The good, the bad and the Italy

There’s this thing about Italy… it likes to build you up, show you how amazing it is, makes you think that everything is good in the world and then, just when you’re starting to relax, it grabs you in its big, greasy hands, slaps you around the face a few times, rubs soggy pizza in your eyes, kicks you in the balls and then throws you into the gutter.

This week had started so well. We had agreed to rent a neighbour’s house for a few months so that we could live near our house and keep an eye on our renovations. There were a few false starts as the neighbour kept cancelling on us, but eventually, last weekend we moved in. It was dirty, full of cobwebs and the garden looked like something from Jurassic Park, but it’s a nice house and within a couple of days we had it all sorted and feeling like home already. The sun was shining, the barbecue was barbecueing and all was well in the world. Unless, of course, you’re a spider who had been living a nice, peaceful life in a dark house for a couple of months. Sorry spiders.

Noisy neighbours, but I guess you can't have it all...
Noisy neighbours, but I guess you can’t have it all…

Then some friends from France arrived and we all headed down to Barolo for Collisioni, an annual music and literature festival. We spent two days wandering around the town drinking wine, listening to music, spinning plates (quite possibly my calling in life, it seems I have a natural flair for it) and stuffing our faces with some of the most sophisticated festival food I’ve ever seen.

And when we weren’t showing off our drunken circus skills at Collisioni, we were making decisions at the house… choosing bricks for a couple of pillars that need to be rebuilt (we went for old, salvaged bricks by the way), changing the plans for the boiler room and discussing sun tubes, which will bring light to an otherwise dark corridor.

Then, on Monday morning, the storm clouds started gathering, both literally and metaphorically. With the arrival of the first spots of rain, something strange happened to the electricity at the house. Plugging in anything more powerful than a light would cause the system to overload and trip. We called the landlady, who called ENEL, the electricity suppliers. It turned out that the last guy to rent the house hadn’t been paying his bills. Rather than chase him, they were reducing the power supply at the house for a week and would then cut it off completely. They wanted the landlady to pay his bills but she was refusing on a matter of principle. It would take months to sort out, she told us, so we should move out and she was going to move in and sort it out.

And I was just getting used to the view again
And I was just getting used to the view again

This last bit still confuses me. If there’s no electricity then how can she move in? Which means she must be paying the bill. In which case, why can’t we stay? I don’t get it. I think it’s safe to say, though, that one of our neighbours won’t be receiving a Christmas card and a cheap, English-themed gift in five months’ time.

So, after just four days, two of which had been spent cleaning the place, we had to repack all our things, reload the car, re-head back to Milan, re-unpack the car and re-move back into the family flat in which we’d been squatting for the past eight months.

Naturally, at this point we turned to facebook and posted a whiny message about how everything is so unfair. We’d been hoping for a bit of sympathy, maybe some photos of puppies playing with kittens to make us feel better, but we got so much more. The response was amazing!

People started offering us houses (and caravans!), putting us in touch with their friends who might have somewhere, sending us phone numbers and email addresses. And our (other) neighbours stepped up to the plate too. One offered us an apartment at their B&B while we got ourselves sorted, another spent his evening making countless phone calls on our behalf. One even offered us his place for free so long as we helped clear out all the old furniture he was storing in there. The response just completely blew me away. In fact, just thinking about it now would make me feel a bit emotional if I wasn’t such a tough guy.

Thank you everybody!
Thank you everybody!

We haven’t decided on a new place just yet. We’ve spent the past couple of days driving around checking out various options, and we’ve still got a few more to see, but with the help of all our incredible friends, both real and virtual, I’m confident we’ll have somewhere soon.  And that’s the thing about Italy. After it’s kicked you into the gutter, it picks you up, dusts you down, gives you a big smile and a hug, invites you into its house and offers you a grappa.  And then the whole, sorry cycle starts again.

32 thoughts on “The good, the bad and the Italy

  1. Aw. Such a tumultuous country, but totally worth it for the highs. I hope one day I can be as selfless to someone who has just spent a lot of time living in the Italian countryside drinking wine, attending delicious festivals and maybe skiing a bit in the winter (although the thought of him having a one-day renovated house might help). 🙂

    Just kidding – renovating is stressful, cleaning is a chore and young babies don’t make either any easier. (Lucky yours looks all chubby and cute then.)

    1. Yeah, you’re probably right, it’s quite hard to have sympathy for me, but still, you need to at least try! 🙂 I mean, having to move house twice in a week with a small baby really sucks!

    1. Thanks Deanna… we’re trying to forget about the place we no longer have as, honestly, that was just perfect for us. It’s not a possibility anymore though so we just have to move on. So frustrating. I just want to know what’s really going on and why they decided that it was ok to treat us so badly!

  2. I’m glad everything worked out positively (I don’t think the word “fine” really suits) in the end, as now you do have options! I am just amazed at the nonsense you were forced to deal with in the first place, and I hope Otto is taking all this in stride!

    1. I actually feel most sorry for Otto. He hates moving house, as soon as the bags come out he starts sulking. And he had already found two or three spots in the house that were his – one in the garden, one up on the balcony and one on the sofa. He does a very good depressed face, though there’s a chance that that’s just his face!

