Are You One of the 25% (part two)

As promised here’s part two of the six things that I think people should consider before moving abroad to live. The first part can be found Here. The first part focussed on language learning, not making assumptions and not using the move as a form of escape.

Do bear in mind these are only six of possibly many more things that need to be considered, but with these two blog posts I’ve tried to address some often overlooked things to think about before making that move. So without further ado, here’s my final three things that I think you must think carefully about before you pack up your possessions and drive off towards a new life in foreign parts.

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Downsize: Before you pack away every last thing that you own it’s a good idea to think about what you have and what you are likely to need/use in your new home. If you’re moving into an apartment then sell the lawn mower and other garden related things that are superfluous. Believe me I know someone who moved to a new apartment that had a communal garden tended to by the condominium and he paid to ship his gardening tools to Spain only to have to get rid of them once he was there. Books and DVD’s are heavy and can take up valuable space when paying for shipping. If you really can’t live without your film collection then invest in a disc holder and get rid of the plastic cases that will take up room and ship mostly air in the long run. Books are precious to some people and if that’s you, then take only those that you know you will read again or can’t bear to part with, books that will move from a shelf in one country to sit in boxes in an attic in another is a waste of money.

Think about furnishings, are they suitable for the climate you’re moving to? I shipped two large leather sofas only to discover that leather is horrid to sit on in the Italian summer. If you are packing up and discover towels that have seen better days and rugs that you can read a newspaper through, bin them. And while you’re packing up the kitchen, with every utensil you pick up, ask yourself when you last used it, if the answer is a year or so ago then put it into the charity shop pile.

Go through you’re wardrobe and donate all of those clothes that you’ll never wear abroad. If you’re going to be in rural France on a self-sufficiency drive then get shot of the dinner suits and evening dresses, the pigs and chickens won’t care what you wear. Before moving to Italy I sold all but eight of my 79 pairs of shoes, and since moving here I’ve worn only two pairs of the saved ones.

It makes perfect sense to downsize and pay to ship, only what you will need and use. Don’t fall into the trap of buying things to take that you assume you’ll not be able to get in your newly adopted country; unless of course you’re moving to the central plains of Mongolia, and then will you find anywhere to plug in your newly acquired wireless iPod docking station?

Remember, what you don’t take can be sold to go towards your shipping expenses or go to help others either in a charity shop or at a furniture/household charity bank.

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Dispel Belief: We’ve all watched movies like, Under the Tuscan Sun and watched TV shows like, A Year in Provence, that’s cool and I say watch and enjoy, but don’t believe a word of it. There’s nothing more sure to get our wanderlust rising than a well shot film with gorgeous vistas and a bevvy of beautiful people to temp us into falling in love with them. Even if you are partial to conversations with the kitchen wall, chances are you’ll not find yourself, like Shirley Valentine did. The reality is very different. Instead of falling in love with a hunk from Positano and riding on the back of his Vespa with your hands around his toned midriff, you more than likely find yourself on a cramped bus that smells of diesel next to an old contadino with armpits riper than his watermelons. In short if you think your move will be like a film plot or the narrative from a Spanish best seller then don’t move as you’ll be sorely disappointed.

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Don’t Rush: Think carefully about what time of year you’ll be moving, an Italian summer can be oppressive and not best suited to lugging furniture out of a van. Italian winter’s although relatively short can be cold so it’s best not to be moving into a house with no means of heating if there’s a chance there’ll be a metre of snow overnight. Think about the property you’ll be moving too carefully and plan to move at a time best suited to your needs. Also check dates; will it be a bank holiday or is there a festa in town? Nothing will spoil the move if the shops are closed and you can’t get milk for your tea or the streets are shut off for dancing so you can’t pass with your possessions. If you’re planning moving to Italy remember most of the country shuts down in August and never: I repeat. Never plan to move during Ferragosto (August 15) always leave a couple of days either side as the whole country, (including me) will be celebrating.

Once you’ve moved into your new home there’s another, don’t rush, that applies. Don’t rush into remodelling the house, if you can live in it, then do just that. Live in it and you’ll discover on a daily basis what works for you and what doesn’t. Obviously this doesn’t apply to major restorations. However if you can live on a building site it can be very helpful. I moved into my house the day after we evicted the rats and lived in one room as we did the planned work, this enabled us to make changes as we discovered what was right for us and the end result was very different from the original plan.

