Letting Go of A Dream…I’m Leaving Italy

I remember very clearly the first time I ever set foot in Italy. I’d organised a trip to the fairytale town (I’m not joking; Google it) of Urbino. I fell head over heels in love – the sun, the colours, the language, the food, the lifestyle. I realise now I’d been a sensitive, expressive child brought up in a flat, grey household. Italy completely blew me away. It felt like the world of my dreams.

The Italian hillside landscape had well and truly engraved itself on my heart. I checked out books on Tuscany from the local library and before I knew it my soul had wrapped itself around the dream of owning an Italian farmhouse on the top of a hill: Waking up, pushing back the shutters to reveal piercing blue skies and looking out over the olive fields and terracotta roofs. One day, I thought, that’ll be me. And it will feel amazing. I remember the deep breath with which my body responded at the thought.

It remained a dream. I had other ‘important’ stuff to do: the things that society had baked into my psyche. Obviously I had to climb the career ladder, amass stuff and settle down. There was literally never any question of this in my mind.

In addition, my upbringing had infected me with idea that I wasn’t the sort of person who did ‘crazy’ things. This notion delayed (and made more painful) all the big changes of my early life: “I’m not the sort of person who quits Microsoft”, “I’m not the sort person who leaves her husband”, “I’m not the sort of person who throws it all up in the air and moves to Italy”.

I had to hit rock bottom for that to change; aged 32, back living at my parents house with a neck problem. I was unable to move my head, wearing a soft collar and confined to my bed for half of my waking hours. Unsure whether I’d ever get better, that dream returned. It whispered to me in the early hours, “Alison, why are you not going to Italy, you know that’s what you want to do.”

So in the depths of one of those sleepless nights, I made a pact with myself: if I can just recover from this, I’ll do it; I’ll get myself to Italy. A year of dedicated physiotherapeutic work and an English teaching qualification later, I was heading to a town near Florence, my new boyfriend, Rob in tow. We’d started courting a year before, and he’d, knowing that I was intent on leaving the UK, supported me all the way.

Despite the fact that Rob couldn’t be with me all the time, I loved it. I cycled in the sun, I sat in the squares eating local plums, I wore linen, I perused markets…immersing my soul in Italian culture felt so good.

My arrival in Florence in 2009

15 years, one marriage, one child, several businesses and a lot of experience later I still love this country. I don’t have the Tuscan farmhouse – I live in a one-bedroom apartment in a small town, but I see cypress trees and hills from my window, my son goes to school in Florence and I shop for and eat the produce that this sun-soaked soil brings forth.

And yet in three months time I will say goodbye to all of this and return to live in the UK. It won’t be a temporary thing, I’m pretty sure this is for good. I’ll leave my residency behind and, since Brexit has meant that UK citizens can no longer easily live in another European country, it means that I won’t be able to come back here easily. Ever.

Ever: Oh how something in me despairs at that word. And so you may wonder, why am I doing it?

To answer that question, I need to appreciate how we are changed both by our experiences and by the people we love and acknowledge how each of us, me included, has competing dreams and desires, which can often be seemingly pulling in very different directions.

Last summer my husband, Rob, told me that he wasn’t happy here. He misses the English weather (yes, I know!!), the air that signifies home to him, and the clouds that dominate the British skyline.

But his desire for greyness (which I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand) was just the beginning. It opened a door for both of us to look with realistic eyes at the practicalities of our situation here: Italy is renowned for its bureaucracy, and that bureaucracy takes twice as much energy when you’re not a native family. In my 20s and 30s I had endless energy; approaching 50 I no longer have those reserves. Yet I’m driven, a girl with a mission and how I use the resources I have is a vital question for me everyday. In addition, the taxes that both Rob and I have paid the last decade would literally make your eyes water. To say that the fabric of the country does not support people trying to do their own thing (in the areas Rob and I are) would be an understatement; Rob’s summation of what we’ve earned, and would earn if we stayed whilst moving forward with our creative dreams (me, a book, him, a living from music) makes me weep.

Knitted into my desire to have that Tuscan farmhouse is a deep yearning to make a home. Rob and I have moved around an incredible amount of times. With each new home, I’ve brought forth things that express that inherent desire to home-make; I’ve created art for the walls, I’ve tended a garden, I’ve chosen rugs and made cushions. Then, inevitably, we’ve moved on and I’ve watched myself dismantle it all. It hurts. I want to find a place where I can settle; where I can plant young trees and be there when they give fruit, where I can welcome a cat knowing it can call that space it’s home, where I can slowly make the kitchen perfect for all the beautiful, crazy food things I do.

And what’s most important is that I want that space with my husband and son. I am no longer the girl who decided in 2009 that she was going to move to Italy even if it meant splitting up with her then boyfriend, Rob. I’m no longer just me; I am a wife, I am a mother. I am part of a whole and I feel deeply the emotions of the two people I love most in the world.

So when Rob told me seven months ago that he didn’t think he could stay here any longer, my gut knew immediately that, no matter how much my soul sings in this country, I want a home, and I cannot make that without my boys. I knew that we had to return to the UK.

Me with my boys at Castiglione del Lago (my favourite Italian place) last summer

And so, it’s with sadness, trepidation, fear, hope, and groundedness that I face the fact that dreams are, life is, complex and that sometimes we have to close the door on something we love in order that something else we love may come to pass.

We are leaving Italy at the beginning of June. We took a trip to Wales earlier this year to see whether it might be the right place for us; it wasn’t. As it stands we do not know where we are going to live in the UK. I’m thankful that Rob’s mum is willing to make space for us in her small home in Kent while we figure it out, and I’m looking forward to seeing Gabriel spending time with his grandma!

Thanks to the wonders of technology, I’m able to take you with me – both here and on the podcast (where Andrea, my co-host is due to give birth to baby number four the very same week we move!). I hope to continue to share the joys of ancestral food throughout the summer as the world around me shifts and changes.

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