I am going to Serbia for 5 days to act as a translator for one of our Italian engineers,
All week I have tried to point out the full extent of my Italian. ie
Destra a sinistra,
Scusi, io sono inglese,
Dov’è il bagno? / dove è mia moglie?
Mi piace / non mi piace,
Tsk, no, ho capito niente (with a shake of the head)
and various swear words that I have picked up along the way.
I thought the office was winding me up, but no today I have just received the flight and hotel booking.
It has reinforced my opinion that Italians are Pazzo. Oh need to add Pazzo to the above list.
I am not a hoarder or a collector of clutter, ok I lie I hate throwing anything away. I have also been known to save items that other people would consider to be junk. For example I brought to Italy my dad’s spanners and old tools even though they are imperial and not much use to man nor beast, especially in Italy where everything is metric. But I still have them.
I also have 18 wine bottles that I salvaged from the local recycling bottle bank. I don’t normally collect wine bottles but these looked interesting. My wife was a little confused when I returned home from the bottle bank with 18 dirty, manky wine bottles, when I had been sent there to dispose of 7 wine bottles and 2 jam jars. When I struggled through the doorway under the watchful gaze of Mrs Sensible with a huge plastic bag full of bottles I was once again transformed back into a little boy again, trying to explain to my mother why I thought it was ok to bring an old bees nest home. Mrs Sensible was watching me as I cleaned them in the yard, I promised her that I would either recycle them back were they came from or if they were as interesting as I thought, I would keep them.
I sent a number of photos to the Sheffield Museum to see if they could give me some idea to the age of my bottles. A lovely lady called Clara Morgan sent me an e-mail confirming my wine bottles were hand-blown, and she said they dated from 1750 – 1800, nice.
The next question that I asked myself and in fact the question that Mrs Sensible kept asking me was “now that you have spent an afternoon cleaning them what are you going to do with them and are they worth anything?” I decided to store them in the attic while I pondered the question.
Drilling a hole in the base of each wine bottle and turning them into lamps was a sacrilege; besides when we had guests over for dinner they were a great talking point. That is until Mrs Sensible became tired of dusting around the bottle that I had strategically left on top of the bookshelf.
In my humble opinion Marco Bellero produces the best wine in Piemonte, he will also deliver wine to my doorstep just like Ernie the milkman in the UK used to do, until the supermarkets pushed him out of business. All I have to do is phone Marco and say 6 Barberra, 3 Grignolino and 2 San Pietro please. And the next morning the wine will be waiting on my doorstep.
One morning I showed Marco my antique bottles and asked him if he could fill them with his famous Barone di San Pietro especially as earlier that week I had tasted the wine while it was still in the oak casks. Marco thought it was a great idea and he agreed.
Eighteen bottles of fine Barone di San Pietro turned up on my doorstep complete with labels but no plastic caps. The bottle necks are too big for my caps he said apologetically. We haggled over the price and he kept saying no no e regalo, e regalo. My wife later told me the 18 bottles some 150+ euros was a gift or regalo.
Marco asked me when I was going to open the first bottle. On my birthday which this year falls on November 3rd and I will open another bottle every birthday so I have enough wine to last me to the ripe old age of 69.
It’s great to look forward to something on your birthday.
This is a long post but it is for Jennifer at http://laavventura.wordpress.com who is yet to visit an Italian dentist. The follow is an extract from a book I am attempting to write, please excuse the grammar.
I have suffered with intermittent toothache since arriving in Italy. This is partly because of the bureaucracy and the necessary completion of various forms and to be honest my aversion to pain. I don’t even want the state to pay; well it would be nice if they offered but it is highly unlikely. I needed with the help of my wife Mrs Sensible to work through loads of forms just to enable me to visit a private dentist.
When I first arrived in Italy Mrs Sensible and I went to see a dentist recommended by Angela our landlady. “Go see Dottor Roberto” she told Mrs Sensible, “he is cheap and good; you can’t miss his surgery it is based in the old folks home in Giarole.” If you are reading this book while sat in an old folks home in England or are waiting to be admitted to one put the book down and go and request a transfer to an old folks home in Italy because they don’t smell of wee and old people.
As we entered the reception area of the old folks home we found the door to the surgery situated on the right hand side of the reception area. But before we could enter the surgery we had to walk past a group of old people sat outside the surgery door on chairs and in wheelchairs. Their highlight of the day was to say ciao and come stai? to all the unfortunate patients of Dottor Roberto.
