Monthly Archives: June 2015

Domani, domani

It’s all very straightforward. Everything is possible in Italy. Just not the way you might expect it.

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H.’s photo – exclusive use of the pool one morning

We made it to the pool where I met the avuncular Franco who runs the place. After smiles at the bambini and discussions about coffee, I asked if we could have a ‘bliglietta stagionata’ (season pass) for the family. ‘Si, si, possibile’. Great, and what about swimming lessons for the children? ‘Si, si, possibile.’ Superb, so whom do I pay, how much and when are the lessons? ‘Domani, doppo domani….’ Franco fairly led me to the pool side, checking on the way that I had not paid at the entrance gate? No? No, in which case ‘vai tranquille’ – use the pool and we’ll sort it out later. We had a super time. La Principessa is completely kamikaze – perhaps we have an Olympic swimmer or deep sea diver on our hands – she is thoroughly fearless and I am thoroughly relieved that we don’t have the luxury of a pool at the house. It does make me question baby swimming lessons: H. – precious first child – has had swimming lessons since she was four months old, yes she is still nervous around water, relying on her swimming noodle for reassurance.  La Principessa – deprived third child – has encountered water only at bath time, yet she happily slips in and under, comes up for air and throws herself back for more.

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Our drive way: complete with house number and postbox…a slightly superfluous addition given that the postman doesn’t make it up here.

Now, a casella postale is apparently simple to organise, so we slipped into la posta late one morning. La signora took some persuading that I was definitely not on the postal route; I was on the verge of showing her photographic evidence of our rural location when  La Principessa – usually ‘contentissima’ – let out a howling scream, beginning a specta – la signora took photocopies of my passport (a random page – the one with emergency contact details) and the house ‘phone number (this not terribly useful as it appears to be ‘non fonziono’) and I thought we were all systems go for a post box. The softly spoken Signora, whispered a flurry of Italian to me, from which I caught ‘non fonziono’, ‘direttore’ and ‘domani’ and I was ushered out of the door.

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At our house, writing letters to friends in England

Domani came: Posta and Piscina – Take Two.

Franco greeted us with smiles and bacini for the bambina piccola. H. and P. were already in the water as I reached for my purse. Bene, bene, vai, vai, Franco gestured to the pool. But the biglietta? Domani, domani – vai tranquille. I wonder whether the bambini inglesi have charmed Franco and the pool is ours to use or whether a canny Franco is waiting to see how regularly we use the pool and will calculate the price of the biglietto accordingly? Is it a free summer pass or will we be hit with an excessive conto at the end of August?

I wouldn’t say the signora at the post office greeted us warmly, rather, fearing a repeat Outraged Baby scenario she quickly came over and gave us some post, before disappearing behind a screen as I waited and wondered whether this exchange was over. Someone bustled with keys around the post boxes but doggedly refused to engage with me. We waited a little longer.  La Principessa reached for advertising leaflets to rustle and flap. We waited a little longer.  La Principessa grabbed a biro and started to scribble. We waited a little longer.  La Principessa roamed for distractions and, finding none, decided to terminate this visit pronto: the scream began and la signora ushered me out with ‘anocora non fonziono’ and more assurances of all being possible – domani.

And so week two in Toscana draws to a close. I’ve not even attempted registering for the all important ‘codice fiscale’, without which very little is possible – I can’t even buy a SIM for my phone without this Italian equivalent of a National Insurance number. I’m wondering whether  La Principessa will prove a help or a hindrance when I start that process – might Outraged Baby Performance provoke a more speedy response? This is a challenge for week three. In the mean time, the pool is ours to use – at what price, we know not – and la nuova famiglia inglese is beginning to make itself known – and heard – amongst locals.

How not to do Feste

There are feste, or sagra, for everything here in Tuscany. We’ve been told that after Christmas there’s a special ‘Celebration of Animals’ – people bring their pets along to be blessed by the Priest in the town square. H. can’t wait to take Zephyr for his official welcome to Catholicism. I think she has visions of cradling a passively purring Zephyr through the streets for his Holy Moment. The cat box reality might be somewhat different.

