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We already met Katherine Wilson through her beautiful article where she shared her story of moving to Italy and falling in love with Naples. Today we asked her about the challenges of being in an intercultural marriage and living in the place her husband comes from. We are also curious about her opinion and experience living with a man that common (and widely spread!) stereotypes would call a “mammone” (mama’s boy). Thanks again, Katherine!
When I landed in Naples for my three months experience after college, I met and started dating a Neapolitan man. He and his family immediately “adopted” me. Without any questions, they took me in and fed and loved me in a way that was immediate, and completely without judgment. It was what in Naples they call “carnale”: of the flesh. I started to accept myself and my own appetites and passions without recrimination.
That man is my current husband and the father of our two children. Many Italian men who are close to their mothers (as mine is!) get labelled “mammoni”, or mama’s boys. The stereotype is of a dependent boy/man with a mother who is jealous and protective of her son. What I saw, however, was a young man who was an integral member of a tribe. I saw deep love and loyalty, and a mother who not only cared for and cherished her son, but who immediately cared for and cherished me as well! There was an acceptance and appreciation of me as a foreigner, never suspicion or jealousy. “What do YOU want for lunch, Ketrin?” my mother-in-law asks me when we go to Naples. She isn’t just thinking about her son, she wants to spoon-feed me too 🙂
Of course, there are many cultural differences that aren’t always easy to negotiate – especially when it comes to raising children (my parents-in-law would put three sweaters on my kids when it’s 70 degrees out, for example!). But what has always helped me is seeing how love is translated in different ways in different cultures. So much love is put into my mother-in-law’s 8-hour ragù, for example – it’s a way of expressing affection. Meanwhile, I would play Candyland for hours with my kids, because time spent together is the way I express my love. My children have helped me understand that both are valid, and both are authentic. It’s not an either/or but a both/and. Kids that grow up with different “languages” of love are all the richer for it.
And…I couldn’t survive a bi-cultural, bilingual relationship without a sense of humor. In my family, we are ALWAYS laughing about cultural extremes: performing imitations, highlighting contrasts. Sdrammatizzare is the word in Italian, not taking ourselves or our cultures too seriously. My aunt cooking pasta on simmer, my in-laws asking for a discount at the Washington metro – you get the picture!
We do Katherine, and we deeply thank you for being such an amazingly open and interculturally competent person! Your vision of Italy and Italian culture gives a different perspective and helps change (hopefully) the clichés that have always surrounded this beautiful and multilayered society!
Katherine Wilson Rome, Italy June 2018
Last December the legislation for same sex marriage was finally passed in Australia. Sandy and Lesley are getting married today. I think their story is worth telling. It is a story of love and commitment.
I met Sandy and Lesley the day we bought a little cottage in Maldon, north of Melbourne. Sandy is American, of Indian and Mexican descent and she grew up in Monterey, California. She migrated to Australia in 1975, when she was 25, and settled in Swan Hill, a rural town in northwest Victoria.
Sandy tells me about the difficulties she initially had in understanding the Australian accent and the different words. She often had to resort to facial expressions:
“A little boy came to ask me for a rubber and I said : …and what do we propose to do with that? Water balloons? He looked at me surprised and told me: I just want to get rid of the pencils mark. I laughed! He wanted an eraser!”.
She decided earlier on that she will have Australian friends and an Australian life style.
It never occurred to me that I was an outlaw, but Lesley feared they would deport me if they found out.
Lesley was a teacher, too, and she had just moved to Swan Hill from Melbourne. At the time she was about to get married. Sandy herself was going out with a local guy, but she felt it was not what she really wanted.
“The very first time I met Lesley she was making costumes for the ballet teacher, I was just watching her sew and we talked and talked and talked. I finally had to leave and we became really good friends after that. I soon realised that I wanted to be with her for the rest of my life. There was something there, but I figured she was engaged”.
Sandy and Lesley’s house
Lesley was in a car accident and she could only leave the hospital if she had someone looking after her. “I said she could come and stay at my house. And she never went home! We have been together ever since”.
