Buon anno! Happy New Year!

Five weeks into my Italian experience and seven weeks to go before I depart Sicily, I started yesterday looking at my next destination. I’ve decided on Greece instead of Turkey and hope the 90-day Schengen zone limitation doesn’t sidetrack me somewhere in transit. So, yesterday, I sent out inquiries to maybe 20 rental landlords in Athens. I haven’t been able to find any apartment listings for Nafplio, my original choice in Greece, but I did notice on the site I’m using that there are a number of apartments available in my price range in Athens. This was a surprise, as most of the listing are for twice or triple what I can afford. As a result, I figured Athens was just too expensive for anything more than a 3-day stay to see the sights (ala Rome). So I e-mailed all of them. Several have already responded negatively. Nafplio is still a possibility but Athens would be more interesting to live in for three months. Stay tuned.

Also, I’ve already researched airfare and I can get a roundtrip from Rome to Athens for about $150. One-way would be at least twice that. Can someone explain why that is? I already have a return flight booked and paid for from Catania to Rome on Feb. 20.

No horse heads, please

I’ve been told that the mafia is still a force in Sicily and runs a lot of the businesses here. I suspect that would include liquor stores. The one I’ve started walking to, about a mile away, has employees who look the part. And you have to be careful about being overcharged. When I was in the store this week, the old man working the register tried to charge me 12 euro more than what I bought. I try to calculate the totals of what I buy in my head before paying so that I can have correct amounts ready and to make sure I’m not being charged too much. This time I was and pointed it out. The total was recalculated, although I don’t think the man was too pleased.

Flirting, or friendly?

I may have received my first flirt from a Sicilian this morning. I go to the same market for groceries across the street at least every other day and, of course, deal with the same cash register employees. They’ve become kind of used to the tall American who can’t speak Italian and barely knows how much money to give them. But they’re always nice.

There is one woman, I think she is a manager, who has smiled at me a lot. She’s about 40, I guess, and attractive – except for the redish-purple hair. I guess she felt the need to radicalize her look. She’s also wearing a ring on her wedding band finger. This morning, she decided to extend her hand to shake mine and said something. I suspect she was wishing me a happy new year and I replied in kind. She was probably just being friendly with someone she felt sorry for being so far from home during the holidays. Nonetheless, I’m trying to learn some new words, such as husband? (il marito?), dinner? (la cena?) and tonight? (stasera?) or tomorrow? (domani?). She doesn’t speak any English.

Book sales

The going is slow but I’m into the third chapter of my next book. I feel like such a rookie every time I work on it. I’m pretty sure that “Brothers Lost” was not really that good and I hope I get better at this as I practice, practice, practice. Sales of my five published e-books have been slow, but consistent. In fact, I’ve sold enough copies lately that I should be receiving small commission checks soon. I mean really small, like $10 or so each. Those would be on top of the whopping $11 commission I’ve already received from Kindle. Not going to get rich on those first five books, that’s for sure.

I did an accounting yesterday of total sales: Love Letters from Mama -20; Brothers Lost – 2; Mother & Son (poetry) – 2; Costa Rica: An Expat’s Tale – 27; and Visions of Vodice – 0. So, 51 total sales. One of the e-book sites tells me how many samples of each book have been downloaded and shows more than 200 in that category. The other two sites don’t provide that statistic. I am, however, selling about one Costa Rica book daily. I suspect these things build momentum over time if the books are any good, and that appears to be what I’m seeing with the Costa Rica book. But I’m just writing to write anyway, not to get rich.

New Year’s

No big plans here for the evening as I write this on the afternoon of Dec. 31. I do plan to walk to a trattoria I found the other day for dinner. Its tables are covered with red and white checkerboard tablecloths, so Italian. Not sure what they offer but will have my camera with me and will report tomorrow. After dinner, I plan to walk my camera around town to see if there is anything worth photographing on New Year’s Eve.


The bad weather this week delayed my plan to take a bus or train trip to a nearby town. I’m hoping the coming week will be better. Thinking about Taormina, a small town to the north that sits above the sea by several hundred yards and is supposed to be quite beautiful. Just a day trip with a lunch included.

