)

While I may no longer not live in Florence everyday, it will always be one of my long-distance limbs which I’ll never be able to live without. And luckily since Curious Appetite’s food tours in Florence are still running thanks to a team on the ground, I am able to stay updated, albeit vicariously, though the team. In order to not go completely crazy behind my computer while sharing what I’ve learned over the years in Italy, I personally lead Italian-themed gourmet experiences in San Francisco if you’d like to eat & drink Italian style with me:)

Come food tour with me in North Beach?

Instead of the usual food-fueled round-up, this post is dedicated to some personal reflections I’ve had about life in Florence after essentially leaving my full-time life there nearly a year ago. Since blog posts are boring without useful info/imagery, I hope you’ll enjoy the food porn finds in SF peppered in between paragraphs!

So if you came here and wanted quick intel- visit this page of links with food stories and dining guides I’ve compiled for external publications or these personal picks from my blog for where to eat in Florence (or a guide to budget eats in Florence here) and Bologna. You want to know what life is like in Italy, advice on how to move to Italy and working in Italy, check out my good friend’s blog Girl in Florence since she is more detailed on the matter.

If you’re curious about why I left Italy and what it was like living in Italy- I will tell anyone to seriously re-think any lofty dream they may have about a life in Italy and to appreciate it as a great vacation destination or frequent spot to jaunt to/hang out in for several weeks out of the year.

This is not a real representation of life in Italy- firstly my outfit clearly does not match vespa (hence why at that time I barely had any friends. making friends is hard in Florence) and it’s so difficult to obtain driving permits as a resident in Florence, if you even manage to secure living rights to then become a resident. Honestly, I’m terrified to drive one of these without a co-pilot because Italian driving laws are “suggestions.” You see, instagram does not always imitate life.

I would not suggest anyone to willingly move to Italy UNLESS…drumroll for breathless rant:

you have a unrelenting grit, truly love Italy and Italian culture (like how you still love your long-time partner after a big fight, not how you feel in love fast and furiously with a fling you met at a bar in Barcelona), speak Italian fluently, have legal living rights already sorted in advance or don’t mind waiting 10 years/spending a million euros on therapy for the trauma of dealing with Italian immigration (or are bulletproof emotionally) don’t mind being yelled at for no good reason, do not get annoyed by inefficiencies, can see the forest for the trees, do not have any expectations whatsoever of the service industry, are okay with outdated gender norms and xenophobia, unless you can work remotely or work as a freelancer- be prepared to make little money if you magically can find work. If all of those hurdles sound feasible to you- then yes Italy is for you! Have a ball! Knock yourself out! Don’t forget the prozac and self-care, people!

Of course there are a few unicorns who make it in Italy long-term. Generally speaking, those are my realistic 2 cents on the matter.

As you can see, I have my grinchy moments. But it comes from a good place in wanting to protect you. However, I would not trade my wish to live in Italy for anything, so how much am I really protecting anyone. Sometimes we need to make our own mistakes to truly live.

During my 7 year saga of living in Florence (not counting the years prior as a study abroad student in Rome and Perugia), I wondered if I could ever live somewhere else like London (where I did live once in 2005) but for the most part- I thought Florence and Italy would be my home forever. Then suddenly, someone who was once dear to me passed away tragically. Like young and hit by a bus tragic. Thus ensued my existential pondering.

To fast forward/catch up, read these posts which detail my transition to San Francisco

When life gives you lemons, eat your feelings in oysters at Swan’s Oyster Depot on Polk (SF)

So now I’ve been in San Francisco for a year, technically 2 now if you count 2018 when I cherry picked months trying it on- what are my thoughts? What’s it like not living in Florence full-time anymore, you ask?

Well, in a way I still feel like I live in Florence. In 2019 I spent a few months there, I still have a crash pad, plan to travel back/forth frequently for the time being and my work keeps me connected, albeit from afar.

I definitely am less agitated by not living in Florence on a day to day basis. It’s nice to not be asked about my existence as an American in Italy by strangers. I.e. what America is like, why I left (do I have to detail my existential crises to everyone?!) or having to hear the subsequent 2 phrases as if everyday were groundhog day “sei studente?” (are you a student) “Da quando sei qui in Italia- Ti piace?” (how long have you been in Italy- do you like it?”

I don’t think it’s because I sound like an American when I speak Italian. I think no matter how long you live in a place or how well you learn a language, you’ll always have a tiny tiny accent. And Italians are curious to know where you are from and what possessed you to learn one of the most practically (although gorgeous) useless languages on the planet.

What I love about being back in America is I can eat a like a savage (including all these sauces which are probably driving some Italian crazy) with a bib on and no one will ask questions. Yum crab cioppino at Sottomare in North Beach (a must-have dish in SF!)

