Ischia and the cats in my life

Ischia and the cats in my life

My life is now full of cats. For the longest time, I had no cats and I wanted a cat so bad. I left New York 10 years ago and all this time I wanted a cat so bad – a cat that could grow in my home, that could keep my company at my desk, that could sit on top of my book while I tried to read, that could sit on my belly, that could sit on my face, that could crawl on top of me to wake me up from my sleep, a cat that was my friend, a cat that understood me but that I couldn’t understand, a cat that could remain wild while living in a house. I moved to Europe 10 years ago and it’s taken 10 years for me to find a home and settle down enough to have a cat.

But I have these cats by accident. It wasn’t by a choice, they just showed up and I let them in.

Continue reading “Ischia and the cats in my life”

As soon as we found long-term housing on the island in the town of Forio and moved into our yellow house, Terri, the landlord’s pregnant cat who lived next door, decided she wanted to move in with us. Perhaps because we fed her fish, perhaps because we let her in the kitchen and sleep on the chair, perhaps because she liked us. The landlords didn’t mind because she was a roaming cat and would go off for days at a time and they were happy that she was safe at our place.

Ischia and the message of cats
Terri turning our place into a home.

So that’s what happened, Terri moved in and had her 5 babies with us. It’s been incredible to watch these fragile tiny beings grow and change and love us as much as we love them.

But sometimes I feel like my heart is going to explode. All of these emotions overwhelm me. The little orange kitty we name Gordito, passed away during his second week of life. Terri went into heat while she was still nursing the kittens and the house was surrounded with tom cats while we locked the wailing Terri inside. The kittens, now that they’re older, leave the garden to explore and I chase after them making them come back into the garden only to have them jump back out. I worry and wonder, there are so many of them.

And then just two weeks ago, another kitten showed up in our garden. A little grey boy so scared, lonely and hungry. And I cried and cried thinking that it was too much, that I needed to send him away, but I couldn’t do it. This poor little kitty needed so much love. So we took him too and named him Sesto, meaning Sixth in Italian, adding him as the sixth cat to our cat family.

But I love them, I love them, I love them. How easily they’ve become part of my life here, helping me ease into life on the island, helping me create a home out of this yellow house. I’m quite anxious now that they’re big enough to leave the garden and start roaming and it’s been hard for me. But I will get used to it because it’s the only way that I can keep 6 cats. These mysterious independent live beings.

Ischia and the message of cats
L-R: Sesto, Rose, Indy, Mucca, Pippo

Like what Doris Lessing says, in ‘The Old Age of El Magnifico’ –  Cat walks across your room, and in that lonely stalk you see leopard or even panther, or it turns its head to acknowledge you and the yellow blaze of those eyes tells you what an exotic visitor you have here, in this household friend, the cat who purrs as you stroke, or rub his chin, or scratch his head.

Sometimes I wonder, how did they know? How did they know to show up at our door. How did Terri know that we were new and lonely and needed some love and would take care of her and her kittens? How did Sesto know how to find us, that there was this garden with this little cat family full of brothers and sisters for him?

I can’t help but believe that these creatures have chosen us and told us that after moving around for so many years, that this is finally home and that we will stay.

Ischia and the message of cats
Me and Pippo
PART 2: Getting a Permesso di soggiorno for a spouse of an Italian/EU citizen (motivi familiari)

PART 2: Getting a Permesso di soggiorno for a spouse of an Italian/EU citizen (motivi familiari)

After 8 months and 7 visits to the Questura di Venezia, I finally have my Carta di Soggiorno. What, you ask? Weren’t you applying for a Permesso di Soggiorno (PdS)?  Yes! I was expecting to receive a PdS (with a shorter expiry date) because that was what I’ve read online and what I applied for, but I was given a longer-term residency permit (valid for 5 years) because I was a family member of an EU citizen.

You can read about how to apply and the documents that you need in Part 1.

To explain it all, I’ll give you a timeline of my experience since there is so little information out there and up until I finally picked up my permesso/carta, I had no idea what to expect.

Continue reading “PART 2: Getting a Permesso di soggiorno for a spouse of an Italian/EU citizen (motivi familiari)”

My experience

November 2017: I moved to Italy from London. We were going to live in Ischia, but we stopped in Venice, where Marituccio is from, so we can do our paperwork, establish residency and get enrolled in the Italian health system.