After I had reluctantly sat in the dentist chair my wife explained in Italian to Dottor Roberto why we were there. To involve myself in the conversation I helpfully pointed to the tooth that was throbbing away. After I had shown Dottor Roberto the molar which was hurting he proceeded to poke and then tap each of my teeth in turn with a small metal bar to satisfy himself that I wasn’t kidding.
He started from the right and slowly worked his way down my teeth as a musician might on a glockenspiel. As he got close to the painful tooth I started to become a little stressed. He gave the painful tooth a whack and I yelped; Dottor Roberto smiled with satisfaction. “Ecco!” he said.
After explaining to Mrs Sensible the treatment I needed and after filling out more forms he said he would drill and fill my tooth with a temporary filling. Sitting up in the chair and getting ready to leave I was quite shocked that Dottor Roberto was intending to start the treatment straight away. I protested that there were other patients sat in the waiting room and I even tried pleading with Mrs Sensible that we had only come to have it checked and to see how much it would cost but to no avail.
Doctor Roberto administrated one and then after much pleading a second injection of anaesthetic. He then set about drilling my tooth and putting in a temporary filling.
Charging me eighty Euros for the temporary filling Dottor Roberto then quoted a further 230 Euros to finish the treatment. He explained that I had to be registered with the local health department for him to finish the treatment but not to worry as the temporary filling was ok for two months which should give us enough time to register with the local health authority and to fill out more forms.
The following day my wife and I went to the main administrative building for health in the centre of Casale Monferrato. We asked the woman in charge if we could have the necessary forms so that I could continue my dental treatment. The woman asked to see my medical card. I produced with a flourish the battered cardboard card the UK National Health Service had issued to me many years ago. She took one look at it and shook her head. “It needs to have the European blue flag on with all the stars, like this one” she said producing from her purse her own plastic medical card. I muttered to my wife “that my card had been issued before we got dragged into the European Union by Maggie Thatcher.”
Leaving the building without any forms I was still muttering as we got into our car. “I will get my dad to organise a medical card for holiday makers abroad. We are after all in the European Union and then we can wave that under the nose of that stupid woman.” My wife said something about it was me that wanted to live in Italy and so I should stop complaining.
Thinking that 230 Euros sounded a bit steep for a filling and as I was due to visit Sicily where everything is cheaper I managed to delay the treatment even longer.
In Sicily I received a second opinion from my father in laws dentist in the little village of Giarratana. Following a quotation of 120.00 Euros the dentist told Nuccio that he needed more x rays of my tooth before he could continue. Nuccio turned to me and said “Come on we have to go to the mayor to get an x-ray of your tooth.” It sounded a bit strange to have to go to the mayor for an x-ray but this is Sicily after all. When we had located the Mayor I found out that he also doubled up as the local radiologist.
This dentist with his good looks and black wavy hair that is only obtainable from the best Vidal Sassoon hair stylist looked, more like a rich playboy than a dentist. He quickly looked at the x-ray and said to Nuccio “Ha bisogno di una canalizzazione.” As the dentist shoved his syringe and gloved hand into my mouth Nuccio calmly informed me that the dentist said I needed root canal treatment.
As he started to drill my tooth I immediately noticed the absence of any dental assistant. Normally there is a pretty female assistant to take my mind off the pain the dentist is trying to inflict on me. She normally sits there smiling and handing over the tools and operating the various suction pipes. Maybe the playboy dentist was going to involve my father in law who was stood watching. I am pretty sure Nuccio would have jumped at the chance of helping as he stood gazing into my mouth. I also noticed the almost total absence of anaesthetic even my lip wasn’t tingling.
I am of the opinion that a dentist should not be allowed anywhere near me with their drills and other instruments of torture, until my lips are all rubbery and I have lost total sensation in at least one of my ears. So it was with no surprise that I jumped as he broke through the temporary filling and hit the nerve. My reaction did the trick; the dentist declined to complete the treatment claiming the nerve must have an infection. As this was translated to me, I told Nuccio to tell him I will be ok if he uses some anaesthetic.
After hastily inserting another temporary filling the dentist told me to come back in three weeks after the infection had gone. Mr Playboy then handed me his card and said if the tooth gives me any problems I was not to hesitate to call him, although this weekend he was going to Monaco to watch some racing.
