Cannonball wine, anyone?

There are good ideas, great ideas and truly wonderful Eureka moments that change our world for the better. The wheel, string theory, the Simpsons – stuff like that. Then there are really, really bad ideas that end up on You Tube with “incredibly stupid” and “do not attempt this at at home” featuring in the title.

So there I was, fancying a little frizzante but alas the cupboard was bare after I’d been drunk out of house and home last weekend by thirsty, marauding locusts. Err, sorry, friends. I decided instead to make the poor woman’s Prosecco (Soda Stream fizzy water) but then, like lightning, I had my own Eureka moment!

“Soda Stream…bubbles…wine…this could work!”.

NO. No, no, no it can’t. What it does is shower your entire kitchen, including yourself and your cat, with wine – lots and lots of wine – and then shoot the Soda Stream bottle out of the machine and into an upper body part faster than a cannonball. So what happened next? I took a painkiller, mopped up, ignored the late night pub smell and – wait for it, folks – tried again!

Rain

My reasoning was that I’d held the lever thingy down for too long the first time (I really am a genius), so I’d do it for a nano second and all would be well. No, no it wasn’t well. I still wasted heaps of wine, it’s still not fizzy and I smell even more like the morning after a night out in New Zealand. And yes I am allowed to say that.

What I am not allowed to do any more is have any ideas. That’s it, I’m done with creativity, it only makes a mess.

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Making it clear

There’s no doubt about it, moving somewhere new, where you don’t speak the language, can lead to all sorts of interesting moments. Sometimes calamitously embarrassing, sometimes hilarious.

I always try to speak what little Italian I have but it’s easy to get flustered when needing to give a response and often I find schoolgirl French emerging instead, to the bewilderment of all involved. Anything to do with the comune or officialdom I rely heavily on my lovely landlady or Mr B. But every now and again a language difficulty arises that does make me laugh. At the supermarket yesterday I went to put my euro coin in the trolley to release it, found it was already free and off I trotted to do my shopping. When finished, I loaded the car up and went to return the trolley. A young guy was headed in the same direction so, feeling all charitable, I offered my trolley to him and said “Niente soldi” with a smile on my face. He looked terribly embarrassed, said no thanks lady, sorry, and virtually ran in the other direction. How rude, I thought, I was only trying to be helpful. It only occurred to me on the way home that I’d said “No money” and he thought I was asking for a handout. Oops.

Language

Italians also don’t queue for anyone. Well maybe the Pope. But definitely no one else. So there I am in yet another supermarket, standing in a till line of people that was more like a conga than a queue. An old chap came up with one thing, so I ushered him in front of me, yet I got a scathing, incredulous look in return. No idea what that was about – maybe my hand action meant “Come with me behind the bushes, big boy, and let me show you a good time”? Who knows. One thing is for sure – the mistakes will continue for some time.

Bin diving

bins

Now I’ve moved to a country where I don’t speak the language at all, apart from a few quickly being worn out phrases, it’s easy – too easy – to rely on friends who do speak Italian. Sometimes you have to just throw yourself out there, but it’s great to have help when it comes to dealing with officialdom. So it was so lovely to have my landlady by my side when dealing with bins this week. My local comune is very good on recycling and there’s a big bin exchange going on right now – the old, acceptable five recycling bins are being swapped for five shiny new bins, complete with an inside composting bin and specially treated paper bag liners. Of course no one got told this exchange was taking place – apparently one person got a letter from the comune, told a mate, and the word spread – like so much here!

So off we go to queue for our new bins, the process of which is managed by a patient but sniffly young guy – “I have influenza”, he sighs. There’s lots of people in front of us in what goes for a queue round here – mostly older men, looking a bit bewildered with the whole process but knowing they are owed something, so they hang on in there and get ready to break the line and dash to the front. After about 30 minutes we finally make it to the head of the queue. Flu Boy takes my identity card, blows his nose carefully and looks mournfully at me, saying the equivalent of “Computer says no.” Because no one has lived in my house for two years, I have no bins, and I must go and explain this to the local comune and get a special certificate. Righto. My landlady suffers the same fate for the apartment I’m renting, so we drive two minutes round the corner to the comune office, park illegally, hope for the best and wander down a long high ceilinged corridor, to be told “Momento!”. Someone else with a bin issue is there already and we must wait.