In any case, it’s summer at the moment (or it is here, I’ve been told you might still be waiting where you are), and there’s everything from Festa della Luna to Sagra de Pici (a particular type of spaghetti-esque pasta peculiar to this area). As we whizzed past M. on Saturday we noticed a poster  for for Sagra delle Ciliege:

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Now, you may or may not understand Italian, but I think you can see from this poster that proceedings appear to start sometime around 09.00h and end sometime around 22.00h.

We had already promised the children the swimming pool for Sunday, having been reliably informed that from Saturday 21 June it would definitively be hot enough to use it. (As you’ll remember, we had three very disappointed children last week when our swimming pool excursion was thwarted by the Italians’ distinctly un-British attitude to the weather.) Given that even the temptation of cherry tarts and cherry biscuits was unlikely to persuade H. and P. that we could postpone swimming again, we decided to combine the two, it seeming a shame to miss our local Sagra.

It’s a lovely walk to M. from our house and H. and P. were in ‘intrepid explorer’ moods: while I ate breakfast on the terrace they packed back packs with binoculars for lizard spotting, whistles to attract attention or alert of danger, bug boxes for insect catching, water bottles for rehydration, spray bottles for cooling down. And Doggy, Mousey, P-P Rabba and Bila, with whom most of you will be familiar; for those not in the know, these favourite friends accompany H. and P. on most outings to new places.

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Tom carried la Principessa, who is adorable, and very good for smothering with kisses en route, but certainly no shrimp. I travelled lightly, partly knowing that I would probably end up carrying most of the above, partly in the belief that we would be sampling cherry treats at the Sagra so there was no need to worry about endless snacks for hungry tums. Zephyr uncharacteristically set out with us, strangely excited by the family excursion.

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As olive trees in groves were gradually replaced by walnut and fruit trees of gardens, our anticipation grew and the children’s tummies rumbled – to be fair, it had been a 45 minute walk up some very steep hills. We saw the posters again, the roads shut off and areas marked for parking. But, save the sounds of the odd dog barking, it was strangely quiet. Nearing the main piazza, we checked the poster again and checked our watches. It was definitely 11 am, we were definitely in the right place. There was definitely not a great deal happening: a few women were wandering around the piazza with bits of paper cut into squares. A couple of men were opening out trestle tables. Right at the top of the piazza the hopeful sight of gazebos beckoned, but closer inspection revealed only more trestle tables.

I’m not really sure why I was surprised. The last time I left the UK for an extended period was to go to the Middle East where everything happens – if at all – ‘bukra, insha’allah, (tomorrow, God willing); where negotiations are proceeded by at least 45 minutes of coffee and polite conversation about anything but the matter in hand; where parties are advertised as starting at least three hours before anyone should even think about putting on their best frocks. Mediterranean Italy was bound to follow similar rules.

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Wandering around the piazza, the children turned hopeful faces to the lady behind whose open door were tables laden with baked goodies firmly wrapped in tin foil. Finally, having exhausted our wandering, replenished our water supplies at the fountains and checked out the local cats, we returned to Lady of the Baked Goodies and asked what time things might start?

‘Si, si, raduno canino a le 11.’ When I glanced – for my own reassurance at my watch – Lady of the Baked Goodies apologetically acknowledged that it was well past 11 – nearing 12 in fact, and save the friendly mutt nuzzling H.’s hand, there wasn’t much dog action to be seen. As we tried rather pathetically not to appear so terribly British and On Time the children pointed again to the Baked Goodies and were rewarded, this time, by offers to taste and then, finally, purchase the sustenance for which we had trekked through the olive groves.