So here we are another 6 months later back at the old folk’s home with Dottor Roberto who is no playboy. Indeed I may be mistaken but he looks as though he may have gained a few pounds around the waist but it has been a while since he inserted the temporary filling that was only supposed to last me 2 months. Dottor Roberto asked me which tooth was hurting. I replied “The one with the white temporary filling.”
Just to make sure he tapped each tooth in turn with his little steel rod. I don’t flinch or jump as he gave the bad tooth a whack. This was because I had taken precautions. I had dosed myself up with the best anti-inflammatory and pain killers I could find prior to leaving the house.
When Dottor Roberto found out about the pain killers he was not very impressed. After giving me a lecture on painkillers and the protocol for visiting the dentist which Mrs Sensible dutifully translated for me, (my wife hadn’t known about the pain killers either) she was giving me that you’re in trouble when you get home look; the dentist continued to explain that it is important that he can tell which tooth is hurting. Now I have always believed there has to be a streak of sadism in every dentist and this episode only goes to prove it.
My wife explained in mitigation that I have a very low pain threshold and he could see that I was looking a little worried so he obliged me by using enough anaesthetic to kill all the feeling on the left side of my face even my eyebrow was a little dead it seemed to be stuck up at an angle like one of Sean Connery eye brows. That coupled with the assorted pain killers I had taken before leaving the house I thought I would be ok.
My wife is as always the interpreter, she explained that if I feel any pain I was to raise my left hand. If I feel any pain he would know before I had had time to raise my left hand that’s for sure.
The Dentist with the help of his young assistant placed a piece of latex across my mouth and securing it in place with little rods that somehow must have been secured in and around my teeth. He then used what looked like a mini pastry cutter to cut a hole around my bad tooth and pushing it in place secured the latex. It was great, no debris from the drilling would drop into my mouth and the dentist wouldn’t have to stare at my tonsils. Although he needn’t have bothered as my tonsils had been removed twelve months previous when my nose was re-bored to stop me snoring like a pig. I have also for many years had trouble breathing just through my nose hence the nostril re-bore.
The latex had effectively shut off the air supply to my mouth and as I still have trouble breathing through my nose, every time I inhaled and exhaled the air that was forced in and out past the latex made a sound not unlike a whoopee cushion. After a little adjustment both the dentist and I were a little happier. Dottor Roberto held out a hand mirror so that I can watch him drill my tooth. But with a shake of my head I refused it. I like to keep my eyes tightly closed as I grip my hands together in my lap in a difficult effort to control the panic and my natural response to leave the surgery.
As he started to drill I knew that if I relaxed everything would be ok but my nerves were straining; waiting for the inevitable pain. Meanwhile my wife is entertaining him with the tale of where, when and how we met and why we are now living in Italy. I lay there in the chair with my mouth wide open and a corner of the latex tickling my nose every time I breathed in or out, wondering if the dentist could concentrate on my teeth while chatting to my good wife.
The assistant had noticed that I had opened my eyes and that I did not look entirely relaxed and happy. She asked my wife “Lui va bene?” My wife said “Are you ok?” I managed to reply through the latex “Urrrmppph!” At that moment a mobile phone started to ring, it wasn’t mine or my wife’s as just before we entered the surgery we had switched them both off. The dental assistant calmly picked up the offending mobile and passed it to Dottor Roberto… “Pronto, ciao Alberto, come stai. si ok dove si va bene…..”
I was gob smacked; truly astounded not only was my dentist talking on his mobile, he was still drilling my tooth. I tried to signal to my wife with my eyes that I was not pleased and the panic I had managed to hold just under the surface was close to escaping.
After what seemed like an eternity the assistant spotted that I was a little stressed and that my eyeballs appeared to be popping out of my head. She calmly ushered the dentist who was still talking on his phone out of the room.
Italian phone calls are never short and end with lots of goodbyes ciao baci arrivederci si domani ok capisco ciao ciao.
I was still in the chair with the tube sucking away in my mouth the latex burping away happily as the doctor reappeared to frosty scowls from both the assistant and me.
The good news is I survived the procedure. The bad news is I had another appointment in ten days time for him to finish reconstructing the tooth. As I left the surgery I promised the dottor that I wouldn’t dose myself with pain killers next time if he promised not to answer his phone while he was drilling my teeth
I am as sick as a dog today, I really want to be left alone to lie in my bed and sulk, I don’t want lots of hugs and sympathy from Mrs Sensible, and I don’t want strange Italian medicines or to visit the doctors to make sure it is not terminal. It is not necessary to take blood, urine or any other sample to establish that I have a bad case of man flu.
