Season 1, Episode 8: Liz’s Nonni
Guest: Liz Sumner
Liz is the creator of I Always Wanted To, a podcast where she interviews people doing things others long to do. You can follow Liz on Twitter at @LizSumner or @alwayswantedpod.
This episode written, sound designed, produced, and hosted by Lori Mortimer.
Follow the show @MementosPodcast on Twitter and Instagram.
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Follow Lori at @mortaymortay on Twitter and Instagram.
“Palermo” by Trabant 33, licensed from Epidemic Sound
“Lovers At Dusk” licensed from Soundstripe
“Riviera Walk” licensed from Fesliyan Studios ASCAP IPI 792929876, 792929974
“Cold Days Ahead” by Rune Dale, licensed from Epidemic Sound
“A Way to Tell” by Rune Dale, licensed from Epidemic Sound
“Sage the Hunter” by Blue Dot Sessions
“La Bottega Dei Sapori” by Medite, licensed from Epidemic Sound
Mementos audio logo by Martin Austwick
Sound FX credits:
Ziegen Bidone field recording
Mementos Season 1, Episode 8: Liz’s Nonni
[00:00:00] Lori: Mementos. Sometimes what you really keep is on the inside.
[00:00:13] Liz: All the time or thinking about living in Italy, I pictured this gorgeous little Medieval town Cortona. And I imagined, okay, so we’ll buy an old run-down villa and we’ll rebuild it. And I got this belief in my head that because we didn’t have Italian heritage that we would never belong, that it was pointless to try to think about moving to Italy, because since we didn’t have family, we would never really be a part of the community.
[00:00:55] That was really behind it was that nobody would help us because we, we weren’t connected.
[00:01:10] Lori: Welcome to Mementos. I’m Lori Mortimer, the host and producer of the show. On today’s episode, my guest Liz is gonna tell us about how she and her husband moved to Italy and the memento that they found there that helped her overcome her worries about feeling like they would never belong.
[00:01:33] Liz: My name is Liz Sumner, and I currently have a very boutique coaching practice. Uh, it’s gotten small because I really like podcasting. And so now I consider myself a full-time podcaster. My podcast is called I Always Wanted To, and I interview people who are doing things that others long to do.
[00:01:59] I didn’t always want to live in, in Europe, but Michael, on the other hand, my husband, had lived in the south of France when he was in his twenties and he had done a lot of traveling. So it was more his original desire that we would move to Europe at some point.
[00:02:20] Lori: In the early 2000s, Michael suggested Italy as a potential new home for them.
[00:02:25] So the first step was for them to take a two-week vacation in 2002. On that trip, they did all the usual touristy stuff in the Italian capital cities.
[00:02:36] Liz: At that point, we just could speak only, “Do you have a room?” and “I’m sorry, I don’t eat tomatoes,” and things like that. We didn’t ever connect with anybody on that trip.
[00:02:49] Lori: Liz was intrigued by the idea of moving to Italy. But at that point, she developed those major concerns about not ever feeling like they’d belong. But they kept researching on what it would take and what it would cost for such a move.
[00:03:04] In 2005, they went on another trip. The plan this time was to be more intentional about connecting with local residents. They spent the entire first week in a tiny bed and breakfast in Orvieto.
[00:03:19] Liz: And the people who ran it were so sweet. They also owned a restaurant. They kept inviting us to meals and bringing food home from the restaurant for us.
[00:03:31] And I remember at one point Michael, trying to explain the electoral college system to them in, in our limited Italian. It was like the opposite of what I had felt, that, that, that we wouldn’t connect with people. And we were so embraced by this couple.
[00:03:55] Lori: On the next leg of the trip, they went full immersion.
[00:03:59] Liz: [00:04:00] For 18 days, we did not see a single person who spoke English. But we managed, and it was really exciting and helped us — helped me, certainly — fall in love with this country.
[00:04:16] Lori: Michael kept researching, and he found what he thought would be the perfect location for them: the Le Marche region in central Italy. The area has Renaissance and Medieval charm without the tourism and high sticker price. In the fall of 2010, they went back to Italy.
[00:04:35] Liz: He surprised me on my birthday with a trip to Venice and a plan to rent a car and travel down to Le Marche and just look around, see what’s what, have it be the first step in our plan to maybe someday buy something.
[00:04:55] Lori: “Maybe someday” arrived a lot sooner than they expected.
[00:05:02] Liz: We stopped for coffee in this little town called Pergola, and it was just something about it.
[00:05:08] It’s a Medieval hill town. It was built in the 1300s. And, uh, it, it had, this is lovely energy going on. And it was about 10 or 11 o’clock in the morning, we were walking up and uh down the street, stopped for coffee. And we decided, okay, this is the place. This is the place where we will check out a real estate agent.
[00:05:35] And we come across this agency with the name Casa Mania. The sign outside was in that party font, you know, where it looks really wacky. So we thought, okay, good. Casa Mania. This is the place.
We asked if it was possible in this price range to find something. And they said, “oh yeah, sure” and started grabbing keys and taking us to see places, which we hadn’t expected to do.
[00:06:05] Um, the office was right at the edge of the city wall in an old building. And we just walked on cobblestone streets, uh, about two and a half blocks, through an old archway, and came across this building with a giant portone, they call it, um, the big front door. So we walk up and, and we’re just dumbfounded.
[00:06:47] We had never imagined what it might look like inside. We’d mostly seen churches from the inside or places that had been made up to be BnBs or something, but we’d never seen somebody’s apartment building. But it was like the person who had lived there had just gone out for coffee. The house was completely furnished, with pictures and stuff on the table and stuff on the mantelpiece.
[00:07:17] And it was as though somebody was gonna come home later. It hadn’t been occupied for a couple of years. The, the previous owner had passed away. But the house was still completely furnished in a very old-fashioned style.
