Bologna is great — no bologna.

I’m sure someone has said that before. Okay, lots of people. But it’s true — this is a great city, one we will visit again I’m sure.

First, a few fun facts:

  • Bologna is not only a city, it is the name of the university there. That makes Bologna the oldest college town in the world. And might explain why bologna was “invented” in Bologna (see below).
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  • If you stand at the designated (and well trodden) mark next to the statue in the Piazza Maggiore, Neptune looks like he has an erection. But the woman under him is even more interesting Tim thinks.
  • Neptune Statue
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  • There are more beautiful boutique shops run by local owners in Bologna than any other large European city we’ve visited.
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  • American’s eat 800 million pounds of bologna every year. Many of them are university students. (But in Bologna, they call it mortadella which roughly translates “of the dead.” Yum…)
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Okay, we spent two nights In Bologna (the city) at a great hotel (Hotel Aemilia, $125 a night including a huge buffet breakfast). Our stated destination was FICO Eataly World, the giant food fantasy land that opened last November. Boy, were we glad there was a lot more to the city than that.

Being farmers, I think our expectations were set a bit too high. I wrote a piece for Civil Eats a couple of years ago about what I called the Disneylanding of Farming (https://civileats.com/2016/09/21/the-dark-side-of-agritainment/). Well, this came close. Especially if Walt had $100 million and a whole bunch of corporate interests to play to.

There are no carnival rides, just three-wheel bikes (branded Bianchi) you are free to wheel around in, filling your attached wooden crate with every kind of foodstuff you can think of — all of it produced in Italy. That alone is worth the entrance fee (it’s free).

What we liked best was the experience kiosks. Beautiful concepts and amazing interactive design. One was Man and Fire (a little too vivid after the fires that devastated our California town of Santa Rosa). Another had a “forest” of lighted trees and a display of the seven grains that began cultivated agriculture in Mesopotamia (one of which was our beloved farro).

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It was worth the trip, but we were both glad there was also a lot of shopping and a lot of beautiful old buildings and a lot of art to see in beautiful Bologna too.

We returned to our lovely Casa Pacifica (peaceful house) and I harvested what grew in my tiny orto in just three days. It amazes even this seasoned farmer what will grow here with just dirt, sun and water. No compost, no fertilizers, no black plastic (I ate the strawberries before I took the photo), and of course no chemicals of any kind. Buon appetito, everyone!

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Something is rotten in the state of Denmark

It’s been almost three months since we left our new old home in Santa Rosa, built in 1925, to return to our old old home in Santa Fiora. By “old old” I mean a house that was built in 1900, outside a village that is quoted by Dante in his 6th canto of the Purgatory of the Divine Comedy.

As an English lit major, I had to read The Divine Comedy. I don’t remember what I got in that class, but I didn’t find the work divine or funny at all. It scared the bejeezus out of me and it still does in our current political journey through hell and purgatory. To see why (if you don’t remember the story!), just go to Wikipedia.

Anyway, living in a village as old and full of history as this gives us a reverence for traditions we would never experience in the U.S., let alone California. It is a place that has known the corruption of power, the vagaries of war, the persecution of Jews, and years of economic hardship. And yet it zealously preserves art, architecture, music and natural resources on the picturesque slopes of the largest mountain in Tuscany. The traditions? Tolerance. Kindness. Pacifism. Humbleness. Reverence.

Just yesterday I was watching a casual soccer game some boys were playing in the village park. I was surprised to see the “goalie” was about half the size and age of the rest of the boys. I thought, “That little kid is going to get kicked in the face with the ball by those big kids. Must be one of the older kid’s pesky little brother they stuck in there.” Then I watched the little goalie block five kicks in a row, dive head-first to catch the ball, and kick it to the other end of the playing field. He was awesome! His teammates clapped him on the back. My lesson? I  assumed a typical American scene was taking place, and instead it was a typical Italian one.

