Friday, 29 March 2013

How do you say "Grrrrrr!" in Italian?!

This week I have mostly been waiting for other people to do things they were meant to do weeks (and in some cases months) ago.  Unfortunately, we're not talking people owing me a fiver or returning borrowed DVDs.  Instead it's councils and their ridiculous bureaucracy getting in the way of common sense (and this is in UK, not Italy!), buyers of my house in UK not exchanging contracts weeks after the original deadline and an agent's guaranteed buyers for flats in my big UK project not processing in time.

The fact that they all involve money coming my way, money earmarked to fund the work on the new house where builders are waiting to be paid, increases my stress levels. Truth is, with 4 maxed-out credit cards, a bank loan and all savings drained, finances are beyond tight.  This is not the way I planned it!

But, where there's a will there's a way: thankfully managed to borrow some more money and a new agency have 12 viewings of the house in UK lined up this weekend despite it being Easter.

Foolhardy as I may sound, I'm sure it's going to be okay.

In the meantime, while refreshing my inbox for news and pestering my poor solicitor to make things happen, I have been under pressure to provide lighting schemes, electrical plans and kitchen layout for the new house. This ragazza likes kitchens with banks of tall larder units, long stretches of worktop and big breakfast bar islands to seat impromptu guests so you'll understand why its not straight forward planning this kitchen - windows in 3 walls, a staircase in the 4th and no right angles in sight!

No, not my most stress-free week!

P.S. Apologies if this seems a moany post.  The reality is that doing up properties anywhere involves large sums of money and a degree of uncertainty.  That's somewhat multiplied when in another country and language so it wouldn't be right to gloss over the scary stuff!  Definitely not for the faint-hearted!

Saturday, 23 March 2013

You ask why I'm moving to Puglia?!

Today I'm leaving...

Palm trees and blue skies

And the warmth of the sun in my hair
...for sub-zero temperatures and another forecast for snow!  
It's nearly April!  Dai!  Basta!  (Come on!  Enough!) 

Surely the novelty of this white stuff is long gone!

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Festa di San Giuseppe

Religion and family play a more important role in Italian life than they do in UK - this is especially true in the south.  I was delighted to learn more about both this week as 19th March was Festa di San Giuseppe (celebration of St Joseph's day).  I couldn't believe every day of the year has at least one saint associated with it and sometimes ten or more!  Some of these saints, and therefore their days, are more important than others and this varies from region to region, but Festa di San Giuseppe is a big one because Giuseppe (Joseph) was Jesus' father and so Italians celebrate it as the equivalent of our Father's Day.

The great thing about saints' days is that everyone baptised in Italy has one, as every child is named after a saint and you celebrate your day as a way to thank your saint for protecting you through the year.  Apparently you just have to go back a couple of generations and your saint's day was celebrated rather than your birthday.  But nowadays it is like a second birthday: kids get presents and take sweets into school for their classmates, extended family comes together for a big meal and people phone to wish you auguri! (a fantastic, catch-all word: congratulations! best wishes! good luck! depending on context).

Something else that comes into play here is the preservation and significance of names within families.  When I first learned that it is common practice to name your first born son after his paternal grandfather and your first born daughter after her paternal grandmother I couldn't help thinking how restrictive it was: what if you don't like the name?  (What if you can't stand the people you are naming your children after?!)  But seeing it in my friends' families (where everyone gets on!), it's clear it's a lovely way to honour the father's parents.  I imagine it's nice as a grandparent to see your mini-me namesake growing up: a designated legacy.  So celebrating a saint's day is perhaps also a time for the bonding of grandchild and grandparent or a time to share fond recollections if they have passed on.

This is a terribly wordy post so I will leave you now with one of the other great aspects that is special to St Joseph's Day: fire!  It's tradition for families and sometimes towns to light a massive falo' (bonfire) and being a bit of a small-time pyro I could have watched it all night!

The warmth on your face, the smell of the smoke, the it!

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Tufo love!