Also don’t rush into making friends with every person that speaks your language. It’s beneficial to have friends that share your native tongue and understand where you’re culturally coming from. But back in your native country you’ll have been selective, so don’t stop just because you’re an ex-pat. There’s nothing worse than having lunch with a table full of ex-pats that back in your birth country you’d have avoided in a heartbeat. Friendships will come and the best ones take a little time, but are best waiting for.

Why the Name Change?

I have noticed that my blog posts have changed and are less about the music playing whilst I write them and more about my new life in Italy. I’m certain that this is because it’s my life here in Italy that influences most of what I write about. Back in the UK it was things like lost parrots and badly spelled signs and the occasional run down of the Eurovision.

So why, Being Britalian, firstly because I thought it was a nice play on words being British and in Italy and second, because of my birthright I’ll always be a Brit in Italy and never an Italian. But as I’m adopting many of the Italian ways of life as time passes I feel quasi-Italian, so I guess I feel 70% Brit and 30% Italian.

My posts will still contain a mix of sensible info-blurb and mindless bonkers observations as before, and you can be sure that my musical tastes will still be mentioned as hardened readers already know my iPod is always on shuffle whenever I’m working. As I write this Contact in Red Square from the Plastic Letters album by Blondie is playing.

Another reason is I’m having an hiatus from writing for Italy magazine, (I don’t have the time at the moment) but I am putting together notes for a non-fiction account of the why’s and wherefores of my move here that may grow up to be a book and Bieng Britalian is the working title. This project is of course subject to vetting from the Renegade’s back in Stoke on Trent, who will advise, critique and inspire me should they feel the idea is worthy of a potential readership.

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So I’ll leave it for today with a photograph taken in the lane yesterday showing that despite today being the first day of spring, it had arrived earlier here in our corner of Abruzzo.

 

Evidence of Dogs

As we near the end of our house refurbishment the front garden is looking less like a building site and more like a wasteland. The grasses have been killed off by piles of sand and cement. Plastic covered piles of materials have gone to reveal yellowing weeds and there’s lots of evidence that dogs live here.

Now when I say evidence that dogs live here, I don’t mean what I’m sure has sprung to mind. I’m not referring to dog poop, that is quickly dispensed with and dropped into the appropriate council bin. What I mean by evidence, is dog litter.

The iPod is playing and as it shuffles and as Girls Aloud, (yes I have Girls Aloud on my iPod) begin to play, Something Kinda Oooh, I decide to clean up outside. I look around at the doggie destruction, a tennis ball lies disembowelled near the herb planter, that incidentally will be taken out as the dogs have removed fifty per cent of its soil by digging in it. On the step is a chewed plastic bottle and beside a scarlet geranium is a discarded and bitten ice cream container.

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The day is heating up and the thought of clearing up the dog litter as I sweat under the sun makes me consider it’s best to leave the task until later, maybe early evening. I look at the only patch of green outside and it’s strewn with ripped up pieces of cement bags; the perils of puppyhood is the constant urge to chew. There’s a crushed plastic plant pot and a finger from a gardening glove and where our flooring had been stored is a mangled kitchen spatula: When did that go missing?

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Early evening arrives and I find another excuse not to tidy up, the mosquito’s are out, just flying at ankle level, maybe I’d be better to get up early in the morning when the ankle biting insects are away and the sun is still waking up. I stroll back into the house, the iPod shuffles and, David Bowie launches into, Diamond Dogs, I put out of my mind the need to clean up after my dogs who are not diamonds but are still precious, and pour a glass of wine. We’ll see if tomorrow morning brings back the urge to tidy up the front of the house.

Somehow I doubt it.

Ants in Your Plants

It’s been very hot here these past few days, Italy has had a mini heat-wave, but this morning it’s quite cool. I check on the plants growing in my mini orto. There’s some more courgettes, young and tender that need to be picked and a couple of tomatoes have donned their red jackets, so they can come out of the plot, a couple of white onions are a good enough size to harvest . I notice that ants have taken up residence my cayenne plant and as I pick a couple of the orange chillies they dash across my fingers eager to protect. I’m not worried by this, it’s rural Italy and a few ants wont ruin my day. As I walk back to the house the iPod shuffles and the strains of Hungry like the Wolf, by Duran Duran drift out into the Italian countryside.

Back inside the kitchen with my collected bounty I set to, preparing it for storage. I chop it all up and add a couple of garlic cloves, I sweat the onions off and then add the courgettes followed by the chillies and tomatoes, last to hit the pot is the garlic. I add a little water and let it simmer away until the contents of the pan have softened. I don’t season with salt and pepper as I’m going to divide the mixture once cold and freeze it.

