Jessica and I met nine years ago. She was 28 years old at the time. I was a mere 51. Somehow she saw past my immaturity and we married on the US Virgin Island of St. John nearly five years later. Two years after that, as I approached my 58th birthday, we began to discuss, in earnest, how we would spend our post-work years. Two elements of that decision persisted during those conversations: first, we wanted a lifestyle that did not include Pittsburgh winters. Both of us were born and raised in Pennsylvania and I had endured fifty-six of them and had no interest in increasing my experience. Second, having lost over half of my wealth in a divorce less than ten years ago, our retirement would be either done on the cheap, or postponed.
As for putting retirement off until our finances were such that we could count on a more comfortable life, our analysis was simple: to count on a life at all is tempting the fates. We both knew too many people, my father included, who finally got to the leisure years only to find that health issues intervened and the life that many had worked so hard for and dreamed so much of was never offered to them. We would not gamble that way. Better to have a longer, more frugal experience than become another example of why one should opt for it.
So, having determined that warm and cheap were the guiding principles behind our search, we took the risk of adding some luxury criteria to the list. Jessica and I both love food and wine and, though we could certainly live on beans and rice and suck down the occasional locally-brewed beer, such a culinary existence would not provide us with the most acceptable retirement. Next, we added history and culture to the list. Our life together thus far had been surrounded by art and we were very much a part of the Pittsburgh art scene. We could not imagine a life that had no access to the intellectual stimulation to which art and culture had addicted us.
Only after those matters came such considerations as safety and security, healthcare, political stability, access and all of the other concerns that normal people have when contemplating a place to live.
Obviously, staying in the US occurred to us. We both have family there, the language is familiar to us (in most parts of the country) but, try as we might, neither of us could come up with a single place in the country that met our objectives. And, when we got into the literature on the best places to retire beyond the borders of the States, the emphasis seemed to be on the least expensive options, not necessarily the best ones. Topping most lists were Ecuador, Panama, Mexico (Really?), Nicaragua, Colombia, etc. Certainly, by all accounts, one could live there very cheaply and it sounds like the weather would be acceptable to us, but after that, there was no appeal.
But a few other regions popped up on the lists that were much more intriguing. Among them: southern Italy. We had been to Italy twice, once before we were married and the second time, on our honeymoon. So, being experts in the country and I having done some internet research on the south, we decided to move to Puglia. The fact that our “Italian experience” was limited to a coach tour of Rome, Florence, Venice and Milan and an extra week in Tuscany after our wedding and, that we had never been south of Rome, was not going to stand in the way of our packing up everything we owned, leaving our families and friends, and moving to somewhere we had never visited nor even heard of until a few weeks before. Jessica and I sat at an outdoor cafe in Las Vegas over the Fourth of July weekend and made the decision over a bottle of wine.
The internet is a very handy thing, I found. Someone should have thought of it much sooner. The web made it possible for me to make appointments with ten real estate agents who would show us thirty-three properties in four days. So, on September 4, two months after the decision in Vegas, we boarded the plane that would start us on our journey to find a home in Puglia.
Next up: A Trulli Wonderful Experience