Maybe I should say it was a typical European scene. We were in Denmark for two weeks (more on that later) and kindnesses abounded. A neighbor a few houses away from the one we stayed at offered to drive us to the train station an hour away! His wife brought me half a chocolate cake for my birthday. On the train to Copenhagen, a young man with tattoos and piercings everywhere (that I could see) gave up his seat so Tim and I could sit together, then made sure we knew which stop to get off at.

I know these things happen in the U.S. too. But I also know there is a lot of anger floating around — on freeways, in schools, standing in line anywhere. Have expressions of anger become so normal that simple acts of kindness startle me?

We saw our first car accident since we’ve been back. It was in the little village next to ours. Judging by the look of the cars, the number of ambulances (two) just sitting there, and the fire trucks, it was bad. This little village is just a few storefronts and homes lining the road, and people walking on the side of the road to and from the grocery or whatever. When we drive through there, there are flashing signposts telling us exactly how fast we’re going and to controlla la velocita. One of the cars was a black Mercedes. All I could think was, “damn tourists.”

It IS tourist season in Tuscany. Even in Santa Fiora. It’s hard to find a parking space now. The road outside the peschiera is lined with rental cars. The park is full of people having picnics and kids playing. There are even people staying at the hotel in town, which is generally closed up tight.

That’s how things change when you’re living in a town, instead of just visiting. You are no longer so much an outsider. We meet new people in the village and they know all about us. “Americanos,” they call us of course. But they also know what house we live in, and that I have an orto (vegetable garden) and Tim is a pittore (painter). All we have to do now is learn the language!

So, the trip to Denmark I mentioned earlier. It is a beautiful country. Flat, a few rolling hills, miles and miles of grain fields, and water, water, everywhere. (Sorry, Denmark — b-o-r-i-n-g!) The country is made up of 134 islands. Did you know that? I sure didn’t. And for someone who is (get ready for  a big reveal) afraid of driving over bridges, I was glad Tim was driving. But the architecture — tiny two-story houses , some with thatched roofs, gables, and shutters — is so. . . Danish. Speaking of which, yes — the pastries are the best you’ll ever find. So are, as I said earlier, the people.

Our exchange house.

This was our first experience doing a home exchange. We have friends who do it often, so I thought I would try it. I have our Tuscany house listed on a home exchange site and received an inquiry from a couple in Denmark. I’d never been to Denmark, so we wrote back and forth and dates worked for both of us. We exchanged photos, personal info, and assorted questions.

And now I will tell you what to ask if you ever find yourself contemplating a home exchange:

1) I know you don’t smoke in the house, but have you smoked for thirty years with the windows closed in your car you are lending us? 2) You’ve asked if we like dogs and would be willing to feed yours, but are they little yappy things that live in the house, have fleas, and insist on getting you up at 6 AM to “play”? 3) How far is your house from any village or town with more than a church in it? 4) Does it rain much there?

Our first week was spent avoiding the car and the rain and watching hours of Chopped and Say Yes to the Dress (Tim’s personal favorite). (Don’t judge — we haven’t had real TV for years and were mesmerized.) Finally the rain stopped and we found a few picturesque villages to explore, a castle with exquisite gardens, and two good restaurants. Then we spent two glorious days in Copenhagen, a fine, fine city that you definitely shouldn’t miss. But oy, those dogs. . .

 

 

 

Back Home Again, and Again

When we bought this little farmhouse in Tuscany, I never thought of it as “home.”

Home has been California since I was born.  When I moved to New York and then Texas with my parents, I longed to “go home.” I saved up babysitting money to go back for the summer I was 14. I applied to colleges only in California (and one safety school in New York which — good, bad, whatever — gave me scholarship money and work/study to make it the most affordable option).

My parents moved back to California in my senior year. My fiance was in New York finishing school, but I “came home” to care for my mother who was dying. I finished school, married my fiance, and went back to New York. It was never “home.”

After the divorce, I returned. As soon as I crossed the Golden Gate, I felt alive again. Every time I drove through the Waldo Tunnel (the one that has rainbows painted on it and is now the Robin Williams Tunnel), it felt like a homecoming. Whether the hills were emerald or ochre or burnt sienna, I smiled and relished the season.