[00:07:35] Lori: They fell in love with this apartment right away, even though it was the first one that they looked at. And it had some challenges, like no hot water in the kitchen.
[00:07:44] Liz: This apartment was built in the 1300s. It was the palazzo of some nobleman. Our apartment was the servant’s quarters. Uh, so some of our neighbors in the other apartments downstairs have much grander places with higher ceilings and fancy stuff. But this is just right for us.
[00:08:07] Lori: They made an offer and negotiated the purchase. Before the closing, Liz and Michael communicated with the sellers, who were the children of the previous owner.
[00:08:17] Liz: We had told them that we would be happy to accept anything they wanted to leave there. They told us that they were gonna take some stuff.
[00:08:25] So we, we had no idea what we were going to find when we got there. And when we arrived, there was just about everything that we had seen.
[00:08:39] I mean, they left beds, they left dressers, they left armadia. They, they left a laundry detergent. Just everything that was in a home that somebody lived in. So we spent the first couple of weeks going through closets and chests of drawers and finding stuff.
In the attic, over in the corner, all covered with dust, there was a framed picture, like an old-fashioned photograph that looks to me like, like it was Italian Gothic, like Grant Wood had painted American Gothic only in Italy.
[00:09:27] And uh, and there was a farmer and his wife. The farmer’s wearing a hat. He has a great big mustache. The wife has a tired smile on her face. She has dark hair with the gray beginning to show. It’s sort of uncertain how old she is because you can tell she’s had a hard life. She might be 36. Uh, she might be 56.
[00:10:11] We dusted off this picture and decided that this was Grandma and Grandpa, um, or in Italian, it would be Nonno and Nonna and, and that we were going to, to adopt them as our, our Italian relatives.
We learned that this is Ferdinando and Rosa Baldelli. They would solve the problem of me not having Italian connections.
[00:10:45] So we adopted them and put them on our wall. And, uh, we, we ended up having, uh, an absolutely lovely closing with the family that we bought the apartment from, but we, we hid Grandma and Grandpa when they came to look at the apartment and to see what we had done, because we didn’t want them to take ’em away.
[00:11:08] So …since then they have come and they have seen that we have given them a place of honor and they don’t want them. Um, but we love them.
[00:11:24] I mean at first we giggled about it, but then it just sort of became, well, of course, they’re looking out for us. They are our, the representation of our connection here. Um, when a new guest comes to the house, we explain who they are because Michael is a, is a portrait artist. And there are a number of other pictures of people on the wall, um, that are illustrations that, that Michael has done.
[00:11:55] And, and then there’s this photograph of this couple. So it’s just, it requires an explanation, but it’s a good story. So we like to tell it.
[00:12:12] I mostly worry that, that they worked too hard, particularly Rosa. There’s another photograph of, of them with a giant family. There are a lot of children. And, uh, so I, I have respect and sympathy for Rosa.
[00:12:31] Lori: After they moved in, Liz and Michael did some things around town to help them feel more integrated in the community.
[00:12:37] For example, Liz volunteered at a cat shelter for a while. And what they found was that they had made a great choice about where to live.
[00:12:46] Liz: A major reason why we felt connected was because we were right in town. We know of people who, who bought the beautiful country places outside of town, but they hardly ever come into to town.
[00:13:01] And so they don’t feel a part of things. They aren’t known.
When we first arrived to stay in that, the beginning of May of 2011, we walked in the door, and I met Luccia, who was our downstairs neighbor. She was the most wonderful neighbor you could possibly imagine. She introduced us to everybody. She introduced us to two of the people who told us who Rosa and Ferdinando were.
[00:13:34] And, uh, she introduced us to Teresa who runs the florist shop, which has just kitty cornered from, from our apartment. And we would sit in Teresa’s florist shop eating gelato, and I would just try to understand and comprehend. But it was just, like, they took us in and made us welcome. [00:14:00]
[00:14:09] I feel incredibly fortunate. At the time, we were just sort of putting one foot in front of the other. It just fell into place and we were carried along on this perfect idea that, that Michael and I were in sync about and the universe put into place for us.
[00:14:46] Neither of us has any interest in moving back to the US, but I hope that if I ever had to, for some reason, um, I, I hope Rosa and Ferdinando would come with us. Um, I, I would feel sad to leave them. I don’t want to think about that.
[00:15:04] I’m just really fond of them. I don’t think I have anything, anything more to say, except that I’m oh, I’m going to get a little misty. No, no. They just, um, they’re they’re very dear.
[00:15:25] Lori: Thank you, Liz, for sharing the story about your Nonno and Nonna with us.
This episode was written, produced, and sound designed by me, Lori Mortimer. Music is from Epidemic Sound, Fesliyan Studios, Blue Dot Sessions, and Soundstripe.
[00:15:44] As Liz mentioned at the top of the episode, she has a podcast called I Always Wanted To. It’s an interview show, and she talks to some really interesting people who are doing things that she finds interesting and that she thinks other people will find interesting, too.
[00:16:06] In fact, her latest bonus episode is called I Always Wanted To Be a Podcaster, and the guest is yours truly. So if you want to hear a mini episode about how I got inspired to do this show, swing on by I Always Wanted To, and then Liz will drop the full episode of our interview later in January.
And the whole point is to showcase the things that folks are doing to inspire other people to go do things they’ve always wanted to do.
[00:16:38] If somebody else can do it. So can you.
[00:16:44] I’ll be rounding out the season and the year with one more episode. I’m gonna talk about the strangest object I found amongst my mother’s things. And no, it’s not about sex. Get your mind out there. But it’s truly unusual, totally unexpected. And I really want to share my journey with this object with you. As always, thanks for listening. And I’ll see you in two weeks.