Doing Italy’s Thea Duncan, If you’re thinking of moving to Italy, You will want to know her.

Doing Italy

I met Thea Duncan through my friend Georgette, Girl in Florence.

People are always asking me about moving to Italy. I found the person that can help with all the questions you have. Moving to Italy is a very personal experience, and it is not one size fits all by any means. Although there are some basics that one needs to know before embarking on this life-changing endeavor, Thea can help you.

I thought she would be a really cool person to introduce you to. Of course, you can always ask me questions, and I will do my best to answer them. But two heads are better than one, am I right?

I think you will enjoy this interview. Thanks, Thea. xx

A little background on Thea:

Thea Duncan is the Founder of Doing Italy, a company that helps people gain the knowledge they need to move to Italy with ease while avoiding many of the pitfalls that negatively affect most ex-pats when moving abroad.

Trinidad and Tobago-born and Miami-raised, Duncan spent much of her life traveling the globe before Italy captured her heart. She studied for her master’s degree at Milan’s Bocconi University in the early 2000s, later holding roles with some of Italy’s most storied fashion and design houses – including Gucci and Luxottica.

Doing Italy, which began as Duncan’s effort to reconnect with travelers and curate her Milan, now offers individuals the opportunity to get an even more authentic understanding of Italian culture by helping them move abroad. The company offers one on one sessions and group coaching where students dive into just about everything a foreigner should know about moving to Italy. This includes insights into the Italian job market, to why, if an Italian home announcement says an apartment is unfurnished, it most likely means you literally need to bring your own kitchen sink.

I had some questions for Thea:

Q: How long have you lived in Italy?

A: I’m originally from Trinidad and Tobago. My family and I moved to the United States, Miami to be precise, when I was about 6 years old. Miami has a huge Latin American influence, and I’m so grateful that my parents had the hindsight to enroll me into a bilingual school that intensively taught Spanish (and French and German – but I took Spanish). This gave me a very multicultural and intercultural outlook on life from a young age. In fact, in fifth grade, we took a class trip to Spain. To me, that seemed absolutely normal, but I realize now that it’s not most people’s reality. 

Many years later, I met a young Italian man in college, a study abroad student. We started dating, and when his semester was up, he convinced me to come back with him to Italy. It was 2002. 

I ended up doing a semester abroad in Spain, which I absolutely loved, and a semester in Italy, in L’Aquila, a university town in the Abruzzo region of Italy. 

While I had an incredibly memorable time in Spain, Italy stole my heart, and I was committed to figuring out how I could get to experience more of it.

 Q: You are married to an Italian; how did you meet?

A: My husband and I met about a decade after my first trip to Italy. By this point in time, I had returned to Milan to pursue my master’s degree, and then I had returned to the States shortly thereafter. 

 As my husband, Diego, explains it, he saw my photo on a mutual friend’s Facebook page and was convinced that I looked like the Black woman that lived in his building. Evidently, to him, it made more sense to reach out to me on Facebook than to say hi “in real life” to the woman that lived in his building. 

Diego proceeded to Facebook stalk me for months (not in a scary way) until I eventually agreed to meet him in person. During that time, I was working for a company that frequently brought me to Milan, so I agreed to meet him on a work trip. 

The rest is history.

But I think it’s worth noting that I did meet this woman that lived in his building. We look nothing alike. 

 Q: How long did it take you to learn Italian?

A: Only about 8 months. I started studying Italian during my semester in Spain (in a class that was taught in Gallego! lol). Then I moved to L’Aquila, in the Abruzzo region of Italy. Almost no one spoke English, so I was forced to learn and practice. It’s what I call a very intensive Italian school, and I really recommend doing something similar if anyone is really serious about learning the language. 

Q: When did you start your business Doing Italy?

A: You know how people say that when one door closes another one opens…or that when something horrible happens in your life, a lot of times it’s God’s way of point your life in a new direction? Well, that’s exactly what starting my business was for me. 

A few years ago, I had an injury a stupid freak accident that resulted in me being on bed rest for months and in pain for way too long taking high doses of pain killers.

After watching every single episode of Scandal, and just about everything else that I wanted to see (and things I probably didn’t want to see) on Netflix, I decided it was time for me to retake control of my life. 

I decided to spend my time at home learning, so I read more and decided to focus the hours I did spend online on things I found intellectually stimulating. 

