'La Dolce Vita doesn't exist'

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Tom Weber lives in the city of Vicenza, in the Veneto region. Photos: Tom Palladio Images
15:50 CEST+02:00
Tom Weber first found his feet in Vicenza, in the Veneto region, in the 1960s with the US army. He speaks to The Local about the time he was arrested over a residency issue and why, despite this, Italy has become home.

What brought you to Italy?

I first came in 1969 on a military assignment; I was glad to be sent here instead of Vietnam!

I left in 1972 with my future Italian wife and returned the following year, although in 1987 I went back to the US for a civilian job and stayed for nearly 20 years.

In 2006, I threatened to retire and so I was granted permission to be shipped back to Italy, where I worked for the US government from my apartment in Vicenza.

What have you been doing in Vicenza?

I worked mostly for the US army’s radio and TV service. But in 2011 I retired and I’ve since been running a blog, writing and taking photographs. Living in Italy feels like a continuous holiday because I’m not Italian; I’m an outsider looking in.

As a US citizen, have you had any problems with staying in Italy for so long?

The US army base here always sorted everything out, but when I retired it became a whole new game and I was totally on my own.

It was complicated because right before I retired my wife passed away, so I had to rely on my daughters’ Italian citizenship.

At one point I was told to leave the country and went to Rome to sort everything out. I checked into a hotel and unbeknown to me my passport was flagged up; I was arrested in my hotel room at 3.00am. They made a stink over my request and told me I should have come while my wife was still alive. But now I have a residency card.

After such difficulty, what advice do you have for people thinking of moving to Italy?

If you’re in the European Union you have an advantage because you’re already a citizen of Europe. But if you’re from outside the EU, you should apply for a residence visa before you arrive in Italy. If you don’t have Italian family, a student visa or if you are retired, for example, you’ll need to show that you can financially support yourself.

Would you recommend living in Italy?

Well, ‘La Dolce Vita’ really doesn’t exist. It was a lovely period in the 1960s that came to an end and the middle class weakened and the aristocracy got richer.

But as an outsider I do still see ‘La Dolce Vita’ every weekend. The restaurants are full and people are still enjoying themselves. Italians may not take three weeks off in the summer anymore, but they still go away.

In the US we live to work, whereas in Italy you work to live, no matter how difficult it is. That’s why dinner can last four hours and you can strike up a conversation with a total stranger in the market.

What’s Vicenza like?

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Vicenza is like the little step-sister of the Venetian republic; it’s a lovely provincial city.

As it’s part of the north east people are in a bit of a hurry, although not quite like they are in Milan.

It’s the city of 16th-century architect Andrea Palladio; people should come to Vicenza to marvel at his incredible buildings such as the Villa La Rotonda.

I’ve seen incredible improvements. When I left in 1987 many palazzi were dark and dreary, then there was a Renaissance of inner-city renewal.

I like going back to the same place many times and seeing it in a different light. Most people walk around their city with their heads down; I look up!  

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