I went to the Questura di Venezia the day after I arrived and applied in person and without an appointment. According to the Italian consulate in London (read no. 3), you don’t need to apply through the postal kit and wait for an appointment, you can go directly to the Questura and apply on that day.

So, I arrived to the Questura, gave the security guard my passport and he told me to go inside and wait. I waited for about 3 hours until someone called my name and I went to a desk. I gave him my documents and he filled out a form and sent me to another room to get my fingerprints. I waited another hour to get my fingerprints taken and then went back to the desk and he gave me a temporary PdS, a paper version with my picture stapled on it that was valid for 3 months. I had to go back in 3 months to see if it was ready and if it wasn’t, they would stamp my temporary permesso for another 3 months.

With my temporary permesso, I was able to go to the comune to get residency, enroll in the health care system, and open a bank account.

Provisional Permesso di Soggiorno they gave me to keep while I waited for my official Permesso di Soggiorno

December 2017: We moved to Ischia in Naples and got a short-term flat so we could get settled and look for long-term housing.

February 2018: I went to the Questura in Venice two weeks before it was going to expire. I was given a number and waited 5 hours to see someone. When I did, he told me I came to early to see if it was ready and to come back the following week. I went back the following week, it still wasn’t ready so I got a stamp that extended it for another 3 months.

March 2018: The local police, sent by the Questura, visited Martiuccio’s mom’s house, to see if we lived there. This is part of the process for the permesso di soggiorno, but I had no idea. I thought the police only come to check where you live when you apply for residency. My mother-in-law told the police that we were living in Ischia, that Marituccio got a seasonal job in a hotel, and she gave him his number.

They called Marituccio and told us we had to go up to Venice so they can come see us. They were nice about it though and let us fix an appointment with them so we could make work and travel arrangements and fly up there the following week . So we did, the officer stopped by the house, took photographs of our ID cards with his camera and then talked for 10 minutes with my mother-in-law about plumbing.

May 2018: I went back to the Questura on a Wednesday afternoon where they only see people who come to pick up their PdS. I waited an hour. It wasn’t ready, but the guy was perplexed because he said it should have been ready by now since the police had visited the house. He extended my permit for two months.

June 2018: On the Questura di Venezia website, there is a page where you can check to see if your PdS is ready. No one told me about this, I just checked and saw it. When I put in my number, nothing would show up so I figured either 1) I wasn’t in the system, 2) it wasn’t ready or 3) you couldn’t check my type of PdS in the system. I checked in June and suddenly it came up that my permit was ready and that I could go to the Questura to pick it up. Hurray! I could have gone up to Venice, but I decided to wait until July when my temporary permit expired because I had been travelling every single month since I arrived in Italy and wanted to take a break.

applying for a permesso di soggiorno as a family member of an italian citizen
I was expecting this electronic biometric card as my permesso di soggiorno. (Which I received the last time I lived in Italy).

July 2018: I took a flight to Venice, arrived late in the evening and stayed in a hotel across the street from the Questura so I could get there extra early and be one of the first people to enter once it opened. I arrived at 645 am and when I arrived up to the security office at 830, he told me that on Mondays they don’t see people who come to pick up their PdS. I walked away crying many tears of frustration. I went back the next day and waited 5 hours. When I got to the desk, he pulled out a big file with my name on it. I was expecting a Permesso di Soggiorno that was valid for two years, but instead he gave me a Carta di Soggiorno, a long-term residency permit, that was valid for 5 years. I checked that my details were correct and signed two copies. One copy they kept, the other copy was for me, a paper booklet. I was completely surprised because I hadn’t come across online that spouses would receive a Carta di Soggiorno. Everything I read called it a PdS. So I left the questura elated because it meant that I probably would never have to go to the questura again (knock on wood). Since I’ve applied for Italian citizenship via marriage, hopefully my citizenship will come through before the permit expires.

But if it doesn’t, then I will apply again in order to receive permanent residency.

 

 

applying for a permesso di soggiorno as a family member of an italian citizen
The Carta di Soggiorno for family members of EU citizens.

