Barry Frangipane did what a lot of us dream of doing but never have the courage to actually do. He and his wife, Debbie, pulled up stakes, moved to a foreign country and lived there for a year.Then he wrote a book about it.
Called “The Venice Experiment: A Year of Trial and Error Living Abroad,” the book recounts the joys, frustrations and idiosyncrasies of Venetian culture, and the newfound relationships that the couple developed while residing in the City of Canals.
“Venice is my wife’s favorite city in the world because of the tranquility,” explained the computer consultant during a phone interview. “There are no cars. But for me, the decision was far more pragmatic. No car means no insurance and no gas. And you really get to meet the locals because you walk every place you go. Everyone knows everyone.”
It was in 2005 that the Frangipanes decided to leave their Florida home and return to the Venice with which they had fallen in love on an earlier trip. There were plenty of obstacles to conquer as a resident rather than a tourist. Rents are expensive and the couple had to move from their first apartment because of the Acqua Alta (high tides). Then there are the friendly repairmen who don’t finish jobs, and blackouts that are a fact of life. The also had to learn to ignore otherwise “good laws” because, as Venetians told them, “they just aren’t very practical.”
But there is plenty to love about Venice, too. For one, the slower pace of life is delightful.
“Someone told me early on that you have to adjust to the rhythm of the place you’re living in,” Frangipane said, and in Venice, that means not expecting efficiency. “The importance is not getting the job done but in relationships.”
It’s not unusual for a shopkeeper to close the business if someone needs assistance.
“In general, Venetians are not interested in making a lot of money,” Frangipane added. “The typical Venetian has a simple kitchen table that’s been there for 60 years. The TV set is an old 15-inch model. They are more interested in doing than in having.”
And Venice residents do like to walk, which makes them healthier than Americans.
“On an easy day, you walk 3 miles,” Frangipane said. “On a typical day, you walk 5 or 10 miles. Eighty-five-year olds can walk a couple of miles a day because they’ve always done it.”
The couple’s diet changed, too. Eating processed or pre-prepared foods became a thing of the past.
“You don’t decide what you’re going to cook,” he said. “You go to market and see what looks good, then you go home and cook up something delicious.”
Sadly, the future of the Venice is not bright. Young people move away because there are no jobs, and shop owners must live on the mainland because of the high cost of real estate. Most visitors are from cruise ships and stay only the day, “so (the city) doesn’t even get a bed tax,” Frangipane explained.
And then there’s that pesky rising water — or sinking city. Venice descends about an inch every 10 years.
Still, spending a year in Venice was an experience Frangipane would never trade because “it expanded our view of the world in a way we couldn’t imagine in advance. Experiencing other cultures increases your ability to enjoy your own — the similarities and the differences — and you tend to look at everything in a different light.”
His advice to others who are considering such an adventure?
“If you are unsure,” Frangipane said, “go and rent an apartment for three to four weeks and see if you like it. You’ll know whether you can adjust. Then set a date. Once you do this, the obstacles disappear.”
E’Louise Ondash is a veteran, award-winning journalist who was an investigative reporter, feature writer and columnist for the Times Advocate and the North County Times. She has written travel features for The Coast News since 2003.