Kelly: Adventures in Painting
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Rome, etc.
I'm originally from Washington, D.C. I studied visual arts at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, which is where I think I picked up the travel bug. I was living in Tennessee when I moved to Florence, Italy in 2005 to study drawing for one year on a scholarship at The Florence Academy of Art. I moved to Rome in the fall of 2010 when my partner was transferred there for work, which I was grateful for.
I love to travel, I love food, reading, art, exploring and I'm insatiably curious about people. For me life is an adventure where there is always something new to learn. Italy is a great place to do all of these things and write about them.
I am an artist and full time painter, I also lead sketching tours in Rome. My work is about sharing a place through its stories and I love giving that to others through teaching sketchbook journaling.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started my blog Adventures in Painting in 2009 in conjunction with a 100 day painting project as a way for me to share not only my work, but also my learning experiences in the process. Making public what is usually a solitary and private experience I found caused me to learn and improve my craft through sharing myself and engaging in a dialogue with others.
When I moved to Rome I was able to use my blog together with my work to begin to explore and get to know the city and its people one painting and story at a time.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Wow, that's actually a difficult question. Rarely do I go back and read a blog entry; it’s almost as if my blog were a public journal.
I'll just choose a recent post as something fresh in my mind. A recent post about painting in the neighborhood Garbatella comes to mind, and as the title of the post states, it's really a special place in the city. I would consider it a gem hidden within the city.
My blog post was about a day spent painting there. I happened to choose a little courtyard at the end of a road to paint and as it turns out it was a sort of village in and of itself. The people living here were friendly, but cautious as I was an outsider coming in to paint their neighborhood.
After having spent the entire day there, in the evening while I was packing up people started to come and gather around to see what I had done that day and to reflect on it and tell me about the neighborhood, its history and their experience of living there.
They expressed feeling isolated from the rest of the city and being a small village of their own. They told me about the history of the neighborhood, which was built as public housing in the 1920’s. They also spoke a thick Roman dialect that was nearly impossible for me to understand, which is rare to find in many parts of Rome which can be very cosmopolitan.
This was one of my favorite recent experiences to write about and paint as I was able to get a glimpse into a small world inside the larger city and to render it on a human scale. This doesn’t happen every day in a big city.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Rome differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
There are some things that were challenging for me culturally to get used to with living in Italy in general. Some examples are Italian’s sense of personal space in public places, they stand close and touch and gesture constantly, they are animated and lively, freely expressing their opinions. Anyone will tell you what they think, which is not the case where I come from. I personally find this amusing and refreshing, I enjoy the opportunity for dialogue. One thing that was hard for me to get used to is that people stare openly, which is odd coming from an Anglo background and can make me feel self-conscious sometimes, but it’s nothing personal, they do it to each other, to everyone, they’re just curious. There is generally a lack of the concept to form a line and wait your turn, which can be trying. You have to learn to either speak up or to push your way ahead like the rest. Another thing I’ve learned the hard way is that for every rule there is an exception because of your personal circumstance. If you need/want something an immediate no means nothing, you just have to master the art of negotiation! The Italian sense of time is generally different, slower I mean. Plans are never set in stone and simple bureaucratic things can take loads of time to complete. There is some racism in Italy, which I was surprised about, but I think that is changing as more people move to Italy from every corner of the world and young people come into politics. The last thing that I can never get used to is every time you meet someone the first question is always where are you from and why you are in Italy. After living here for years, you may begin to feel like a broken record endlessly recounting your story!
Rome can be shocking in a few ways. Being in the midst of ancient Roman remnants with modern chaotic life piled right on top is aesthetically foreign and overwhelming to our senses. One feels small next to the Colosseum and insignificant in its shadow. You get a new perspective on history, I think it’s wonderful! But the city is generally chaotic and full of cars and traffic.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Rome? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
Ha ha, I don't think that we can be prepared for the unknown. Italy is a great place to be without being prepared. I think the most important thing is to learn Italian and as much as you can about history and culture. These things will help you better navigate everything confusing that you will inevitably encounter. Physically there isn’t much to prepare except dealing with documents and living permits, etc. which will most likely have prepared you a bit mentally once you arrive in Italy. If you feel confused, don’t worry, that’s normal!
I brought a lot of stuff (but did not hire movers) and I didn’t need to. I think it’s easier to leave things behind and acquire them newly once you’ve settled in.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
I love this question!
One of my favorite stories happened one day while painting on a bridge overlooking the Arno in Florence. At a certain point above the roar of traffic I heard singing. At first I didn't think anything of it, but then I kept hearing it. When I turned to investigate I saw that I was being serenaded by an old man singing me a song about his love for Florence.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Rome?
- Learn to speak Italian proficiently and learn as much as you can about Italian politics and history, you can't imagine how much this will help in having a better understanding of where Italians are coming from, plus it's mostly what they talk about.
- Don't just stay in the city center, live in lots of different parts of town and explore endlessly. Just when you think you know Rome, there's more that you've never seen. With this comes making real bonds and friendships with Italians. Don't just stay within the expat community, make an effort to form real friendships with Italians. When it comes time to do things like buy a house, get various documents and do business these friendships will pay off and help you navigate life here, not to mention integrate more fully into Italian life and give you more a sense of belonging in your new home.
- Be open, be flexible and try to always maintain your sense if humor. Italians are lovely, kind and genuinely good natured but their bureaucracies are not. Don't care too much and go with the flow when plans are always changing. It's easier to accept it as it's now a part of your life.
How is the expat community in Rome? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
The expat community in Rome is wonderful, open and easy to connect with. Finding these people and making them a part of life in Rome is easy and I would say essential. You need people to help you through the unknown bureaucracies you will encounter so as not to reinvent the wheel. These people are your rock that you can share stories and a laugh with, that you can relate to culturally. The community in Rome also helps with connections, especially if you're self-employed. It's a fun, generous and open community.
How would you summarize your expat life in Rome in a single, catchy sentence?
Along for the ride and enjoying every minute.