An immigrant story: Italian struggles to find her niche in Nice

By Darrion Behrendt :

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Nice, France — Start at Place Massena, walk past the Apollo statue and follow the tram line past one of the Fenocchio’s  gelato shops. Then, take a right. Keep going into Vieille Ville (Old Nice) until you get to a large building with a sort of courtyard area. If you’re lucky, you will be standing in front of the city’s law building. Now, walk toward the back of it, and keep going straight until the street looks like it’s about to go uphill. Once you get to that point — I’d say it’s safe to take a left. Stay on that street and start looking; the vintage shop is on the right-hand side at a corner so it’s easy to miss. If you’ve hit the famous socca shop Chez Theresa’s, you’ve gone too far.

Finding the way to Silvana Venturini’s shop in Vieille Ville is a lot like Venturini’s journey to find her place in Nice’s community.

In a way, we’ve all been there before: The first day at a new school, at a new job, or in a strange place. We all know how hard it can be to find your place in a new place.

Venturini opened her shop two months ago. In that time, the shop has been burglarized four times. Someone took her cell phone, but worst of all, someone took the handmade shop sign from over the shop’s doorway. Now she has painted the shop’s name onto the wall over the door.

Asked what she likes about Nice so far, Venturini is at a loss for words.”I don’t know, I have not found…”

To Venturini, the shop is more than a business, it’s her home. She sleeps above the shop, in a tiny bedroom, and has a bathroom, and kitchenette on the main floor.

Many tourists won’t see this side of Nice. The city accommodates visitors, but has little to offer those who are seeking jobs.

Make no mistake, life in Nice is definitely not cheap.

In Nice, “La vie est cher, comment à Paris,”which roughly translates to: “Life is expensive, like in Paris,” says Philippe Colonna, who moved to Nice from the north-eastern French city of Strasbourg for the weather.

Colonna’s life in Nice is very different from Venturini’s experience. His home is protected by a security system, has multiple balconies and a to-die-for seaside view.

Venturini sleeps in a small bedroom above her shop with a curtain for a door and a view of the alley. But Venturini doesn’t let her living situation bother her. The size of her living quarters doesn’t bother her. “I’m adaptable,” she says with a smile.

Nice’s two main industries are tourism and technology, but with France’s current unemployment rate near 11 percent, and the French economy at a major low point, it’s easy to understand why some locals don’t look favorably upon Venturini and other immigrants looking for a fresh start.

Venturini is in Nice because Italy is having an economic crisis as well. Its unemployment rate  is higher than France’s.

“It’s impossible to work (in Italy),” Venturini says. “I would like to go away from Italy.” she says. She said she would love to go live and work in the United States, but immigration policies are too strict. Within the Euro zone, she can move wherever there is work.

Venturini’s story as an immigrant and an outsider is a familiar one. Like many others, she came to another country as an economic refugee and has been met with either indifference or disdain.

Venturini is a University graduate, and has had successful careers in archaeology and selling antiquities. She used to work in a library and on archaeological excavations. After she turned 40, she decided to open a shop.

“I love antique furnitures, so I opened a shop for antiques,” she said. Starting an independent business seemed like an easy choice.

Over the years, Venturini, who is now 62, has opened antique shops in different cities, and now, of course, in another country.

“People come in to look, but don’t buy,”said Venturini of her venture so far in Nice.

She says that prices in Italy are higher and despite the state of the economy, business was better there. She brushed off a question about whether her business is struggling here, saying that she is happier with her business here.

“I’m happy about my life,” she said. “It is very important (to) remember the experience.”

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