How was it to be in a lesbian relationship in outback Victoria, in the ’70? “Everybody knew but nobody knew. We never said: we are a gay couple and we are together“. Sandy’s parents were also never officially told but they knew. Her mother absolutely hated it. “Even though I come from American Indian and Mexican background my mother wasextremely bigoted, extremely intolerant. Dad used to roll with the punches…he was Irish…accepting of everybody. Lesley’s dad accepted it and her mum didn’t, but she didn’t like anyone!”.
“When Lesley and I got together it was still unlawful. It became legal in 1980. It never occurred to me that I was an outlaw, but Lesley feared they would deport me if they found out. She finally settled when I became a citizen. Because there was no way we could get married, becoming a citizen was my commitment to her and she knew that I would never leave. When I told my parents I became disowned. I sent letters and they were returned unopened, they hung up on me on the phone”.
Sandy and Lesley went to Monterey to explain the situation and eventually her parents accepted her decision to become an Australian citizen, though her mother never accepted her being gay. “In retrospect I think one of the reason I came so far away was to put a distance between me and my mother. We want our parents approval and it is certainly easier to deal with their rejection when we are on the other side of the world”.
I ask Sandy how she felt last December, when the Same Sex marriage law was finally passed: “I didn’t think this would happen in our times, but it did. There are lots of elderly people in Maldon and when the law passed they came to hug us and told us how happy they were for us. We still didn’t think of getting married, but we started to look into it, all the legal grey areas. A lot of them having to do with superannuation. Even though we have been together for 42 years, Lesley can’t be on my death certificate as my spouse. Wherever possible, we have power of attorney legal and financial. If we went to a retirement village, we would have to pay two single fees instead of a joint one because we are not married. If one of us died, the other one would get kicked out. It sounds trivial but it’s not.
Maldon is more accepting than Swan Hill. There were a lot of rednecks in Swan Hill, we got hassled a fair bit at school, from the kids. They knew where we lived and they came by to yell things at us. We moved down here when Lesley’s father was dying and we have always been welcome”.
Lesley has been sewing Sandy’s suit and today they will become…wives? No, they told me they will never be wives but they will remain partners for life!
Rosie Milne is a British writer who lives in Singapore. After reading her wonderful book, Olivia&Sophia, I interviewed her when I was passing through Singapore. Rosie happily discussed her book with me and was very kind to open her home to me when I visited.
A while ago I read a book that touched me deeply. Olivia & Sophia is the story of Sir Thomas Raffles, a British statesman best known for having founded Singapore, told by his two wives, Olivia Mariamne Devenish and Sophia Hull. As I explained in the review, on a recent visit to Bogor in Indonesia (it was known as Buitenzorg in Raffles’ time) I came across the memorial that Raffles built in memory of his first wife Olivia, when she died of malaria. I was touched by the sentiment behind the statue to this woman, who died so young in a foreign land (she was forty-three), after following her husband from England. I simply had to know more about her life, and what it was like for her to live abroad, so long ago.
I was delighted when I came across Rosie Milne’s book about Raffles’ two wives, and read it expectantly. I absolutely loved it, and when I discovered that the author was living in Singapore, I simply had to interview her. It has been a great honour for me to discuss this amazing book with its author.
Rosie was working in publishing in England when her husband was offered a job in New York. The whole family followed him there. “That’s when I decided to become a writer”, says Rosie. “Moving to New York I lost all my contacts in the publishing world, and I thought writing could be a suitable career for a spouse to follow her husband with. I also liked the feeling of being more in control, which comes with writing”.
Rosie published her first novel, How to Change your Life, in 2002. The second, Holding the baby, followed three years later. Both are novels that Rosie says could be defined as romances, with modern day characters. I asked her how she came up with the idea of writing a novel set in the past, and one based on real characters and a true story. “I want to point out that the novel is not historically accurate, though most of the events in the book have actually happened. I wanted to focus on the lives of the two wives, and sometimes adapted the events to suit the need to describe these two exceptional women, their extraordinary lives and their bitter fate. I actually got the idea quite suddenly one day when I was observing a white statue of Raffles outside the Asian Civilization Museum, here in Singapore. I remembered that he had had two wives, and I simply thought it could have been interesting to find out about them and make them talk”.
