Saturday, 29 October 2011

"The House of the Little Fountain" - the name of one of the few remaining treasures in Pompeii.

Our Geometra, Paulo, is an inspiration. On Italian news we see floods in many parts of Italy (and the rest of the world), but not in Le Marche. We hear of Italy's financial and political crises, but one meeting with Paulo distances all these concerns and dissolves any lingering hypochondriacal homesickness.

Tuesday morning Paulo called us over to his office in the basement of his house to agree another final draft of our plans. They are so imaginatively and painstakingly produced, we can't find a detail he hasn't agonised over, including a little fountain he wants to put in an alcove by the front door. How did he know of my dream to have a fountain one day? He talks so quickly and energetically, it's almost impossible to take everything in, but his enthusiasm is infectious. He's like an expectant father pacing a maternity ward. It is invigorating, we all feel young again. His talk of building this house gives his pokey office a palatial dimension, we are at the centre of a new galaxy - at the birth of creation - the future is full of hope and it's all in our hands. The sense of awe, of insatiable anticipation is electric. All of that (and the verbosity...) remains with us long after we have left the office.

Back to the mundane... Sorting our internet connection is a pain in the rural parts (of Le Marche!). Thankfully the decision has been put aside 'til "domani", while we await the visit of a "technico" to perform a site inspection...hold the front page! By chance next to the local supermarket there's an unimposing IT shop. As usual, you never know quite what you're going to find once you walk into even the most unlikely looking shop. We are looking for a USB stick for the Mac only to be informed that it wouldn't work for our weak telephone signal, but: "Wait a minute, have a chat with the boss". The boss turns out to be an expert in installing internet connections and within less than half an hour he has explained how he can solve all our problems; he's a most unlikely seeming saviour, with his ultra fashionable spectacle frames, a ready and quirky sense of humour - "It'll only cost you two thousand euros, oops, forgive me got that wrong, I'm a bit sick" (to which Peter replies that he too is feeling a bit sick now!) and his offer of a cup of coffee which we are not allowed to refuse because it's: "The best coffee in the world". He also (like almost everyone else we've come across), knows Paulo, and just happens to be going out for a pizza with him that evening. Meanwhile, we are still minus an internet connection so we're off to Senigallia to top up on phone bites for the iPad.

Senigallia is a major town on the coast nearby. It has that other world, other time, aura about it where you feel as though you're on the set of a period drama, but the dress code wasn't printed on your invitation. The trademark sign, over one of those exclusive looking shops you never feel worthy enough to enter (and invariably regret it when you do) reads "Marcheshire". The cheek of it! Yet it's kind of like home from home - almost.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

"There's a hazardous sadness to the first sounds of someone else's work in the morning; it's as if stillness experiences pain in being broken". ( "Freedom" Jonathan Franzen)

There are little orange signs dotted intermittently along the roadside in this part of Italy. They read: Divieto di Caccia. There's one by the gate where we're staying, it means: No Hunting. I'm not sure how far the boundary of this restriction extends, but it must surely be beyond the source of the gunfire I hear at dawn every morning, including Sunday (in Italy ?!). What these hunters are aiming at is unknown to me; whether for fun or for food, or both. I have seen hares and small deer known as "daino", no pheasants, but the occasional, gravity-defying bird of prey.

It is rumoured that these hunters have special licences which exempt them from the "Divieto" signs. They park their dusty old cars along the roadside, sometimes right outside the house. You never see them, but by 10 am the cars and the sounds of gunshot are gone and all that remains of the dawn chorus is the slow chug of a distant tractor. Our day has begun.

We visit "Il Gelso" whose crumbling walls are now fortified by scaffolding. The roof has been removed, and Paulo's ace team of two is in the process of knocking down all the internal walls to the top floor, prior, they explain, to removing some of the external walls which are all wonky. Paulo has stipulated that anything that looks original and can be salvaged and reused is to be saved. There are piles of misshapen old stones, old "coppi" roof tiles, and of seemingly worm eaten bits of wood lying all over the site. We stand on the top floor of our roofless house and look up at the clear blue sky. "Tomorrow it will rain" they say with smiling anticipation. That means they will not work, but it won't keep the hunters at bay.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Mad hatter: “Have some tea.” Alice: “I don’t see any tea.” Mad Hatter: “There isn’t any.” ( “Alice in Wonderland”, Lewis Carroll)

The bank manager is super efficient. He’s wearing trainers, jeans and a sweatshirt, but he is startlingly close shaven and bright eyed. It is 8.45 am Monday morning, the exact time of our appointment, Paulo is already here with his son as counter signatory. On the bank manager’s vast desk lie the morning papers unopened, and the paperwork relating to our new account neatly arranged in front of the computer. I found him a most unusual bank manager.