One day, I happened upon a woman that was creating these absolutely incredible tours in Latin America. Experiences that were light years away from the cookie-cutter superficial way of doing tourism. I thought, OMG, I have to do something similar in Italy. From my previous years working in travel and tourism, I knew all about those big bus tours where people ate at tourist traps right in front of the Colosseum that sell frozen pizzas to unsuspecting tourists. 

My business was born out of a desire to help more tourists see the real Italy – to travel slowly through this country that I love so much.

Screen Shot 2021-02-21 at 8.54.42 AM

Q: How has Covid changed your business in the last year?

A: Then Covid happened, and obviously, travel and tourism was out of the picture. I spent the first few months of the pandemic, when we really didn’t know what was happening, praying, meditating, and cooking. Then one day, I thought, “I wonder if people want help moving to Italy”. And so I decided to test that hypothesis. I created a program and sold it to my audience. I am so blessed and happy to say that they loved it! Helping people with Master Classes on How to Move to Italy has been amazing.

And oddly enough the whole process felt so incredibly easy. Yes, there were so many things I had to learn and do along the way. I spent quite a few nights up until 2 or 3 AM, and a few times until 6 AM. Plus, I worked just about every single weekend to get it done…

But somehow it still felt easy. Like all of my experience in Italy collided for this perfect moment. For example, I’ve held several very different jobs in Italy – from being a private English teacher to working in the corporate communications department of Gucci. And since I’ve lived in so many different places in Italy – from the small university town outside of Rome, to Pescara the seaside town in Abruzzo, to the internationally acclaimed city of Florence, to the bustling city of Milan — I feel like God has uniquely positioned me to help people navigate the ups and downs of moving abroad and more specifically to moving to Italy. 

I realized that over the years, since when I first visited in 2002, I had gained so much experience on what to do, and perhaps equally important, what not to do. 

 Q: What does your business do?

A: I created an online course that helps people move to Italy. It’s the sum of everything I and lots of expat friends wished we had known when we first moved to Italy. And while my knowledge of ins and outs of moving to Italy is extensive. I don’t know everything, so I have incredible (if I do say so myself) guest speakers (immigration lawyers. tax accountants, and real estate professionals) come on, who also share their experience and know-how. 

Most recently, my team and I have also started offering one on one Move to Italy Coaching and Consulting. We have two programs, one for individuals/families that want to move – for example for people that want to retire in Italy. The other is for people who want to start a business in Italy – either as a freelancer or even a product-based business. 

I was very fortunate that I married a very capable project manager (by profession and mental configuration). We also have a very capable network of friends and professional acquaintances. Trustworthy people that we have been able to lean on and ask for assistance over the years. Not everyone has that. 

We have expat friends that made horrible decisions when it came to setting up their partita iva (their freelance business structure). Or another friend who was going through the hassle of redoing her permesso di soggiorno (permit of stay) every year because she didn’t know that since she’s married to an Italian the procedure for her was a bit different. 

Plus, from doing the course I realized that some people have all their ducks in a row, but they just need someone to metaphorically hold their hand and say, don’t worry it will be okay. This feels like a big leap but lots of people before you, and after you will do it. And you can do it too. 

So the one and one consulting brings together these two aspects professionals they can trust to help them with the bureaucratic difficulties of moving abroad, plus they get more personalized access to me. I kind of see myself as your knowledgeable friend on the ground who you can call and send WhatsApp with questions. The friend that will listen to your problems and help you find solutions. 

 Q: Any future plans or events you’d like to share?

A: I have so many thoughts, ideas, and plans in the works, but for now, you guys are going to have to follow me on my social channels. I’m “Doing Italy” just about everywhere but I especially like hanging out on Instagram these days. That way you can see all the things that my team and I have cooking up. 

Doing Italy: Guidebook Part I

 

 

All behind the scenes Five Questions italian riviera italy Milan Notes from Italy The Fortress Travel Tuscany Uncategorized : Tags: , , , , , ,

Traveling to Italy, my first week back

F4F6ADB0-A0D8-4C49-A19B-75145427DC3A

Ciao Guys! If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I have been back in Italy for a little over a week. Traveling to get here was quite effortless. After 2 Covid tests, one from Walgreens and one from Delta at the airport, I was on my way. Because I am an Italian resident, we own a home and live here, most of the year entry was easy. I have no idea when Italy will open to the world, but I am optimistic that come fall, it will be open, and Italy will welcome travelers, I would assume with a vaccine passport, but we shall see.