And talk they do, though in two very different styles. The novel is told in the form of personal journals, and I cannot even begin to imagine what it must have meant for Rosie to enter the minds of the characters, and make them recount the incredible adventures they went through. “I loved them both. They were very different but they had something in common: They were both very brave women, who endured a lot to be with the man they loved”.
Rosie and I discussed at length this aspect of the story, the hardships that a trailing spouse had to endure all those years ago, compared with the comparative ease that the modern day equivalent, faces today. “I did not specifically want to write a book for expat women, but I think expat women will probably be more deeply touched by it. The comparison between how expat lives were at that time, and how they are now, is shocking. Just imagine what it meant to leave your home country to go abroad: You said good-bye to your family at home knowing that – if all went right – you would not hear from them at least until you touched shore, and that meant six to twelve months. Letters took one year to arrive at their destination, if they ever made it. The sea journey was very, very hard. Living and sanitary conditions on these risky ships, were appalling. Upon arrival, one faced a completely unknown setting, and of course there had been no chance to prepare yourself beforehand. Living conditions were so very hard for foreigners. Sophia lost four children to tropical diseases! I guess one message I would like readers to get out of the book, is how lucky we are today to have all these wonderful new technologies, that make our lives abroad so easy”.
The internet has indeed opened up a lot of opportunities for artistic and creative women, who want to continue working, when they follow their partners abroad. Besides being a prolific writer, Rosie has also created a wonderful blog on Asian books, http://asianbooks.com. We both agreed, that apart from India and China, Asian literature is highly under-represented on the world book market.
After the interview, I went to see the statue of Raffles, that had so inspired Rosie to write Olivia & Sophia. It was a precious moment. I felt grateful to Rosie for producing a book which gave me such insight into expat lives at that time, and for giving me the opportunity to glimpse a part of history, from the area in which I had been living, for a couple of years. Thank you Rosie for your hospitality and discussing your illuminating book with me.
For our series “How do you live in…“, Michela Villani tells us about Bonn, a German city along the Rhine. Michela has especially fallen in love with the marvelous natural scenery around the city. How to blame her??!! Thanks a lot Michela for this wonderful article!
Bonn is a small, hospitable city. The historical center is an ordered maze of pedestrian streets and three or four squares, with two main ones: Munster Platz, with the well-known Beethoven statue, and Sternplatz, where the city hall stands. Before starting my description, it is worth pointing out that I was born and I have always lived in Rome so my reference, in the comparison, is quite predictable. Given this premise, I can state that Bonn is a city with three main features:
• It is relaxed (with little more than 300.000 inhabitants and a density of 2.000 people per square kilometer; in the roman neighborhood where I used to live density was close to 7.000 people per square kilometer);
• It is very livable (traffic – however neat and respectful, compared to the chaos I grew up in – is limited to the rush hours and, even then, the Roman that is in me cannot really define it as traffic);
• It is placid but, still, fulfilling.
Despite being for more than 40 years the capital of the German Federal Republic, the city kept some restrained dimensions and a relatively quite atmosphere. On the contrary, although the capital is today in Berlin, Bonn remains a city of unique personality and unusual charm.
The Alltstadt is, then, quite small, clean and well organized, with many restaurants and an acceptable number of shops. Nothing comparable to nearby cities such as Cologne or Düsseldorf but it is still an historic downtown suitable for a nice walk, properly flavoured with some shopping.
All around the heart of the Innerstadt lays an area with at least three or four museums that is worth visiting (including the remarkable Arp Museum a few kilometers far, in the Village of Remagen).
Bonn has an Opera House with an interesting season (anyway, with a 30 minutes’ drive it is possible to reach find the Musical Dome and the Cologne Opera House) and, every year in September, the city hosts the Beethovenfest, an event in which performing shows and music become a first class topic.
What really makes Bonn special to my eyes, though, it’s not the shopping and not even the cultural vitality, but rather the natural frame it is embedded in. The city districts lean along the banks of the Rhine, a magnificent river that with its wide flow, the continuous traffic of multicolored barges and the impressive view on the Siebengebirge hills, literally takes one’s breath away.