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Now cold, the mixture is divided up into three portions and popped into the freezer and now I have a sofrito base for three pasta sauces that I can use when the season has ended. A few minutes in the morning will save me a few euros in winter time, and the memory of a summer morning will be released into the saucepan.

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The iPod shuffles and Canadian R&B singer, Melanie Fiona sings Watch Me Work. I’m surprised she remains mostly unknown by the UK music buying public as she’s much more talented than the likes of Kelly Rowland, Nicole Sherzinger et al, but I guess the big U.S. labels still see Canadian artists as ‘poor cousins’. There’s a knock at the door and my neighbour tells me she’s having some work on her back garden done, so there may be some cars parked at the top of the road. Moments later a tractor arrives and two short squat men jump out and begin to hand-ball bricks and wood up the stairs leading to my neighbours back garden. Now being of the nosey persuasion, I pop along to see what’s happening and before long I’m sat inside enjoying a prosecco as the two men toil in cooling early evening air.

There’s a call and Mario, one of the squat gardeners asks me if I can give him a lift to Minco di Lici to pick up his girlfriend. As it’s literally just around the corner I agree, we drive down the lane and pass a group of elderly locals all sat out chatting, each one has brought their own chair and sit in the road with no intention of moving. I see their faces that say, ‘we were here first’. As we navigate slowly around the group they look at the English car and give a half-hearted greeting, We toss a robust, “Salve tutti,” out of the window and smiles grace the ancient faces and a more robust, “Anche lei,” is called back. Mario tells me he is married but his wife didn’t like living in the country so returned to city living. I ask him what city she returned to, expecting him to say Milan, Rome or Naples. His response is, “Casoli.”  Casoli, our council town is a mere 5 km away, and by UK city standards it’s barely a town.

We arrive at the house where Mario’s girlfriend works as a carer, the elderly wife opens an electronic gate and beckons us inside. The woman chats away to us, offers us beer and when we decline she looks sad, her aged eyes, watery. We look at each other and watch her face lose years as it brightens when we agree to have a small beer. Seven cats share the terrace where we sit, but unlike the owner we are not impervious to the smell, luckily a light breeze blows it away from where I sit. Eventually a young girl in her twenties appears at the door, she’s from the Dominican Republic, a good half metre taller than Mario and I imagine at least ten years younger. I ask him how they met and he is vague, so I’m assuming over the internet.

I deliver Mario and his beau back and for regular readers of, A Life on Shuffle, here’s an update on the shed incident of a few days ago, Mario, uses his digger to push it over the edge of the ruin it was lodged on, so now out of sight, I’m very happy. It’s only after he’s put some paper down on the dirty tractor seat for his girlfriend to sit on, that i realise I have just spent a good forty-minutes in the company of Italians and not a word of English has been spoken, and I’ve not had to think about what I was saying, it just flowed naturally. Now I’m not fluent, far from it, but it was nice to actually speak another language without consciously thinking about what I’m saying.

TV Dinners and Earwax. Two Questions

This week as the iPod vainly shuffled and Ozzy Osbourne belted out, Crazy Train, in an attempt to be heard over the din of building work, I watched as the kitchen ceiling was demolished and our third bedroom ceased to be. Gazing up at the rafters of our now doubled in height kitchen I noticed a distinct drop in temperature. Our kitchen has always been the hottest room in the house due to the low ceiling, and during the heat of summer it can be stifling. We had plans to rebuild the third bedroom as a wooden mezzanine occupying only half of the original space. My idea was to have the platform covering the bottom width of the room rather than lengthways, so Enzo the architect has come to see if it can be done. Once again, dressed as if he should be on the set of a 1970’s porn movie, he arrives, looks and tuts quite a lot. “It’s not possible,” he says shaking his head, “This way only.” He indicates lengthways. It turns out the dividing wall isn’t strong enough to support an upper floor without major work being carried out.

