Why Living in Italy Doesn’t Motivate Me to Write About Italy

saralogoC-4a.k.a “Why I Haven’t Been Updating This Blog Nearly As Often As I Should”.

I’ve been living in Italy full time for close to 12 months now. I just recently allowed this poor blog’s 5th Blogiversary to pass unnoticed, I haven’t posted since March, and that post wasn’t even about living in Italy.

Now, if I were looking at this from the outside, I would think all these things don’t really add up, vero? An Italy blogger who finally gets to live in Italy and doesn’t write about it? Non è possibile!

So what gives? I know my Mom would sure like to know. She’s my biggest fan and also cracks the whip every once in awhile wondering why I have not yet drafted some Italy-inspired capolavoro (masterpiece).

The situation had me scratching my head as well, so after a bit of Prosecco-fueled reflection (I do live in Italy, and I am still me) I realized exactly why the vitality of this blog has been diminished by my move to il bel paese. It all comes down to two ingredients that are present in much of my writing and cannot easily exist at the moment:

Nostalgia. It’s nostalgia in Italian as well, but pronounced noh-stahl-gi-ah.

And longing.

Think about it:

I started this blog 5 years ago in Canada as a distraction from the final assignments of the Master’s Degree I was completing in – you guessed it!- Italian Studies. Yes, I then updated it regularly as I bumbled through my first summertime adventures in Italy when everything was shiny and new. But I then continued to blog during the following 4 years, when my time was spent predominately outside of Italy. To give you an idea, I think I spent 7 days here in all of 2012, but I cranked out post after post about the Italian (mis)adventures I had had in the past.

I’ve never been the blogger to write about things as they’re happening or even right after they’ve happened, and I don’t (usually) treat my blog like a diary, chronicling everything I do. There are some travel and Italy bloggers out there who are bravissimi at doing this, but I’ve never been able to bring myself to do it, and I’ve wondered about that through the years too.

Why don’t I have the creativity/interest/discipline to blog/tweet/Facebook/instagram daily/weekly/every hour/every minute like some others do?

Because I have to go through a whole process in order to produce posts that you want to read, and the process, I’ve realized, is something akin to wine making.

It goes like this:

1.) Something happens to me. Some accident befalls me, I make a gaffe of biblical proportions, I learn something new, I wind up in some eyebrow-raising, eyeroll-enducing Italian situation…

This is the grape-growing stage, the base ingredient for any wine.

2.) I think “this would make a good blog post”. Then, contrary to any writing advice I’ve ever read or received, I don’t make any notes at all. Not even on my aperitivo napkins.

This is the harvesting stage where I pick the best experiences, like the best grapes, and earmark them to be turned into wine.

3.) Time passes. I do a whole lot of niente (nothing) with these memories.

My grape-memories are poured, together with my feelings and thoughts, into barrels and are left alone to ferment.

4.) Nostalgia & longing. The earmarked memories come back to me even sweeter/funnier/more absurd than the original experiences that brought them to me, because they come back to me in a time and place when I can’t readily experience anything like them again. They take on a different quality.

The fermented grape-memories get transferred to another type of barrel, made from  nostalgia and longing. The wine is infused with these flavours.

5.) I write. I start with the title and work my way down. No planning, no outlines, no nothing. Sometimes there’s some editing, but I write blogs in one sitting. If I save drafts to come back to later, I never do. I almost always publish immediately.

The wine is bottled, labeled, and put on the market for consumption.

[Please note: the final product of this wine/writing process process is not always a Chianti or Brunello. Sometimes, it’s swill. Heck, it’s not always even vino. Sometimes I end up with vinegar…]

So while the climate in Italy is perfect for an abundance of grape-memory growing and harvesting, it’s not one in which Italy-nostalgia flourishes. Here and now, Italy is my every day, my reality. I can stroll through picturesque streets and take in views of the Tuscan countryside whenever I want. I can have an infuriating experience at the Italian post office any day of the week (except Saturday afternoons or Sundays). I don’t need to reminisce and remember, I just need to step outside my door.