  3. Ciao mio amico
    So sorry to hear about your electricity dilemma, however, this does not surprise me. Our current villa is the first home we have had that is on a tariff sufficiently strong enough to support two or more electrical items at a time. The only thing that is a pain is having to pump the gas back into the house after every thunder storm, as the electric pump shorts every time. Its worth paying a little more for an electric supply that isn’t limited to using one electrical appliance at a time, which is common in here Tuscany….

  4. Ciao! Yes, we’ve already decided that we will be paying a bit more in our house for a proper supply. When I tell people this is how it works in Italy they never believe me! It always seems to go on dark, rainy nights too…

  5. Oh My GOSH! Life is so crazy here isn’t it?? The ups the downs, the confusion! Anyway…at least it is NEVER boring that is for sure. Your last pic is very, very sweet!

  6. This was such a great story!… and your metaphors about Italy are so accurate! I totally relate and I am very happy to see that I am not the only one who has such strong and contradictory feelings about Italy.

  7. Sounds like you are earning your Novello stripes the hard way. We’ve returned to this gorgeous area for a week of holidays. Back at the beautiful Stra so thanks again for your original blog post which was our impetus to visit. Will keep an eye out for you all as we explore the mountains. I’m sure Otto is smiling again.

    1. That’s so great that you’ve headed back to Novello again. We saw Maresa a week or so ago and she said you’d booked in. We’re not around, sadly, as we’re still without a house for another week or so (there’s those Novello stripes!), but I hope you have an awesome week. I look forward to reading all about it! 🙂

      1. Went for a bike ride from Stra to La Morra today and I think we found your ‘work in progress’. Fantastico! All the best for your almost final move. We continue to be very jealous.

  8. I’m not one for stuff like prayers and other rituals but I’m really crossing my fingers for you. Hopefully you’ll have a place to move into now and things can go on and the ball kicking reduced to a bare minimum!

    1. Thank you!! I think it helped already… we’ve just found a new place to move into, only one week to wait until we’re able to get in there. It’s all really annoying, but it’s just one of those things I guess. Italy is just like this it seems!

  9. The reasoning behind the electricity bill dilemma sounds decidedly iffy to me. I’d ask her to pay you for the spring cleaning you did. All the best for the next move – I hope it will be the last for a while! Your story of kindness and generosity was heart-warming to read.

  10. I missed your facebook whinge 😦 After the workaways left, I have been rattling around my empty house bored out of my mind, your family could have stayed here and helped me to drink wine.

    Mrs S is looking forward to your visit. 🙂

    1. And there I was thinking you were just being unhelpful 😉 thanks for the (late) offer, that would have been fun. Bee does guzzle wine, so I reckon we would have got theough it quite quickly. It’s all been a bit stressful lately, but we moved into another new place yesterday and so far the electric is still working and all is looking good!

      1. It is probably just as well because after the workaways left I have been living on Kelloggs cornflakes washed down with wine. Roll on Mrs Sensible and her cooking.
        At our last house we couldn’t use the kettle when the dishwasher or washing machine was on or it tripped the system. We thought this was normal for Italy

  11. Pretty normal to go into darkness here in Italy. We have been here for 9 months now and if one has the kettle and dishwasher on at the same time it blows. Frustrating but we learnt.

    1. Yeah, we’re getting used to that. I always keep a torch handy so I can find my way to reset the switch. On this occasion though the landlady had sneakily set the supply to the minimum so as to get us to move out (it’s a long, unhappy story), so not just the usual kettle and iron job…

  12. Our dream is to move out there one day but for now we need to make some money to be able to do that.

    My husband and I are in the process of buying a home in PIedmont in Roero. I’ve been coming to Italy for 10 years and just love the culture here.

    We live in San Francisco now and plan to use the house as a vacation home (2-3 weeks a year) and rent it out when we are not there. We don’t know anyone there and it’s been hard to google for local resources. If you don’t mind, can I ask you a few questions? This would really help us kickstart our home in Piedmont.

    1) Do you know of a reliable person that would be help us with the property while we are not there – mainly to check in guests for rentals, let furniture delivery people in if needed, etc. We are looking for someone friendly, trustworthy and reasonable with their fee but it’s hard to connect with anyone being so far.

    2) Do you know of good online furniture websites that we can order from and they will deliver to the house? Our next visit there is short so we are looking in lining this up so they can deliver when we are there😀

    3) Do you have affordable contractors you recommend? We don’t plan to do anything big, just more cosmetic so it looks like more of what we want (outside painting, laying down concrete, wall paper, kitchen upgrades etc).

    I appreciate any resources you may have. Thank you very much.

    1. Hi Ann, thanks for getting in touch, and congratulations on your property. I’ll take your questions one at a time…
      1) I’m afraid not. We’ve found it very difficult to find someone reliable who can help us with this type of thing. Your best hope is to talk to your neighbours when you are over, there’s a good chance one of them will know someone who might be interested.
      2) This is a tricky one too… deliveries here aren’t exactly reliable, and lead times can be pretty long. Ikea are good, Maison du Monde are not so good and then you’ve got the big sofa shops which are a mixed bunch.
      3) We used our main contractor, Federico at Effettotetto, to line up that sort of work. Everyone that came to us through him was extremely reliable. Of course, affordable depends on your viewpoint, but we certainly didn’t pay over the going rate for anything. As with question 1 though, your best bet will be to talk to your neighbours. Your village will undoubtedly have people who do all of those things, and it’s always good to use local people where possible, it will help you to integrate a bit if nothing else. If you want Federico’s details though, just let me know.

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