I bought a house in Santa Rosa and married my new husband in the backyard of our home. We opened a business and became part of the community. We experienced giddy happiness and great tragedy, but we did it together and with friends. We felt safe. And loved.

Fifteen years later, we moved to some of those beautiful hills — a ranch in west Sonoma County. It is interesting that many of our neighbors there called their places Home Ranch. It was where their great greats had settled and grew along with their crops and animals, families . Offspring might have moved next door or down the road, but there was always Home Ranch.

Ours was called Canvas Ranch. (If you’d like to read more about how all this went down, here is a link to an article in Fortune magazine, cover story for Retire to the Job You Love.) On the website I created, I said the following about this new “home”:

The undulating hills, the soft sky, the zillions of stars to look at, even the fog make this a landscape that slows you down. Early in the morning, when the chickens are out looking for their first meal near the compost bin, and the lambs are chasing each other around the back field, and the cashmere goats are stretching to catch the first rays of sun, that’s my favorite time to head into the garden. Everything is so new. And there is so much to discover. More beans sprouting. New buds on the tomato vines. Flowers I forgot I planted opening to the day. 

Yes, this describes home to me. We filled the rolling hills of our home with sheep and goats and chickens and vegetables and orchards and ancient grains and art.

    

And another 15 years later, we said goodbye. It was not a sad goodbye as everything we loved is now in someone else’s hands and doing just fine. It was not sad because we were able to turn one home into two, one in Sonoma County and one in Tuscany. It was not sad at all because a few weeks ago, as we were sitting under our huge fig tree, eating proscuitto and pecorino and drinking fine Italian wine, we looked at each other and said, “It’s so good to be back home again.”

There is a peace here, as there is in Sonoma County. Beauty is everywhere, in the blossoming flowers, ripening tomatoes, bursting chestnuts. And in the faces of the children and the old people and the vendor at the fruit stand. Friends are here, as they are at our other home. It rains, the sun shines, the wind blows, and all the while we watch things grow and die and grow again.

And we know how very lucky we are to be back home again, and again. We have each other.

 

Tripping Along In 2017

It has been said that there are three types of travel with your spouse: a holiday, a vacation, and a trip. And you’d best agree on which you are on before you set out.

A holiday is to visit family. For some, this might be fun; for others, it is the dreaded, obligatory “time poorly spent” rehashing who is the smartest, prettiest, cleverest sibling and every family story heard hundreds of times before.

A vacation, on the other hand, is personally defined:  for me, it’s the prerequisite 2 or 3 weeks off from work. My husband defines it as palm trees and a lounge chair, with something cold delivered at whim by a gorgeous young woman in a skimpy outfit. I’m not fond of vacations.

My favorite is a trip: sightseeing in beautiful villages in remote locations, exploring vibrant cities, meeting interesting fellow travelers, and learning new cultures. And shopping of course.

Luckily. Tim and I agree on this. So, this has been a year of trips, with a few moments of vacation thrown in (to keep Mr. Tim happy). IMG_2149.JPGThe year began with the closing of the sale of Canvas Ranch on December 10, 2016. The previous fall doesn’t count, even though we traveled to see the new little farmhouse in Italy we bought . The stress of the finalizing of that sale and the sale of the ranch meant I was still working to keep all the balls in play.

We spent a “vacation” house-sitting the lovely home of friends in Santa Rosa the first three months of 2017. We are so grateful to Betsy and Craig and our dear friend Nan who lent us a car for that time. It was a much-needed break from the previous fall, and gave us a chance to host a great party for close friends from our two previous lives – corporate Santa Rosa and farming Petaluma.

On March 30th, we boarded a flight to London for the start of THE BIRTHDAY IMG_1508CELEBRATION (Tim’s 70th). We stayed at the perfect Rubens Hotel across the street from Buckingham Palace, had perfect weather, and outstanding meals. (You can read more about all of this in previous posts.)

