Island life is fine for me in small doses. It took a long time for me to come to this realization. When I was in my 20s, I thought I wanted to give up the hustle and bustle of working in New York City, move to an island, and write while my feet were planted in the sand on the beach. It would be a simpler life but a better one.
Of course, if a handsome islander wanted to sweep me off my feet, I was fine with that, too. That’s what actually happened. While I was in my family’s native Ischia, an island off the coast of Naples in Italy, I met Antonio, who is now my husband of nearly 10 years. Basically, we live in two worlds. We often travel back to Ischia, especially in the summer. At one point, we spent nine months on the island with our then toddler son.
After being able to experience island life – and not a mere vacation – I was no longer as enamored with the idea of sequestering myself on an island. That’s the thing about taking up island life. Your beloved vacation destination becomes where you live and work. Therefore, it can’t possibly live up to the dream it once was.
While on vacation in Ischia, I would visit family I hadn’t seen in years. We would eat the best, freshest food and relish time together. I would go to the beach and the thermal spas. When we were dating, my husband and I would gather with friends until the wee hours of the morning. We would hang out at luxury hotels, owned by friends and family, and partake in gourmet meals by the best chefs on the island. It was like I was an eternal tourist even as a became part of the community.
In those days, I would always work from home and keep American hours. But I was young and hungry, full of energy. Then, we got married and started thinking about having a family. Things started to change dramatically. I found myself preferring sleep to talking and eating well into the early morning. Reading and writing on the beach made my hands sweaty and my eyes squinty even with sunglasses. Hello wrinkles! The sand falling into every crevice wasn’t making it any better. Those bright-eyed, bushy-tailed vacationers were no longer me and my people. Instead, they were annoying tourists sucking up all the air of the place. Who needs ’em?
Well, the island and its islanders do. So, I have to come to grips with the reality of living in a tourist’s paradise. Over the years, I’ve come up with a robust list of pros and cons:
Benefits of Living on an Island
Within Walking Distance of Natural Wonders
The beach is so close to where I live when I’m in Ischia that I can smell the sea air when I close the front door behind me. When you turn the corner, you may see a glorious sunset or the lush green hills in the distance. Pastel-colored homes dotting the countryside and a sea of stars with the bright full moon hang like a painting above the actual sea at night. The scenery is breathtaking and inspirational. While I love the views of New York City back home in Jersey, they are just not the same as Mother Nature.
Slower Pace of Living
There’s something about the heat and beauty that breeds a bit of laziness but not in a bad way. It’s a good thing. People are never in a rush. In Ischia, anyway, they still take a siesta every afternoon. It sometimes gets on my nerves, but it’s better for your health – physical and mental.
Doing More With Less
Smaller places make for smaller lives, but not in the way you might imagine. In New York, everyone is fighting to be top dog. You want to have a bigger house than the Joneses. On an island, people seem to be satisfied with having a decent place to live, good food on the table, and an abundance of family and friends. There is no rat race or naked ambition.
Drawbacks to Living on an Island
Higher Cost of Living
Everything costs triple. Goods are expensive because delivery to an island is more difficult. It requires extra travel on a boat. And the expiration dates on food and drink are often shorter, especially in Italy, where there are strict laws about preservatives and additives. Sometimes, in the hot summer, the milk or cream is bad within a day of purchase. Around here, the clothes are always expensive. Because Ischia attracts luxury travelers, there are mostly designer stores, which aren’t exactly budget friendly for the island’s families.
Sorry Access to Health Care
If you have the flu or a simple cold on the island, you’ll be more than fine. Your nonna (real or adopted) will dote on you and feed you and you’ll be back to good in no time. But if you have a serious illness or disease (or you have a serious injury), you might have a problem. I lost all circulation in my leg after a knee injury when I was a mere tourist in Ischia in 2004. I nearly lost my foot (I didn’t, thank God), but it would have been better to be in a city. There is no MRI on the island (or at least there wasn’t then), for example. Usually, specialists for diseases, such as cancer, are found in Naples, Rome, Milan, and so on. As a result, the islanders, even at their most vulnerable, have to move to get care. When you’re in a weakened state, this is a disastrous proposition.
Opportunities for Work Are Slim
Young people living on the island often leave if they have greater ambitions. The island provides some opportunities to work in tourism. But it’s limited to six months out of the year when the weather is good. Most people have no option to work year round. New laws have made it harder to get unemployment during the other six months. The slower pace and indifference to outdoing your neighbors with your finances are results of this economic reality. But a young person, who wants to have a family or who dreams of doing something more with his or her life, will find the island prohibitive. So, many of them fly away and leave their nest – even if just for the six months of winter when Ischia slumbers.
Di Meglio is the author of Fun with the Family New Jersey (Globe Pequot Press, 2012). She also has written the Our Paesani column for ItaliansRus.com since 2003. You can follow the Italian Mamma on Facebook or Twitter @ItalianMamma10.