Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Counting down the days!

Song of the week from, appropriately, Europe!  (Wow!  Hope you loved the perms as much as I did!)

This morning lots of our belongings and as much furniture as we could find for our new home leaves UK for Italy and this Saturday we'll be joining it as we fly out to our new Puglian life.

We're excited about eating al fresco late into the evening, strolling along the seafront with creamy gelato and feeling a bit like we're on holiday most of the time.  (In fact it will be an extended holiday as we'll spend half the year in Italy and half in UK, where our family, friends and work will be based.)

Of course it won't all be easy and stress-free but we hope we're emotionally prepared for the frustrations (it's bad enough in UK - how on earth are we going to navigate the process of setting up our internet in Italian?!) and that we will embrace all new experiences for the adventure it is!

So it's the final countdown and fitting in lots of "lasts" (last takeaway curry, last meal in our favourite fancy restaurant, last haircut where they understand what I ask for - all the important things!) as this time next week we'll be unpacking boxes under beautiful, double height, tufo, vaulted ceilings.


still find them so dreamy!

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Teaching shortcuts to locals!

I'm happy to say I'm getting to know my new neighbourhood pretty well. I was chuffed to be able to show my friend, born and raised in Monopoli, two shortcuts on our last evening together in the centro storico!

Art or broken?!
This little fellow sits outside a front door on one of my favourite shortcuts.  I don't know whether his owner knows he's lost his head, but he always reminds me of Homesense's new section where items bear stickers declaring them "less than perfect".  I've seen grand ceramic horses' heads with an ear broken off and wondered who on earth pays good money for them!  Perhaps this lady gives them all a good home!

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Come on Andy!!

In other news, I was thrilled today to learn that the bar/cafe where I have my brunch here in Monopoli will be showing the Wimbledon final tomorrow, as I felt a bit sad at the prospect of watching such a big occasion alone on my laptop in my gloomy B&B room.

I have since thought it through and realised the cafe is a popular spot with music playing and the TV sound off.  I will be the only one watching the tennis and will make a total prat of myself cheering in English and gasping/whooping without even the sound of the TV spectators to keep me company!

Um...maybe not!!

The cafe terrace today with wedding party and not 1, not 2, but 3 professional photographers!

More of my kitchens, my faux pas and others' unruly kids!

Back to the kitchen guy yesterday for cabinets for 3 kitchenettes for our 2 holiday apartments and roof terrace kitchen.  It's like stepping back in time!  He doesn't have a computer and does all the drawings by hand, checking calculations on one of those old fashioned accountants' machines!

Do accountants still use these in UK?
Following my architect's guidance that you shouldn't react to a high price I was determined to be on my best behaviour!  So when he said the price was tre mille e cinque (3005), I repeated back ok, allora e tre mille ("ok, so it's 3000") before he said no, e tre mille e cinque, at which point I'm thinking it's a bit petty to keep harping on about €5 when it basically averages out to €1000 per kitchen.  Eventually I realised that tre mille e cinque isn't €3005 but a shorthand for tre mille e cinquecento ie €3500, so despite my best efforts I had still looked like I was trying to haggle the price down by €500!

So I am paying €3500 (£3000) for 9 cabinets across 3 kitchenettes and 1 of the units in each kitchen is for the integrated fridge so 3 of the 9 units are basically just a door!  

So that's £330 per base unit and I still have to buy the worktops, sinks, appliances, etc!

These next photos are kitchens designed by the builder and project manager on my big project in UK.  I wasn't overly involved and am not terribly proud of them if I'm honest but the 2 of them were bought together including all appliances, sinks etc for a total of £2000!

Not the prettiest but all units, appliances, worktop, sink for £1k!

It's all laminate but still you can't argue with the prices
You can perhaps understand why I'm struggling a bit out here and have to try and stop my self saying too incredulously too often Ma in Inghilterra e molto meno costoso! ("But in England it's much cheaper!")