When Mrs Sensible is ill she requires 24 hour around the clock loving and affection, someone to fetch, carry and generally be there to hold her hand. It is a huge and basic difference between us and more importantly how our mothers dealt with illness. Her Sicilian mother (who is just wonderful and has adopted me) would sit with my wife and make her sweet honey tea, feed her little bits of food to keep up her strength and generally love her better. On the other hand my mum would banish me to my bedroom with a bottle of lucozade and an aspirin. And as soon as I was well enough to sit downstairs in front of the telly, I was well enough to go back to school.
I don’t think the way Mrs Sensible and I deal with illness is just conditioned by our mothers but because she is Italian and I am English. Before I moved to Italy I had never heard of the many illnesses that befall Italians. The Italian illness that immediately springs to mind is cervicale (stiff neck), the slightest wind even in high summer can trigger it. Leaving the house with damp hair will not only get you into trouble with mama and nona but you will certainly contract cervicale. Prevention is the best cure hence all Italians wear scarves even in the summer.
During July a small spider bit my leg and I think I developed a small allergic reaction to the bite, similar to the reaction I develop to tiger mosquito bites. My leg swelled and a little boil appeared. The boil kept popping and growing a little bit. Mrs Sensible told me I needed to go to the hospital emergency department. I laughed and declined, I explained that you only go to the emergency department if a paramedic has just cut you out of a car crash or if you sever a tendon in your hand while cutting gollywog tokens from Robinsons jam jars, something my dad did in 1984.c
Later that week a colleague at work noticed I was limping a little, and after looking at my leg and tutting she told me to andare a pronto soccorso ospedale. So I went and the doctor and nurse who saw me did not mutter about time-wasting but quickly and efficiently cleaned my leg they then took numerous blood samples, gave me a course of antibiotics and told me to return to the emergency department the following day!!!
On my return to the hospital I received my blood results and once again my leg was cleaned disinfected and re bandaged. The doctor gave me a copy of the blood results and an invoice for 25 euros. Not bad really. It seems Italians will have a blood test every three to five years whether they need one or not, very much like the English renewing their tetanus jab.
Every summer we go to Sicily to stay with the family, which is just great because they just love me to bits. My new-found family will take my side in an argument and will scold my wife even though they haven’t a clue what we are arguing about. The slight downside with staying with the family in Sicily is although the temperatures reaches above 40°C Mrs Sensibles mum and dad will still try to persuade me to wear a vest under my tee-shirt and to always wear slippers in the house. Wearing a vest I am told will protect me from colpo d’aria or roughly translated a puff of air. It seems even if the air is hot colpo d’aria will bring on a bad case of cervicale the ailment most Italians suffer from.
Driving on Italian roads is just like participating in a grand Nintendo game but with only one life. The object of the game “Guida” is to try to overtake the car in front, regardless of his speed or the road conditions, while preventing the car behind from gaining points by overtaking you. Points are deducted for the use of indicators or if you are caught driving within the speed limit; however points are gained if you manically flash your headlights while tailgating the car in front. Bonus points are awarded while tailgating if you know it is impossible for the car in front to pull over to let you past. Guida is played throughout Italy although at different levels depending on how far North or South of Florence you are. I mention Florence because the Fiorentini are prohibited from playing Guida mainly because there are an awful lot of autovelox and the local police fine drivers for speeding, which is not really very sporting or Italian.
Palermo and Catania play this game on their roads with a slight difference, points are awarded for the use of exaggerated hand signals and for vocal instructions to other gamers, bonus points if the local dialect is used. With regards to Naples the Neapolitans don’t play Guida at all, it is far too easy for them, they play a game that is a derivation of Rollaball and only experts should consider participating. On a recent trip to Germany I found out that Guida is not permitted in either Switzerland or Germany, their police take a dim view of this Italian pastime, and will fine anyone caught attempting to play the game. Perhaps one day it will be allowed because the Swiss and Germans take great delight in joining the game of Guida as soon as they cross into Italy.