So when will I feel more motivated to blog about my experiences in Italy again? When I have some Italy nostalgia and longing to add to the raw material I’m collecting here.

And where do Italy nostalgia and longing grow? Buried under the snow of a minus 30-degree Canadian winter, of course.


Solo Travel: You Don’t Have to Love It to Do It

saralogoC-4My faithful readers will know that awhile back, I published a post outlining a travel goal of mine: 30 Before 30.

Yes, I want to visit (and no, airport connections don’t count) 30 countries before my 30th birthday. Luckily I’m approximately 27 years close and yet still 27 months away from that milestone. My tally? I’ve visited 25 countries thus far, with the 26th (Hungary) scheduled for later this month. I’m fairly confident I’ll get there, and that’s a pretty good feeling. (By “get there” I mean achieve my goal. I have complete faith that Ryanair will get me to Hungary).

And like any good goal, setting this one for myself has caused me to step outside my comfort zone in a couple of ways.


Eel in Poland. They told me we were getting cod.

30 Before 30 hasn’t just challenged me with regards to where I travel, but also how I travel. My earliest international travel was done within the warm and protective folds of my family. From there, my travel experiences grew gradually to include more and more independence, between school trips, study abroad programs, and trips with friends, both within organized groups and self-directed. It’s all been wonderful.

Then, around age 25, I got on to this 30 before 30 kick and had to up my country intake per year if I wanted to make my goal. This meant a bit more planning had to go into my overall travel strategy. Namely, I had to start visiting new places, not just my old favourites. As I talked about all this with friends and family, I realized that not many of the people in my life had the same goal as me.

More precisely, none of them did.

Sure, I have friends and family members who have already surpassed the 30 country mark, and they’re inspiring. I have friends who like to travel, but are eager to visit places that stamped my passport long ago, which doesn’t really help me with my goal. I have friends who don’t have the desire to travel at all, and that’s just fine too – no judgement here. I have certain friends with whom I’ve traveled before and who are always up for a trip, but the logistics of life sometimes get in the way of making more travel together a reality.

That leaves me, myself, and I.

Now please, hold your pity. That’s not what this post is about.

30 Before 30 has propelled me into the world in general, but also into the world of solo travel. I think the first new country I visited solo was Singapore, although I did meet up with an acquaintance for dinner while I was there. Then came a trip to Switzerland, and although it was a work trip, I didn’t go with anyone. Last month, I made a solo sortie to Romania, where I knew and met up with no one, and then Malta, where I did exactly the same thing. Next up is Hungary, where yet again I’ll only have my iPod and my Kobo for travel companions.


Enjoying Malta.

People comment all the time about my solo travel, remarking that I must be really fearless or adventurous to do it. And while fearless and adventurous both seem like really good qualities, I don’t think I quite possess them to the degree people might think.

“Fearless” would mean having no fear. Well, let me tell you about the terrifying (but amazing) hot air balloon ride I took in Turkey, or the two nights I spent (not) sleeping under the stars in the Australian Outback because of the sheer terror I felt about potentially being eaten by a snake. (You read that right: not just bitten. Eaten.)

“Adventurous” to me means a thrill seeker. Sure, I went white-water rafting in New Zealand, but only because I didn’t want to be the odd one out in my group of travel companions. I quickly opted out of the bungee jumping and skydiving though.

Otherwise, people think that I just really like spending time alone. You read articles and blog posts about other solo travelers who love to meet new people at hostels and who are great at making friends on the road. I’m not necessarily one of them. Sure, I’m chatty. I’ll talk to strangers, share a meal, be friendly – whatever – but I don’t love being alone and putting myself out there. It takes effort, and frankly, sometimes I’m just not into it.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, right there, is the point of this post. I’ll say it here for the entire Internet to see: I don’t particularly love solo travel.

But I do it anyways.