Pool at Metropolis

Finally got into a good pool match with a young local Thursday night. We played the local version of 8-ball and he whipped my butt, although I was shooting the 8-ball in every game. The young guys here don’t often speak English. He was with a group of four or five, including a very pretty young lady who did speak some English. Rachel helped with a bit of translation before she had to leave. The guy I played is a regular so I’m sure I’ll get a rematch. The pool’s not cheap ($8/hour) but it’s the one entertainment I have that gets me out of the apartment. It’s too cold to fish (not that I was catching anything anyway) and I don’t like to go to restaurants by myself. So it’s good there’s a pool hall across the street.

In remembrance

Yesterday, Dec. 30, was the official two-year anniversary of my father’s death. He had been kept alive on the machines for the previous 74 days. That whole scene I left in Atlanta on Oct. 20, 2009, still infuriates me. My reactions then and later to the injustices then and during my life have led to a splintering of my family, which deeply saddens me. I would not, however, change what I did, or have done since. Those who have always been the closest to me will be once again. Patience, patience.

I have also been giving a lot of thought to my sister, Robin, and brother, Jon. I do not know where either now lives, or even if they are still alive. Jon, of course, was the brother who was auctioned off when he was young and ended up a lifetime criminal as a result. Robin is my half-sister, one of two daughters born to my mother with her last husband. (I’m not really sure how many husbands she had.) The other sister, Jennifer, died of cancer in her early 30s. Robin disappeared shortly after her father and sister died, and I have not been able to locate her since. If my life is any guide, they will both show up at my doorstep in the not-too-distant future.

Buon anno tutti! (Happy New Year’s, everyone!)

Advice on Greece – an anecdote

Thanks to those of you who have expressed concern about my pending visit to Greece. FYI, I try to keep tabs on events where I am living or intend to live, so I’ve been keeping track of the financial turmoil in Greece. My main concern, however, is how it affects on-the-ground prices, not any hostility/rioting concerns. I’m reminded of an event from my past, when I was editor of American City & County magazine at Communications Channels in Atlanta.

I believe it was in 1986. One of my staff, Tim, was in San Francisco for a trade show when the area was hit by a devastating earthquake. It was so bad, they had to cancel/postpone (?) the World Series. Bridges were knocked down, overpasses collapsed on one another, water and sewer systems were damaged. It was a catastrophe.

I talked with Tim the day after the quake and his initial response was to get the heck out of there, to find the first plane back to Atlanta. Tim is a good journalist but the event had clearly shaken him. From my perch in safety I had a different perspective. “Tim,” I said, “you’re sitting on perhaps the biggest story of your young career, and it’s made to order for our magazine.”

American City & County’s chief area of coverage was about infrastructure – roads, bridges, water supply, sewage handling, disaster preparedness. San Francisco was, after the quake, a huge case study on all those topics. So, I asked Tim to stay and to canvas the local public works departments to write about their responses to the infrastructure collapse. He understood the moment he was in and ultimately turned in some fine coverage, which was our cover story for the next issue.

I bring that up only to illustrate that a journalist doesn’t run away from trouble. He/she runs toward the story, pen and/or recorder in hand, ready to document the moment. In other words, the trouble in Greece should only cause me to WANT to go there, to document some of what is happening, to take notes and photos to share with others. Otherwise, what have I been doing for the past 44 years? As long as the situation does not seriously increase the costs of going to Greece.

I have found an Internet expat forum for Nafplio, Greece, (http://www.placesonline.com/europe/greece/nafplio/map.asp) where I plan to go and have posted about information and asking to meet anybody there that speaks English. We’ll see how that goes.

My landlord

Came back from another fruitless fishing trip last night to find the landlord, Zdarko, shooting hoops in the side yard, which is a long, concrete-walled area primarily set up as a bocci ball court. So I put on my tennies and went out to see if he wanted a game. Turns out my shoulder won’t let me shoot baskets anymore but I did try my hand at bocci. Zdarko was anxious to teach me how and then “schooled” me to the tune of 11-1.

