Well, hello! It’s been a while (shocker!) and thought I’d take a stab to write something coherent on this abandoned blog of mine. I write as my body is currently doing its earnest to process the sweltering sticky heat that is Florence’s sauna state. This year has been a wild ride- the beginning started with a lot of uncertainty as omicron casted a shadow of doubt on the travel industry’s rebound, experiencing some disappointments in San Francisco, taking a break in Florence while observing the world become an even crazier place- 2 years since the onset of a global pandemic.
I also write this week as I enter my exact 10 year anniversary since I packed up from Seattle to pursue my dream to move to Italy. This post will be a reflection on what it has been like to move to Italy, assimilated, questioned, move back to the US and where I stand now juggling a current hybrid Italy/US life.
For a quickie explainer: I was born in OC to a multi-cultural family. Italian-American on one side with Iranian on the other. I have been obsessed with food and culture for as long as I can remember. I grew up between the OC, Atlanta, Memphis and Seattle. But for simplicity’s sake, I say I’m from Seattle. It has been my favorite place to live thus far throughout my time in America.
In 2005, I spent 6 months in London on a working holiday visa and came to Florence for vacation. At the time I was a Biology major in college back in Seattle taking a break to travel.
I was forever changed by that week long trip in Florence. I called my mom from a payphone and said “we have Italian heritage, right? You think we can get citizenship? I want to move here.”
From there, I abandoned my science path to pursue a degree in Italian Studies at UW Seattle. Also applied for Italian citizenship (thanks, nonni siciliani). When I graduated with my Bachelor’s Degree in 2010, I started this food blog while still living in Seattle.
In 2011, I enrolled in a food & wine pairing certificate program at a community college while I worked as a food tour guide in Seattle. In 2012, I was awarded a scholarship to attend a Tuscan culinary wine course at FUA in Florence.
I took this as my “wine window” of opportunity to put my Italian passport to use and make my dream to move to Italy happen. The last years have been documented in this very place- I invite you to scroll the archives! (Be prepared to cringe. I hope I’ve grown/become a better writer since) Overall, it’s been the most rewarding adventure of my life. I regret nothing.
Pursuing my dream to move to Italy and carve out a career out of my passions has given my life a sort of meaning I am insanely grateful for. Of course I get mad, sad and flustered. I’ve weeded out unstable bridges and built sturdier ones along the way. And the best part is, I’ve learned so much and still have decades more to go. This experience has given me a sense of trust for life and a continued quest for humility I could never quantify.
If you’re a long time reader/follower, you’ll know in 2018 I started flirting with the dream to live part-time in San Francisco, California. Partly from wanting to spend more time closer to family, but also to test the potential for Curious Appetite while living in a cool food city that is (or was) which I once found more stimulating than Florence’s.
In 2019, I scored a humble studio apartment in SF and started living between both cities. Fast forward through various trials and tribulations (including a global pandemic), during which I met my boyfriend (a chef!) while shopping at a cheese shop in San Francisco. A cheesy romance in the time of Corona, you could say!
I enjoy many things about San Francisco and have learned a great deal by being in one of the world’s most cutting edge culinary capitals. However, I’m one to be painfully honest and I’m starting to wonder if the grass is indeed greener on the other side.
Part of the disappointment I experienced in San Francisco I alluded to in the intro, is how much of a struggle it is there to work or realize a small business goal. When I moved in 2019, I started doing Italian-themed wine tastings.
Then the pandemic happened. This growing side hustle of mine died before it could gain some serious steam. My heart broke for fellow entrepreneurs in the same boat, and eventually for my burgeoning Italian wine event hustle.
The plan for now is to focus on my writing, food tours and to continue this hybrid life (a few months here, a few months there), but I’m currently (and understandably) indifferent to San Francisco, if not resentful.
I will say that food in San Francisco is exciting and diverse, albeit stupid expensive. Wine is usually mediocre, expertise underwhelming and anything quaffable costs $20 a glass (after tip/tax). Partly since the cost of breathing in a roof over your head is inhumanely high.
I (kinda) get why, I simply don’t agree and don’t feel leadership is doing enough to make the city live up to its progressive reputation. Tons of people talk a good talk but don’t really do anything to get involved. Ask how many of your woke friends in San Francisco know their neighbors.
Many residents claim to care so much and harbor a sense of moral superiority because they supposedly understand their privilege (yay you get a cookie), but the fundamental human basics like knowing and being there for your neighbor is lacking, and that’s to say for most if not all of America. This article is a great read to understand some of the argument as to why San Francisco is a failed city (and also why I love it as a California native, daughter of a traveling artist and as a Seattle transplant).
I ultimately think the city is rich enough to invest in community programs, enforce pricing caps on rents (cost per square meter, for example) to make the city actually affordable vs the current free for all market (I know there are talks of building more affordable housing, but what about what’s already here?), pay social workers more, make those community jobs more lucrative, invest in effective reformative justice and rehabilitation programs, as well as providing proper universal (and free) healthcare for everyone- as well as street cleaning- but they don’t. And it makes no sense considering how much money is here. There must be blueprints around the world where they have figured out effective safety nets- why not follow them?
No matter how you slice it- the cost of living in San Francisco is inhumane. How can it claim to be a progressive enclave yet co-exists with an obscene amount of blatant inequality? These critiques shouldn’t embolden anyone on a certain “political” side, but rather address what I feel should be common sense.
The only action (many) people are willing to do is putting up signs in their windows which accomplishes nothing but virtue signaling, without mustering the balls to actually demand, get involved or create some real change. Our country is an embarrassment and I struggle to find any redeeming qualities about it at the moment. We let Bernie get away and I’ll never forgive America for it.