Siebengebirge are a range of volcanic hills densely covered with forests that lies on the left side of the river. So green in spring, red, yellow and orange during the foliage it represents a magical and still inspiring place where many legends, of the Norse mythology and of the Nibelungen saga, can be settled. The dense forests inhabited by a large population of birds of prey, also recall the atmospheres of many of the traditional German tales collected by the brothers Grimm.
Walking along the bicycle and pedestrian lane that coasts the river, it is impossible not to be hooked by the evocative view of an ancient tower ruin, on the top of the hill called Drachenfels: story goes that there was the cave where Sigfrido killed Fafnìr the dragon, later plunging into his blood to become invulnerable. A primacy, although mythical, quite significant for an area of Germany where tourism is almost exclusively local and where meeting an Italian on vacation is impossible, in the very literal sense of the word.
A few kilometers west from Bonn it is possible to visit the National Park of the Eifel, an area spanning 100 square kilometers of woods, creeks, rivers, lakes, scenic villages and castles. Whereas, going southward, there is the Ahrweiler, a valley named after the tributary of the Rhine running through it; it is very well known for its vineyards and the excellent wines it produces, among which stands out a remarkable red one: the Spätburgunder.
The food in this region is tasty and, most of times, surprisingly less fat than the one that is to be found in other Länder. Furthermore, meals taste very peculiar when, during the warm season, they are enjoyed under the fragrant arbor of some traditional Weinhäuschen. It is not rare, in fact, to come across these small wine cellars perched on the hiking trails of the many wine roads in the area. A glass of iced Riesling during the summer, a crunchy Flammkuchen accompanied by a plate of white asparagus covered with hollandaise sauce or – why not? – a classic grilled bratwurst, together with the mild and relaxed atmosphere of these hills, make time for relaxation slight and carefree.
Bonn represents the base for a large international community. First of all, the city hosts the headquarter of the United Nations, besides the ones of DHL, Deutsche Post and Deutsche Telekom. Inside the city can also be found the offices of Occar (the organization for joint cooperation in the armaments field), FedEx and, not far from the urban area, Ford, Scania (in Koblenz) and Bayer (in Leverkusen)…These are the main reasons why many foreign families settle in this area.
Bonn counts two international schools: one, the Bonn International School, with an IB curriculum and the other one, the Independent Bonn International School, with a British curriculum. Both institutes (especially the first one) are at the center of engaging events for expats families. There is even a chorus of international voices, the International Voices Choir (IVC) , which organizes shows and other musical entertainments. Expats families choose where to live according to their work requirements and to their personal taste; that’s because Bonn is not a city in which a foreigner experiments any kind of logistical restriction. Many families choose to live in a house (and there are a lot of magnificent villas), many live in apartments inside the American Compound next to the BIS school but, generally speaking, there are no such areas where expats concentrate most. Eventually, it wouldn’t make any sense.
Rents (Warmmiete) generally include all the costs, except electricity and adjustments for the heating; the maintenance costs of the buildings are quite high but most of condos have a garden and an equipped area for children to play.
Evenings in Bonn and its surroundings are extremely quiet, something hard to believe for a person, like me, grown up in the noisy city of Rome. The air is crisp and pure. Sometimes it snows but less often, compared to how much it snows in other German regions and, personally, I have never experienced too chilly or too long winter times.
One of the few negative aspects about living here is related to medical care: doctors lack with empathy and with the ability to “think outside the box”. Furthermore, the healthcare processes are extremely rigid and it is literally impossible to run any test or even plan a specialist stop by without passing through the approval of a general practitioner (a main figure for German people but, frankly, a superfluous one for Italians). As a whole, it is impossible to get away with it without a good health insurance (better if private). At least, Italy is close and sometimes it’s worth taking a couple of hours flight to go home and get things done more quickly and effectively.
In conclusion, Bonn is a romantic city coming from another time: sometimes a little jealous of its own traditions, lets itself be conquered with complacency. It is a good place for families and very suitable for children who can experience here such an independence, difficult to replicate in other urban scenarios. The Rhine, with its flow, is a true catalyst of energy and slows down the rhythm of Bonners life, adapting it to nature and seasons, in an continuous, clear and rigorous stream.