Meanwhile, a comune employee comes up and asks if I would speak English to her – I look “simpatica” – so we swap numbers, the deal being, she practices her English, and she teaches me Italian. This is a major breakthrough – my first real Italian friend!

Ding, our turn. Forms are filled out and certificates provided, so back we go to get our bins. Turns out Flu Boy spent a year in London and speaks pretty good English – and also a course in good manners as he doesn’t grimace too much at my mangling of basic sentences. I squash 10 recycling bins into the back of lovely landlady’s car and we drive home, mission complete. I am binned out.

Road tripping

On the general scale of competency as a functioning human being I’m sure I’m about midway – not brilliant but still able to tie my own shoelaces and string a sentence together. However, I did use to be a good driver – did the RAC advanced driver training course when I worked for them, and clocked up thousands of miles zooming up and down the UK without penalties or injuries to me or my car. But something insidious happens to your driving as you get a little older. You lose a bit of confidence, maybe aren’t quite so sure of directions, aren’t as assertive. Or you just become really rubbish overnight. Like me.

Lunch in Vasto with an American friend was on the schedule, so my first guest Ms S and I decided to gird our loins, as it were, and brave the A14 autostrada. Now in my defence, I’m sleep deprived after four nights of an icky cold and a rattly chest that sounds like Chewbacca on acid. Plus today even getting out the door is a challenge – you know that incredibly irritating moment when your coat sleeve is caught up and You Just Can’t Get Your Arm In? One of those. In the car and I’m complaining that the phone (with the oh so essential sat nav) isn’t charging. It’s not plugged in, says Ms S, trying not to roll her eyes. As it turns out it wouldn’t have mattered terribly much anyway if it was plugged in or not, as I’d contracted Sat Nav Neglect – I’d hear the words “Turn right” OK but I just didn’t feel inclined to act on them. We go to get petrol…I go the wrong way. Get to the service station (a visit made extra special by the sighting of a local gent proudly carrying what Ms S coined a huge “pasta baby” tummy) then go out the wrong way, swing around and wave feebly at the puzzled attendant on our way back. The next hour involves more missed turns than a drunken footballer attempting pirouettes, being tailgated at speed, and suffering harassment at the hands of a toll coin machine, which refused to take my €2 coin – but then strangely accepted and gave change for €1.50.

After a walk round Vasto old town and a lovely lunch of chargrilled lamb with rocket, tomatoes, parmesan and small roasted potatoes, we head back to the car, left in a multi story car park nearby. Panic ensues as I can’t find the car keys. Well that would be because they were still in the ignition. What. A. Plonker.

We deliver our friend back to her apartment, who cheerfully joined in the spirit of confusion by screaming “There! There!” from the back seat when she spotted a parking space, but not being clear about where “There” actually was. The fun and games continue on the way back home, with me successfully ignoring the sat nav a number of times at key moments, including the approach to a busy toll road and then cutting across in front of a lorry when I did actually get there.

driver

We reach Sanctuary and close the door behind us. Ms S had coffee, I reach unsteadily for alcohol, and we ponder the miracle of “How the hell did we make it there and back in one piece?”. Might leave it for a while before I do that drive again. Oh, and I’ll try and get some more sleep.

It’s all in the timing

It is a truth universally acknowledged that life is much improved by having whitegoods, so it’s happy days here, as I’m now the proud owner of a new fridge and washing machine – bought online to avoid any pesky language embarrassment and delivered in two days. Mr D’s brother came round to hook the washer up yesterday, then we set it for a test run and all huddled around like expectant parents as it filled with water and happily drained away again. Mrs D and I can’t have our machines on at the same time (another fuse tripping scenario) so we’ve agreed that I’ll do laundry after 7pm.

Now I’m dying to try it out but in order to dry your clothes you need sunshine. After my earlier “Spring has sprung” boast we’ve sadly lurched back into winter and the 10 day forecast reveals nothing but rain and dropping temperatures – which I can live with, but it’s not such good news for my first UK house guest, due tomorrow. On the bright side, it has been miserable weather there too, so at least she will be acclimatized.

