An ‘accidental expat’ learns the art of acceptance
By Bob Brody
I never wanted to live anywhere but New York City, much less outside the United States. I planned to always rent our apartment high above the ceaseless traffic on Queens Boulevard, a short walk from all the fresh bagels anyone could ever want.
Yet last year I moved from New York City to Martina Franca, in the Puglia region of Italy. I never intended to live in Italy, much less in a house in the countryside, with sheep and goats occasionally herded past our front gate.
So why, family and friends ask me, would I leave my beloved country of birth? An act of protest against the federal government? A flight from taxation without representation? A first step toward renouncing my citizenship?
No, no and no. After all, I’m a former Cub Scout. I played Little League baseball. I grew up pledging allegiance to the flag in school, singing the national anthem at Yankee Stadium and proudly voting in every election since turning 18.
My big move derived less from a plan than from the force of nature known as serendipity. It’s generally defined as a fortunate finding or event that arrives out of the blue.
As chance would have it, my move to Italy started with opera. Our daughter Caroline trained throughout her teens as an opera singer and went on to perform with opera companies all around New York City. In the interest of pursuing career opportunities, she visited Italy, the very cradle of opera.
My wife Elvira joined her for this trip. Almost immediately, Caroline was smitten with Italy and everything Italian, so much so that she stayed and bought herself a house. Elvira took steps to stay, too, and likewise bought a house, with me to eventually join the festivities. Over a four-year period, I visited Italy six times, usually around Christmas, just to get the lay of the land.
Caroline met an Italian man in 2015 and, a year later, they got married. Eighteen months later, they had a daughter, our first grandchild, Lucia Antonia.
And so in July, 2021, because family exerts a gravitational pull on us like nothing else known to physics, I made the big transition and settled for good in southern Italy, more than 4,000 miles and an ocean away from the Bronx, where I was born, and the New Jersey town of Fair Lawn, where I grew up.
I call myself an “accidental expat.” Had Caroline never come to love opera, I believe we would all still be back in Queens. Life is mostly an ongoing improvisation. We start out playing Mozart, only to wind up jamming with Charlie Parker.
Now, after years living mostly apart, I kiss my wife good morning and good night. Every Saturday morning, a woman from our neighborhood pulls up to our entrance to deliver eggs freshly laid by chickens roosting down the street. Every Sunday night, we go around the corner from our house to where our daughter lives for dinner with our son-in-law and mischievous 4-year-old grand-daughter.
This experience has made me realize that life is largely accidental. In my case, I saw my opportunity, realized its potential advantages and rolled the dice.
I recently learned about a concept known by the Latin phrase amor fati, translated as “a love of one’s fate.” This mindset originated with the Greek Stoics and later gained prominence through philosopher Friedrich Nietzche.
Adopting this attitude, we embrace whatever happens in our life as good and necessary, and we do so no matter what. It means practicing the art of acceptance, the belief that what will be will be, and that that’s just fine. For me, this concept means I’m now better at letting nuisances, such as iffy Wi-Fi, roll off my back.
I believe you can develop all the plans you want for 2023. But even with the best-laid plans, we end up going wherever our lives take us. And sometimes that’s where we were meant to go anyway.