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I begin to wonder whether we actually need the third bedroom, when will it be used and by whom? Questions tumble around inside my head like socks on a quick-wash. What will we put up there? Will it be so hot no one will ever be able to sleep in it? Will it make the kitchen space oppressive?  When, what, why, and how appear with speed and each is answered just as quickly. (Who spotted the Oxford comma?) Now as we’ve submitted plans to the comune and they indicate we are replacing the room with a mezzanine we may have a problem. I ask Enzo, who is dressed in a black leather bomber jacket and unbelievably, tight white jeans, if we can leave the mezzanine off the building project. He lifts his mirrored aviator sunglasses and I see his greenish-grey eyes for the first time, (Yes, he is a walking stereotype). “No problem,” he says re-shielding his eyes again, “we’ll tell them it’ll be going in at a later date. You have three years in which to build it, but by then the comune will have forgotten all about it.” So a decision is made, we’ll keep the kitchen as it is with a lofty high ceiling, which will look so much better once the wooden joists have been replaced.

So we’re senza cucina (without kitchen) and dinner time arrives. There’s nothing for it but to eat out. We pop down to our favourite local restaurant, il Buchaniere, (the Buccaneer) and ask for a table. The food here is superb and the service exceptional, part of the reason we love it so much. We are shown to a table Piero tells us what’s on offer today. For primo I order pasta with clams and mussels and for secondo I have a pork steak, with griddled courgette for contorno. (For those wanting to understand the Italian dinner traditions, I’ll be writing an article about this for Italy Magazine in the near future.) With water, wine and a delicious lemon sorbet for dolce, we pay the €25 bill and leave feeling well fed. Now as you saw indicated in the title, this blog post features two questions and here’s the first one. When we arrived at the restaurant and after our order was taken, our waiter turned on the widescreen TV fixed to the wall and walked away as the news aired. This is something that has always puzzled me, why does almost every restaurant have a television playing. We ate at the pizzeria the following evening and their TV was blasting out an Italian situation comedy, and the last time we ate in Lanciano we had lunch accompanied by a pop concert on the flat screen TV on the wall. So if any one out there knows why television’s are always playing in Italian eateries, do please let me know.

My second question has no elaborate build up, or even any back story, it’s just an observation I have made. I believe in this hotter climate I am producing more earwax, it may be a natural defence due to living within a cloud of brick dust during the house renovation or is it the heat. Again if anyone can shine any light upon this I’d be more than happy to hear from you.

Here’s the link to my recent article published in Italy Magazine. Just click and read.

A Stair is Born

Today has been an odd one. Looking back at the posts on this blog, you’d be forgiven for thinking aren’t most for me. Our builder arrived and proceeded to measure me, “Aspetta,” (wait) he said as I walked away after he determined I was 1.557m tall, he then measured the length of my foot, then made me walk normally, stopping me he then got down on his hands and knees to measure the length of my stride. He makes a remark about measuring an other part of my body, then screws up his eyes and laughs at his own joke. I tell him, I think he’s a nut job and leave for the bank in Lanciano.

Now initially, I’d been led to believe that in Italy, it costs more to withdraw cash in person rather than use an ATM. Turns out that whoever passed me that nugget of information was wrong. At our bank cash transaction at the sportello (banker’s window) cost nothing, unlike cash machines.  I collected my cash from the very pretty girl and am leaving when Massimo, the manager appears, he calls me over and we exchange morning pleasantries, he asks if I’d like a coffee, I say yes and he opens a door to let the person the other side that he’s popping out for coffee. I peer in and sat at the desk is a woman who is the spitting image of  Marge Simpson’s sister Selma Bouvier: the one with the parting in her hair. The woman stands up and despite not being bright yellow looks even more like her cartoon doppelganger. I want to laugh but this would be rude, so I cover it by pretending to sneeze and go outside to wait for Massimo.

Coffee over, I drive back when the iPod shuffles and Barry White, begins to sing Can’t Get Enough of Your Love Babe, as his bass laden voice fills the car I smile wondering what our builder’s up to back at the house. He calls me Barry White, I asked him why once and his answer was simple yet honest, he said because you are named Barry and you’re white. You can’t say fairer than that.

I get back and the result of all the measuring is revealed the staircase has been started to be installed. He explains that being a big man he had to get the headroom correct, I in turn correct him and explain the phrase is tall not big, he says why, because he’s a small man. I explain that small and short are different words in English, he then says he has tall feet for a small man. We laugh and I give up correcting his English, even when he says for a tall man my feet shouldn’t be so short. I’m tempted to tell him size 8 (42) is average, but realise that I’d be unable to explain why in this case short and small are correct usage when talking about feet, but not when talking about his height.

The day ends and after he’s gone, I spend my time walking up and down my bespoke staircase. You see I’m easily pleased.

