[“Nunca es tarde” es una serie que cuenta las historias de personas que van en pos de sus sueños a su propio paso].
In 1978, when she was 20, Holly Herrmann flew to Bolzano, Italy, a picturesque town at the foot of the Tyrolean Alps, to participate in the Ferruccio Busoni International Piano Competition. The budding Californian pianist fell in love with a country where classical music, gastronomy and beauty mingle. He promised that one day it would be his home.
“I was living in Seattle at the time and it was my first time to Italy. I was fascinated by this cohesive, beautiful historic center, so wonderful and so full of life and activity,” said Herrmann, now 63, on the medieval heart of Bolzano: “Italy offered a different lifestyle that I enjoyed more than what I had back home. I knew that at some point I would end up living here.
To settle permanently in Italy would take 38 years. After his piano competition, he went to New York to prepare for his move to Manhattan as a professional pianist. He then flew to Seattle, where on the first day of his return he was introduced to Jim Herrmann by college friends. Soon after, an intense friendship began. Within a year, they were already married. Within a few years, they had two children. (Jim Herrmann already had two children from a previous marriage.) Hopes of going to New York are fading and those of Italy even more so.
But his dream of living in Italy did not disappear. In 2015, at her daughter’s request, she spent a month in Orvieto, a medieval mountain town in central Italy, to see if she was still passionate about the Italian art of living. Her husband accompanied her for ten days. The trip convinced them both that this had to be their new reality. The deep desire to change his lifestyle became financially viable with the sale of his house and his retirement savings.
In 2016, the couple packed their lives in Seattle. Not knowing what the future held for them, they first rented out their four-bedroom house and then sold it along with their two cars and belongings that were too big to take away. They flew to Italy with one suitcase and a small piece of hand luggage each. For two years the couple lived in Lecce, a bustling southern Italian city with Baroque churches and narrow streets lined with rustic restaurants. But Lecce’s remoteness made traveling to Europe difficult, so in 2018 they settled in Padua, an ancient city with arcaded galleries and chic cafes just 33 minutes by train from Venice.
Today, the couple live in a two-bedroom apartment that overlooks Piazza dei Signori, a charming little square in the historic center of Padua. (The following interview has been edited and condensed.)
What finally lifted your spirits?
A few times a year, my children would hear me say, “When I’m old, I’m going to live in Italy.” The last time I said it, in 2015, my daughter said to me: “Why do you say that when you are old? Why don’t you do it now?” It got me thinking. All the boundaries I had set for myself – Jim, the kids, the house – I had set myself to make myself feel like I couldn’t. not realize my dream. I needed to leave them and dream bigger and more freely. When I told Jim that I wanted to move there, I was surprised that he agreed with my daughter and suggested I go away for a month to see how I felt, and then all the weight I was carrying disappeared.
What steps did you take to make it work?
I signed up for Italian classes in Seattle. I researched where I should spend the month. I had been to Bolzano before, so I decided to go to Orvieto, a small town in Umbria that is between Florence and Rome. Jim caught up with me and loved it.
Back home, we decided to move. In January 2016, Jim retired. I sold my 2 meter Steinway piano to one of my students. We did an estate sale. We rented our house in Seattle, with which we financed our life in Italy. Later, we sold the house to continue living here. We started in Lecce because we wanted to go somewhere where the locals didn’t speak English and we were forced to speak Italian, as it happened. Since then, I speak it almost fluently.
How did you overcome all the challenges of living in a different country?
I didn’t want life to get boring. I wanted to fill it with adventures. If this is what you are looking for, then move to another country. Very early in Lecce, we broke the handle of our pot. We just needed a simple screw, but this mundane act turned into a five-hour adventure. How do I find a hardware store? What is the Italian word for asa? How do we take the bus to get there? I wanted our life after retirement to be filled with challenges. That’s why I thrive here.
Do you consider this move as the second act of your life?
I have the distinct impression that one chapter is over and another has begun. My life story now includes that I live in Italy. This is not a new book, but a new and exciting chapter, written in Italian.
How has this experience changed you?
I feel that my life is rich here. The Italians make a way of life. The little moments give them pleasure. I too learned to be like that. I feel seen and understood like never before.
How is your Italian life different from your life in Seattle?
It has radically changed in the sense that we no longer have a car. We live in the center of a historic and beautiful town with a nearby river which we walked along most days until we reached the Specola, which is an observatory built on top of an old tower. We go shopping, in restaurants and outdoor markets where they sell fruits and vegetables, we meet friends a few blocks from our apartment. We can take a train for lunch or dinner in Venice whenever we want. Before the pandemic, we traveled without problems throughout Europe.
What advice can you give to someone who feels stuck?
Make a list of five critical things that need to happen for your plan to become a reality. Start with one. Don’t watch them all as it can be overwhelming. If you manage to complete one, move on to two. Then try to complete the list. Don’t do anything drastic. Take a test to see if you are fit for this kind of life and if it makes you happy or uncomfortable. I had a strong desire to do it. If you feel compelled to do something, you should try to do it.
What has life taught you?
Repenting is useless. You cannot go back and change a decision you have made. Try to accept where you are. It opens up the future. When you are centered and focused on the joy and beauty in your life, it happens effortlessly. Regrets are not part of this philosophy.
We’re looking for people who have decided it’s never too late to shift gears, change their lives, and pursue their dreams. Should we talk to you or someone you know? share your story [en inglés] here.