Then it was off to Paris on the TGV train through the Chunnel and three days of art and croissants. Tim’s favorite city, Avignon, was next, where we spent eight days and his actual birthday on April 14th. Provence is beautiful any time of the year, but this year it was especially perfect. We ventured on a “trip” to I’sle sur la Sorgue to the annual antique fair and had a great time reconnecting with two people we had met two years earlier.

Next came a short plane ride from Marseilles to Rome, a rental car, a drive to our home in Santa Fiora, a drive back to Sorgue to pick up all the furniture we bought at the antique fair, and two days in the gorgeous Grand Hotel Henri. Home again via the Italian Riviera and another grand hotel.

Returning to Santa Fiora on April 25th was truly a homecoming. Our good pal Bruno who had spent the previous two months in 7 different hospitals in Italy clinging to life was val_d_orcia173511_760 IMG_2195 IMG_2072 IMG_2182

finally out of the woods. Our neighbors Sandro, Simona, Corinna, Corrado, and Emilio welcomed us back. Sandro had overseen the painting of the upstairs and refinishing of the wood beams on the vaulted ceilings of the bedrooms. The piazza was once again buzzing with men gossiping and families enjoying the spring air, and Christian at Barilotto welcomed me and “Mr. Tim” with big hugs.

For the next three months, I read, wrote, and planted and tended my garden (vacation for me) and Tim refinished doors, designed the remodeled kitchen, worked with the plumber, electrician, and painter to add systems for a washer and new fridge, and cooked and cleaned (a new type of vacation for him).

During this time, my new, high-speed satellite internet (better than anything in the US) allowed me to check Zillow daily for houses to buy. On May 5th, I emailed our friend and Saint Helena Averealtor, Timo, about a house on Saint Helena Ave in the McDonald Historic District of Santa Rosa. He and his wife, their dog, and close friend Nan went to see it, did a video walk-through, and sent it to us with a unanimous thumbs-up. It had been in escrow, so the pest reports had been done and Timo sent those to us. Our son Adam went to inspect what the reports had to say. We knew we had to act fast, so we made an offer and wired a deposit on May 7th. It was accepted the next day and we closed on May 23rd – all from Italy!

On July 12th, we flew back to SFO via Rome and London stop-overs.  Nan was there at the airporter to meet us, provide us with a car again, and we took off for Santa Rosa. This time we imposed on long-time friends/family Susan and David and their spare bedroom (thank you and sorry we outstayed the fish limit!).

Dining Patio Kitchen

The next day we got our first look at the new house. Despite how small it looked on the video, it felt like the perfect size for us. 1400 square feet, living room, large kitchen and dining room, two small bedrooms, one bathroom, and small front and back yards, plus a nice-sized garage offset from the house for Tim’s studio. The amazing thing is that this is exactly what I described when I imagined our new home. (Ah, those intentions!) The neighborhood is awesome, the architecture of the house is great, and it is full of light. Even our furniture fit!

 

 

We spent the next two weeks “moving in” from our two PODS and getting the place ready for our friend/house sitter Barb to come the day we leave. And we had quite the social whirl getting together with friends for amazing dinners, wine, and fun. Thank you one and all!

We flew back to Europe from Oakland to Barcelona on July 30th, taking advantage of a $295 round trip ticket. Never again Oakland Airport and never again Iberia, thank you very much. But our hotel in Barcelona . . . Hotel Omm is magnificent! Stay there. Or at least have cocktails on the rooftop deck overlooking the city. It was extremely hot and muggy, so we didn’t do as much walking as I would have liked. Just means we will have to be back.

But something special happened (as only happens on trips) the last night we were there. We got in an elevator at the hotel with another couple, politely chatted, and followed them into the lobby. As I was about to ask the clerk for a restaurant recommendation, I just turned to the couple and said, “So where are you headed for dinner?” They mentioned a restaurant and I asked (in my best stalker voice) if they minded if we followed them. “Of course not,” they warily returned. So we did. But as we waited to cross streets, we started talking.