Victoriya Shirota is from Russia. She moved to Japan seventeen years ago to be with her husband. In this article she shares her super interesting story and tells us why she feels she has always gone against the stream. Thank you so much, Viktoriya!
I am from a small ancient town, Novgorod Velikiy near St. Petersburg, in Russia. It’s UNESCO heritage, famous for its 11th century architecture. That’s where I met my Japanese husband. He was on a search for his roots (his grandfather was German and part of his family had lived in Russia), and I was doing a volunteer job as a student for foreign tourists for the local city hall, helping to organize tours and taking tourists around while practicing my English.
My family wanted me to work in the local administration after graduation. You can imagine how shocked and totally upset they were when I announced that I would marry a Japanese man and move to Japan. They all stopped talking to me. It took me some time to reestablish a good relationship with relatives.
I moved to Japan, had two children, and slowly got to know the Japanese culture and lifestyle. My husband is a very traditional man. A wonderful person, but with strong Japanese values in regards of women. Women in Japan are basically mothers and wives. There was not much space for other roles in Japanese society for women. It did not take me long to realize that I had moved from being dependent on my family in Russia to being dependent on my husband in Japan. I had again fallen into a schema that did not belong to me – there was no me in all this.
So I started to design my path. I studied Japanese with volunteer teachers first, but then I found a wonderful Japanese lady who graduated from Kyoto University, with a major in Japanese literature. She gave me deep knowledge at a professional level, I am grateful to her for her efforts. I started to drive, started to work, first in the local supermarket, then with a small trading company, and eventually for myself as a freelancer. My marriage lasted 13 years, but unfortunately my personal growth and financial independence led me to admit that my husband and I were totally different persons. Even after divorce we are keeping good relationship and raising our sons, so our kids have mom and dad in their lives.
I am lucky because this is not an ordinary situation in Japan. There is no joint custody of children here, and the visitation right is not properly supported by law. The most common situation is that custody is granted to the mother, and the father then disappears, leaving the family without any support.
It can also happen that the father supports his kids financially, but the ex wife does not allow them to meet their father. It is a painful situation for all. And I am on the side of the children. They can’t protect themselves.
About 7 years ago my neighbour paid me a visit. She was the CEO of a childcare company she had created, and asked me to teach English in her childcare facility. My way to social business started from there. I was involved in childcare, family consulting, education, etc. Finally, one year ago NPO Mishel Club was established to provide educational support for children from socially disadvantaged families and other forms of assistance.
So, my experience in social business and in entrepreneurship led me to idea of becoming a business mentor for women in Japan. Together with Edvard Vondra, personal branding trainer , (https://www.edvardvondra.com/) we are helping women to become visible, self-confident and successful.
My children are doing fine, and my mother visits me from time to time. I feel active in my community, integrated in my city, and finally in control of my own life.
Viktoriya Shirota Ibaraki, Japan May 2018Main photo credit: Peter Nguyen on Unsplash
Jennifer Doohan is an English photographer, retoucher, expat, sports lover and much more. We already met her when she shared her professional story. Today she is back to tell us about the ups and downs of becoming an expat in Italy. Thanks a lot Jennifer!
In my life I have been passionate about two cultures, Japanese and Italian. Having realised one dream with a visit to Japan in 2014 I decided to realise another: to become an English teacher in Italy. Italy for a lot of people seems the answer to some unknown, inner questions. My career in the UK was in photography as a retoucher, but over the years I had noticed that I was really good with people. I’d had this teaching idea in my head for about five years, and had even started a TESOL qualification (which I abandoned half way through) because my lack of English grammar knowledge really worried me! Turning 30 helped me decide to leave my well-paid job, embark on a CELTA course in Milan and try to achieve what I originally set out to do.
I knew nothing of the mountainous ‘Trentino’ region I am living in now, but it is super sporty, like me, so that was a good bit of luck!
For the first eight months of my time here I was teaching in a private language school with nice owners. I was living and working with English speaking people, so my settling in wasn’t too challenging. It was fun exploring a new place together with like-minded people.
