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Love Thy Neighbor....

Photo courtesey of Click Art di Paolo D'Antonio, Cannara, Italy

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!).  :-)

The Seven Year Itch (?)

Photo courtesy of Click Art di Paolo D'Antonio, Cannara (PG)

Last week I celebrated 7 years of living in Italy.  So what do I have to show for it?  Well, here are some of the good things/accomplishments:

  • Learned to speak Italian pretty fluently - I'm saving the complex verb tenses and vocabulary for when my kids start to learn them in school.
  • Got married twice (to the same person) - one courthouse wedding, and one church wedding - just to make sure I hit all the bases.
  • Adopted 2 cats (one of which is sadly in the clouds now).
  • Moved only once - a record for me as before moving to Italy I had moved 7 times between the years 1995-2005.
  • Opened a restaurant (which I later sold - see below for probable reason).
  • Popped out 2 kids (a girl and a boy).
  • Started a successful tourism business.
  • Got my Italian drivers' license, which involves memorizing a 342 page technical manual (in Italian) and understanding that you will fail if you don't open the car door with two hands (a gust of wind could blow the door open and humans are not strong enough to control a car door with one arm).
  • Have traveled to 16 of the 20 regions in Italy.

But... life here in Italy isn't all about flitting around in the countryside and drinking wine... well, we do drink our fair share of wine, but lately it's to drown our sorrows.... Italy is crashing.  Crashing hard.  It is in probably one of its worst financial crises since the Fall of the Roman Empire.  I've owned businesses in both the United States and Italy and I can tell you that it is much much much much harder to be an entrenpeneur here.  The politics of this country manuveur against its citizens and residents in every way possible (especially those who are working to bring tourism (€€) to the region).  The young people who are educated and have the potential to actually change something are all defecting to countries who embrace hardwork and ingenuity.  And the people who are left feel as they are being dug deeper and deeper into a hole, and the current political system has no interest, or intention, of rescuing them.

But... for better or worse, I am choosing to stay and raise my family here.  I have found a wonderful community of people who have become my family and my inspiration for this time and place of my life. 

And literally, as I finish writing this post, on the eve of the Epiphany, or Befana, as it is know locally here in Italy, a woman dressed up as the Befana (an ugly old woman who passes in the night to bring either candy or coal to the children...) just knocked on our door and left 2 giant stockings full of candy for my kids.  These are the little things that happen in my town, that in reality, are big things for me right now.  The true sense of community and small town life (which is really what draws us all to Italy) is a flame that is still flickering... it just needs a few puffs of air to turn it back into a bright, roaring fire.