 

Things I’ve learned through this whole process:

• Be resigned to the fact that there is little information and that you’ll have to find out things as you go along. You can get an idea by reading online or talking to others, but your experience may be different than someone else’s. But still, keep an open mind, be prepared to spend hours waiting and bring with you toilet paper, reading material and snacks. Be positive about it all otherwise it’s just going to be even more painful than it already is.
• Check, double check and triple check the hours of the questura. Read all the fine print because it is there where they will tell you that on certain days they only see people with PdS applications and at certain times they only see people who are picking up their PdS.
• Keep all of your documents (marriage certificates and translations, health cards and tax codes, bank statements, car insurance, documents and letters from the comune, EVERYTHING), both originals and copies, in a binder. Bring that binder with you to every bureaucratic appointment because you never know.
• If they send you away because you’re missing a document or that you’ve arrived on the wrong day, try not to take it too hard. By all means, cry or scream in the bathroom to let it out and then move on. The world is not against you, this happens to everyone, and it’s a part of living in Italy and just think that this is the long process of becoming a part of this country, a sort of initiation.
• Don’t think about the time or money that you’ve wasted travelling and waiting. Just don’t. It’s inevitable.

Next steps: Now that I have my carta di soggiorno, we will change our residency to our place in Ischia. I will also go to driving school to get my Italian driver’s license since my US license is not valid in the EU. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Good luck to everyone and congratulations to everyone who has gone through it.

Going to Ikea and the Neapolitan way to ‘sdrammatizzare’

Going to Ikea and the Neapolitan way to ‘sdrammatizzare’

Me and D found long-term housing and recently moved to a lovely little yellow house in Forio on the other side of the island. Before we moved, we went to Ikea to pick up a few things to set up the kitchen and while I was excited to go on the mainland for a day trip, D was in a bad mood.  He was nervous about driving since our 12-year old Fiat Punto was acting like a dick, the starter wasn’t firing the engine every time you turn the key. You have to do it a few times before it starts. It isn’t a big deal if you’re in a parking lot, but if you’re in a queue to get on and off the ferry it can be nerve-wracking. Also I think the car senses D’s mood because the more nervous he gets the more it acts up. You have to be pretty zen around the car, basically you have to not give a shit about cars beeping all around you waiting for you to get out of the way.

Continue reading “Going to Ikea and the Neapolitan way to ‘sdrammatizzare’”

Our 12-year old moody Fiat Punto that has made 5 trips to Venice so far.

The day of our Ikea trip, D wasn’t feeling very zen around the car and I was trying to keep the mood light. We weren’t off to a good start (pun intended) because every time we had to turn off the car (at the ticket office, at the port, in the queue), it took forever to get it to start again and cars beeped and sped around us, giving us stare downs as they passed. D was doing breathing exercises to keep himself from losing his shit and I ate snacks trying not to get bummed out by the car.

Finally we got on the ferry, but the big showdown was having to drive off the ferry an hour later when we arrived at Pozzuoli. Of course the car wouldn’t start and we were left sputtering on the boat while all the other cars zoomed off. D was sweating bullets and wanted to scream, but instead he shouted to some ferry workers who were hanging out by the opening and waved them down for help.

The guys from the ferry pushed our car right to where that Fiat Panda is

They came running over and D goes, ‘I need to push the car off the ferry’ and they immediately got into position. I sat in the passenger seat and looked at them in the rear view mirror and I saw them smiling, like this was something interesting for them. As the car started to gain speed from four guys pushing it, D jumped in the driver seat to steer the car.

‘Put it in third!,’ one of the guys shouted and they all laughed, their laughter echoing across the walls of the empty belly of the ferry. It sounded like a school cafeteria and everyone was excited to have a break.

I realised a bit of magic was happening. The Neapolitan art of ‘sdrammitazzare’, the art of taking the drama out of something, downplaying the bad vibes and turning it into a party. The guys pushing our car were having fun! They pushed the car off the ferry ramp and wheeled it to the side of the road. And then instead of walking away, they all crowded around the car, fighting with each other to take turns turning on the car and discussing what was really wrong. They wanted to know where we were going, what we were going to buy, what we did for work and where we lived on the island.

‘O, so we’re neighbours,’ one of the guys said. ‘We’ll see each other again!’

And another asked me, ‘But do you trust this guy to take you where you need to go?’

‘I have no choice.’ I said and that was so funny and we all laughed.

And then D shouted to everyone to be quiet and he turned the key half way. You could hear the subtle buzzing of the mechanism firing some gasoline into the engine. He turned the key and the car roared alive. We all shouted and clapped and the guys shook our hands and we thanked them a million times and they waved us goodbye and wished us a fun trip to Ikea.

And our mood was changed, and just like that life was different, clearing away the anxiety and self-questioning and we were happy puttering our way to Ikea.