On Thursday I was visited a couple of clients in Germany, and I stayed at a great hotel the food was fantastic and the room was clean and orderly, although to my disappointment they had taken the precaution of emptying the mini bar before I had arrived. Over a drink with the hotelier, I can’t remember her name but she was probably called Greta we discussing the differences between Germany and Italy, her comment was “Yes Germany is well organised but Italy has nice wine and pasta, and they seem to enjoy life more in Italy, we are sometimes too serious in Germany”. So it is not just the English that think the Germans have no sense of Humour.
Greta or maybe she was called Hilda asked me if I had tried the local spa, she informed me that if I wanted to go swimming I could rent a towel and purchase some trunks at the spa. After a 6 hour drive through Europe and a days work it sounded like a really good way of relaxing and easing the knots in my back. So I set off for a relaxing swim.
At the swimming pool there was an orderly queue of people waiting to pay for the entrance to the swimming pool. As I reached the head of the queue the receptionist said “bitte” . Erh do you speak English? I asked. Of course.
Of course!! I forgot it is only the English that only speak one language. I was once told that someone who can converse in three languages is tri lingual, someone who can speak in two languages is bi lingual and someone who can only understand one language is English. Anyway I asked how much to use the swimming pool, 8 euros and 12 if I wanted to use the sauna after. I have never used a sauna but a deal is a deal and I decided to go for the full package.
I changed into my trunks and headed towards the swimming pool. As I entered the warm pool and swam briskly to the centre I was amazed to see that the only person swimming was me, all the other swimmers were standing around the edge of the pool, watching me. There is nothing like the rabbit in the car headlight moment to bring you to your senses and evaluate what faux pas you have just committed. As I swam around in circles I noticed that there was an orderly queue waiting to enter the pool, in my excitement to go swimming I had somehow missed it, but as I stood contemplated getting out of the pool and joining the queue I heard a buzzer and to my amazement everyone standing in the pool took a step to their right and one of the Germans that had patiently queued on the steps entered the water as one women left the pool.
To say I was bemused is a bit of an understatement, I turned a full circle in fact I turned around twice just to see if I could graciously leave the pool by another exit. Unfortunately there was only one exit and there were 32 Germans watching me, I know because I had counted them. As the buzzer once again sounded the static swimmers once again took a step to their right, one more German entered the pool and another left. It was at this point that I nearly drowned; all I could think was the Germans are so organised and disciplined that they even swim by numbers. A woman left her position by the side of the pool and swam to the exit. I decided I had better take her place until I work out if I was allowed to swim or if I also had to move around the pool as regimented as a soldier.
As I backed into the vacant space that she had created, a blast of water hit my left buttock and very nearly knocked me of my feet. As I grabbed the side of the pool I noticed a silver disc stuck to the side with the number seven printed on it. As I stabilised myself and experimented with the water jet the buzzer sounded again, I was quiet reluctant to move away from station seven but the man to my right at station eight had moved and the huge woman to my left was looking at me as though I was a sandwich short of a picnic, even a man who was patiently waiting to enter the pool looked at me as he realised it was I who was holding up his swimming. So I took a step to the right. It was at this point that the giggles hit me and another water blast from the side of the pool buffered the small of my back. I don’t normally suffer from the giggles but it was all too much for me, here I was in a swimming pool being watched by a bunch of very serious Germans waiting for the next buzzer while thinking of the song The Time Warp from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. ♫It’s just a jump to the left and then a step to the right .♫ Too much, much too much. The more I tried not to giggle the worse it got. I managed to get to station 10 a water jet to the back of the knees, before I gave up and left the pool. I walked back to my locker and wrapping the towel around my waist I went in search of the sauna and jacuzzi. Which I may or may not blog about.
Today is back to school day for most of the children in Italy. Mrs Sensible is a teacher in scuola primaria. This year she is tasked with teaching the little blighters angels English, maths and music in one school and in the other English and Italian. While I sit here typing this blog Mrs Sensible is colouring in posters for her new classrooms. The little quip I made about I hope you have finished all your work before you started colouring in your pictures was almost met with physical violence.
I was first forced to attend school some forty-five years ago and I don’t believe it has fundamentally changed in the last forty-five years for either the children or the teachers. I can say this from bitter experience because Mrs Sensible forced me to go to the local evening class to learn Italian. I suppose forced is maybe a bit hard, my mum forced me to school by threatening me with the slipper, Mrs Sensible used the “If you want to stay in Italy you need to learn the language, I am tired of translating for you maybe we should go back to the UK”
I have never found my lack of Italian to be a huge problem I can order wine, grappa and food and request the cost of items. In fact my lack of Italian has been quiet useful, Scusi io sono inglese mi dispiace non capsico, has saved me from buying expensive items or helped me escape from street traders trying to sell me bags and belts.