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Privato

The sun is shining, the egg is in the breakfast pan and, Well Worn Hand, one of my favourite tracks by, the Editors, shuffles on the iPod. All is good with the world this morning, but hang about, what’s that shadow? I look outside and there’s a woman wandering down the side of my house, she has a carrier bag in her hand so I assume she’s foraging. The pan comes off the heat and I’m outside with the swiftness I can muster this early on, senza caffe. I try to explain that this land is private property now, but she can’t seem to grasp what I’m saying. I gesticulate, waving my arms like a windmill in a gale and point, “Proprieta privata,” I say, “proprieta mia.” I’m jabbing myself in the chest, hoping it’ll lend some gravitas to my statement. She looks at me with a watery, aged eye and points to my land. “Si,” I say, “ casa é terra.” She shakes her head and asks if all the land is mine. I point to where mine starts and ends and she shrugs her shoulders and shuffles away.

Now part of me feels a little sad that the lady can no longer forage on my land, it’s not that at the moment it’s anything more than may hundred square metres of untamed wilderness, but; and here’s where I stand on the issue. First when I’ve cultivated it, do I want all and sundry thinking it’s a free-for-all in my cabbage patch. – No, and second, these unwelcome visitors always come down the steps onto what will upon completion be our patio and outdoor space. Now I for one don’t want to be having a shower with some old lady popping her head around the window. Or there’s the (remote) possibility I may have the outside door open and be engaged in some bedroom gymnastics, and no unsuspecting field forager wants to see that in the early hours.

So there’s nothing for it, I have to buy a sign. The Italians love their signs, they have them all over the place. Beware of the dog, for sale, for rent, you name it and the houses are plastered with them. So with iPod installed, and Linkin Park, playing With You, I set off for Lanciano, a mere 20km away. I take the scenic route, rather than the direct route as I like the views as the car climbs upwards revealing the lush fields below. I read somewhere that Abruzzo is often referred to as the lungs of Italy. In fact the header photograph to this blog was taken from the road up to Castelfrentano, and later Lanciano.

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We reach Ikasa, part of a company called Brico, a sort of hardware cum electrical cum you name it we sell it store. My OH, Dutch heads off to look at wooden kitchen surfaces and I hone in on the signs that are rotating in a display. I flick the carousel round until I come across three signs. One is an A4 piece of plastic with a red no entry symbol and large black letters that shout out Private Property, another is an A4 landscape, blue and white one that simply says Private with a blue no entry sign. I dismiss this one immediately as being too passive. The final one is just 6 inches long by 3 inches wide. It simply says Private and has a small no entry sign. “So, what do you think?” Dutch says, when I walk over, signs clutched in my hand. “Pine or not?” I give him one of my bemused, or quite frankly gormless looks. “For the kitchen.” I’m non-committal, Kitchen surfaces can wait for another day, today is all about a private property sign. I hold up the two I have and ask which he thinks we should get. I’m favouring the bigger one that screams, ‘this is my land so bugger off’, Dutch just points to the small one and says, “This one.” I’m about to protest when he informs me that he thinks the smaller one is more dignified. “But,” I mumble, “the big one will fit on the post and stand out, I’ll have to trim down the smaller one to fit on the post box.” He nods and says, “Exactly,” then turns his attention back to the work surfaces on show.

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Back home and with the self adhesive sign trimmed and in position, I mumble to myself as I walk the few metres back to the house, “Just one more unwelcome visitor and I’m going straight back for the big bloody sign, and it’s not up for discussion.”

More Italian Signs

As the iPod shuffles and I Can Do It Without You, by the Kaiser Chiefs, plays I thought I’d share some more odd signage I’ve spotted out and about in Italy.

The first has been seen already by friends of mine on Facebook. I was at the waterfalls in Fara San Martino; a great place to visit on hot days as the air temperature is several degrees lower due to the coldness of the water. I parked next to a Romanian car and spotted this unfortunate number plate, well it would only be unfortunate in an English speaking country.

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Next up is a gross misuse of the trades description act, the store calls itself Megastore, sadly there’s nothing mega about this tiny little two roomed shop in a the backstreets of Lanciano.

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My next find made me smile, I imagine all the smiling and happy, buff and bronzed bodies of the gym-goers as they enjoy having a fun time as they workout. I wonder if they have clowns near the vending machines to keep everyone entertained and jolly.

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Finally, I found this blatantly bisexual sign, that boasts Take Me, and it’s not fussy if it’s taken by boys or girls. (isn’t that just plain greedy?)

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