And while I appreciate these questions came from a harmless place of curiosity, I just wanted to go about my daily life without interviews from strangers.

Like any other normal working human adult, I’d like to do my mundane day-to-day tasks/errands without the attention of being an outsider. Sometimes as a young female foreigner, you simply don’t feel respected or immediately put in a box and I’m sure this sentiment is grander for immigrants who arbitrarily don’t classify as “expats.”

Dealing with daily life in Italy was aggravating and I felt I was always on my guard from potentially being taken advantage of and felt I was constantly trying to figure out how to outsmart some obstacle course.

Without boring you with specific examples to answer the FAQ “why would you come back to the states when you were living in Italy?!”- the best way I can put it was like living with a partner I was no longer in love with. Let’s say this partner was Fabio and to everyone else- seemed like a dreamboat. How could anyone fall out of love with Fabio?!

maybe because I’d rather have Mr. Pollo cook for me and all my friends and not tax me to death afterwards? (Mr. Pollo in the Mission is one of the most memorable private dining/fixed price full seasonal menu experiences you will ever have. book it!)

Well, I was slowly growing to resent Fabio no matter how perfect everyone else thought he was, and daily arguments ensued over the littlest of things.

Since all humans are inherently flawed, ultimately no one is necessarily at fault when a relationship fails. It goes back to the romantic question Tom Robbins posed in Still Life with Woodpecker (one of the most honest love stories I ever read): how does one make love stay?

pasta. pasta makes one stay. Especially from La Ciccia in Noe Valley. (SF)

Sometimes you can’t make love stay. Sometimes you have to part with what you love, especially when their cons begin to overwhelmingly outweigh their pros.

On reflections regarding life back in America…

food is so much more fascinating in terms of variety in the US. I am personally thankful for Beit Rima’s Arabic Comfort food in SF. 

(A stark contrast to Italy’s blatant face slaps to middle eastern food purveyors: https://www.eater.com/2017/6/30/15892900/italy-ban-ethnic-foreign-food-immigrants-kabab-nationalism)

I appreciate there are more young people in the US compared to Italy with promising careers and aspirations. Although the cost of those living in a city like San Francisco weighs heavy on the morale on the creative/freelance community.

But being away has also allowed me to appreciate the burgeoning workforce in Italy with my age group and the creative ways they are carving out careers. Wages and taxes still suck, but at least there is healthcare in Italy, and private options which aren’t insanely costly like in the US.

At the end of the day, the exorbitant rent and lack of healthcare and social services continues to have me question the viability of living in a city like San Francisco long-term.

Has it been easy?

Ups and downs were to be expected- it’s not easy transitioning from a place like Florence to a place like San Francisco. At times, I look back on my time in Florence as greener pastures. While there was more bureaucracy in Italy to sift through, in a strange way I adapted and it made sense to me, oddly. I am very suspicious when there is not a jungle gym of hoops to jump though when dealing with bureaucratic matters in the states. I’m constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.

like, Il Pollaio in North Beach being way too good to be true- a hearty chicken and sides meal for under $20 and BYOB

But we have to grow up and expand, resisting the urge to rest on our laurels. And while this transition has been uncomfortable at times, I wouldn’t change a thing.

In terms of cultural “shock” I really don’t feel much per se. But I do have a few grievances about American culture in general. Namely, how so many bars don’t offer snacks, even for sale. How can you drink without a snack?! People are always suggesting drinks and rarely factor in dinner time which I find strange. Since many bars don’t serve food, hunger hits a belly full of hooch. I don’t understand how anyone could forget to eat or plan for dinner, especially when alcohol is involved.

at least I can find some Italian food sanctuaries like InoVino in Cole Valley (SF)

A major grievance is how individualistic US culture is. Specifically, the underlying theme to “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” guided by a poor moral compass towards compassion.

I could grieve till blue in the face about all the things that drive me crazy about Italy/Italians. But my experience is Italians take community seriously. Bridges aren’t burned in haste. Rarely are others left in the lurch. You stick together. You don’t stick your elderly parents in homes, you build a home next to yours for them. I admire this.

While generalizations, of course not every family lives next to each other, but family/community is pretty damn important and safety nets are extended to each other.

Secretly, I only love Italians for their ability to find white truffles in Alba, Piedmont (truffle dinner hosted by the Alba/Langhe Tourism Board at Pasta Pop-Up in North Beach (SF)

Largely, I love Italians for their deep passion, respect and adoration for food. And for this, I ultimately admire and respect Italian culture. Food has always been this thing which fascinated me more than anything. And for the first time in my life, I met other people who took food just as seriously. For this, and this mostly- Italy made me feel at home.