So as my good wife had become exasperated with being my interpreter she enrolled me in a basic Italian night class on a Thursday night for immigrants run by the local municipale. The lessons were held in a senior school in Casale Monferrato. The teacher Maestra Piera was in her late 50s. Her eyes glitter with excitement as she explained to my wife that all I would have to do to learn Italian was to listen to everything she said. Oh and importantly attend her class regularly. This seemed far removed from the way I was taught in school. I seem to remember it took the threat of the cane and detention for me to apply myself to the lessons.
During the first lesson I was determined not to draw attention to myself. As I entered the classroom I calmly walked to the back of the room and chose a desk in the corner. As I started to sit down, Maestra Piera pointed at me and announced to the class “Lui e’ Inglese si chiama Peter.” She then pointed to a desk at the front of the class and shouted “Vieni Peter, vieni qui.” My cover blown I slowly walked to the front of the class and sat down at the desk right in front of the blackboard. The horrors of my former school life quickly returned. I was beginning to wonder if I would have to produce a sick note signed by my wife when I decided to skip a lesson.
The classroom was the same as any schoolroom that I have sat or stood in the corner of. The only difference was the desks were scored with graffiti in Italian, Giuseppe Ti Amo Loradana. As I sat waiting for the lesson to begin I started to thumb through my new Italian – English dictionary wondering if I would have to back it in brown paper for homework.
As I sat there wishing I was somewhere else I become aware of all the different languages that were being spoken in the room. Near the door was a group who were either Russian or Ukrainian. Behind me near the back of the classroom I could hear French and in the middle of the room another language which I later found out belonged to the Albanians who outnumbered all of us.
I started my first lesson with a simply subject. How to change a singular noun into a plural noun, while remembering to change the article at the same time. We also needed to remember that the rules are different for male and female gender nouns. Not only is it mind-boggling, but all the explanations the teacher gave were in Italian. Logarithms without a table or calculator would have been easier. It wasn’t until I showed Mrs Sensible my notes later that night that I became aware of what I had been listening to for the previous two and a half hours.
At one point during the lesson Maestra Pierra looked at me and said with a huge smile and a nod. “Peter hai Capito?” I slowly shook my head no. Huge mistake! She walked to my desk smiled at me, leaned in close and raising her voice to a shout proceeded to give me the exact same explanation that she had given the class less than 5 seconds ago, again in Italian. “Oh ok ok io capisco” I said. I never made that mistake again.
In the early lessons I think Maestra Piera thought I was her perfect student. I never asked her to repeat anything twice and I wrote down almost everything she said. It was only later that she cottoned on to how badly I was progressing in her lessons. One of the problems with the lessons, was I didn’t understand Italian therefore I didn’t understand the teacher.
The second problem was the class had a massive mix of abilities. There were the French, Spanish and Rumanians who with their Latin based language could argue with the teacher over the correct structure of a sentence and then there was me who needed pictures of cats and dogs with gatto and cane printed beneath them.
I struggled through two years of classes with Maestro Piera and I know it was as much a struggle for her as it was for me. The symbolic certificate she gave me saying I had attained level 2 in Italian was presented more for my dogged attendance and also to make sure I didn’t re apply for a third year.
This summer during July, we bumped into Maestra Piera while we were shopping. I did try to follow the conversation between my old teacher and my wife. I smiled and nodded in the right places and shook my head as they shook theirs. I also got the distinct and mortifying feeling that my wife was organizing year three of my Italian education. I caught phrases like dovra’ cominciare al livello uno and in Settembre. To date Mrs Sensible has not mentioned my date for going back to school so I am hoping against all hope that she has forgotten our meeting with Maesta Piera, unfortunately I doubt she has because she has an incredible memory and is probably waiting for the perfect opportunity to spring my new term date on me.
9.30 on Sunday morning I opened our front door to be greeted by a basket of grapes sitting on our patio table. To be honest I was not surprised, happy and grateful yes, but not surprised. In the year that we have lived in this house various vegetables have magically appeared on the table. During the summer it was tomatoes and zucchini, now it is the time for baskets of grapes and pretty soon large squash will start to appear.
