It’s All About Perspective

What a time of it we’ve been having here in Abruzzo lately. Snow came and within an afternoon many towns and villages were cut off, our collection of houses overlooking the valley was stranded for 5 whole days as the lane was impassable; even taking the dog for a walk in the deep snow was a challenge.

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Along with the inconvenience of snow we had power cuts, with as many as 100,000 homes without electricity for days. Water pipes froze, people lost their broadband connections and then came the rain. A deluge of epic proportions that threatened to be second only to the rains Noah had experienced turned the fields into swamps, the lane ran like a river and mud slid onto the now flooded roads.

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During these frustrating times did we moan and complain? You bet we did, when people were able to get onto social media there were angry posts about the electricity suppliers, gripes about how we were sick of snow now and woe is me postings about having to cook dinner on top of the log burner: That one was mine – ironically after posting my moan to Facebook and served up said dinner by torchlight, the electricity came back on just as I was about to eat.

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After the snow had cleared I had clients over to view properties, (which is no fun in the rain). As the viewings with one lady started there were reports of earthquakes near Amatrice where there’d been a devastating one back on 25 August last year. My client told me a woman at her hotel had asked her why she was here in Abruzzo, she told her she was here to hopefully find a house as she plans to move to the area. Her enquirer then asked why she wasn’t worried about the earthquakes*. She told me her response was – “It’s all about perspective. I live and work in central London where there’s more risk of me being a fatality of crime or a victim in a terrorist attack than perishing in an earthquake.” – Brilliant response I thought.

* News companies in the UK have been reporting earthquakes in Abruzzo, sadly their reporting is flawed as the earthquakes occurred in the Lazio region.

So, yes it’s fair to say we’ve endured a lot this year thus far; it has been one of the worst winters in many years. My friend Mario said he remembers a winter where there was bad snow, torrential rain and earth tremors, but seeing as he’s in his mid eighties and his recollection takes him back to being a small boy, they’re frankly few and far between.

So yes let’s put it into perspective, we all moaned and griped about the snow for six or seven days and in the grand scheme of things seven days out of 364 isn’t bad going, that leaves us hopefully with 357 snow-free days. Rain may be unpleasant but there’s many more unpleasant things out there to feel aggrieved about. IMG_1172

There were issues with some electricity pylons being badly damaged by the weight of the snow, and some land slippage, but on the whole Italy is quite good when snow hits; roads are cleared quickly and close-knit communities care for each other.

But sadly this winter has brought tragedy in the form of the Hotel Rigopiano avalanche in the mountain town of Farindola, so putting it into perspective, a day without electricity or a few hours without broadband aren’t as Shakespeare said, the be all and the end all

But will we moan if it happens again – you bet we will, we’re only human after all.

Nocturnal Barking

For several nights the dogs have been odd, Alf has been sniffing the air and grumbling, while Olive has been nervous. At first we put it down to the thunderstorm we had a few nights previous. I’ve heard dogs can sense the electricity in the air and it can make some feel uncomfortable: If your dog suffers during storms, a trick is to rub them down with a tumble dryer sheet, it stops the static making them feel bad and they smell nicer too. Believe me it really works.

Last night, Alf ran up and down outside and it was difficult to get him to come in. He was obviously onto something. The night was filled with barking dogs, the four at the farm were having it large, Antonio’s dogs at the bottom of the lane joined in and our two also had burst of shouting out. As ours stay indoors at night, when bedtime came they soon calmed down and the Italian dogs continued until after a couple of glasses of wine I fell asleep and heard them no more.

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At six o’clock this morning Alf wanted to go out for his early morning run, I opened the front door and he dashed up to the lane, he started barking and I thought he was doing his usual barking at ghosts, nothing there to merit his actions. He went out of sight and I heard him crashing about in the undergrowth on our land. Olive was desperate to join him, and as we usually send her to fetch him back home, so she ran off to join him. The early hour was dominated by the barking of dogs, the farm dogs, our neighbour’s dogs and our two. I tolerated it for about twenty minutes and decided to investigate what was causing the noise. Alf and Olive were really going at it, the noise was indescribable, I went into the back garden and saw they had cornered a chinghiale, (pronounced chin-gee-yare-lay).

