After concluding our meetings and seminars at TBDI in Rimini, our group of international bloggers was quickly whisked off in a private bus for our post-conference tour in the Verona/Garda area of northern Italy. The weather was turning nasty, but it was comfortable inside our coach, snacks were provided, and someone else was driving. So I sat back and relaxed for a couple of hours as we made our way towards our first stop just outside of Mantua.
Thankfully, the rain ceased and the sun fought to peak through the clouds just as we pulled up to Palazzo Te. From the vantage point of the wet parking lot, it wasn’t overly impressive—but then again, your criterion for what’s impressive gets grotesquely distorted the more you travel in Italy. Lethargic and a bit weary from my travels, I didn’t really anticipate the remarkable works of art that we were about to encounter once inside. We were in for quite a surprise, and we had the perfect guide to lead us through this unexpected discovery.
We all knew Lorenzo quite well already, as he had been one of the group leaders during our stay in Rimini for the big TTG Incontri trade show. He was the facilitator between us—the writers/bloggers—and the high-profile travel industry brands that were attending the conference. But at Palazzo Te he was really in his element, as he introduced us to some of his “friends,” Federico Gonzaga II, a.k.a. the Duke of Mantua; and the Renaissance master Giulio Romano who designed and decorated the sprawling palazzo on the swampy grounds of a former horse stable.
We could translate the terms benessere (well-being) or buonvivere (good living) literally, but that wouldn’t quite relate their full meanings. Here in the Romagna region, it encompasses all the elements of a healthy lifestyle. Not just a healthy body, but a healthy mind, a healthy community, and a healthy environment.
I stayed at the Grand Hotel Terme Riolo during my visit to the area for La Settimana del Buonvivere. Right away I began to gain a sense of this holistic approach to the proverbial good life, as it’s defined in Italy. The lush grounds evoke the heath resorts of past eras, where ladies in modest bathing suits soak in thermal baths, and men drink herbal tonics while reading the paper and discussing politics with their fellow spa-goers. Folks engage in calisthenics, eat simple food, and of course submit to various time-tested natural spa treatments.
This particular resort was built in 1870, but the therapeutic use of the local natural springs dates back to—who else—the Romans (the hotel even displays some actual ruins on-site). The curative waters arise from the Romagna Chalk Vein Regional Park, from the water table at 60 to 80 meters below ground, charged with mineral salts present in the earth’s crust for more than 500 million years. That sort of time scale makes even the Romans seem like yesterday’s news.
The line was about six deep at the hotel reception desk, and moving slowly. Tired and restless about a week into my travels, I decided to wander the luxurious, modern lobby and have a quick look. From around the corner, I heard some music and laughter, so I followed the sounds to investigate further. I found a hostess standing in front of the entrance to a big, vaulted space; behind her, a Plexiglas dome with several large spheres swinging from the arches, all lit up with black light and pulsing laser beams from every direction. Electronic music blasted from the speakers.
The hostess asked me, “Klingon, Romulan, or Federation?”
“È Klingon, Romulan, or Federation, Lei?”
I pulled my passport from my jacket pocket, “American.”
She rolled her eyes and pointed me back to the reception desk in the lobby.
After a sputtering restart following the summer holidays (we’re in Italy, after all, it takes a few weeks to crank it back up), our nutty group of expats has returned with a vengeance to tell you all about working in Italy without getting caught—I mean, how to find a proper job with a legal contract. Never mind that 1/3 of the economy is in nero (under the table), we’re here to help you do it right. Sort of. I mean, if you’re not ready to master l’arte d’ arrangiarsi (the art of “getting by”) then maybe you should just stay in Kansas.
But very few things are black and white over here, so you’d better decide how much “gray” you’re comfortable with before you sell all your furniture. For those fearless souls like us that have more enthusiasm than common sense, let us explain a thing or two about working in Italy as a foreigner. It should be mentioned that this particular type of experience is actually much more rewarding than that of the lucky few who can afford to finance their dreams without working. By immersing yourself fully into the culture by way of a job, you become an active participant in your journey rather than just an observer. From the start, you should view this as an advantage, and not just as a necessity—even if it is. (OK, yes, I’d rather be toasting George Clooney’s nuptials with him at his Lake Como villa, but short of that, working for a living isn’t so bad.) [Read More...]