Tuesday, August 19, 2008

What Inspired Me to Move to Tuscany (and Lucca)

I first visited Italy in 2000 when a friend turned 50 and asked me to go with her to celebrate reaching this new decade. We traveled all over Italy and I fell in love with every place we visited. Our tour began and ended in Firenze (Florence).

After staying in Florence for a few days, we rented a car and began our drive to Cinque Terre. Along the way, it began to rain and we decided to stop for lunch. The town where we happened to stop was Lucca. I fell in love with it the minute I saw it and was amazed that it was medieval and surrounded by fortress walls.

As we drove around trying to find the entrance to the town, we ended up on top of the walls. They're quite wide (50 feet) and tall (40 feet) and look like they could accommodate two lanes of traffic, but wouldn't you know it? We weren't allowed to drive up there and it isn't possible to drive into the town except to transport supplies. After people who were taking a stroll started staring at us and waving at us, we realized our mistake and found how to drive back off the walls...in utter humiliation I might add.

The walls that surround Lucca are approximately 2.4 miles around the town so it's pretty small, however it's very sophisticated. We were immediately drawn to the lovely squares, churches and amazing trattorias where we had the best soup I've ever eaten...perfect for a cool, rainy day.

So, back to my reasons for wanting to live there...

Back in 2001, I began working for a nonprofit organization, Parca, that had programs for developmentally disabled adults and children. Our president of the Board of Directors was Serenella Leoni. We had an annual fundraising event called, "Festa Italiana" which I immediately fell in love with because it was about all things Italian. As marketing and communication director, I was heavily involved in the fundraising efforts and became friends with Serenella.
Serenella happens to be a native Italian. She was born and raised in Viareggio which is a coastal town about 20 miles from where I will be living.

Serenella had been working for a large corporation and decided to follow her dream of beginning her own tour business, Toscana Mia, and taking groups to visit her homeland.
On her tours, she exposes the participants to visits, events and surprises they would rarely be able to experience as a typical tourist as many of her relatives and friends live there who have connections to some amazing things and places. Because her dream was so fulfilling, she began coaching other people to follow their dreams: personal, business, financial, or otherwise.

In late 2003, she gave a sample workshop on how the dream coaching worked and I attended. I had moved on in my career to work in a large corporation in downtown San Francisco and hated what I was doing but needed extra money to live comfortably in the Bay Area. After attending the workshop, I decided I wanted to work with Serenella as my dream coach and find out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I called in early 2004 to let her know I wanted to begin the sessions and she said she was going on a week-long holiday to Hawaii and would begin working with me when she returned. During her trip, I was laid off my corporate job and thought, "I can't really afford to do this now." Then, I decided I couldn't afford not to do it so I began my work with her.

During this process, I found out that my passion was (and still is) interior design. My first dream was to become an interior designer, which I have accomplished. I began my own interior design business and have worked as a design consultant for some very large businesses. My ultimate dream, however, was to live and work in Italy as a interior designer.

I love Italy and mentioned that to Serenella on several occasions and told her about my ultimate dream. She has been very instrumental in making that happen.

In 2005, I decided to go on one of her tours. Coincidentally, or not, our villa where we stayed during the trip was just outside of Lucca. Actually, I've been told there are no such things as coincidences, so this path has been opening up for me for several years now...

As part of my design experience, I also do home staging. This is a new concept to Italy and Serenella arranged with some very important business people for me and one of my friends who is a color specialist to give a presentation on home staging at the villa. One man in particular was the organizer of the event and arranged everything (including the translation of the presentation). About 25 Italian businessmen/women, architects, designers, real estate agents, artists, etc., attended and Serenella translated as I spoke in English. The presentation was well received and my hope was that they would hire me to come and stage villas. Because of the costs involved with paying for travel and lodging, however, everything was placed on hold and has been at a standstill for the past few years.

Then, last year in 2007, we decided to go back to Italy for a vacation of sorts rather than a tour, although Serenella spent many hard hours putting it all together for us. There were seven women who went and about two months into the planning stages, I heard from a young woman from Lucca whose family was in their fifth generation of designing beautiful fabrics. She had heard about me from the original businessman who had arranged the presentation in 2005, and asked if I (and my friend the color specialist) would be interested in collaborating with her on a business venture whereby I would be selling her fabrics in the States. I was thrilled at the prospect!

I arranged to meet with her on our trip in late September. Her fabrics are amazing and she shipped me all the samples I asked for, however, because of the exchange rate, they're out of the price range for most Americans (about $400/yard).

Before I left for Italy all three times, I took Italian lessons. Just prior to my trip in 2007, I met a fabulous Italian woman, Ada, on Craigslist who happens to be an Italian native as well and taught in the Bay Area at Stanford before moving with her family to southern California. In August, I began taking personal lessons from her again to get geared up for my life in Italy.

Ada translated my resume into Italian and I sent it to several business people in Lucca and also sent e-mails to other contacts I received from Serenella. They were all thrilled that I am coming and are looking for apartments for me as well as wanting me to do business with them.

The businessman has lots of villas throughout Italy and Europe and asked if I would be interested in helping him remodel them. He's going to build villas on eight acres of one of his properties, and asked if I would be interested in helping him with those, too. He's closing escrow on a large villa at the end of September and asked if I could be there by then to help him remodel it.

Again, coincidence or not, Serenella was asked by a famous women's clothing retailer to model for them in Lucca a few weeks ago and she flew back for the photo shoot. They wanted to sponsor women who have their own businesses in other countries in their fall catalog and ran across her website. While she was there, she went to the businessman's office and they telephoned me to talk more about my jobs while I'm there. My Italian contacts know very little English and I can get by with my Italian, so it should be an interesting experience for me.

The young fabric designer is extremely excited that I will be a designer in her town and using her fabrics and supplies. She already has a well-established business that is quite successful and writes me often to ask when I will be there because she's so thrilled to get started with me.

I knew quite a few Italians from my visit back in 2005 and Serenella sent me contact information for many more when I told her the news about my moving there. She was very excited and knows lots of ex-pats in Italy who she referred me to for asking questions about the whole moving experience.

I have been in contact with many new friends who have been searching for apartments for me. I have been offered a stay at the businessman's villa until I can find an apartment of my own and have gladly taken him up on the offer.

As you can see, the planets seem to be aligned on this one. I've been using a postcard of Lucca as a bookmark for years and also have it as my wallpaper on my computer. I've been thinking about this for a long time and figured with the economy and not having a job I can rely on, that it's the perfect time to make the move. Also, why wait until I'm older when I won't be able to enjoy it as much??? And, the best thing about it is that I'm following my dreams!

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