One of my main issues you could say was starting to date a local guy who doesn’t speak English. I’ve always liked a challenge! There was lots of Google translate at the start! This relationship has led me to living in two small villages, the one I am in now is much better. But people here speak local dialect, which is not formal Italian. However people speak Italian with me. My level is B1, more or less. I shan’t talk about Italian bureaucracy as that paper labyrinth is universally renowned, and yet still no one understands it.
With moving to another country there follows the highs and lows. The highs that, wow I did it, I am learning a language, I am speaking that language, look – the seasons are so defined and I am discovering so much…followed by: I have no friends, I have no real career or money… I want to speak English and be myself (social occasions can be exhausting when you’re having to try twice as hard to follow a conversation for example and can’t express yourself as you normally would.)
I have felt incredibly isolated and lonely at times. But this is all NORMAL! Meeting other expats only reconfirms this idea that you are in fact not alone in this feeling.
In the past I saw the mountains as life-givers, and I worked hard to escape to them. But living in them has made me feel something totally different, that I had never imagined! At times I have felt restricted and closed in, like everything was so far away. This sounds like a complaint, it’s not – call it an observation!
I am aware this feeling of restriction is as an emotional as well as physical block…try driving around here! And I am also aware that it is totally normal. To work around it, I need to get away – to take a trip somewhere new if I can. Nothing big, just something different! This act teaches me that all of my brilliant common sense and lust for life and adventure is still there within me.
Being an expat is something I imagine gets better with time as your contacts for work and friends grow. But I am also aware I have chosen to come to Italy for the love of it rather than it being a shining beacon of career opportunity for people with my media background. (n.b. I don’t see teaching English as a long-term option for me). In all honesty, I don’t know how long the label of ‘expat woman’ will apply to me, perhaps it will become: ‘Ex-expat woman who tried!’. It is very, very tough in Italy and I have learnt that you can live in the most beautiful place in the world, but if you love having a career or finding fulfillment through your work and you don’t have that same choice or access to stability, well…it’s easy to stay – hard to remain! Everyone has their own fulfillment and significance of what ‘expat’ means for them.
My advice for anybody striving to live and work in another country, even just for a little while: feel the fear and do it anyway! It will definitely change your life.
Sandraexpat interviewed Ragnar Chacin, a French filmmaker who presently lives in Jerusalem.Ragnar Chacin is a French filmmaker, multi media artist, photographer, choreographer, performer and director who explores the integration and interaction of body, dance and moving image through cinematic form, theatre, performance, screen, sound, installation, painting and online work.Ragnar graduated in 1999 from the School of Superior Studies of Cinematography (ESEC) in Paris. Later in 2001, he obtained a specialization master degree diploma in audio-visual memory and patrimony preservation with the University of Paris VIII. At this time he attended the documentary workshop for directors delivered by filmmaker Claire Simon.He is the co-founder of the multidisciplinary art platform StilL in Mexico as well as a performer video artist in the French theatre company Zumbó.
Where are you currently living and in which countries have you lived before?
I’ve been living in Jerusalem for the past year. I have been abroad for a while, some of the countries that we have lived in are: Angola, France, Spain, Cuba, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Mexico, United Kingdom and United States of America.
How many years have you lived abroad?
Around 25 years
What are your qualifications?
I’m an artist who believes in creating collectively and sharing artwork with others.
What kind of job do you do?
I’m doing today several artistic projects in Jerusalem but mainly film-making, directing contemporary dance with theatrical performances and audio-visual installations.
Can you tell us something more about your job in Jerusalem?
I’m working today as a multimedia artist and filmmaker. We are developing a sound installation for an international festival in Jerusalem and working as well on a documentary film about how theatre can reinvent identity.
Have you always accompanied your wife?
Since we are together, yes, I’ve been accompanying my wife, so it will be more or less 23 years.
Have you ever had moments in which you didn’t feel fine in your position of accompanying spouse? If yes, how did you cope with that?
No, I have never felt that way.
Photo Credit: Jean Clauzet
How did you cope with moving locations and adjusting to a new environment?