As I write this, my region of Tuscany is in orange. Italy has a system of well-outlined restrictions based on color-coded zones. Red, orange, yellow and white. Red being a strict lockdown, orange having restrictions on bars and restaurants and travel in the region and between regions, and a curfew of 10:00 pm. Yellow is less restricted and allows travel between regions, and the opening of bars and restaurants for lunch. For the official codes, read about it here in my favorite magazine The Florentine.

For me, these restrictions don’t affect me much since I live in the countryside and travel very little.

I am in the middle of editing the finished manuscript of my cookbook, La Fortezza Cookbook. Once England can travel, our British team, photographer David Loftus, and our stylist Rosie Scott, can enter the country, and we can start working on the winter chapter. I am hoping that this will be mid-March, bu obviously, I will keep you posted.

In the meantime, we are preparing the garden for the spring, and I have some cool additions to La Fortezza coming soon. The pool will commence and my friend and uber stylist Barbara will be helping me style it up. There will be the construction of the pool pergola, and lots of planting going on.

Until next time, be sure to check the La Fortezza Workshop page, and if you want to join us here, I would not wait. Once Italy opens up, it is going to be nuts!  In the meantime, I will keep posting on Instagram. We have some fun Instagram Lives coming up, so don’t forget to check in and see what’s happening!

xx

 

All behind the scenes cookbook collection Events Instagram italy Meet the Team Notes from Italy Personal renovation in italy The Fortress Travel Tuscany Workshops : Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

William Abranowicz’s new book

Screen Shot 2021-02-02 at 9.54.42 AM

I couldn’t go this month without telling everyone about Bill Abranowicz’s new baby. Some of you already know that I adore him. He is one of the finest humans I know. Not only is he incredibly talented, but he has an enormous heart. Not only is he a fine photography instructor at La Fortezza Workshops, but he is also a social activist and uses his talents to spread his message. His latest endeavor is This Far and No Further, a book that documents the voting rights movement in America.

Beautifully captured this is a book that should live on your shelf.

Screen Shot 2021-02-02 at 10.19.22 AM

Screen Shot 2021-02-02 at 9.56.16 AM

I hope you pick up a copy and come to La Fortezza Photography Workshop with Bill in September. Spaces are going fast, and as I like to say, it’s worth the flight just to hear his lecture, and this year we will make sure he talks a bit about his new book. Bring your copy, and he’ll sign it for you. Congratulations Bill, it’s truly an honor and great pleasure to know you. x

Screen Shot 2021-02-02 at 9.56.28 AM

All Instagram interior design italy style lessons Styling The Fortress Travel Tuscany Uncategorized : Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2020 What can I say…

Screen Shot 2020-12-18 at 11.56.01 AM

When we welcomed 2020, we had no idea what the year had in store, nor could we have imagined it. As always, we celebrated with our family at a restaurant, but little did we know it would probably be the last restaurant visit all together of the entire year.

Frank and I went to our home in Italy as we always do in February, although the Corona Virus had already taken hold in Italy, we were blissfully unaware of how devastating it would be—how deadly how frightening 2020 would be. Frank left early, and I was 2 days behind leaving behind any notion of working on La Fortezza Cookbook winter chapter photoshoot.

As I write this blog post, help is on the way. The FDA has just authorized the use of a vaccine and is distributing it. I watched as the Vice President, his wife and the Surgeon General took the vaccine on live television. I am hoping that people will take it as well and this nightmare will be behind us. In the meantime we still have to pay close attention and alter our behavior until we are all vaccinated. I have always worn a mask, and distanced. I am a germophobe, so I wash my hands constantly. Of course, I am lucky to work at home, so I have very little contact with people in general. The only thing that’s changed is no restaurants, no dinner parties, and sadly, no workshops.

I am looking forward to heading back to Italy in February to continue photographing my latest book, La Fortezza Cookbook with David Loftus and our tiny EU, British crew. Since the US is still not allowed into Italy, for now, we will stick to a local group of pros. We have Rosie Scott a food-stylist from London, along with our Italian chef Leo. They will make up the food prep and styling team. Barbara Pederzini will continue as prop mistress, and production advisor once again.

IMG_4363

I am excited to finally get the winter chapter under my belt. I will stay to shoot the spring chapter in June, and IIwill be staying Italy until late fall. Frank will come back and forth since he’s a medical worker, a doctor, he will be vaccinated early. I am relieved that he will be safe.

