Mary Loscerbo is a singer/songwriter. Her band, The B.I.T. band (The Best in Town) has been performing together since 2004 specialising in music for special events such as weddings, conventions and galas. Mary also owns a bar/restaurant with her husband in the centre of Florence, very close to the Duomo called La Sosta de’ Golosi. Mary also teaches voice lessons privately and is a “Cambridge English teacher” part-time in the public school system.
“Sometimes I feel like I am living various lives. As a mom, dealing with the everyday life of organising the kids, housework, the cafés, teaching and then there is my career where I have to be elegant and professional.”
I have been living in Florence stably since 1995 (when I got married), however, I did a lot of back and forth for five years prior to getting married because of work and University studies. I won a study bursary to learn Italian and study music in 1990. I met a fantastic singing teacher here who sang at the Opera House in Florence and I decided to study with her a couple of years before going to Toronto to take my Masters Degree in Voice. In the meantime, I met an Italian (from Basilicata) and we fell in love. He came out with me to Toronto while I was studying there and we actually would have stayed in Canada had he had it his way but I missed living in Italy too much and really pushed for us to move back here.
While I was single and then fidanzata I lived in the centre of Florence. I found the centre is a great place to live if you are young and single and don’t have a car. As soon as we bought a car we were out of there within 5 months. It was absolute hell and quite frankly the years that we lived in the centre (Santa Croce area) I never had a good nights sleep with the honking cars and motorini and the drunk foreign students.
We moved to Isolotto because it is a lot more family oriented and the homes were a lot cheaper than the rest of Florence. In the 60’s Isolotto didn’t have a great reputation. It was a real rough suburb of Florence with very few commodities and very difficult to commute from. A lot of government housing went up during that time so it was a very blue collar area and rough around the edges. Many immigrants from southern Italy moved into this area. In the past 50 years there has been a huge over-haul of the area. It has become much more family oriented with lots of parks and schools and stores and shopping centres. Most of the government housing has now been bought up by the locals. There is parking everywhere and the payed parking areas are free for the residents. Many “Pure Florentines” still give this area a hard time but I think a lot of it is because they just don’t come out this way to see what it is really like. With the tram now it only takes 10 minutes to get into the centre of Florence. Because there is this old stigma about the area, the homes here are actually quite reasonably priced compared to other areas of Florence. I feel like it has become a little unknown gem in the city.
We had our first son Vincenzo in 2005 and Lorenzo 2008. I had very easy births in 2 different public hospitals. I found the health system here to be really on top of things throughout the whole pregnancy and birth. Absolutely no complaints and it is free! We are actually quite fortunate here in Tuscany. We have one of the top children’s hospitals in Europe right here in Florence (Meyer Hospital) so the health system here is super organised for pre-natal and maternity care. As soon as you find out you are pregnant your personal doctor gives you a libretto – a type of note book with the various blood tests, scans, tests that need to be done etc. As you go through these tests a part of the page is ripped out with a stamp on the remaining page showing that you have completed that test. Here you can either go to the public gyno or get your own private one. I preferred to have a private one so that she would follow me through the pregnancy from beginning to end. It cost me at the time 80euro each visit. Pre-natal classes are offered free through the hospitals.
I had natural births for both my boys but there was the option in some of the hospitals to request an epidural beforehand (it isn’t a given here). I found the nurses in both hospitals to be very helpful. For my first child they were especially concerned that he latched on well and wouldn’t let me leave the hospital until they were convinced that he was latching on properly. When I got home an obstetrician came a couple of times (if you request it) just to check up on how the baby and I were doing and helped with any worries or questions that I had.
An amazing programme that they have here is that you can donate your milk to children. With my first son I had an overabundance of milk and was worried I’d get mastitis because I had way more than he could drink. So I called the Meyer Hospital to ask about this programme. I went in to get a blood test and had to bring in all my maternity tests to make sure I was in good health to be included in the programme. They gave me a pump and a whole bunch of little bottles to bring home and told me to fill them up and put them in the freezer. At the end of every week a nurse would pass by my house to pick them up and leave me more bottles. I did this for about 12 months. It helped me and definitely helped a lot of babies and mothers who weren’t fortunate enough to have natural milk. I was really impressed with the whole system.
I often find that when I am with Italians I am more Canadian and when I am with Anglos I find myself to be more Italian. People seem intrigued and quite inquisitive about me and where I come from (especially the weather – which can be extremely cold in the winter!). They seem a little more open to my suggestions maybe because I bring in a totally different outlook or have a different background than what they are used to. The parents at school want their kids to hang out with mine so that they can be exposed to English. I speak to my children primarily in English but also in Italian. My husband speaks Italian to them.
There is definitely a difference in the way we bring our children up. Some things that I consider absolutely unacceptable or disrespectful in a child’s behaviour doesn’t seem to phase a lot of Italian parents . I find that the parents really spoil their children and don’t teach them the fundamentals of being responsible or earning their way. It all seems to be a given. I am not sure however, if it is a matter of Italian culture versus American culture or just being an immigrant. My parents were also immigrants in Canada and taught us at a very young age that to get anywhere in life or succeed at something you really believe in it takes hard work and sacrifice. We were never deprived of anything as children but we also understood how hard our parents worked in order to make a better life for themselves and for us. I want to instil the same principle in my children. They will have the advantage of knowing English and having duel citizenship. I have given them the keys, I just hope that they use them to open the doors to the possibilities out there.
I find in general Florentines are very closed. They have a very provincial way of thinking. In the 30 years I have been here I can count maybe on one hand people who I consider friends who are locals. It may also have to do with the type of work that I do. Especially when I didn’t have kids, I was constantly singing around Italy and mostly surrounded by men who are musicians (a breed of their own!) I am very close to my husband’s family, some of whom have moved to Florence in recent years to work for us. I don’t have a group of friends that I “hang out” with in Florence, but rather a few people that I keep in touch with often. Most people that I consider true friends live in different parts of the world and thanks to Skype and FaceTime we keep in touch. It’s not easy to make very close friends as an adult in a foreign country, especially if you don’t have a “traditional 9 to 5” job where you are naturally exposed to a group of people on a daily basis.
I have met some lovely women through the Mom4Moms network here in Florence headed by Kimberly Vanzi and we try to get together once a month for lunches. This group was my life-saver when I had my first child. I didn’t know anyone with kids here and knew less women than men (because of the nature of my job). It was so nice to exchange information with other women that were in the same boat as I was or else had already been through this. We used to get together in the American Church basement with our kids once a week and have our kids play with each other while we would talk, vent, laugh…cry….. It was just so nice to not feel alone and have this kind of support group. It has evolved a lot since then with many subgroups that organise various activities with and without kids. I am still in touch and actually now occasionally work with a couple of the women that were in the group when I first took part. Many of the women that are in this group are here for a pre-determined period of time (work transfers through General Electric, Diplomatic appointees, sabbaticals) so the very nature of the group is that it is in constant evolution with new people coming in and other people leaving. It’s nice to know that there is a group of people that “get” certain jokes that usually get lost in translation or just “comprehend ” why you view things a certain way.
People often ask me if I plan to live here all my life. I have been here now for over 30 years and feel like Italy is my home (my adult life has been here). On the other hand, nothing is written in stone and I consider myself fortunate that I at least have the option of moving back to my second home in Canada with lots and lots of family and friends that I know would be thrilled if we moved back there. Who knows? As I did a reverse immigration….perhaps it will be my children who will immigrate there when they are older?…only the future knows.