It’s a great word. Sdrammatizzare. Downplay the negativity and take the situation lightly. Neapolitans, who are also masters at pouring drama into the most mundane everyday occurrences (just try having a conversation on a Monday about what to make for Sunday lunch next week), are known for this. Like ants attacking a breadcrumb, they’ll surround someone who is sad or in a bad mood and try to show them that they’re not in as bad of a place as they really are. And yeah, they can also take the act of sdrammatizzazione too far when they ignore societal or political problems, but it works well for a lot of things during everyday life.

La Pulcinella

This Neapolitan lesson of sdrammatizzazione has been incredibly helpful during these first few months of moving back to Italy. Sure there’s a lot to complain about and it’s easy to think that every difficulty that we come across is a sign that we can’t achieve what we really want. I can hear those voices from family members that told me that Italy was an impossible place to live in, that my parents sacrificed everything to give me a better life and now I want to turn my back on them and go live in Italy. But there is this new voice that comes, a Neapolitan voice that says, ‘Hey, look at you! You have a job and a place to live and so what if there’s the unknown in front of you. You have new friends and neighbours and people that care about you here and want to see you stay. So here, sit down. You hungry? Here’s a plate of cheese, bread, and my mother’s canned vegetables.’

Moving, cooking, and homesick blues

Moving, cooking, and homesick blues

Moving is difficult in a way that many don’t talk about. It’s a psychological upheaval, a dismantling of home. I was prepared for the culture shock, but I don’t think I was prepared for this feeling of the kitchen I’ve lost. There are all kinds of excitement and we’re settling in, finding a more permanent place to live and Marituccio found a job, but I’m also mourning my sense of home and place.

While I was preparing for the move to Italy, every time I was struck with terror, the what-ifs and the whys of moving, I would calm myself down by thinking about all the things I would be able to cook and eat once I was in Italy. I’d imagine the kitchen, my cookbooks and all the food I’d find in the markets.

And now that I’m here I keep wrinkling my nose or feeling weirdly blasé at the bounty. Fresh fish from the fishing boats that arrive in front of my window every morning? Ho-hum. My eyes glaze over the tangerines that are falling from the heavy trees. Inside the bakery I pass by the fresh warm loaves of bread that are almost steaming and grab a box of crackers.  I’m someone who can eat cheese 24 hours a day and I will stand in front of the cheese counter and take it all in and then walk away with nothing. Only sometimes a lemon tree will catch my eye and its sharp yellow vision jolts its way through the ennui into my heart and I’ll notice it and think, ‘o wow, isn’t that something.’ Continue reading “Moving, cooking, and homesick blues”

Moving
Fisherman at Ischia Ponte

Moving

It’s so beautiful here and this part of the world is where I’ve lived my most important and special and favourite childhood moments. I should be ecstatic, shouldn’t I? And there are wonderful things happening, I’ve been meeting people, making friends, getting to know other writers, drinking coffee at the bar, talking long walks along the sea front, hiking in the hills, watching the sun rise on one part of the island and then watching it set on the other side, listening to and absorbing the Neapolitan dialect and smiling and laughing at this familiar language that makes me feel at home. And yet?

I don’t like the food. I go shopping with Marituccio and let him cook and I eat and I don’t feel anything. Fuck the fresh fish and escarole. I want to eat burgers, ramen noodles and Chinese take away and make a Moroccan tagine stew with preserved lemons and za’tar. I want to eat shredded wheat for breakfast and beans on toast and a fried egg. I want a roast chicken with gravy and cranberry sauce. I want to eat an omelette with a slice of chevre cheese and a salad of wilted greens while listening to the BBC.

Moving

I miss the cooking that makes me feel at home, cozy, taking care of myself and Marituccio. At the moment, cooking is awkward, full of doubts, testing and wondering. I’ve tried making my mom’s recipes that come from the island, but I keep messing them up. And then I eat and there’s numbness, a pastiche of memories that don’t fit into my life right now.

Moving
Roccoco, Neapolitan Christmas cookies

Years ago, when I first moved to Rome, the first meal I cooked for myself was hot dogs and I would often get intense cravings for McDonald’s during those first months. Hot dogs and McDonald’s are things I hardly ever eat, but I did eat them when I was a kid, so I suppose I was looking for something comforting during those lonely, unfamiliar and difficult months. Right now I’m still shell-shocked and bamboozled. It’s like a bomb went off and I’m just emerging from the bunker waiting for the air to clear. Once it does, I’ll probably go to the garden and make myself something really good to eat and feel relieved.

