Living in Italy
By Lulu Dolcezza / November, December, 2011
When he met his wife Debbie, Barry Frangipane told her, "I'm going to take you places you've never been. Every place and no place will be home."
He kept his promise. Some of the best travel adventures of their lives are documented in the new book, his first, "The Venice Experiment: A Year of Trial and Error Living Abroad."
In a recent telephone interview with the intrepid author, Frangipane, who lives in a small Florida town in Hillsborough County, told me about his Italian adventures, fulfilling a dream that others only imagine. How did he structure his days? "I would go down two flights of stairs and meet my dear old friend Gastone, who is 80," he said. "We would have a cup of coffee at the market and buy fruits and vegetables. Or we'd visit the butcher. Or we would go to his doctor for a prescription that was left in a box on the desk."
This leisurely morning routine was followed by a meeting with "the boys at the bridge" -- all octogenarians. A visit to a coffee shop for espressos, then making the rounds with them on their errands came next, punctuated by the operatic singing of Amadeo, one of the boys. By noon, Frangipane was back at his own apartment for a "marvelous lunch" prepared by his wife and a one-hour nap before setting to work.
To continue his usual means of middle-class employment, as a software engineer, was always the idea because he wanted to do things differently from other Americans who headed overseas to live with enormous financial resources. Though he was thousands of miles from home, Frangipane maintained his career by telephone and the Internet, checking in with hundreds of clients, most of who had no idea he was in Italy. Of course, he wouldn't have been able to do this twenty-five years ago.
Romantic nights included walks around Venice. "All the tourists were gone and the gondolas were docked," Frangipane said. "In the silence, I would get my ice cream cone and walk along the canals under the moonlight."
Not everything was perfect. Ovens, surprisingly, were a rarity in people's homes. "On the bad side, it was difficult to get basic things done," said the author. "An electrician would come to the house and half-do a job, then never return. It took me a month to get Internet service. Every day I was told that it would be activated tomorrow. During that time, I had to go to an Internet café. There are a lot of laws that no one pays attention to, like the one about dogs being on leashes. People hold the leashes in their hands as their dogs run free. The mayor of Verona said that the speed limit was merely 'a suggestion.' "
Then there was the fact that they were in Venice, with water everywhere. The first apartment rented by the Frangipanes was on the first floor and prone to flooding. "We had to wipe the walls every week, so no mold grew," said the author. "There were no clothes dryers. We had a clothesline, but being so close to the water, it was hard to dry things. My wife's shoes were ruined."
A move to a sixth-floor apartment in another part of Venice solved their problems. Did he miss the U.S. during his stint in Italy? "Sure," he said. "I missed my friends and family. I missed the water pressure and hot water in the shower. Every country has its pros and cons. One thing over there that is so different -- Venice is a family of 60,00 residents and everybody seems to know everybody. Generally, other people know your business before you do."
They ate well, following the food of the seasons, using white truffles, calamari, shrimp, and radicchio in their homemade dishes. One of Frangipane's favorites was vitello tonnato, veal in a tuna sauce. "The flavors are just incredible," he said.
All in all, there was far better to the experience than frustration and challenges. "On the good side, the Italians have an openness to outsiders," says Frangipane. "The quality of produce and meats for cooking marked a difference for us."
Is he changed as a result of the Venice experiment? "We go slower," he said. "We're more focused on people and relationships."
Now he has another business, Savory Adventures, offering luxury vacations to Italy. It's a chance for savvy travelers to have their version of the Frangipane experience.
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