I will never forgive the US for its lack of inclusion and paradoxical relationship with nourishing food for everyone (and not just for educated people with money). All the while not providing basic healthcare and for making health insurance premiums outrageously expensive. This is a fundamental incompatibility I don’t know I will ever find middle ground with, which continue to have me question if I could truly (as a matter of principle) live in the states forever.

But at the end of the day, in spite of the many flaws my “home” country has, I still find its silver lining in San Francisco as a charming, soulful city.

I am happy to be back on my West Coast. But I will always look to my jaunts to Florence with a heart full.

In your reflective trust,

Curious Appetite

hey! I’ll be in Florence very soon- let me know if you want me to check anything out for you to live vicariously through!

16 Comments on Reflections on Florence and updates from San Francisco

  1. steven judah
    February 3, 2020 at 6:44 am (3 weeks ago)

    hello
    your article made me feel very sad as we were planning on moving to Florence as we go 3xs a year just spent new years there but after reading this dont think i want to
    im retiring soon not sure where im going

    Reply
    • Coral | Curious Appetite
      February 3, 2020 at 9:55 am (3 weeks ago)

      Hey Steven, thanks for reading! I think it’s important to be aware of the realities and struggles to moving to any foreign country- there is no perfect place! It all depends on what works for you personally- I’d suggest if anyone is serious- is to spend 3-6 months living there first but keeping their ties back home in case it doesn’t work out. That’s a good amount of time to see for the honeymoon period to wear off! Good luck!

      Reply
  2. GirlinFlorence
    February 3, 2020 at 9:14 am (3 weeks ago)

    An extremely honest and reflective post as per usual. You say it so well. There is of course no “perfect” country out there but it is well worth sharing these home truths for anyone who may have stars in their eyes about a place. I for one will be avidly staying tuned to your forever journey, wherever it brings you <3.

    Reply
    • Coral | Curious Appetite
      February 3, 2020 at 9:56 am (3 weeks ago)

      thank you dear! you say/know it best as a true expert on navigating Italy!

      Reply
  3. Kathryn Hodson
    February 3, 2020 at 10:19 am (3 weeks ago)

    Lovely words for the love of Italy, Italians and food. Thank you for sharing your experiences and heartfelt love of Italy and San Francisco. It’s a sunny cold morning in the East Bay. There’s a frost outside and I didn’t cover our baby Eureka lemon tree last night (dumb me). As I read this blog, a local sports talk radio (KNBR) played in the background. We are lamenting the SF 49ers Super Bowl loss. The recap you shared offered me a pleasant diversion from last night’s disappointing game. I especially enjoyed seeing the pictures of pasta from some of the great SF restaurants where we’ve shared lovely experiences with friends. We had the pleasure of spending 18 days in Italy last October. Venice, several amazing cities in Tuscany, the Amalfi Coast and Rome…for a great vacation. We only spent one night in Florence. Hence, I’m returning next September for two weeks. One night 22 years ago and one night this past October isn’t giving Florence its due. We would love to share some Italian love and family inclusion with you. If you’re willing to hop on BART (or I meet you in SF), there’s a promise to include snacks with wine (like they do in Italy) and an Italian dinner or something smoked on the Traeger. Whether we were making new friends in Venezia, Montepulciano, Pienza, Firenze, Conca Dei Marini, or Roma, breaking bread, enjoying food and wine is all a part of living for us. Opening one’s heart and home to others, whether in Italy or San Francisco enriches our lives and makes each day a bit fuller and more fun. Ciao Bella.

    Reply
    • Coral | Curious Appetite
      February 3, 2020 at 3:30 pm (3 weeks ago)

      ciao bella!! I loved your reply- thanks for taking the time to write it! I would make the trek just for those lemons!:) Sorry about the game:/ Hope you enjoy your upcoming trip and I hope my blog (amongst others) proves to be helpful!

      Reply
      • Kathryn Hodson
        February 3, 2020 at 8:25 pm (3 weeks ago)

        Then we must meet up. I can bring you lemons, especially Meyer lemons. They grow everywhere in the East Bay. Let’s plan on lunch outside at a SF location of your choice when the weather warms. Too cold over here in our neck of the woods. Ciao.

  4. Dave D
    February 3, 2020 at 11:18 am (3 weeks ago)

    Hello …. great post and hits close to home. My wife, doggy and I lived in Montepulciano in southern Tuscany for a bit more than a year and moved back recently to the US. For us the the biggest adjustment was leaving all the friends and families we met along the way. One of the nice things is we really opened up our taste buds and returned with so many great Italian recipes that the nonne where willing to share!

    Given your love of food (and cooking?) one shop you may want to visit in Florance – Coltelleria Artigianale Piazza Dei Ciompi Square 7. The owner is Fabio Figus and he makes beautiful kitchen knives for a very reasonable price. He is on trip advisor and his father also owns a shop across town. Fabio speaks pretty good English and we love having a bit of Italy in our kitchen that we use daily!

