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  • Writer's pictureMark Tedesco

Our Italian Adventure: Small-Town Living

PART 62: It might be interesting to share how we pulled off living in Italy for part of the year. I will post some steps we took.

We live in Puglia in the Summer and then back again in the winter.

Step 1: Where?

We underwent a discernment process when we decided to move to Italy 6 years ago. Where? In another blog, I traced our progression, but here, I want to state that we ruled out large cities at the beginning. Why? Because our plan was/is to live about half the year in Italy and the other half in California due to obligations back in the US. But we had to focus on areas we could afford to pull this off. Rome, Milan, and Turin were out of reach, so we concentrated on the smaller cities. We ended up in a town on the outskirts of Lecce with a population of less than 16,000.

Step 2: Our smaller town.

We chose our town because of our relationships: our friends in Rome live here whenever they are not working. They invited us to visit many times, and the area became familiar. We reflected on what was most important, and relationships won out.

Our town is not a tourist destination but is a working-class town. Though there is a growing expat community, the locals primarily work in shops or small businesses and have lived in this area most of their lives.

We have a historical center with lots of potential, and empty houses are beginning to be purchased and renovated. Others are waiting for a new owner. Every evening, I walk through our historical center, and I am grateful to be here.

We are also near the sea and Nardo', Galatina and Lecce, so there is much to see and do nearby.

Step 3: Life in Rome versus in a small town in Puglia.

My stay in Italy began in the 1980s when I lived in Rome for eight years. I eventually returned to the US, started my career as an educator in Los Angeles, and retired in mid-June. By July 1, we were living here in Puglia.

But how has the transition been from living in Rome to a small Puglian town?

That is a difficult question for me to answer. So much of my life is intertwined with Rome that, when I am there, I feel at home like no other place in the world. In Rome, I can walk without a plan and agenda and come across street performers, a historic church, a museum, or a vista I have never seen before. Rome has so many layers, from ancient to the Renaissance and beyond. The city has an intensity that I love, and cultural expressions are everywhere. I can't count the number of times I have stumbled into a free concert, a unique art exhibition, or an exciting lecture.

But my friends who live in Rome keep telling me that it is easy to visit Rome but tough to live there.

Our town in Puglia doesn't have the cultural monuments found in Rome or other big cities. But it has an easier life, a calmer vibe, and a connectedness. "Perche' siete qui-why are you are?" locals ask us. I have to think before I respond, but now the answer is more effortless.

"Because of our friends." They nod as if they understand at once.

Rome and other cities are a train ride away, and I have come to appreciate our calm life here in Puglia compared to the beautiful intensity of the city, which we can visit when we get the impulse.

Step 4: Downsides of small-town living? I don't know if I would call it a downside, but the two factors not outside our town's front door are street life and cultural monuments.

When I was in Rome as a student, we would explore the streets and piazzas of the city, watching street performers and groups of tourists, searching out concerts, and enjoying the vibe of the incredible city. Our town in Puglia has no street life since it is not a tourist destination, and the cultural monuments are primarily in other areas.

However, when we get the itch for street life (usually once a week or so), we hop in the car and find ourselves in Lecce, where one finds the more prominent city vibe and hundreds of people strolling and enjoying one another and the beautiful baroque city.

When we get the itch for cultural monuments, we are just minutes away from the incredible frescoes in Galatina, the 1000-year-old cathedral floor in Otranto, or the 16th-century tower above Santa Caterina.

Step 5: We don't feel that small-town living is depriving us of anything since we have local friends, a car, and the initiative to access cultural monuments, beautiful seasides, and local festivals, which are all within reach.

Insights: Life in a smaller town in Italy can be as fulfilling and entertaining as living in a big European city if one has local friends, the initiative to seek out cultural events, and the opportunity to explore historical monuments.

More next time.

My book is "Stories from Puglia: Two Californians in Southern Italy." Amazon US:

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