All the way to the restaurant we talked. They were from Los Altos Hills, he was a retired investment banker (yes, that kind) and current Professor of Finance at San Jose State and IMG_2275.JPGshe was a recently retired elementary principal. They suggested they would change their reservation to a table for four, we objected (several times), but he gave the maître d enough to get a table together. By this time we were really enjoying each other’s company. For the next 3½ hours we shared stories of our travels and all measure of other things. Tim and Frank talked about politics and New York. Sally and I talked about our lives, likes, and dislikes. We ate paella and drank wine and champagne. It was a very special kismet adventure, one we will not forget.

So here we are back in our home in Santa Fiora (yes, both Santa Fiora and Santa Rosa feel like home). The heat wave that is plaguing all of Europe has also hit us in what are the usually cooler green hills of Tuscany. But this year there has been very little rain and heavy heat – 98 degrees last week. We are here until our exciting trip to Sardinia with Petaluma friends Ben and Eileen the first part of September, then its off to Perugia and Umbertide in Umbria with Santa Rosa friends Michael and Darlene and John and Laura. Back in Santa Fiora for the first half of October (chestnuts and olive oil!) and then Tim and I head to Majorca for a week on our way home to Santa Rosa.

Yes, this has certainly been a magical year of tripping. Hope you and yours are well and that we get together somewhere somehow soon!

ONLINE SHOPPING

Personally, I am thrilled that Amazon bought Whole Foods. Living in Italy means I can’t enjoy cashew (or even peanut) butter, salsa and chips, Three Twins Ice Cream, or – saddest of all – Korbel brut. (Don’t judge me – I eat really good food at other times, but do love my “healthy” junk food.)

But I’m not sure any of those things would ever make it to me. Stick with me here on this.

I have been an Amazon Prime member (with Smile donations going to Catholic Charities, of course) for several years. I spent nearly 5 months getting satellite internet here in Santa Fiora (read previous entry), and have put it to great use. I download Kindle books and home improvement TV shows. And I order things that I can’t get here without driving for two hours each way on twisty mountain roads.

I am not a spoiled foreigner. I accept that I can only order on the Amazon.it site, so am very limited in what is offered. As requested by Amazon, I have the packages sent to the local post office and pick them up there. It’s called a local drop location, and this has worked fine for three months. We received a shirt for Tim, books, a Sawzall and blades.

And then . . .

Somewhere someone decided this was not a cost-effective arrangement for the post office. Meanwhile, I had ordered a few more things: curtains, a bag of rye flour, a pastry cutter, a blanket, my favorite shampoo, all destined for the post office.

The first tip-off was the curtains. I kept checking on their journey. Instead of heading to the post office, they were with something called BRT. As we were driving around one day, I saw a truck with BRT on the side. I yelled (nicely) to Tim to stop the car, ran over to the driver (who of course didn’t speak any English), and somehow communicated that I was waiting for a shipment that he might have. He seemed to recognize my name, so I gave him my address on a scrap of paper.

Lo and behold, the curtains arrived two days later! (We now wave to the driver whenever we see him around the area!) ((Crazy Americans . . .))

Meanwhile, several other “necessities” were in the Amazon pipeline and due at the post office (and confirmed by Amazon that they were delivered). So every day I’ve checked with them and every day the post office woman would say a whole bunch of things in Italian and throw her arms up, which I took to mean “these things happen” — that the delivery was delayed.

Today Tim drove me down there with my Amazon printouts in Italian clearly saying that my rye flour and pastry cutter were delivered there last week. A little indignantly I thrust the printouts under the post office window to the same woman, who started saying a whole bunch of things in Italian and throwing up her arms. A woman I know came in – I knew she didn’t speak English – and seeing my frustration, tried to help. The papers flew back and forth from the post office woman to my acquaintance and back again, and they both were throwing up their arms.

IMG_1670.JPGAs I was causing a scene and the line was getting longer behind me, the post office woman went online and printed out two different pieces of paper. They showed that the rye flour was indeed delivered to Santa Fiora post office last week, but then “ritorno”-ed to Bologna! My pastry blender was sent to Firenze.