So far it has been a process that I’ve undertaken slowly and tried to be as open minded as I can about the new places we go to. At first, we’d welcomed in our minds all the places we have been in and the first couple of months are moments that redefine very much how I’m going to feel after that adjusting time. My way of dealing with these changes has always been to find an artistic project that I can develop locally and, from there, keep connecting to others by using this approach.
How did you cope with the arrival of your children?
For me, having children has been so far a real amazing trip. I feel so alive because they have become the centre of what I do in and with art today. They have redefined my way of seeing things and I feel very lucky to be able to be around my kids to accompany them through their growing process.
What are your future plans?
I don’t really know what we will do next because we just got to Jerusalem but it will always be about where the kids can develop their inner strengths, feelings and identities in a loving environment, at least home wise.
What advice can you give to other expat men coping with all these career/life changes?
I am not much of an advice giver, but I guess like everything in live, be yourself and be open to new things and people. I have found that being an accompanying partner has given me other tools to understand better the spaces that we move in and I feel good about changing situations and life changes.
Thank you very much Ragnar and good luck with your future!
Interview collected by Alessandra Perini (Sandraexpat) Jerusalem April 2018
Katherine Wilson is a North American actress, writer, and mother of two who is in love with Italy. She moved to Naples after college, when she felt she wanted an experience abroad, and has stayed on. Today she lives in Rome with her family. In this fascinating article, she talks about the two cities that have welcomed her. Warning: Highly contagious content! Thanks a lot, Katherine.
I moved to Italy right after college, ready for a three-month experience abroad. The choice of Naples wasn’t a logical one. Americans that I knew advised me to go somewhere more “civilized”: Naples was dirty, corrupt and chaotic, they said. I was immediately intrigued. It sounded so different from the clean, efficient East Coast of the U.S. where I grew up. I was ready for a change.
The biggest challenges for me at the beginning were exactly what I loved about the place. The lack of efficiency and organization made it difficult to get across town or pay a bill, but at the same time opened the way to unexpected moments of beauty and humanity. A full bus I was on left its route to take me to the hospital one day when I fainted; waiting in line at the post office was an opportunity to meet and talk to people who were characters straight off a theater stage. I guess the hardest thing for me was having to renegotiate my relationship with time: in the U.S., I was always looking at my watch, fearful of being late. In Naples I learned that no-one was a slave to the clock, so I couldn’t be either. I could live out my day con calma, and the world would keep turning! (Of course, my reference to organization and efficiency doesn’t apply to food preparation and consumption – in that sphere, Neapolitans are some of the most organized people on the planet!).
I’m an actress, so I’ve always loved taking on new identities.
I was seduced by Naples in a way that was very sensory. The city’s beauty, sounds, smells, and especially tastes grabbed hold of my body before my mind even knew what was happening. I found that people around me were alive in a way that I hadn’t experienced before, and in myself I felt a vitality that I didn’t want to lose. I went back to the US briefly, and immediately was hungry: hungry for the beauty of Italy and the way I was able to live in my own skin here.
I have to say that I love both cities, Rome for its history and unparalleled beauty, and Naples for its humanity.
I’m an actress, so I’ve always loved taking on new identities. I found that I was developing an Italian persona who I actually liked a lot more than my American one! She was happier, more loving, and much less critical of herself and others. She was also able to enjoy life in the present.
After living in Naples and briefly in northern Italy, we moved to Rome. As an American, I had always imagined that Rome and Naples, two cities that are a one hour train ride apart, would be very similar culturally and linguistically. I could not have been more wrong! Italy is a very new country, and the cities that make it up have existed for thousands of years. Rome and Naples are as different as two countries. The biggest difference I would say is the fact that Rome was the seat of the Empire: Romans’ outlook is always that of the conqueror, the citizen from the center of the world. Naples, on the other hand, has always been dominated — since the time of the Greeks. What emerges is a culture of distrust of authority, creativity, and acceptance of difference.
I have to say that I love both cities, Rome for its history and unparalleled beauty, and Naples for its humanity. Romans are sometimes a bit full of themselves, and not quite as open to accepting others who are different. It’s incredible to me that so many Romans have never set foot in Naples – they believe the stereotypes that it is dangerous and dirty. They are really missing out.