Because when weighing my travel options, I realized that if I had to wait for my friends/family/boyfriend to be in the right economic/career/personal situation to do all my country hopping with me, I could end up waiting forever. Plus, I’ve been lucky enough to travel to lots of “mainstream” destinations, but now I’m on to some obscure ones that don’t quite tickle other people’s fancy. (I mean, Romania? Really?) I also figured that I couldn’t reasonably expect other people to take responsibility for helping me meet a goal I had set for myself.

And, most importantly, I knew I wouldn’t be able to look at myself in the mirror on my 30th birthday and expect my future self to accept that I hadn’t visited my 30 countries because “I had no one to go with.”

Yes, I get lonely sometimes. Yes, I’ve been uncomfortable. Yes, I’d love to have someone else to blame or lean on when I take a wrong turn, or don’t get to that museum before it closes, or end up eating rabbit gizzards instead of chicken wings.

But the positives I get from visiting new places and getting closer to my goal far outweigh the negatives of going solo.

The moral of the story is this, and I wish I’d realized sooner: You don’t have to be some fiercely independent and fearless travel adventurer to have a worthwhile solo travel experience. You don’t even have to love the idea of solo travel to make a good go of it. But if you’re toying with the idea, try it once. It only gets easier from there.


Yes, that really is me.

[Readers, I’d love to hear your thoughts on solo travel. Please comment below!]

An Italian-Canadian Identity Crisis

saralogoC-4Canadian. Italian. Canadese. Italiana. Italo-canadese. Italian-Canadian.

Almost every day in my life here in Italy, I’m forced to explain my cultural identity. Sometimes I seem too foreign to be Italian. More often, I seem too Italian to be foreign. Sometimes people say I speak Italian too well to be a native English speaker. Sometimes – and this is my favourite – people marvel at my excellent English skills, of all things.

So what am I?

The Preamble

Growing up in Canada, my last name stuck out like a sore thumb. I mean, you can spot its Italian-ness a mile away: Mastroianni. I’ve had to spell it for people almost as many times as I’ve said it, and I’ve had to endure every butchered pronunciation of it you can think of, and then some.

But my first name is not typically Italian. At least, not the way it’s spelled. Sara (pronounced Sah-rah) exists in Italian, but Sarah (my name, pronounced Sair-uh) boggles the Italian mind. What is that h doing there, anyways? For Italians, it’s strange. For Canadians, not so much. In Italy, for simplicity’s sake, I go by Sarah, pronounced the Italian way, with the rolled r and all.

Just when you think the confusion’s over, people discover I have a middle name: Ashley. In Canada it’s quite normal to have one, two or even three middle names. In Italy, the fact that I have “two first names” but I only use one as an actual name, incites gear-mashing of biblical proportions in Italian cervelli (brains) because of the incomprehensibility totale of the situation.

So why did I end up with this disaster?

The blame lies squarely at the feet of my parents, of course.

I was born in Canada to a mainly Canadian Mom (with German and British heritage) and an Italian-born, Canadian-raised Dad. Hence the Canadian – Italian name.

Throughout my life growing up in Canada I identified quite a bit with my Italian side. Not that I didn’t identify with my Canadian side, no no. But I just have always felt Italian-Canadian, probably largely due to my last name.


The Crisis

As my more faithful readers know, this Italian-Canadian, who doesn’t have the right to Italian citizenship because her father had renounced his to become a Canadian before she was born, recently fought tooth-and-nail to get a visto and move to Italy. And eccomi. Here I am.

When one moves to another country, especially Italy, there’s an amazing amount of bureaucracy to go through to become a registered person in that country. And at every step along the way here, people have called my identity into question because somehow, I seem to boggle their minds.

I was fine before. Completely, totally fine. But all this questioning has brought about an Italian-Canadian crisi d’identità (identity crisis).

Take, for instance, my recent quest for an Italian carta d’identità (identity card – how fitting). I go to Siena’s Comune (City Hall, featured in this blog’s logo), and wait for my number to be called.