Moving
I made bracciola for our first Sunday lunch in Ischia

 

A day of trekking in Ischia inspired by Patience Gray

A day of trekking in Ischia inspired by Patience Gray

The other night I was reading from Patience Gray’s awesome and strange Honey from a Weed. There is a section about trekking in the landscape around Castelpoggio, a small village high up in the hills above Carrara. She describes the vineyards, chestnuts groves, rocks, wild thyme and rabbit grass with such deep vegetal knowledge and poetic ramblings.

‘Flowers are not named, I realized, because in essence they are hay to a mountain peasant. They are unseen because no one goes into the mountain pastures until it is time to cut it…On these slopes which offer a marvellous view of the distant wall of mountains of the Garfagnagna, still crowned with snow, were to be found, on a groundwork of dwarf broom and heather, many orchises, leaves of hellebore as large as a peony’s, green spurges with coral centres, the yellow spurge which smells of honey, exquisite Solomon’s seal, wild fennel, and the sinister dragon arum growing in the cleft of a stream.’

She lists the overlooked flowers in a such gorgeous way that brought on an intense longing to go on a hike myself to explore Ischia’s hills.

Continue reading “A day of trekking in Ischia inspired by Patience Gray”

And so on Sunday, we drove up to Testaccio, a hamlet in the comune of Barano and tried to find one of the Lizard paths – I sentieri della lucertola. Barano has created a series of mountain paths in different parts of the comune that cut through the terraced fields and vineyards and offer amazing views of the sea and islands in the bay of Naples. Ischia Review has generously provided a section in English about all the trails and where to find them and we decided to take a call along the red lizard path in Testaccio. According to Ischia Review, you can find the entrance to the path near Nik Bar in the piazza, and when we got there was the sign on the sidewalk that had a map of the path, but we couldn’t find the entrance.

Tenuta di Cannavale Ischia Barano d'Ischia trekking

We asked some elderly gentleman at the bar, but none of them knew what we were talking about even when we showed them the sign. In the end, one of them told us to take the road behind the supermarket and we would find the entrance to a path there.

So we walked and climbed up a long narrow road behind the Deco supermarket, we saw lots of gardens and cats, but no paths. When we got to the end, there was a driveway up a little hill.

We saw an old lady smoking a cigarette and asked her if there was a trail and she pointed to a path that started behind a house. We walked across the sidewalk, said good morning to lady hanging out by the window and started our way to the mysterious ‘Tenuta di Cannavale.’

Tenuta di Cannavale Ischia Barano d'Ischia trekking

 

We started the steep climb through the woods that were full of chestnut trees. The path was kept clean and on certain steep climbs there was a wooden railing that helped you make it up. We passed by terraces and deep ravines and the terrain got rockier. When we got close, there was a sign with an arrow that pointed up another steep path with log steps.

Tenuta di Cannavale Ischia Barano d'Ischia trekking

Tenuta di Cannavale Ischia Barano d'Ischia trekking

And at the top of the steps the terrain opened up into a clearing and a vineyard.

A bit further there it was, the ‘Tenuta di Cannavale’. There were olive trees and a vineyard and at the top of the hill there was a sort of mountain house and picnic tables and this incredible view of the Castello Aragonese down below, Capri, Procida and the bay of Naples and the faint outline of Vesuvius and Napoli in the distance.

Tenuta di Cannavale Ischia Barano d'Ischia trekking

Tenuta di Cannavale Ischia Barano d'Ischia trekking

Tenuta di Cannavale Ischia Barano d'Ischia trekking

Tenuta di Cannavale Ischia Barano d'Ischia trekking
‘It is forbidden to crush dreams.’

Tenuta di Cannavale Ischia Barano d'Ischia trekking

We sat quietly and ate the sandwiches we brought with us. I felt a bit like Patience Gray in the stillness and crisp air. I don’t know the names of mountain flowers, but maybe one day I will. On a half-sunny day in January, many things were growing and there was so much green. All of this coming green that’s promising a full explosion in spring in just a few months.

Tenuta di Cannavale Ischia Barano d'Ischia trekking

Tenuta di Cannavale Ischia Barano d'Ischia trekking

Tenuta di Cannavale Ischia Barano d'Ischia trekking

 

It turns out that the Tenuta di Cannavale is an organic vineyard and garden. According to the website, you can have dinner there by appointment and buy some of their local produce and products. You can reach it by various different trails some shorter than others, all accessed by the bus routes.

Tenuta di Cannavale Ischia Barano d'Ischia trekking