I am pretty sure things will be looking up in the fall and all of our scheduled Workshops and Retreats will go on. It is going to be an amazing workshop roster. Bill Abranowicz will be back along with Ros Atkinson Her Dark Materials, and Our Slow Food Experience, if you’re interested in joining us, hurry because it’s almost sold out. An Olive Eccentric Experience will be once again on the schedule. I can’t wait to welcome our groups.

From my family to yours and from the La Fortezza team.

Happy Healthy 2021, see you at La Fortezza, see you in Italia! Speriamo. XO

All behind the scenes Events italy Personal The Fortress Travel Uncategorized Workshops : Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The Florentine holiday lights in 2020

IMG_9214 I wanted to take a moment to introduce you to my friend Alexandra Lawrence, when we visit with guests in Florence she is my go to tour guide. She’s one to put into your contacts and make sure to book her early.

I know we all miss travel to Italy, so today I am taking you all to Florence to tour the Holiday Lights in Florence. I’ve invited Florentine Alexandra to join me on the blog as a guest contributor to tell you all about the lights this year. The Holidays lights of Florence are always an exciting subject. In fact she will take us on a virtual tour on Wed. Dec. 9th at Noon ET on my IG LIVE so mark your calendar and be whisked away to Florence to see this year’s holiday lights in Florence.

Take a moment to read as Alexandra explains the meaning behind 2020’s holiday lights.

Take it away Alexandra:

It’s no secret that Italians love to commemorate things. Ceremonies, exhibitions, and conferences are constantly being dedicated to an artist’s 500th birthday or to the 1000th anniversary of a church consecration. Some of the commemorations come and go without much notice (there are a rather lot of them), but others are rightfully treated as a ‘big deal’.

The upcoming celebrations surrounding 700 years of Dante Alighieri are of the latter variety.

Born in 1265 in Florence, the great poet was exiled from the city in a particularly explosive moment of political drama at age 27. Already quite famous for his verses—mostly love poetry—Dante spent the rest of his life wandering the Italian peninsula serving various noble courts. He brought them prestige, and they let him use their libraries.

It was there, in those libraries, where he wrote his epic poem—a journey he claims he actually took down through the underworld, up the mountain of purgatory, and straight-up through the heavens. He called the poem the Comedy. (Another Florentine author one generation removed, Giovanni Boccaccio, would add the superlative ‘Divine’ to the title.)

The Comedy was an immediate smash—copied and recopied, read and re-read out loud for all to hear and to enjoy. As the first epic poem since antiquity to be written in the vernacular, Dante’s journey was meant to be understood by everyone, not just scholars and nobles.

IMG_9036

graphic by Betty Soldi

Dante fills his tale with well-known names from history, from The Bible, from Greek and Roman mythology, but also with contemporary figures—ones that would raise eyebrows and elicit both hidden smiles and out-loud-gasps from readers. It is just one way he ensures that we are there with him, adventuring along with the poet-pilgrim on this terrifying and exhilarating ride.

It is a salvation story and a hero’s journey all rolled into one. It is, Dante tells us, also our story—if we want it to be. Offering a sort of existential road map to a happy ending, the Comedy is proof, to paraphrase Robert Frost, that the best way out is through.

All of us who have lived through this incredibly trying pandemic year know a little something about that kind of resiliency now. It is a truly glorious thing that we can read Dante’s Divine Comedy 700 years after it was written and find that universal truth inside. And that alone is worth celebrating.

1

We hope you will join us on Wednesday, December 9th at 12 PM EST, 6 PM CET for on my IG Live for walk through of the Florentine holiday lights, which are dedicated to Dante Alighieri for the very first time.

Alexandra Lawrence is an expert in the language and art of Italy. She has lived in Florence for over 20 years, where she is a lecturer of art history and contemporary Italian cultural studies. While completing her graduate work in Italian Language and Literature, Alexandra concentrated primarily on writers and poets and their relationship to the visual arts—a subject that continues to inform her work.

IMG_9213

Alexandra is an accredited guide for Italian museums and archeological sites, and has worked with several high-profile clients including England’s royal family. Her walks are featured in Condé Nast Traveler as one of the ‘Best 16 Things to Do in Florence’.

In 2020, she founded Forma Sideris, a space to have guided conversations about Italy and its art, literature, culture, and history. She is currently offering a virtual 6-week course on the Divine Comedy which will begin in January 2021. For more on ‘Divine Dante’, please see the course page here.

All celebration Christmas Holiday Decor Events Holiday Holiday Decor holiday guide Holidays Instagram italy Notes from Italy photography Travel Tuscany Uncategorized : Tags: , , , , , , , ,