In the meantime, I’m staying indoors and getting lots of reading done. Still feel a quiver of guilt every now and then when I wonder why I’m on such a long holiday and shouldn’t I be back at work by now…but I’m sure that will fade in time.

washer

All blown up

Another lovely Spring day and Mr B kindly took me shopping for whitegoods. Thought we were all sorted in one shop – after some prevarication I picked out the right fridge and washer for me and thought “Yaye” at the 50% discount the store had advertised everywhere, only to get to the till and discover that the (very) small print meant my chosen whitegoods would have ended costing way more than I’d budgeted for. Caveat emptor, of course, but as neither of us had clocked the conditions, I said no thanks…getting very flustered and embarrassed in the process, and speaking a kind of awful English with an Italian accent.

A soothing lunch was required, and I was soon revived by pasta with rape (a gorgeous green, a cross between spinach and broccoli), followed by stuffed peppers and cabbage, and then coffee that came close to stopping my heartbeat, with a cherry gelato chaser. The sun was shining, it had to be done.

I mention to Mr B that I have to find a cash machine – I now have my Italian bankcard so am armed and dangerous – plus I need to pay my rent. Mr B, always in the know, is one of those amazing people who doesn’t just drive past a shop and wonder what it’s like. He stops, he shops and he gains local knowledge; and by doing so he has got to know his way around this area. I really want to be more like that – explore, take my time, let this corner of Chieti unfold gently. So we drive past a few ATMs with me unhelpfully going “Look there’s one” as we motor past it. “Don’t worry,” he assures me, “…there’s one just a bit further down on the left”. When we get there, there is indeed a machine that gives withdrawals. Not a bank, though. The bank that used to be a bank is now a pharmacy, and the ATM as was is now a condom machine…so not quite the withdrawal I was thinking of, unless money gets tight and I go into a whole new line of work.

condom

He looks at me, I look at him, we roar with laughter and head to the bank we’d just passed. One with money and not prophylactics.

Taking the pith

I’ve got a problem with wind. No, not the bodily function sort (at least, not today). The sirocco sort, Italy’s answer to the mistral. For the last couple of days, a warm, dry, Saharan desert airmass has been partying with the cooler air of the Mediterranean and propelling the mix across Abruzzo. Last night wind, wind, rain and more wind battered my little nest, hurling plants and chairs through the air and wrenching my M&S knickers from the washing line and into the cactus.

My new (temporary) home is very comfortable but it’s an older apartment, so the windows don’t shut quite as well as the day they were fitted; and the glass rattles in the window frames. Between 1-4am this morning, when the sirocco was at its most fierce, the windows banged open several times; the glass shook until I was sure the panes would smash; and the whole house groaned in protest at being buffeted from all sides by wave after wave of this cyclone. The noise was the worst thing, so Orbit and I hid under the covers and watched The Duchess of Duke Street on You Tube until we fell asleep.

We woke to beautiful blue skies, and a friend tells me today that the sirocco heralds good weather. Which is great news, except that there’s already been lots of good weather, and Spring is most truly springing here. Daffodils have flowered, there are blossoms out everywhere and orange trees are heavy with fruit. Mr B gave me a big bag of them the other day, and while I normally have to be coaxed into eating oranges, the Casoli variety is like the ones from my childhood memory – juicy and sweet, and so easy to peel. No pith.

Oranges

Now it’s dinner time and the skies are dark again. Mr D kindly came downstairs and battened down the hatches, so if the sirocco whirls up again tonight, we’re ready for it. But I’ve got The Duchess of Duke Street loaded up. Just in case.

Electric dreams

Electrics

The delicate nature of the Italian electrical system is always a lively topic of conversation on expat forums. In the UK we’re used to running lots of appliances at once, but in Italy doing this draws too much power at once (or something like that) and the electricity supply spits its dummy out of the pram and shuts off. So the concept of fuse tripping wasn’t new to me but I’ve been using everything in the rental apartment without a problem for a week now, and of course I completely forgot about it. Until last night.