He was anxious, also, to talk. He works four days a week as an IT consultant and I think right now his client is a bank, just like one of my Atlanta friends. On Fridays, he says, he’s working on his Ph.D. He asked if I liked wine and then said he would get me some of theirs they made from last year’s grapes and some from this year’s crop. He also has 150 olive trees just outside of town and makes olive oil from them. He’s going to get me some of that, too. Wine and oil reviews later.

Zdarko also told me about the islands across the strait, how I can take a ferry for $2 to get to the first one, where there’s two small villages of stone houses centuries old. The ferry also goes to two other islands. He said the fishing might be better out there and that, at any rate, the fishing probably is bad because it’s still too warm. The ferry/island trip sounds like a good day trip very soon.


I’m still trying to line up an apartment in Dubrovnik for my final month in Croatia. Found one a bit too far from the water and without Internet. Still waiting on several that have not responded. The old town section there is really unique (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AU7zn1A1iJs&feature=list_related&playnext=1&list=SP0EB470C05638A8B9).

Fresh produce

I do my shopping at a Konzum store that I pass by every day on my morning walk. Actually, I usually stop there most mornings to get a few things. They have a fresh produce section and a unique way (in Croatia) of bagging and weighing your fruit and vegetables. Actually, the bagging is pretty straightforward. Each vegetable/fruit, however, has its own ID number, listed right next to the price (usually per kilogram). You weigh your own purchases by placing the item on the scale and then pressing the corresponding number for the item. So if red peppers are #64, you press that number on the scale, and a sticker with the price on it pops out to be placed on the purchase. Pretty efficient self-service.

Short-term visits in Europe

As I’ve researched where my next home will be, a primary issue is how long, and how easily, I can stay in any given country. My initial plan was to live in a country for a year and then try someplace new. With my research on possible European countries for relocation, however, I’ve come upon a common fact – you can only stay up to 90 days in any European country on your U.S. passport. There is no running to the border to get your passport stamped so you can stay another 90 days, like you can do in Costa Rica.

Virtually all the countries I’ve looked at in Europe that have a relatively low cost of living do allow you to “apply” for an extension up to a year. The process, however, usually is difficult, with multiple documents needed, all translated into the language of the country you are applying to. Often, these extensions are specific to having work or family in the country, or are affected by immigration limits. Usually, the paperwork needs to be started in the U.S. before you move to the country in question, so you incur the paperwork and translation expenses without knowing if you will be approved for an extension.

There had to be a better way.

My solution is to use the 90-day restriction to my advantage. Instead of living, for example, in Croatia for a year, which was my preferred choice, I will live there for 3 months. Then I will spend 3 months in Greece; then 3 months in Sicily; then, if I’m not exhausted, 3 months in Portugal or Spain.

One disadvantage of this plan is travel expense. For each move, I will need to arrange round-trip flights; however, I can redeem the return flights once I reach my new destination. (NOTE: Later experience showed I could not get refunds on the return portion of my airplane tickets.) Another problem is that several of those countries are not much cheaper to live in than the U.S.

On the positive side: I was budgeting to purchase a few expensive items with each move, such as a TV and furniture. Since I will not be staying in any place long enough, these purchases can go toward air fares. Also, while my expenses may be higher than anticipated, they will still be within my budget parameters. And if I had stayed in Croatia for a year, I would have wanted to travel to other European countries anyway, so the air fare costs might have evened out.

Finally, as my experience in Costa Rica has shown me, I can’t stay in one place too long before getting bored. Three months just might be the right amount of time to have the experience without getting bored. And if I really like one of the countries I live in, I can always go back, after, of course, first going back to the U.S. to start the extensive paperwork.

So, here’s my new plan: mid-September – travel to Croatia, probably Sibenik (look it up); mid-December, probably Nafplio, Greece; mid-February, Sicily, near Catania; mid-May, probably Sines, Portugal.

Each of these locations is a relatively small town/city. Sibenik is the largest, with 50,000 population. All are on the water. All are scenic, with lots of new culture and stuff to see, and nearby countries that can be visited.

And, if for some reason travelling every three months is a problem, I can always adjust.