I eventually get an audience with the man in charge of identity cards. He asks for a piece of ID, so I give him my Canadian passport. A passport which people who are not Canadian citizens cannot possess. A passport in which it clearly states that I was born in Canada, and that my citizenship is Canadian.


Having thoroughly studied the information page, he proceeds to ask me, in Italian, the most natural series of questions that comes when one is handed a Canadian passport. He opens with a doozy:

“Signorina, you mean to tell me you’re Canadian?” he asks incredulously. “Canadian Canadian?”

“…Sì,” I reply, and look around to see if it was someone else’s Canadian-ness that was being called into question.

Just mine, apparently.

“You’re not an Italian citizen? Don’t have another passport around somewhere?” He gestures absently around his office and I wonder just how many other people’s imaginary second passports he thinks are lying around.

“No,” I shake my head.

“But your last name-?”

“My dad is Italian.”

“But he’s not Tuscan,” the guy counters quickly. “Mastroianni isn’t a Tuscan name. I mean, it’s a famous name, a nice name. But it’s not Tuscan.”

And he’s right – famous it is, Tuscan it’s not. In a country that thrives on campanilismo (allegiance to one’s own town bell tower) this is an identity-defining detail.

“No, my Dad’s ciociaro,” I respond, using the adjective for people who come from my Dad’s part of  Lazio.

“But you live here.” “Yes.” “In Siena.” “Yes.” “Not in Canada.” “No.” “And not in your dad’s town.” “No.” “In Siena.” “That’s why I’m applying for an identity card here.”

After hearing me utter a full sentence, his eyes snap open wide and he recoils in his chair.

“You speak Tuscan!” he exclaims. “Listen to that accent!” Suddenly, he’s suspicious. “How can that be?”

I smile, because I know it’s true. Italians –  Tuscans and non –  comment on my Tuscan accent all the time. While at first I couldn’t understand a word that came out of any Tuscan mouth, I view my unconscious adoption of the accent over the years as an accomplishment in my language learning journey. It makes me oddly proud.

And since this guy, keeper of the identity cards, has obviously made it his mission to thoroughly vet me, given all the seemingly incongruous details I’m feeding him, he sits back in his chair looking smug, as if he’s somehow tripped me up with his questions. With a grand sweep of his hand, he invites me to continue my likely story.

When I shrug, he forges ahead with the intensity of a lawyer during a cross-examination.


“You have a heavier Tuscan accent than me and I’m Chiantigiano. From Chianti. A real Tuscan. You must have moved here a long time ago,” he surmises, satisfied that he’s solved the mystery that is Sarah Ashley Mastroianni: Canadian citizen, Tuscan talker with Ciociaro origins.

“No, actually. I’ve come to Siena every year for the past six, but I’ve only really been living here since June.” I let that hang for a second, then I add, “that’s why I need the identity card.”

“Are you here to study?” “No, I work.”

“Nooo, dai.” Come on. He draws out his words in the theatrical way typical of Italian speakers and starts to laugh. The ice has broken, now he’s getting a kick out of this conversation.

“A Ciociara-Canadian who speaks Tuscan like you and who’s come from Canada with all the jobs, to Italy with no jobs, to workNon esiste!” (That doesn’t exist!)

I laugh and smile, “And yet here I am, asking you gentilmente (kindly) for an identity card.”

“Of course, of course.” He smiles and busies himself with my passport and various papers on the desk in front of him. He taps away at his keyboard for a minute before he looks up and asks me the question of all questions.


His voice brings me back from la-la land and I raise an eyebrow in response, having not quite caught what he asked.

He rephrases. “Altezza?” Height?

“175 centimetres,” I respond.

A slow smile spreads across his face. “Ahhh, ecco! There it is.”

“There what is?” I ask, playing along, even though I know from previous experience exactly what’s coming.

“Signorina, I can give you an identity card that says you live in Siena, and you can talk like you talk, but you’re much too tall to be Tuscan.”