Intrepid Explorers and chubby bambina were fed cherry biscotti and torta with the crumbliest of home made pastries and all was well in the world, though the dog show still seemed far from materializing, and Famiglia Doust learned the first rule of Feste Italiani: believe nothing on the poster and arrive well after siestas have finished. Next Sunday there’s another Sagra in another Tuscan hill top town. The English chap doing some carpentry near us tells us he is arriving to set up at about 10.30 in the morning. We’ll wander over at about 6 pm…

Rural Idyll: query number 1

IMG_0002This is our house: that grey patch towards the centre top in the photo. So, being slightly off the beaten track, a fair few Italians round here speak only Italian. This works brilliantly for me when, for example, I’m trying to use my Italglish (as I like to call my own particular brand of trying to communicate here), to buy basil or tomato plants:

‘Allora, il meso questo giugno allora il basilico in pieno campo non in …’ I trail off and point to a pot. By the way, I read ‘in pieno campo’ from the back of the seed packet. I didn’t know that bit straight off.

I enjoy this kind of exchange – I get to practise speaking just a little and I get to listen to a great deal of Italian poured forth extremely quickly as I race alongside trying to pick up the odd word I know. So far, I’ve managed to elicit from such exchanges how to buy a SIM for my mobile and directions to the garden centre and swimming pool.

Incidentally, that was quite amusing: anyone with one child, let alone three, will know that getting out of the house ‘con bambini’ takes just slightly longer than it does ‘senza bambini’. (If you don’t have children and are reading this, I suggest googling that Michael McIntyre sketch entitled no doubt, something along the lines of ‘trying to get out of the house with kids’.) Throw into this the requirements for swimming safety, hot weather and hunger and it takes exponentially longer. We’d been up since 7. We set off for the pool at 10.45 (remember, we were trying to avoid the heat of the day – mad dogs and Englishmen being the ones out in the midday sun, not wannabe Italiani). The children were really excited: H. was wearing her ‘fling on over cossie’ dress; P. had the swim noodles; everyone was slathered in factor 50. The route to the pool was slightly circuitous (for which read: Tom and I had forgotten precisely where it was) but that Italglish helped me out and we got there. We parked. We wondered why the old guy in the only other car in the car park kept glancing over. Just as we were about to unpack everything he called out ‘piscina?’ – si, si – ‘Chiusa. Troppo fredda’ – what 25 degrees and a bit of wind is too cold to swim in an outdoor pool? These guys clearly haven’t made it to the UK. In London, they’ve just opened a pool by King’s Cross complete with weed at one end, totally and completely unheated, for Londoners desperate for a bit of summer action to use, voluntarily, after work – for fun. But I couldn’t say all that in Italian, so we turned round and bribed the children with ‘gelati’ instead.

Anyway, I was pondering this Italglish at the end of day five while looking out over this:

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I was feeling quite pleased with myself and my mash-up of French, classical Latin and a slightly Italian slant to get by. Then la Principessa toppled over in one of those little Tikes plastic cars and, when I rescued her, blood was pouring forth from her mouth. I remembered my NCT friend’s daughter who had managed to bite straight through her lip and needed hospital stitches. I remembered the hospital trip we made when P. slid over on the wooden floor and split his forehead. I looked at the beautiful terrace before me. The beautiful tiled floor inside. The beautiful and very hard terrace. The beautiful and very hard floor. The beautiful and very hard steps between the two.

Allora, in the event of a real medical emergency – where are the exit routes?

As in, how do I get help to us?

I can foresee jumping into the car and heading into C. to ‘l’ospedale’ but, you’ve seen the view – we’re not quite here, not quite there.  It’s not that easy to explain where we are in relation to the nearest village in English to an English man, let alone in ‘Italglish’ to an Italian if I’m trying to call an ambulance. For that matter, what number do you call in Italy to get an ambulance? Resolution 1: Find emergency services numbers. Resolution 2: Find Italian-English speaker to translate for me: ‘I live on the dirt track forking left off the other dirt track on the left off the road heading west between M. and P.’