    Reply
    • Coral | Curious Appetite
      February 3, 2020 at 3:32 pm (3 weeks ago)

      Hi Dave! Thanks for reading and sharing. I agree, adjusting to life without my friends back in Florence has been tough but we keep in touch pretty well:) And in terms of the coltelleria- that’s one of my favorite shops! Thanks for the reminder x

      Reply
    • Kathryn Hodson
      February 3, 2020 at 8:40 pm (3 weeks ago)

      Dave, I believe we visited Fabio’s shop and I purchased a beautiful and very sharp knife this past October. My husband and I had just enjoyed a pasta class at Ristorante Le Logge del Vignola. The mgr., Massimo and Eduardo, the chef, were lovely to share their pasta-making skills, which I’m sure are second nature to them. They were both very patient and we had a great morning learning the art and then our lunch was tasting the three kinds of pasta we made. While my husband went to add money in the parking meter, I slipped into Coltelleria Artigianale Piazza Dei Ciompi Square 7. I also purchased a plug to repel mosquitoes (they were a pain while we traveled through Italy last fall). Montepulciano was one of our favorite towns. In fact, we returned the last day of our Tuscany stay and walked through the area again. I hope to return with my sister and brother in September. We will again be staying at Le Traverse B&B in Pienza. Do you have any other restaurant recommendations in the area, please…off the tourist grid (as I know it will be even more crowded this fall). Hoping to make homemade pasta soon. I will use that knife I purchased and think of how much we enjoyed Montepulciano. Ciao.

      Reply
  5. Karen Panicali
    February 3, 2020 at 12:31 pm (3 weeks ago)

    An honest and thoughtful post!
    I moved from El Cerrito/Albany to Firenze 2 years ago. For some of us, the transition is easier than for others. I am retired and Social Security is my income. I have dual citizenship. I earned (with so much study!) my Italian driver’s license. I own a car. I bought an apartment (just outside Porta Romana) that is in the process of being remodeled (in a timely fashion!). I have many new acquaintances and a nice collection of new friends. I am lucky… but luck often reflects good preparation. You understand the layers of challenges each of my sentences represents. A dreamer does not. Hopefully, those dreamers will have a better understanding of those challenges after reading your post!

    Reply
    • Coral | Curious Appetite
      February 3, 2020 at 3:38 pm (3 weeks ago)

      Oh, I understand all the layers in your comments indeed! I too have dual citizenship, a degree in Italian Studies in addition to other bits so everything is possible but doesn’t mean it comes easy! I applaud your determination with remodeling/buying a car! Taking care of my rental pad is headache enough! I think it’s great to seize a dream especially if you are ready to put in the work and take/throw punches, but so often I hear how perfect Italy must be and it’s like nails on a chalkboard! Keep kicking and best of luck on the remodel! x

      Reply
    • Kathryn Hodson
      February 3, 2020 at 8:47 pm (3 weeks ago)

      Ciao Karen. I enjoyed reading your post. Originally from the Midwest, we have lived in Danville for 30 years. If my grandparents came from the area of Calabria, would it be possible for me to apply for dual citizenship? Understanding it’s a long and arduous process, and expensive, is it worth the time, trouble and irritant if I have no desire to actually live in Italy. However, I might want to stay longer then a three-month visit at some point. Going to Florence this September for two weeks, then another week in Tuscany traveling with my sister and brother. What’s to do in Porta Romana? Ciao.

      Reply
      • Karen Panicali
        February 4, 2020 at 9:32 am (3 weeks ago)

        For me… I started to collect the documents or citizenship, but decided to use the service (which gave me a discount since I had collected documents) MondoItalia, Peter Farina. A phone call to him and he’ll confirm your eligibility and talk to you about a “citizenship vacation.” He made it quick and simple. But I knew I wanted to live here. For 3 months… I can’t see any real benefits, except medical.
        Porta Romana is the gate at the southern end of the city, south of the Arno. It’s a much less touristy neighborhood with many artisans.

  6. Cassandra
    February 3, 2020 at 3:22 pm (3 weeks ago)

    Having lived in Florence for short periods of time and experienced all the levels of “in love” or otherwise with this city, I have had a lot of the same thoughts that you’ve brought up in this great post. Italy remains an amazing destination but I no longer see it as feasible or desirable for me to live there long-term. The honeymoon phase sure was wonderful!

    Reply
    • Coral | Curious Appetite
      February 3, 2020 at 3:38 pm (3 weeks ago)

      Thank you, Cassandra! How long did you live in Florence? I’m glad she treated you well for the time you had and hope you continue to visit with fondness:)

      Reply

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