Due to a shameful lack of consumer research, I don't know whether you lovely readers prefer posts about work on the house or whether the realities of becoming an expat and the subtle (and not so subtle!) differences between UK and Italian culture are more interesting.  Perhaps you'd like to leave a comment and let me know.  In the meantime, I feel I have been neglecting those who are here for the renovation part of Renovation Ragazza.  So today, for those of you who were kind enough to tell me you shared my love for the old tufo following The beauty of tufo stone revealed, more piccies of the old dear revealing what's she's got underneath as she continues the transformation from decrepit to chic!

Bathroom has shed her plaster
It's all coming off in the bedroom!
Stripping off in the living room too!

Au naturale!  Star vaulted ceiling in tufo
To avoid damaging the stone underneath, the best way to remove the old plaster is by hand.  After that, they fill the joints, holes and cracks (there's a joke there somewhere!) and then the stone is cleaned.

Painstaking work
Sorry girls: it's not warm enough for shirts off!
Exterior tufo wall of the house all cleaned up
I have to confess, I'm so taken with how beautiful the tufo looks when all cleaned up I'm considering leaving more exposed.  Seems a shame to hide it away again, but moderation in all things, yes?!

The previous colour scheme was rather bold: a triplet blue-green combo in the living room (evidence below) and you can't have missed the delightful palette of marshmallow pink, yellow and blue above in the bedroom!  Alongside the choice of colours, some of the previous handiwork isn't what we'd replicate today!  Here, for example, is a section of the last building work carried out however many decades ago:

The last mezzanine level wasn't the sturdiest!

Daylight through a "solid" wall isn't good!
And just for an insight into builders' mentality (in Italy you have to pay a special health and safety inspector to come on site and check they are wearing hard hats and sensible shoes!), here are some bonus piccies that make me smile:

Glad it's not my job to break down a roof I'm standing on!  
Solution - prop up a pole and broom!
Problem - no barrier to 2 storey drop!
Hard hats - best when on your head!

Monday, 18 March 2013

Trauma in the aisles!

A little dramatic perhaps, but the dark clouds and fierce winds blowing outside are a good metaphor for my internal state just now!  Yesterday delivered what I believe is called a rude awakening!

It was my second trip round a supermarket since I started to think about my weekly shop, mentally picking out what I buy when in UK.  My first trip, I realised my love of international cuisine was going to be challenged: no curry powder, no tortilla wraps, no coconut milk and the herbs and spices section was less than 20% what you would see in UK.

This second trip, I set my sights a bit lower and focussed on the staples, only to be met by more disappointment: no fruit squash, no frozen chicken, no tinned soup and what I did find in terms of tinned tuna and packs of minced beef were easily 3 times the price I'd pay in Sainsbury's.  I know it's only food and it's not like my friends are going to let me starve out here, but the reality of not being able to make, eat and drink even the basics I live off in UK has really unsettled me.  I am coming to realise that it's not that it will be nice to learn to cook Italian out here: it's essential for survival!

So what do Italian supermarkets fill their shelves with?  Well, it's certainly not an indulgent range of fantastic chocolate, which I could have accepted as a trade off for a world food aisle!  Nope, here you find entire aisles dedicated to endless varieties of pasta, assorted dried bread snacks and I have never seen so many options when it comes to tinned tomatoes!

"But of course," some of you will be thinking, "you're in Italy: bread, pasta, tomatoes all the way!  Embrace it!"  The problem is, as discussed in my post on Food glorious food! carbohydrates are a no-no for me and I am not a fan of tomatoes!  So I may be forced to live off new flavours of old favourites!

Tuna philadelphia anyone?

Lychee or papaya tic tacs = part of my 5 a day?

There is a glimmer of hope (can't believe I'm about to say this!): Lidl!  As I understand they have the same products in their stores across Europe so perhaps I may bump into a bottle of soy sauce or even a pack of bacon in there.  My friends however have informed me they cannot be seen in Lidl and will be staying in the car while I check it out - strangely reassuring that some things stay the same!

Oh and just incase you you're thinking of telling me to get on with it and try some new ingredients, I'll leave you with a picture of these bad boys at the fishmongers!