We warmed up the proceedings by talking weather and the conversation turned to the benefits and workings of our “stufa” (a type of wood burning stove fueled by pellets, a by-product of the furniture industry). The discussion became more and more animated, I could but won’t say that the men warmed to their subject. The reason for our being there seemed forgotten or perhaps had become irrelevant. I sat there in the picture whilst not quite in it , but no-one seemed to mind, everyone was relaxed. We were passing the time and time was passing. At around 9.30 we got around to opening the bank account and received instructions on how to fill in an Italian cheque. By 9.40 we were on the road to the Notaio.

It all happened again at the Notaio’s. Paulo, now with both his sons, confidently strides straight through to the office, bypassing the receptionists who suppress a “Please wait, I’ll see if he’s available”. The Notaio is wearing sunglasses; he went sailing on Sunday and his eyes are sore from sun and sea. The conversation turns to sailing, then to something else, then to something else. Time passes. The Notaio is sharply dressed, with a full head of grey hair and a ‘tache to match. He is important, a representative of the State, and we need to know it. He is also a first cousin to Paulo. He’s mislaid his notes, but he’s not worried, they must be where he left them on our last visit, if only he could remember where. He covers himself with a sense of humour which reveals itself in the twinkling of his eyes, evident even through the sunglasses.

We eventually get down to business - the composing and signing of the “compromesso” (which probably translates as “initial contract”, but which I translate as “compromised”). The Notaio puts his reading glasses on over his sunglasses; he should look ridiculous, but he’s a canny old Italian and he retains his “bella figura”. The signing of the contract and the handing over of the cheque for the deposit takes less than half an hour. Two hours after entering the office Paulo, his sons, Peter and I head off for the nearest bar for non-alcoholic cocktails and a conversation about the benefits or otherwise of driving methane fueled cars. Why not talk about methane gas when you’ve just bought and sold a house?

Meanwhile, work on the house is proceeding, though the local authority has yet to approve the final plans (which we have yet to submit) and the final “Atto” (the second half of the Compromesso sale contract) has yet to be completed.

Sorry, I'm unable to upload any new photos as we're not on wifi as yet and the phone signal is quite weak here.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

"Oh, Brave New World" (Shakespeare, "The Tempest")

It takes seventeen minutes to drive through the Gotthard Tunnel. I'm sure it used to be called the Saint Gotthard Tunnel; has it been excommunicated, or is it simply not quite so saintly now? Either way, to me it was heaven sent. There are two things I love about Switzerland: it is a very small country, and it has a very fast road straight through it. The Tunnel marks the last lap, Italy before us, and don't you just know it!

As we emerged, the sun was setting, the sky looked as though Jackson Pollock had done his thing with a pot or two of psychedelic pink and orange paint on a canvas of deep turquoise, and the clock towers no longer troubled to keep the exact time.

Months of anticipation, three days on the road and if we ever had any doubts they are forgotten now. The drive was mostly quite tedious. The most stressful hour was spent negotiating the Milan "tangenziale" trying to follow Pete in the Land Rover whilst dodging articulated lorries which insisted on bullying their way into the indecently short gap I was fighting to maintain.

Today we're in Le Marche in the province of Perugia/Urbino. We've been here two days. So, it seems has the world's media, but that's someone else's story.

We were welcomed on our arrival by a neighbour who's taken it upon himself to water our friend's garden. He brings his family along to watch him do it. He didn't come yesterday nor today though goodness knows the grass needs the water, but then strangers and their dogs don't arrive every day of the week. Also welcomed to Italy by my mobile phone company and by my iPad (Pace Jobs, thank you!) which has suddenly, and not a little presumptuously, decided I am fluent in Italian. We have already visited our "pile of bricks" where work has begun and which looks convincingly like a building site now. Photos next post.

Meanwhile, I sit here in the unseasonal heat (30c) even for this part of the world, and watch the washing drying on the line... oops, watch the dry washing on the line.