Aaaaahhh.... Italian neighbors.... gotta love 'em...
I live in the centro storico, or historic center of a little village, which means that I live in a house that is something like a row home... except that it was built by the Romans. The median age of the people living in the center of my town is about 65, which means that pretty much everyone is retired and therefore, always around. Living in the center also means that one gives in to the reality that your neighbors will know pretty much everything about you. For instance, if I sneeze in the summertime (when the windows are open), I can guarantee that when I leave my house, one of my neighbors will be outside waiting... ready to commiserate with me that they as well have a cold and/or allergy as well as 600 other ailments.
I really can't complain though, everyone is pretty nice in my town and they all mean well. The only times I get actually mad at my neighbors are when they wake up my kids. Like for instance, when you have one of those rare moments that the toddler and the infant both go to sleep at the same time and your next store neighbor starts cleaning his tractor with an air compressor. If you would like to see the fires of hell burning in the eyes of a raging banshee, then swing by my house when my neighbor decides to clean his tractor during quiet time. My ability to curse in Italian is adequate but not advanced. Were I able to curse in Italian, the way I can in Philadelphian, my neighbor would probably throw his air compressor into the river to avoid the risk of ever being tempted to turn that thing on again.
But the neighbors aren't just for eavesdropping and making unnecessary noise... they are also good for alerting me to events and situations... like last year, when one of my neighbors was frantically ringing my doorbell because she was sure she saw flames shooting out of my chimney (we all have fireplaces, which are always lit in the winter). This led to me being forced to call the fire department and escort a group of 6 big Italian firemen up to the roof of my house (by the way I was 8 months pregnant), only to discover that there was nothing wrong with our chimney - maybe there was some grease that sparked, but nothing dangerous. Not embarassing AT ALL....
Which brings me to this morning. I was in the shower and heard the doorbell ring - not a big deal - as it is usually a gypsy or Jehovah's witness asking for money, I usually don't even respond anyway. A few minutes later, the doorbell rings again, but this time the ringer is really slamming on the bell. I realize it must be a neighbor and quickly think about what the problem could be. The most likely situation is that I need to move my car - yesterday I parked in one of those spots that says No Parking, but everybody knows that you can park there.... today is probably the day that you can't. This situation seems unlikely though as I am no longer the gringo who (for instance) doesn't realize that even though the sign in the piazza says No Parking on (let's say) March 21, it really means No Parking on March 20 because that's when the religious festival is and everyone knows except for me.... No, after 5 years in this town, I have got this stuff down.... So now the phone starts ringing - it is one of my neighbors. He tells me that Maria is looking for me (at least we now know who has been ringing my doorbell). But which Maria? There are 5 houses on my block and no less than 4 Marias. If you ever forget the name of an Italian woman, just call her Maria, and if that is not her name chances are good that she will say "that's okay, some people do call me Maria because my mother/sister/cousin is named Maria." Anyway, we figure out which Maria it is and I tell my neighbor that I will find her later.
Later that day.... I ring Maria's doorbell. She rushes down because...(drumroll...) she has found me a job at a nearby agriturismo! God bless her, after 5 years this woman still thinks that I don't work. I explained to her (again) that I have my own business and that even though I don't work a lot in the winter (because I work in tourism), starting in April things will start to pick up again... (and come July, she will surely say to me "oh I never see you anymore, you are always working...."). Maria did not accept this explantation and told me I should quit my (successful) business for this steady (part time) job. I tried to let her down gently and told her that I would call the agriturismo anyway because you never know... What I do know is that she is probably going all over town as I write this, telling everyone how I refused work that she found for me.
So no matter how integrated I might feel, sometimes I think my neighbors will never get me... but at least they are looking out for me (wether I want them to or not!). :-)