In part 2 of my interview with Stacey Keith, she shares how her move to Italy, despite her hardships, made her life richer and her advice to anyone wanting to make the jump.
How did you discover Civita Castellana? I checked it out after I read your article on moving to Italy and I was intrigued.
John’s apartment in Calcata was Hobbit hole sized. With the two of us there, it was like living in a shoebox. To make matters worse, the apartment was smack dab on top of a restaurant called Il Graal, which was run amok with loud, Italian tourists, shrieking babies, and screaming Calcatese. The residents of Calcata loved to dance, sing, eat, play music—and yell at the top of their lungs at each other. Fights were an everyday occurrence, most of them over nothing. No one can seethe like an Italian can seethe.
Across from us, there was an aging film star who had a coffee shop filled, floor-to-ceiling, with photos of his glory days (and only marginally less public photos of his penis). A brilliant, albeit vitriolic, right-wing Italian prince lived around the corner. There were enormous caves carved right into the rock that had been turned into grottos, artists’ workshops, even a cave full of birds that were tended by the village “strega” or witch.
But there were no banks in Calcata, no grocery stores, no post offices. Most days you couldn’t even buy a cappuccino, and most of the restaurants were only open on the weekends. Between the tight quarters, the noise, the drama and the inconvenience, John and I decided to relocate about twelve kilometers north to Civita Castellana, another village on a rock, only a far bigger rock.
Civita Castellana is three thousand years old. Mozart played in the nine-hundred-year-old Duomo there. Heretics were burned in the piazza in front of the Fontana dei Draghi (Fountain of Dragons). An abandoned twelfth-century church sits directly in front of our house. For a fifth of what a decent apartment in Houston costs, we live like kings. And yes, there are plenty of cappuccinos.
How long did it take you to plan your move?
Once John asked me to come to Italy (I knew this was his decision to make and never pressed him or hinted at it in any way), things moved quickly. His invitation came in June. By August, I was on my way.
I Craigslisted pretty much everything I owned in that awful, health-hazard apartment I paid $1500 a month for, and my sweet friend Joyce helped me sell my car—a stick shift that lessened the car’s resale value, but THANK THE GODDESS I could drive a stick because that’s pretty much all you can get in Europe.
Saying goodbye to my students was hard. They threw me a fabulous party where the city of Houston, as a goodbye present, towed my car. I spent my last night in Houston at the impound lot. If that’s not a sign, what is?
With my daughter due to follow me over in one month, I packed all my earthly belongings into two duffel bags (a shocking proportion of which was taken up with books) and flew stand-by to Rome.
I didn’t speak Italian, only phrasebook. I have a long-standing terror of commitment. But I knew that a far better life lay beyond the Atlantic, a life that fed my soul instead of depleting it. I had to take that chance because if I didn’t, I was going to be eaten up with regret for the rest of my life.
My advice? TRAVEL LIGHT. The point of these adventures is to not be burdened down by the past, but to make room for the future.
Yes, it requires living with a huge amount of uncertainty, insecurity and fear. But life is tenuous at best no matter where you call home.
The abyss yawns for all of us. Learning to let go of the branch and sail down the river is a life skill. Yes, there are rocks. Yes, they may hurt you. But at some point you will make it through the rapids and float blissfully on the other side … before you hit the rapids again.
Hey, this is life we’re talking about.
What was the biggest obstacle you faced with your move?
As a writer, I’m a born communicator and compulsive reader. So the language barrier was a problem (and continues to be—real fluency in any language takes years). Once you get out of Rome, the number of English speakers drops to near zero. Plus I am not one of those expats who expects everyone in Italy to speak my language. It is my responsibility to speak theirs. I study, but it’s admittedly a slow arduous process.
The biggest obstacle I faced and continue to face is not seeing my kids.
Being a writer and being a mom are antithetical. Writing requires quiet and privacy. Motherhood requires everything else. I’d been a hands-on mom for nearly twenty years before I came to Italy, but that didn’t make it easier to go. Not seeing my kids as often as I would like is the one enormous hairy fly in my ointment. Had I given up John, Italy, and quite possibly my writing career, I would have faced an empty nest anyway. But that sacrifice is felt by all of us every day.
Had I stayed, there would have been a different set of problems. The human body can only take so much physical stress, and I was teaching sixteen classes a week. Both my shoulders were blown (as I discovered after moving here). I write longhand but couldn’t properly hold a pen. I assumed it was neurological damage from the grueling nature of my work at the gym. As it turns out, I was simply exhausted. But when you’re on that rat wheel, it’s sometimes hard to tell how fast it’s going.
Missed part 1 of the interview? Check it out in the Related Post below.
About Stacey Keith
Stacey Keith is the award-winning author of the Dreams Come True series (Kensington Books), Dream On, Sweet Dreams and Dream Lover, in addition to A Wedding On Bluebird Way with New York Times Bestseller authors Janet Dailey, Lori Wilde and the talented Allyson Charles.
Twice a Golden Heart finalist, Stacey has won a Maggie, two Silver Quills, a Jasmine, a Heart of the Rockies, and over fifteen other first-place finishes in Romance Writers of America contests.
An avid writer of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and short stories, Stacey doesn’t own a television, but reads compulsively—and would, in fact, go stark raving bonkers without books, which are crammed into all corners of the house. She now lives in Civita Castellana, a medieval village in Italy that sits atop a cliff, and spends her days writing in a nearby abandoned 12th-century church.
The two things she is most proud of are her ability to cook pasta alla genovese without burning down the kitchen and swearing volubly in Italian with all the appropriate hand gestures.
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Books By Stacey Keith