Defeated and having this information in hand, I went next door to the little store where Tim was hiding and showed him and the deaf clerk the printouts. Then my friend joined us too, and another man came in and everyone turned to him and asked if he spoke English.

In broken English he said yes, he learned it in law school, but when he became a lawyer in Rome they forbade him to speak it. Good enough for me. I showed him the papers and the two of us (followed by Tim, my friend, and the deaf store clerk) went next door to the post office lady.

He now translated the whole bunch of things and arm-throwing into the fact that the post office, to save money, decided to contract with delivery companies (like BRT!) to deliver things like rye flour and pastry cutters. So I needed to go online, contact the 6 delivery companies in Tuscany, and give them all my home address. Of course, Amazon.it apparently knew nothing of this.

Home Tim and I went.

IMG_1669And there on our doorstep was an Amazon delivery! Not any of the things I was expecting, but a bedspread I had ordered a few months ago. Delivered by my buddy at BRT. The address on the box? The post office.

Allora . . .

ITALIANESE

I’m not sure Tim and I are becoming any more fluent in Italian than when we left, but there are some things we’re beginning to understand. It’s more about how they speak and what they mean by it, rather than literal translations into English (or ‘Merican).

To give you some idea, here are a few things we’ve learned that our fabulous Italian tutor left out of our lessons:

Allora

This is the most common word in Italian. It is pronounced a-lllooorr-a, often with a deep sigh at either end. If you look it up, it means “then”. Then?? You order a caffe latte and don’t have the right change, allora. You ask your accountant if you need to pay taxes today, allora. You ask to see something in the shop in a different color, allora. And then they proceed to give you or tell you or get you exactly what you wanted. It’s kind of a spacer between “of course” and “I don’t really have time today.”  But it definitely doesn’t mean “then”.

Non è un problema

I think this is the same in Spanish (and Japanese, and Hungarian, and Irish). It means there definitely IS a problem – it could be anything, but it will cost/delay/not work, no matter what it is.

Non possible

This is a corollary phrase. It means whatever it is can’t be done right now, or the way you want, or without a lot more paperwork. It probably can be done, but you will be here for several more hours before you’ll know. And you’ll learn a lot more Italian while you’re here.

Ciao

You know what this word means, but saying it correctly takes some practice. You don’t just say “bye” to someone. You say “bye, bye, bye, bye”. (It’s easier to do in Italian. Try it.) Oh, and Italians love saying “bye” after we say ciao. Makes them feel very hip.

These things happen

Yes, I know that’s English. But spoken by an Italian in a deadpan tone of voice, it means that they know you did something wrong, but who’s going to tell? Certainly not me. It’s kind of like Tim’s favorite saying: “It was like that when I got here.”

Okay, enough of that. We love Italians and they love trying out their English on us. It is true that very few outside of the tourist towns speak English. But they all love to try, and once you can get un piccolo English word out of them, you’re off to the races. But speak piano, piano, which means slow.

 

NAVIGATING IN ITALY

There are two kinds of navigating I want to address: Italian roads and Italian bureaucracy.

First and foremost, driving in Italy is not at all what the books and blogs say it is. It is no crazier than the Highway 101/12 interchange at rush hour. It is no more dangerous than Barrel Tasting weekend. It is no more crowded than Sonoma Plaza in the summer.

The autostrada is fast indeed, but everyone knows the rules. If you’re in the fast lane, expect someone to come up on your rear bumper an extraordinary speed to pass you. Because you expect that, you generally stay in the right lane doing the speed limit, unless you come upon an Ape – basically a motorized three-wheel bicycle with a cab on it. Top speed 10 knots. Then you check your mirror, note there are no cars in sight, and immediately zip into the fast lane, just as an Audi or Volvo get within an inch of your rear bumper at a speed approaching sound.

