Lots of expats who’ve landed in Italy have written books about the “hidden” trials and tribulations of settling down on the boot. They originally arrived in Italy to guzzle the cheap and tasty wine, eat slowly the fruits of the hunt and the forage, gawk at the abundant art, and show off their bods on the sandy beaches—the joys born of a culture they will come to loath upon trying to become a citizen or renovating a house. The same slowness they love in cuisine and the art and crafts they desperately want to reverse in Italy’s institutions. Their battle cry is a scream, “If only their institutions were more efficient, like in America!
Chill. Have two Twinkies and wash them down fast with a watery Bud, for these are the products of mechanized efficiency.
Stef Smulders, a Dutch expat and the author of Living in Italy: The Real Deal—How to Survive the Good Life, does what a good writer does: He writes what he observes and leaves the judgement to you, the reader. No constant bellyaching from Mr. Smulders.
I like that. I really like that.
There is a good chance that at some point in this turbulent political atmosphere we face you will come to think of moving abroad. If you happen to consider Italy, then this is the book you need to read. Here’s a blurb that nicely sets the stage:
In 2008 Stef Smulders, his partner Nico and their dog Saar emigrated to Italy to start a new life and set up their B&B Villa I Due Padroni. They sold their home, left their friends and family behind and took a leap into the unknown. Now Stef shares his experiences in a collection of witty short stories…
Ok, I call them “Vignettes” as in miniature, linked stories that become laminated into an easily digested series of the major events that show you the meandering path toward building a successful Bed and Breakfast in a very lightly touristed region of Italy. There is wit and wisdom in it all, the stuff that keeps you turning the pages as you wonder “what’s next?”
Mr. Smulders has written apps about his region that were dense with things to do in his little-known piece of the boot. He took some criticism for his nearly perfect English during that period. He has done well to have “Living in Italy: The real deal” translated by Emese Mayhew, who has done a very fine job with it.
The story centers around finding and buying a large house and transforming it into a B&B, which involves making walls and staircases, blasting holes for windows, and making space for the comfort of their anticipated guests.
Here’s where the real fun starts. In America you’d have an architect design your building, then you’d look at all the component parts and order them and some guy with a big gut would attach them with precision just like the drawings tell him to and you’d be done with it. But many country houses in Italy really fall under the category of vernacular architecture, that is: structures made by empirical builders without the intervention of professional architects. People have stacked cobbles for houses since nearly forever. Cement the stones together, blast a hole for a custom window. Have the window made by an artisan, have shutters made by another artisan, have a welder make your custom spiral staircase and lather, rinse and repeat with the doors, the cabinetry, the electricity and so on.
And remember, there will be few 90 degree angles in your romantic dream house. Even the darn Italian handymen are artisans.
So this provides the opportunity for many and sundry characters, all looking to gain an edge, to traipse through your casa in muddy work boots.
And, it is my belief that this is also the reason Mussolini called Italians “ungovernable”. Everyone is an artisan. Everyone gets paid under the table. Everyone is his or her own boss. And everyone loves to get together to celebrate the good life.
So I invite you to get to know this work and the many characters it takes to make a fine Italian home. Perhaps you would like to try to see the world from the other side. This book would make a great present for that lover of all things Italian (except for the bureaucracy). Order it through Amazon if you are so inclined: Living in Italy: The Real Deal—How to Survive the Good Life
It’s the Real Deal for sure.