During the week we share our good fortune with our friends because try as we might it is not possible to eat the number of eggs or vegetables that are left on the table. It is not the fairies or a leprechaun that leaves the food on the table but our neighbour Luigina.
Luigina is eighty-seven years old and when she is not digging in her l’orto she is cleaning out or feeding her twelve hens. One day I asked Luigina how many eggs the hens lay, around six a day she told me, and how many eggs do you eat, around two a week. We receive between six and twelve eggs a week the other thirtyish eggs are given to her friends and relatives. A few eggs a month are stolen by her dog. I have occasionally seen him jump the fence, pinch one egg and carefully carry it unbroken back to his kennel. So why keep twelve hens when you only eat two a week? To pass the time she tells me.
Lila, the dog that jumps fences and steals eggs
At eighty seven Luigina is surprisingly fit, I have watched Luigina digging with beads of sweet running down her face, so one morning as I contemplated my own mortality and the fact that I could do with losing a few pounds I decided to start my own l’orta.
Luigina with Nebbiolo grapes, her grandson produces the fine Barolo wine.
One Saturday in May under the supervision of Luigina I staked out a plot of land four meters by 12 meters for my l’orto, she advised me to use the land near a tree so there would be some shade during the summer. Looking at my plot of land Luigina was working out which plants should go where. I was working out how many calories it would take to dig the hard clay over and how much weight I would lose. She told me I would need some letame because the ground was new. As I nodded in agreement I thought I must remember to ask my wife what letame was.
Sunday was beautiful and armed with my trusty spade (that had last seen action when I was working part-time for two Italian girls who had tried to create an English garden in the middle of an Italian field) I strode purposely down the garden to my l’orto. The fairies had arrived again. This time it was not a basket of grapes but my l’orto had been completely dug over.
As I stood there with my working boots on and my spade in my hand Luigina arrived. I need to quickly add that my Italian is not very good and understanding Luigina is sometimes difficult because she drifts between Italian and her local dialect Piemontese, and I only understand a little Italian but the gist of the conversation was her cousin had arrived with his tractor and late on Saturday he had dug the l’orto over for me. Probably he was paid in eggs.
Five months on we have had fresh vegetables ranging from crisp peas to strawberries, and one of the best parts of owning a l’orto is not eating the fresh vegetables, or watching something miraculously grow from a seed or trying to lose a bit of weight, but playing at fairies and leaving strawberries or potatoes outside Luiginas door.
A couple of months ago I found a site called www.workaway.info
The workaway concept is very simple. There are hosts who need some help and there are workaways who need somewhere to stay while they backpack around the world. No money changes hand, just a maximum of 5 hours work per day Monday to Friday in exchange for meals and a place to sleep.
I had a trawl around the site and found most of the hosts had organic farms and needed someone to help sow, dig, build or do something to earn their keep. There were also families who wanted help with looking after children and one or two old people who wanted help looking after themselves… I could probably fall into the later category but I have Mrs Sensible to look after me. Accommodation for the workaway ranged from a Teepee,(no kidding) to a self contained flat.
I thought is was a really good idea and decided to upload a couple of pictures of our house and announce that we needed domestic help in the house. After vetting one or two people and I have to say Facebook is really useful for this task because it is amazing what people write on their pages I accepted a young woman called Chloe from Tasmania. Normally I would change her name but I have nothing but praise for Chloe.
That night I thought I had better tell Mrs Sensible about my experiment….
Part of the discussion with Mrs Sensible was, “but she is on the way and you hate ironing just as much as I do”.
Mrs Sensible really couldn’t get her head around the workaway concept, maybe it is an Italian culture thing or maybe it was her friends who made remarks like, so how long have you known her, and what if she goes rummaging around in your knicker drawer. A week before Chloe was due to arrive Mrs Sensible said “if this girl is arriving on Monday we had better spend the weekend tiding the house and getting it ready!!!!! It is defiantly an Italian culture thing, “we have a guest coming, you start cleaning and I will start baking”. No amount of protesting from me about the lack of work there would be left for our workaway experiment cut any ice.