Chinghiale are wild boar and the one they had trapped was still striped, so was young, it stood as tall as Alf and snorted in annoyance as the dogs took turns to approach it and bark loudly. Concerned in case an adult was near by; as they have been known to disembowel dogs in an instant,  I stepped forward and called the dogs away. Olive must have sensed it was folly to get involved with a boar and came away, this gave the animal room to manoeuvre, and it ran straight towards me, I side-stepped as it passed and grabbed Alf who was up for a game of chase. Tonight I think we’ll be keeping a close eye out for chinghiale, and maybe restrict the dogs’ playtime to just outside the house.

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Now you see it… Now you still see it

I can pretty much cope with anything, I believe I’m able to adjust to most things and I think it’s these traits that have enabled me to settle in another country. Here in Italy you have to be adaptable, one day the road may be closed without notice for a cycle race, the electricity may be turned of for an hour or so and during really hot weather the water supply may be restricted. These things might appear to others as inconveniences, and I’m sure people would be up in arms in England if they woke to find their water supply turned off just to conserve water: It’s the Italian equivalent of the ‘hose-pipe ban’.

I’ve actually found this relaxed attitude has helped my OCD to settle down. Okay so I still only write my notes with a Steadtler pencil and have different types of cutlery for different types of meals, but other unfathomable traits have disappeared, I no longer have my shoe episodes, and recently I measured the wall for our wall lights, they were fitted yesterday and they are not level, in fact one is a tad wonky too. Months ago this would have been a major issue for me, so my partner was surprised when the builder asked me if he should reposition them and my response was, “Nah, they’re okay. Niente problemo.”

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Since moving here I think I’ve coped with Italy’s foibles quite well. My neighbour at the top of the lane had a tin shed, now despite it being an eyesore, it never really bothered me, that was until today.  The council have sent some workmen to clean our road, they’re digging up the potholes and making good the surface, following on from the major resurfacing further down I imagine. There’s been a couple of men with hedge cutters and strimmers tidying up the vegetation and we’ve even had a vehicle that can only be described as a giant vacuum cleaner on wheels, drive along slowly sucking up the environmental detritus.

SO I pop to the shop, remembering to get there while its quiet, as it’s bonkers around 4pm. I’m driving down our newly cleaned road with, Melanie Fiona singing Running on the iPod, enjoying the breeze sucked into the car through the open windows. I make my purchases and return to discover the unsightly shed has gone. At first I’m a tad confused almost driving past the turn to our house. I get out of my car and my neighbour tells me one of the council workers has removed it with a JCB digger. At first I think well the lane will look better now, maybe the space will be good for more parking, maybe… Then I spot where the shed has been removed to, a short way down my road and it now sits perched upon a derelict house. A few expletives issue forth and as the JCB driver returns he’s faced with an irate Englishman. He looks at me, wondering why I’m upset, our builder wades in and explains to him that he’s just dumped it on private property, as the land belongs to another neighbour. I mention the Forestale (environmental police) and still he can’t see what the problem is.

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So every morning I shall be greeted to the rusting heap of metal as usual, only now it’s closer to my house. I failed to see the irony when a passing Romanian asked me it we had any scrap metal.

I imagine there’ll be several phone calls to the council over the next few days.

Horsey Nonsense

It seems that every conversation I have with our builder ends up in either laughter or confusion. So why should today be any different. He had been doing some welding and being a good employer I took him a drink. As I walked in he was rolling up some electric cable, looping it over his thumb and winding it around his elbow in the same way I remember my mother taking in her washing line. I placed his drink down and the conversation went like this:

Fabrice: Barry, do you have a long one?

Me: What!

Fabrice: I need a longer one.

Me: I’m sorry to hear that.

Fabrice: What?

Me: What are you talking about?

Fabrice: I need a longer one for the electrics.

Me: A longer extension?

Fabrice: Yes, that’s what I said at the start.