La Principessa is fine, by the way. Mum on the other end of Face Time was left looking first at the blue sky and next at the guttering as I tried cold flannel, H. tried ice block wrapped in flannel and we all tried chocolate. Fortunately, while chocolate worked wonders for H. and P., a bottle of milk worked for la Principessa, and the bleeding abated while we watched the beautiful sunset.  She’s now just a beautiful bambina inglesa with a big fat lip for a few days.

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One mamma, three bambini and a great deal of luggage

Well, rather than tell you about the golden sunshine, stunning vista and the beach day we had today, I thought I’d start off with getting here!

120 kilos of luggage and a Ryan Air flight and we set off for our life in Toscana. How to get 120 kilos on Ryan Air? Those car seat bags are genius – stuffed full of clothes, towels and anything last minute and you could barely see the car seat in it! Mind you, I did need to bring ‘Uncle Alex’ to the airport to help me load it onto the oversized luggage belt, and anyhow, being the right side of 30, Alex probably didn’t have anything better to do at 5 am on a Monday morning…

I was probably as happy as I am to see the sun in England as I was when the Stansted overhead announced we could ‘check in hand baggage for free if with hold luggage’ – brilliant – two lots of ten kilo ‘hand baggage’ I didn’t need to haul through the airport once aforementioned brother left me at security. This more than made up for the superb start to the day as La Principessa vomited all over me in the taxi literally as we were about to step out of it. La Principessa had a change of clothes. I didn’t. Delightful. But H. and P. doused me in perfume samples as we dragged our way through Duty Free.

Three work colleagues sitting across the aisle gave me faintly anxious but encouraging smiles throughout the flight. P. was mesmerized with what was going on outside his window – he ‘thought that above the clouds was space, but actually – it’s where the sun lives!’ Ah ha – it’s where the sun lives in the UK, but in Toscana, it’ll be a different story.

I befriended those three companions as we made our way through passport control. At that point, they already thought I was teetering on the edge of madness– little did they realize that in addition to the two children, one baby in sling, one hand luggage bag, one small backpack, one change bag, two children’s back packs and one bag stuffed with coats and jumpers, I also had three 20 kilo suitcases, the 30 odd-kilo oversized car seat bag, two more hand baggage bags and a buggy coming in on the baggage conveyor. Ah – the intrinsic good of human nature – the two men went for my trolleys, loaded them up and wheeled the whole lot through to the other side, where we all collapsed on Tom and I hugged and kissed my nameless companions in tearful delight. I’d forgotten that I smelt of baby sick diffused with a mélange of free perfume samples.

And all I lost en route (yes, Celia, I know that should be in Italian, give me a chance!), was a baby romper suit and a vest. Given that I could easily have mislaid a child, I think that’s pretty good going.

So, benvenuto in Toscana alla famiglia … (or something like that) our house of dreams awaits us.

And what a welcome it was: just look at this view.

Finally, three exhausted, but finally clean children were in their beds and Tom and I sat and breathed outside and toasted, quite a few times, with a fair amount of wine, this: the start of a dream which began with a throw away comment over 18 months ago. We pushed on that door which had opened a crack and at each inch it opened, the plan seemed a little more possible, albeit really quite crazy. Of course, it’s still all unreal, just a sunny holiday in a bigger house than we would ordinarily rent, with slightly more toys and clothes. I have come to the conclusion that reality will bite when something goes wrong or slight awry which I know will happen sooner or later. I am rose tinted right now, but in only three short days we have come to understand a little of Italy’s idiosyncrasies and we are sure to find them troubling by degrees as we go. Until then, I am going to drink up this peace, the sound of cuckoo in the morning, the birds of prey wheeling in the skies over head, the sky in its magnificent variance, the fruit trees and smell of jasmine and the panoramic vista rolling out before us.

P.S. For anyone worried about our feline friends, you’ll be pleased to know that Zephyr is settling in well:

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He has had his first face off with a gatto Italiano. I’m not sure what confused him more: that fact that he was defending a territory about which he is not yet confident of ownership or that il gatto seemed quite happy to share the space and make friends. To the extent that il gatto was waiting outside the kitchen door for him on Thursday morning… watch this space!

 

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