Moon Living Abroad in Italy
True Expatriate Stories
© John Moretti, from Living Abroad in Italy, 2nd Edition.
Used by permission of Avalon Travel. All rights reserved.
In March 1999, I found myself approaching my second year as a reporter at a small newspaper in Vermont. The daily grind included knocking on trailer-park doors to ask questions about distempered dogs, taking photos of car accidents, and tapping out stories about the new Zamboni ice-smoother at the local skating rink. On Mondays and Wednesdays, we pasted it all up with a metal ruler and a glue machine. The Addison County Independent was the friendly sort of place you read about in novels about Vermont, and it offered a great introduction to newspapering. But in the spring of 1999, I was 26 and living by myself on an apple orchard. I had the impression I was missing out on excitement elsewhere in the world, and as it turned out, I was.
The whole thing was my sister’s idea. She announced that she was going to Rome to find an Italian guy she met while traveling through Tunisia. She planned to stay in Italy for a few months and needed a roommate. About two weeks after I quit my job in Vermont, we were in a hotel room near Piazza Barberini. We had been to Rome several times before, and so the sensations floating through the window were familiar: Mediterranean air, the smell of pizza and cigarette smoke, the buzzing and clicking of mopeds, and the squeal of tires on cobblestones. Pigeons flapped around the marble fountains. My search for an apartment in this mesmerizing city began when my sister slammed down the hotel phone and mumbled something about Italian men. She was going home.
The Eternal City was the same exuberant place I remembered from childhood, but a lot of things in Italy were changing quickly. These were interesting times. In the prime minister’s chair, occupied for decades by conservative Christian Democrats, sat Massimo D’Alema, a former communist. Seven-times prime minister Giulio Andreotti faced charges of collusion with the Mafia, while the rest of the Old Guard—Bettino Craxi, Enrico Cuccia, and Gianni Agnelli—all passed away.
Italy was struggling with mass immigration. Technology had changed the face of the economy: For a fleeting moment, a Sardinian Internet startup was larger by market value than Fiat, the carmaking Goliath. The number of cell phones surpassed the number of land lines.
Throughout all this change, however, daily life in Italy has remained unchanged at its core. Everyone may be talking on cell phones, as the cliché goes, but they’re only telling Mom to put on the pasta because they’re on their way home.
In 1999, at age 26, John Moretti left his job as a small-town reporter in Vermont in search of fame and fortune in Italy. Fame has thus far eluded him, and fortune may never arrive on his doorstep, but he did manage to find a job. For four years in Milan, he worked as an editor at a national newspaper in English, a joint venture between Corriere della Sera and the International Herald Tribune.
His early experiences in Italy all fade into one another: being cradled as a baby by Zio Giovanni, a monsignor in Naples, who was dressed from head to toe in black except for a red pom-pom atop his hat; chasing pigeons around St. Mark’s in Venice as a toddler in awkward white leather shoes; experimenting as a teenager with copious amounts of wine and mozzarella; and backpacking through Europe as a young adult. In Milan, John grew into the role of a self-described expert on a society that continues to baffle him (and everyone else who writes authoritatively on the subject).
As a freelancer in Southern Europe, John covered everything from Lance Armstrong’s fifth consecutive Tour de France victory for the New York Sun to the plight of African prostitutes in Turin for the London-based Independent. His brief television career included an interview with Giorgio Armani for A&E’s Biography and a documentary on Italian soccer for Australian television.
Before turning to journalism, John did stints as a cattle rancher in Australia and an importer of Russian-made sporting goods in Cleveland. Business and pleasure have taken him to more than 40 countries around the world. He grew up in Norwell, Massachusetts, and is a graduate of Middlebury College.