In the villages, such as ours, some of the streets are so narrow that cars can’t even get through them. So you are expected to know this and not try to squeeze your Mercedes rental car between two 15th century stone pillars without closing your side mirrors. You can tell tourist cars by their torn-off mirrors and long scratches on their doors. And don’t even think about parking in these villages. You park outside and walk, walk, walk.

You also must know that the Italians invented roundabouts. They are spaced every 20 feet, or so it seems, in many of the villages. You can’t hesitate entering them either. As you enter the outside lane, you must move to the inside lane and quickly scan all the blue signs (ignore all the white and yellow ones, and the green autostrada sign unless you’re going there), find the next town in the direction you want to go, and head for that exit. But don’t simply cut across the outside lane to your exit! Move there with confidence. If you can’t do that all in one motion, go around the circle several times until you can. That’s all I can say.

Now, about Italian bureaucracy. It’s infamous, no? No! We are either very, very lucky or this is an absolute fallacy about Italy. (I’m inclined to think we’re just cute and charming, but that’s me.)

IMG_1975There are some challenges. Shopping — groceries, hardware, banking — has its own rules. Stores are open when they want to be, and never (almost) between the hours of 12 and 4. Or on Mondays. Or when there’s a festival. Or a soccer game.

Or when you ask about something, the conversation goes something like this:

Me: Buon giorno. Do you speak a little English?

Answer: No! (A look of terror crosses their face.)

Me (with a charming smile): Maybe a little – un piccolo?

Answer: No!

Me: Okay, I just wanted to pay my taxes.

Answer: What is your name and address?

Or, it could be you are Tim and you are in a hardware store, and asking if they have a Skilsaw. What you get from the clerk/owner is a complete blank stare. No blinking eyes, no words come out, just a stare. So you ask again, you ask in several ways, and finally you draw a picture. That elicits a volley of Italian from the clerk, all smiles, all hands in the air. But no Skilsaw.

The other option is to enter a store with at least one other person in there. The law of averages is that one out of two people really do know enough English (they all had to learn it in school) to be able to act as a semi-translator. And you’ve made a new friend who invites you to his home.

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Actual brick wall in the town hall.

Yesterday we were brave enough to enter our “town hall” to get a Declaration of Presence. You may not be familiar with this document, but it basically says we now live in Santa Fiora and want to pay taxes. Don’t, by mistake, ask to “register,” or you will be given a one-pound packet for a Permesso di Sorggiorno card. This requires a twelve-page application, all in Italian, and to be able to pass an interview, also in Italian, about their laws, history, civic and social culture, and more. I had been reading about this and thought we might actually have to do it.

UNTIL…I saw a small paragraph that said if I was a member of the EU, all I needed was a Declaration of Presence. Well, ye gads if I’m not also a British citizen with a British passport! (Thank you brother Vic and good buddy Frances for helping me with that.) Luckily, spouses of EU citizens are also exempt. So Tim and I headed to the town hall with the required paperwork:  the deed for our house, a copy of our marriage license, a statement of adequate funds in our bank account, and passports.

IMG_1974

Actual stamping tools.

Of course, they had never heard of a Declaration of Presence. So I had to show the printout and my passport. The fellow in charge was “No speak Inglese!” Rather than retreat, I stood my ground and pulled out more paperwork. Italians LOVE paperwork. He held up his hand and disappeared.  A minute later he returned with a young woman named Guilia (“Julia”). She only spoke very broken English, but was so helpful and so wanting to make sure we got everything worked out. Stampa, stampa, stampa, and voila! We now are tax-paid citizens of Santa Fiora and we have a health card – free medical, dental, and eyeglasses. And next week, I’m taking my paperwork to the local auto club (that apparently handles such things) to see if we can own a car. (We have a free one that someone wants to give us, but we can’t register it or get insurance if we’re not citizens. And so it goes…).

 

Bottom line: the key to navigating everything in Italy is stand your ground and smile.

Small corollary: we also learned that if you do something that is not exactly legal, such as take down part of a stone wall by your house so the workers can get their rototiller in, and anyone asks about it, just do what our architect friend said when he saw it – he deadpanned, “These things happen.”