The Italian prices include fitting and solid wood units as opposed to Howden's finest laminate where I had to pay extra to get them fitted them so perhaps it's not too bad (still trying to convince myself!).  

Also on the plus side, my kitchen man introduced me to something amazing.  It's basically sweetened almond milk, like liquid marzipan in a glass, and I love it!  (Spot the old counting machine behind it!)

And I thought Italians didn't have a sweet tooth!
Even basic decisions that are simple in UK are complicated for me here in Italy because things are just different enough that I have to ask lots of seemingly stupid questions!  For example, yesterday I went to choose my doors for the house.  I thought I would be checking between different panelling options, perhaps some glazed ones and be done in less than 30 mins.  Oh no!  The choice between wooden doors, laminated doors, a mix of wooden and mdf doors is kind of understandable, but then there was the decision as to how much of the thick walls I wanted the door frames to cover, the fact that they don't have snib locks in Italy but all doors for all rooms have locks and keys, so then you have master key options, security key options...  All the while, the door man's young boy is playing in the shop which included pulling at my clothes and arms, smacking my architect, pushing my builder, without the father telling to stop!  (Italian children are definitely raised differently but that's another post!)

Thankfully I knew I wanted white, wooden and traditional which really narrowed things down as so much of the standard choice out here is laminated and modern (although overriding so many of such decisions is a slight nervousness that what I deem a nice period style is defined by my upbringing - am I putting strange English touches on this beautiful old Italian house!).  Then there was the (now regular and inevitable) fall out that the builder said he had budgeted for basic laminated doors and the architect had to be firm that it specifies wooden in the contract and the client should have doors she likes in her house so the builder should read his contract.  It gets heated and I find it uncomfortable so I tend to pretend I don't understand and walk away but then 5 minutes later everyone is friendly again!

Just before the door appointment we had gone for coffee (a 5 minute affair in Italy where you throw back an espresso whilst standing at the bar) and when I told the builder I had paid, (a grand total of about €3 = £2.50!) as we had joked the day before that I would owe him a coffee if he could execute a particularly tricky piece of tiling, he looked at me like he was so touched.  Really: like I had just told him I'd sent his mother flowers or something!  He had paid the time before so if nothing else it was fair I pay this time, putting aside any client contractor responsibilities, but I'm wondering if it is actually so very rare for a woman to pick up the bill here.  At dinner with a couple once I was insistent I wanted to pay as they had been so very kind and helpful, and I remember the lady saying "No, he is the man, let him pay" as if anything else was bad manners.  Is it possible things are still so very traditional here?

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Another lesson learned...

Tonight I returned to a restaurant I have enjoyed before and when asked whether I would like the menu in English or Italian I said both but received only the English one.  Of course my Italian and my appearance indicate I am clearly English so it seemed churlish to insist on an Italian menu and as ever, the translation was a little off with its "saide plates" and "backed rolls of ham and cheese" and I got a little chuckle when I saw the sub-heading of "pizza without tomato source".  However I did myself proud ordering in Italian, even asking if they had gluten free and choosing a sensible cinque cereale ("five cereals") option in terms of flour used for my pizza.  According to the English menu it had mozzarella buffalo, sausage, truffle oil, dried tomatoes.  Imagine my surprise therefore when it arrived with mozzarella buffalo and some bacon, without any sign of the sausage or dried tomatoes.  Checking the Italian menu later it was clear that sausage was a poor and somewhat ironic translation of bacon and the dried tomatoes were in the oil!  So, lesson learned as I may have chosen differently if I'd seen the Italian!

