Wow – a year has already passed! I moved into the Tuscan countryside with my man a year ago, in August, the eighth month of the year after eight years of living in Florence, Italy – and the infinity symbol (an 8 sideways) confirming my bold move wherever I looked in the months prior to moving.
It’s been quite the year and since it’s flown by, it definitely means I’ve been having fun! Maybe the most beautiful thing about making a big change like this – and literally moving out of your comfort zone – is the growth it allows you to experience.
I mean, everything was different all of a sudden, like I described here in When Everything Is New; My First Month out in The Tuscan Countryside. I used to always walk and bike around in the city of Florence, now I go everywhere by car. In fact, I bought my own car – which was a first for me too. The driving experience I’ve gotten by having to face the narrow country roads, super fast – or super slow – locals coming from behind, or blocking you up front, finding my way around, the four seasons including massive snowfall – and not to forget, the parking in town has really made me into the next Max Verstappen. Or at least: a much better and more confident driver.
In all this I’ve only had one minor accident scraping the front of another car when hastily trying to park because others were waiting for me. A great lesson learnt: never let yourself be rushed in traffic by others. Oh yes, and then there was that one time I slid across the road ending up sideways because of the snow; luckily the calm country roads did their thing and no one crossed my way.
Come to think of it, I haven’t biked for months, which is pretty weird for me, but it’s part of the change. There is an open air pool here, which serves as a great way to get some sports done – and meet people!
I think the biggest challenge in all this has been the setting up a new social network; as in like, actually meeting people in real life and getting to know them. Living in a town that has around 3,000 inhabitants, it feels like I’m living on a campsite. Everybody knows each other and everyone knows where everyone’s “tent” is. In fact, it’s so normal to know where everybody lives, that some months ago some curious elderly ladies stopped me in the middle of the road in town and said: “We’ve seen you before, where do you live?” Since they looked all nice and elderly, I didn’t feel like it was the Gestapo trying to find out everything about me, but I was a bit taken by surprise. I gave them the vaguest of answers, since I don’t want everybody to know where I live and it worked.
Last week I stepped into the doctor’s waiting room and was greeted by about ten locals who were all your typical nonni; grandparents. When going to your GP, you don’t take an appointment, you just need to sit there and wait till it’s your turn. I asked them if it was ok if I went to get some groceries since otherwise I was afraid the shops would close (they close at 12:40pm and in Summer only open again at 5pm!). They were surprised by my question, but said it was ok. When I came back, a lady close to a hundred started lamenting that she had been waiting there for three hours and probably wasn’t going to get round to getting her bread. Apparently, what I did wasn’t the way to go, but now I had and I tried to make up for it by offering if anyone wanted to read the paper I had bought.
The inquisitive lady of a few months before answered the question for me when they started firing their where do you live and where are you from-questions at me. It was funny, because the answer was still as vague as when I gave it and so I solved that problem right then and there.
It’s interesting how these small towns work; everybody knows each other and feel like it’s totally fine to ask you all sorts of questions. In the end, we’re all neighbours, right? Or so it seems.
Since the community is so small, and thus a bit closed, I did have some difficulty getting to know people. This wasn’t even because I am a straniera, a foreigner, but because I’m a forestiera, an outsider, someone who comes from out of town. In Florence this was never a problem since it’s such an international city and, in fact being different, Dutch – and probably blond, made people (read: men) want to interact much more easily. My girlfriends in Florence are all foreigners and so we were all in the same boat. In my new town I wasn’t in any boat and so I had to find my way in.
Now, a year onwards, I can say that I walk around town as I used to in Florence, greeting all the shopkeepers, some people in the street and at the cafés and getting an enthusiastic “Ciao Sophie!” back. Now I feel I’m in the boat since time has shown these people that I am to stay. Even though I am maybe a little different, I am also quite fun to hang around with.
I must also admit that I’m not necessary looking for new friends, but it is nice to know some people, to be asked to come to a yoga class or dance the night away at the pool parties. It’s good to feel that there’s a place for me here too.
Most of all, I love how I now feel at home at our home. At the beginning, I really had to get used to the country life with all the life forms that come with that: spiders, scorpions, snakes, bugs, insects, mice, hare, deer – first I kept my eyes out for all them, just to be prepared, now I just coexist with them. None of them do any harm and besides the potential shock effect, it’s just a confirmation of what life in nature is about.
And then there’s our dog, Numa. Her presence has really turned our life upside down, enriched it and depleted it at other times. She is a wonderful creature who is strong-willed, intelligent, energetic and really loyal. Now that she’s nearly one year old, she’s started to calm down and living with her is a true joy. I love this beast to bits and I feel she feels the same way about me. She’s challenged me to become more decisive – and sometimes even bring out my aggressive side. She’s an animal after all and patient loving kindness just doesn’t always do the trick. She needs safe boundaries, a reliable leader and so I’ve had to become one; one who’s not afraid to show her teeth. And this only makes her feel safe and lets her know that she doesn’t need take up the leader role herself.
I’ve really lived and appreciated all the seasons here, from the wet autumn, to the snowy winter, the hesitant spring, and the glorious summer. I get to put my feet in the dewy grass in the morning, see the sun rise and stare at its majestic sunset at the end of day. It’s awe-inspiring to live in a place that allows you to be in touch with nature so much – literally.
I dip in the pool, get a tan, walk around barefoot and see how the pomodorini in the vegetable patch are doing. I take some rosemary, sage or basil from our bushes and cook up really scrumptious Tuscan meals. I bake my own bread when I feel like it and pick some lavender from the garden to add its scent to our kitchen.
I didn’t know what life would be like here before we actually moved. I figured the calm, the nature and the new area would really be good for my soul, but I didn’t know the country life would suit me this well. The majestic mountains that surround us still leave me speechless, the calm and sense of innocence that the town’s people still have touches my heart, the space, the silence and the sound of birds and crickets that disturb it unapologetically is just soul-soothing.
I love it here and I am so happy I took the leap. It proves yet again that when you follow your heart, don’t let your preoccupied mind distract you from what really matters and dare to surrender to the unknown, it always leads to great surprises. So great, that you couldn’t even imagine them if you tried – and exactly because of that, they’re called surprises.
How are you going to let life surprise you?
Love & courage,