Polpo grosso (literally "big fat octopus"!)
P.S. This "Top 5 tips tips on having a happy expat life" popped up alongside my emails today.  I think someone knew I needed a pep-talk!

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The b**** word!

Some remnants of UK culture are hard to shift.  First, the sliding door.  As I see it, fine on wardrobes, but for proper doors, a bit 70's, a bit naff.  Not so in Italy!  In Italy they feature in new build houses and expensive apartments even where there's ample space to accommodate a swinging door.

So, it was with hesitation and trepidation that I changed what was on the plans (understandably, the biggest no-no with builders in any country, and we women have a particularly bad reputation for doing it!) and asked our builder to take down the freshly built (oops!) wall with standard door opening, and build instead a wall for a sliding door (the door slides into a recess in the wall).  It is definitely for the best, saving space and preserving natural light in one of the holiday apartments where I know Italians will think nothing of it, I just hope my British friends will still talk to me!

And so to the bidet!  Now that a few friends have brought it up in conversation, I feel it's okay to share it with you here!  It's no secret we Brits don't understand bidets - that we share with 99% countries in the world.  They're even falling out of fashion with the French apparently.  Not so in Italy!  Here you have to have a bidet if you want to rent or sell to Italians.  It's a deal-breaker and 100% non-negotiable.

Toilet paper AND towels?  I don't want to think about it!
But our holiday apartments aren't huge so we tried to be clever and put in Japanese toilets: hi-tech seats on top of a regular toilet that shoot water and dry you at the push of a button.  Functional for those who need a bidet and space-saving for me, yes?  Nope!  The idea did not cut it with my Italian friends!

So I relented and put a bidet in each of the apartments, but even then they weren't happy!  Not content with the amount of space you allow for a WC, the bidet needs more space either side as dictated by the position of your feet when using - memorably demonstrated by our wonderful and reserved architect!

Look at it!
Smugly taking space perfect for the basin!

So blase with its skinny waste - not even trying to fit in!
Bowing to the pressure, I've even decided to put pipework for a bidet in 2 of the bathrooms in the main house, photograph it and then tile over!  Future Italian purchasers can relax knowing they can easily have bidets to wash their privates and I get to keep some much appreciated space in my bathrooms.

So that's all I have to say about bidets.  They have turned my bathroom designs upside down and I have a brooding resentment of them!  After all this, they better still be a must-have when we come to sell!

Anyone out there brave enough to share their enthusiasm / confusion for the little blighters?!  I've heard they're wonderful for washing your feet/undies/small pets!

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Snow again in UK - daydreaming of sun on my face in Italy!

Apologies it has been so long since my post but these few weeks have seen some exciting developments in our new Italian home and I have also just completed an intensive course to help me be a better English language teacher so the big move comes ever closer!

Incase you have ever wondered how to go about the re-construction of a many hundred year old Italian house in a protected area where you cannot change the outside appearance, here are a few photos of the stages of part of the roof terrace being rebuilt!  Kind of like a listed building in UK, they are very strict about retaining the original external structure so the roof terrace had to be rebuilt to the exact same height as is documented at the town hall!

Original raised roof terrace
First look at the 2 rooms below which will be the new kitchen

Supports for the new roof terrace (super-technical huh?!)

Roof terrace structurally sound again

Dividing wall taken down in my new kitchen - woohoo!
While we're on the subject, below is a photo of how the roof terrace progresses, with the surrounding walls being built up.  I am glad we are allowed to build them up a little as the existing wall was no higher than my knees and being 4 storeys up and hoping we may receive visits from children and alcohol-imbibing adults, the safety aspect was a concern!  We are not allowed however to build them up very high and so from there we can only put in place something less permanent and only to a certain height.

Privacy is important to me and I hate the idea of being overlooked but will it be a shame to put in fencing to head height around the whole terrace?  To me the surrounding buildings are on the whole rather dirty and unkempt (such a building snob!) so I won't mind them being out of sight but I think for some people there's a huge appeal in seeing all the other roofs around you.  What do you think?  We'll still be able to see some fancy buildings which tower above everything!

Safety first!

Sunshine on a romantic Italian tower - bliss!