Even after Chloe arrived there were problems. My wife was mixing up the concept of workaway and guestaway. Due to Italy’s Ferraogosto the two-week period when Italy grinds to a halt and everyone heads to the sea, both Mrs Sensible and I were at home while Chloe was with us. So Chloe managed to do a maximum of around 1 to 2 hours work a day the rest of the time we spent showing Chloe places like the King Palace in Turin, wine tasting at the local cantina or we went out to eat at our favourite pizzeria. We also spent a fine Sunday morning sat in a cafe drinking aperitif. In the house the two of them sat and watched videos or disappeared and went shopping. My wife would say Peter please go and fetch the washing in and I would splutter but but we have a guestaway…
Both Mrs Sensible and I are back at work and today I received another application from a workaway, Miss X from New Zealand is due to arrive on the 12th of this month. I will warn Mrs Sensible after the weekend because no way am I spending this weekend cleaning the house. I have sent a very detailed e-mail to Miss X from New Zealand with the work that is involved including, ironing, cleaning the bathroom & kitchen and mopping the floors and under no circumstance must I have to fetch the washing in or should she spend the day shopping or watching videos with my good wife Mrs Sensible.
Ramblings from An Englishman in Italy.
Ok plan B We will rent out our house and I will take any job in Italy.
Eunice calmly and slowly pointed out my inability to understand or construct even the most basic sentence in Italian.
“You are married to an Italian.
Your two best friends are Italian.
And so far the only words you have learnt are:-
ciao, si, non, cosi cosi (so so)
and non e’ vero (not true).”
“Non e’ vero” I replied.
In 2005 I married Eunice an Italian who had emigrated to the UK to try and escape the problems, confusion, poor driving and in her words corruption in Italy. After two years of married life and against her better judgement I managed to persuade her that we could make a life in Sunny Italy. I think the constant English rain helped me to convince her that it might work.
I suggested to Eunice that if she finds a job in Italy as a teacher, she can support me while I turn our new Italian home into a bed and breakfast . This was plan A, which was well and totally scuppered by the collapse of several banks in the UK and of course the housing market. My wife had played her part, she had found the teachers job and was sat in Italy waiting for yours truly. I on the other hand was sat in rainy Sheffield with a house we couldn’t sell.
Plan B didn’t really work either, I spent 2 years doing manual labour, gardening, builders labourer and fetch and carry for a landscape gardener. Despite my poor spelling and grammar I even considered teaching English, the traditional fall back position for any self respecting English Expat.
My first teaching assignment organised by my wife, was conversation with an Italian businessman. This was ideal because I didn’t need to spell anything. Marco and I met at the local cafe for our first lesson and my first piece of conversation was are we drinking wine or beer? After several bottles of Peroni (we kept asking the cafe owner to clear the table in case my wife turned up) Marco suggested we start a business importing and marketing a range of liquid pumps, he must have realised I was not cut out to be a teacher.
Do I love Italy?
Yes, it is a great place but it shouldn’t be run by the Italians.
Do I hate Italy?
Yes there is a lot wrong with the country, as my wife tells me “life is hard in Italy”
When I have to deal with anything to do with paperwork, the Italian post office or when the education department fails to pay Eunice for 3 months I do think that I should have listened to my wife when she said “life in Italy is hard”. But all the problems of Italy disappear when I have a glass of fine wine in my hand and I am sat in the glorious sunshine outside one of the many cafe’s in the villages hidden in the Monferrato hills.
Do I miss the UK? I don’t miss the weather, or the traffic and speed cameras, I do miss Bacon, Walkers Crisps and a decent cup of tea and of course English humour. At times I miss standing in a real pub, having a couple of drinks with friends and laughing out loud. In Italy only drunkards drink beer without a plate of food in front of them, even if it is only a couple of slices of salami, olives and a chunk of cheese.
I have tried to find other English people who have escaped to La Dolce Vita, but in the large part in vain.
According to the latest data released by the Institute for Public Policy Research, there are 29 thousand British people who are registered as residents of Italy. If this is true and you are out there, where are you??
Lord knows where they are all hiding because in the past 5 years I have bumped into a grand total of 18 of them. Starved of English humour I even took a train from the north of Italy to meet up for an Expats lunch in Florence. Two British turned up the rest were from the USA, New Zealand and one Italian man. I am not sure why Daniele was there perhaps he was from the south of Italy and considered himself an Expat in his own country.
So 5 years on, am I fluent in the language, am I living the Dolce Vita, do I have regrets? No, Cosi cosi, si. You see I do speak the lingo.