One thing I appreciate about Florence, despite its many flaws is that I don’t think the city nor its people would stand for rampant homelessness as a result of egregious financial inequity or the mentally ill not receiving proper healthcare. I’d like to think Florentines would get out in the streets and protest if their cities reached even a fraction of squalor that exists in San Francisco. It’s unfair to compare the 2, sure.
It’s my understanding that Italy boasts a stronger safety net and social services (at least in the center regions like Tuscany in addition to Northern Italy) and Italians- culturally speaking- don’t leave each other in the lurch the way Americans and its individualistic system does.
I’ll admit I’m no scholar on any of these socio-political topics. But it shouldn’t take a genius to see that what goes on in San Francisco is inhumane and inexcusable. The observations I have made is not all of the city- and not intended to fan the flames of certain absurd narratives. Make no mistakes- I’d rather live in SF any day than in a town full of NIMBYs totally disconnected from human empathy.
Florence has its pitfalls, but unlike many parts of San Francisco- I don’t have to step over piles of trash, dodge human feces, look the other way from blatant drug use in broad daylight, fear for my personal safety, etc while paying a premium for basic living costs including food and shelter.
So that rant aside, eating interestingly in San Francisco is indeed one of the city’s many perks albeit left for a certain echelon of earners. I feel for restauranteurs who are brilliantly creative but have to sweat a premium in San Francisco overhead before making money (if any).
I struggle in being fair in my assessment of how much I enjoy my restaurant outings. While I understand a majority of the cost comes in astronomic fixed overhead, ultimately the relationship between quality and cost keeps me resigning to mostly meh conclusions.
Forgettable pizza (a certain bad fig- ahem, I mean apple) somehow gets away with charring all of a pizza to a crisp claiming it a “flavor”. Charging 30+ bucks for an entirely burnt carcinogenic pizza is actually quite mind-boggling! I mean charge that- fine, but make it memorable at least!
And meh Italian food gets generous passes and goes unchecked under the guise of an”Ital-Cali” genre. (There are gems- they are on my IG highlights and in articles like this one I wrote.)
More and more, I am convinced (for myself at least) that Florence makes more sense on a myriad of fronts. Thank you for allow me to lament the woes of a city I wasn’t homegrown in.
So apart from this current state on how I see San Francisco- where will I land? First, it’s worth to reflect on the last 10 years of living in Florence and some summary of that. I’ll do my best:
HOUSING IN FLORENCE
I’m lucky to have my current rental and before I could live on my own, I’ve generally had good luck with roommates. If you can find an apartment that isn’t falling apart, Florence isn’t too shabby. I wish rich “expats” would stop relocating to cheaper countries. They have no true investment or interest in the place besides their own selfish reasons. This is how gentrification starts and prices locals out.
Winters are cold and summers are hot. Buildings are quirky. Landlords in Florence are notoriously allergic to spending money, are usually shameless about taking advantage of tourists and foreigners and will do anything in their power to avoid paying for home improvements. Perhaps that’s a universal thing- landlords are a special (sleazy) type.
Finding housing is a wild west and the only thing I’d suggest is using an agency. Also following facebook groups to read and share experiences. The good part is housing contracts are in major favor of the tenant and can be rent controlled for up to 8 years.
WORKING IN FLORENCE
I have the golden pass of an Italian passport so I am not the best person to ask. I also am self-employed, but when I wasn’t- finding work took several months and a significant pay-cut. I’m honestly not here to sway you or anyone about a lofty dream to move to Florence, or help you glean intel on your own decision. I think you should instead invest in a therapist if this is why you are reading if I may be completely blunt.
MAKING FRIENDS IN FLORENCE
Luckily I am extremely extroverted and having earned a literal degree in Italian before moving in 2012, I already spoke Italian and had experience studying abroad/traveling in Italy. I really think language and taking an interest in the culture helped me make friends from both the Italian and international realm. I see most people who struggle are those who stick to expat circles and don’t really try to immerse themselves in the culture besides learning how to get the most from la dolce vita.
I might be most thankful for Florence in this last decade for my ability to travel so freely. I was able to visit Iran, Turkey, swathes of Italy, Germany, France and so much more. My trip to Iran was the most memorable and a humble reminder of what a privilege it is to have the flexibility of a European passport.
DATING IN FLORENCE
The fact I found someone great across the world should tell you how I feel about the dumpster on fire that is the dating scene in Florence. Buy me some drinks and I’ll share a bad dating story or 2, including the reality about finding a Fabio under the Tuscan sun.
FOOD AND DRINK IN FLORENCE
As someone who is obsessed with food and all things drink, this is my playground. Follow me on IG to understand why. My next blog post will be about some of the restaurants that blew me and my boyfriend away when he recently visited.
In college, I read “The Dark Heart of Italy.” It was 2007 and I was studying in Rome, feeling flustered with cultural conflicts and an underlying suspicion that this dream of la dolce vita cake was woven with cockroaches. I stumbled upon this book in a shop. It explained the skeletons in Italy’s closet but ended with a quote that has been etched in my heart ever since: “I’ll never give up, wanting to be anywhere else.” And despite the realistic char that tarnishes the pastoral bliss visitors are struck by- I live by this manta. Italy is where I feel most comfortable in my own skin. My ultimate destiny is left to be determined. Stay tuned!
In your dream chasing trust,
Kristina D SmaagaardJune 22, 2022 at 6:34 pm (9 months ago)
I LOVE this blog! As a Transplant living in Seattle that somehow dreams of getting recruited on a corporate level to live in Europe…just ahhh.. but I also recognize there are daily struggles with cultural differences that we don’t see when we’re dreaming through our rose colored glasses. Alas,I keep reading your blog…dreaming of France, Germany or basically anywhere in Western Europe. Keep writing!