Feeling very at peace with the world, with Corelli drifting softly through the apartment, I put the oven on, salivating at the thought of pork sausages and spinach salad for dinner. Then suddenly everything stopped – lights, oven, music, heat. My landlords Mr and Mrs D were out, so I texted, then sat in the dark, adding candles to the shopping list and kicking myself in that usual hindsight way for not asking where the fuse box was beforehand.

Mr D soon got home and showed me how to operate the two fuse switches, one to my apartment and one for the whole house. OK, no problem, so I switched the oven back on. Boof, off the fuse went again, and the power to both apartments went off. Mr D came back down and showed me where I’d been going wrong – the oven, the hot water boiler and the heater can’t all be on at the same time, apparently. I pointed out that actually all three had been on together a number of times over the last four days, so what caused the fuse to trip tonight? He shrugged his shoulders in a “it’s just one of those things” way and headed upstairs.

So now my default position is now to leave the hot water boiler and the heater off until I need them, and put more clothes on and drink wine to keep warm. Could be worse, and I suppose it’s one way to keep the electricity bills down. Even better, as an Italian friend happily pointed out, I won’t need the heater soon.

Blue skies smiling at me

No big adventure is without its ups and downs, but after frantic last minute packing, a tense van loading and having to leave some furniture behind (which broke my heart), a three day road trip, overzealous Swiss Border Customs inspectors and unloading chaos, it’s now time to relax at the rental flat and get used to a completely different pace of life. No more jumping out of bed when the alarm screams at me. No more fretting about work stuff. No more London traffic and noise. It’s so peaceful here at night, and without street lights strobing into my bedroom, I’m getting a ridiculous 10 hours’ sleep, sometimes followed by an afternoon snooze.

It’s now Day 4 and the dismay when I saw my little house brought on serious buyer’s remorse – but as friends keep reassuring me, the key phrase here is ‘baby steps’. The house will be fixed up beautifully in time, and meanwhile each day will bring something new. I’ve adjusted more easily than I thought to driving on the right for the first time – even with carabinieri on my tail when I got lost in Lanciano’s historic centre! I pulled over to let them past and smiled beguilingly at them, but they didn’t seem too charmed and glared back before driving madly down the cobbled street, scattering a school party in their wake.

Also had unwanted excitement last night when Orbit Cat managed to escape. It took an hour to find her, in the dark, huddled behind an old sink out the back. I shook like a leaf for ages afterwards, horrified at the thought that my wee girl might not come back, but she was none the worse for her big night out. Extra vigilance is now in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Feel very much in limbo land as I’m not on holiday, but I’m not home either. Of course it’s very early days yet but people are generally so friendly and helpful, and my landlady and friends are full of great advice and help. It’s almost hard to accept, as I’ve managed on my own for such a long time, but having their support has been like a much needed security blanket. Roll on the next baby steps!

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D Day

Departure Day is finally here, and my first action this morning? Tears. Lots of pent up stress, combined with the madness of the last few days, so tears are completely natural. Still kept apologising to Mr P though, who just looked mildly amused by it all. I hate long goodbyes, really hate them, so quickly put a protesting all the way Orbit into her cat carrier and they headed off. Cue more tears – but I know she’s in the safest possible hands until I arrive in a couple of days.

Tears

This is the start of such an exciting new chapter in my life, one I’ve been dreaming of for so long. For years friends have patiently viewed the gazillion links to houses I kept sending them, and listened without yawning too obviously to all my plans and ideas for the future. Yet I feel strangely disconnected and a bit flat, as I’ve got a few hours to wait for the removalist – aka Superman – to arrive and there’s nothing left to pack except the laptop, thanks to the wonderful Ms L, who helped out bigtime yesterday. Once we’re loaded up I’m sure all the worries will fall away and then I can start to relax and get that holiday feel happening.

Bye bye Blighty, my wonderful home for the last 20 odd years. I’ve had a ball here and met some really brilliant people, had some great jobs and travelled the country – and I’ll probably always be a Kiwi Londoner in my heart. But now it’s time to learn a new way of living, slow down the pace of life a bit and have new experiences. Can’t wait!