Now that in itself could have led to any manner of unfortunate assumptions taking place, add to it the remainder of the conversation and you can understand why foreigners can get into trouble when restoring properties abroad. Now you have to bear in mind that as he’s half French, half Italian and quite a bit of his language is an amalgamation of the two languages, with a smattering of English inserted for good measure. This led to my misinterpreting what he said, and the words causing the confusion were Cavlo (amalgamation of cavo and cablo meaning cable) and Cavallo (horse).

Fabrice: Tomorrow, we need to get a horse

Me: A horse, whatever for?

Fabrice: We need it for the electric.

Me: Why do we need a horse for electric.

Fabrice: To make the electrics work.

Me: But a horse?

Fabrice: Yes, yes a horse.

Me: I don’t understand.

Fabrice: The electric goes around the house because of the work the horse does.

Me: Are you trying to tell me that to power the gadgets in the house we need a horse on a treadmill?

Fabrice: You really are crazy Barry.

Me: I’m crazy. You’re one saying we need a horse.

Fabrice: Tomorrow, I go to shop and buy switches and the horse to put inside the walls.

Me; Fabrice, do you mean, cable.

Fabrice: Yes, yes, tomorrow I fetch the horse.

I walk away shaking my head, as he says, Inglese molto (Italian) crazy man (English) je se (French) English very crazy man I know. No wonder things get confusing here in Casoli.

Time to Admit I’m a Linguistic Liability

Picture this, it’s a chilly morning and the rain is barely making an effort, or as Peter Kay would say, ‘it’s spitting’. I’ve just come inside from standing in the drizzle whilst eating a fried egg sandwich, the iPod shuffles and the Spandau Ballet classic, Gold, 12” remix begins to play. Our builder arrives and tells me he’s going to start on the electrics in the living room, I tell him that’s fine and make him a cup of coffee. He nips out to buy some electricity related things, telling me, if he goes he’ll get a better price because he knows the man in the store. So as his Jeep drives away his coffee cools on top of the cement mixer outside.

Twenty minutes later he returns to show us the spoils of his trip to the electrical store on the industrial estate. He’s pleased with the black fascia he’s purchased for our fuse box, telling us it’s nicer than a boring white one. We have to agree, and I ask if we can have a red light switch. He then asks for his coffee and I say it’ll be cold now, “That’s okay,” he says, and drinks the cold brown liquid. I tell him I like cold tea but not cold coffee unless it’s coffee with ice. He looks at me bemused, “Perche?” he asks, which is another of those dual meaning Italian words, meaning either why or because. I understand he’s asking me why I like iced coffee, I tell him because it’s great on a hot day, and I as I don’t know how to say it cools me down, I rub my hands over my body in a pathetic attempt to mime cooling down. He responds with more facial contortions and a louder, higher pitched, “Perche?”  I say because it tastes nice and he laughs, his face reddens and tears form in the corners of his creased eyelids. Then it dawns on me, the S-word expletive leaves my mouth and I laugh too. Once again I’ve used the wrong word, instead of saying ghiaccio (ice) I’ve said ghioco, which means play. So I ended up telling him I like to play with coffee, and my mime gave the impression I rub it all over myself. His laughing has stopped and as he wipes his eyes, he calls me a plonker. (I blame Only Fools and Horses.)

On the previous day I had another incident of brain to mouth disconnection. This time, it wasn’t so much the language that was at fault, it was the grammar. Michele was passing and looked in to see how the house restoration was coming along. As we have no windows in the bedroom, we’ve been sleeping in the living room. In The Tempest, Trinculo says, Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows. If Shakespeare was in Abruzzo and happened to pass my makeshift bedroom he’d have written, cement bags and wheelbarrows acquaint a man etc… MIchele looks into the room and says, “You English and your upstairs bedrooms.” Instead of explaining the situation, I meant to say to my friend of three weeks, No, come with me, we’ll go down to the bedroom, Instead my clumsily constructed sentence is blurted out as, “No, come with me to the bedroom and I’ll go down on you.” Yet another Italian face contorts, and the builder laughs before correcting my error. Michele’s eyebrows rise and he sighs, meanwhile I apologise for my linguistic lobotomy and the iPod shuffles and Marina and the Diamonds play, Oh No! – my words exactly.

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