After that, I had one of the most successfully executed melting middle hot chocolate fondants I've ever tasted, and I've certainly tasted a few to compare as I immodestly consider my own rather fantastic!  The service was friendly and the atmosphere lively so it was a shame to overhear my neighbouring table of three English people bemoaning it.  I couldn't hear the details but it seemed this holiday wasn't living up to their experiences in Tuscany and they seemed most unimpressed with the restaurant.  When their bill came it was just €53 (approx £42) and considering I'd heard them saying at least the wine was good I couldn't help but wonder what food they had ordered that had cost them so little per head, and when they last got a meal in a nice restaurant for that price.  As they counted out their change to ensure not leaving a tip I felt quite disappointed that they couldn't see Puglia for being, perhaps at times unpolished and homely when compared to the glitzier more established regions, but nonetheless, the honest and well-meaning gem that it is.  I have been in restaurants in more touristy parts of Italy where being a tourist means no prospect of return business and accordingly receiving surly service and inflated prices.

After the day I've had (see my last post: Obstinate builders, extortionate prices and racist slurs - just another day trying to fix up a house in Puglia!) you'd think I'd be the last to be defending this place but perhaps overhearing that table was exactly what I needed.  As I walked through a buzzing piazza full of after dinner socialisers (they genuinely don't think 10pm is late to go for dinner so why not be out on the street with your kids and friends enjoying a drink and chatting at 11.30pm on a school night?!) and a live band playing in the open air, I felt really proud and happy to be here again: all the unpleasantness of the day forgotten.  I guess that's why so many of us love Italy - like so many places it has its problems, but they really know how to put them to one side and get on with the serious business of enjoying life here.

Yep, I'm back in love with Italy!

Obstinate builders, extortionate prices and racist slurs - just another day trying to fix up a house in Puglia!

I have to apologise ancora ("again") that it has been so long, dear readers.  It is my sincere intention to find something to write about on this dear blog at least once a week but these weeks have been hectic.  I have moved out of my English house and been hurriedly sorting so many last minute items to include in the grand shipment to Italy that I haven't had much spare time at all.

Today however was a day that I need to share with you and get off my chest!

To start, I was nearly brought to tears in frustration and disappointment when confronted with certain aspects of the house not being as I had been told they would be and my builder's insistence that I will have to pay €hundreds (=£hundreds!!) to rectify them.  Such examples include the paving of the roof terrace where both the material used and the way it is laid are different to my expectations, and most frustratingly with the paving on the stairs where I had drawn a picture in order to ensure there were no language complications, and my Italian friends had explained and reiterated the importance of how it should be and how it shouldn't be, and yet still it is wrong and he is adamant I must pay a lot of money to cover the cost of his time to have it how I wanted.  I really felt quite sick throughout these discussions.

Following this difficult start to the day, the discussion with the kitchen company included my incredulous shriek at the suggestion that I pay a genuinely discounted price of €500 (£420!) for a standard stainless steel sink, equally ludicrous prices for ovens and taps, plus an unintended but still offensive racist slur thrown in for good measure!  These were good people, well-meaning and I still can't quite believe it happened.  Thankfully my architect was kind enough and sensitive enough to realise how shocked and mortified I was and offer her sincere apologies over and over again immediately following the meeting, but I still feel rather concerned that such thoughts and practices aren't unusual here.  I can't help but wonder how my (hitherto unmentioned but oh-so-wonderful, and as it happens, of Chinese heritage) marito ("husband") and I will handle such ignorance in future.  Will such incidences make him feel uncomfortable here or will it be me, having witnessed virtually no racism, that will be more affronted and angry?  How do you explain to someone in their hometown and in their language what you, as a foreign outsider, find unacceptably offensive?  Today I certainly didn't have the right words and didn't even try but I hope my reaction was enough to make him realise he had been inappropriate.

In addition to all this I learnt more about the shopping process today.  Following the kitchen appointment where my jaw literally dropped on several occasions, I asked whether it is considered rude to talk a lot about price and make decisions on this basis!  My architect's diplomatic answer was to explain that it isn't a bad thing but usually an Italian would nod and accept the price, not wanting to show financial concern, then complain at home!  She added that my explaining that in England I could buy a sink for a quarter of the price and the same tap from the same Italian brand for less than half price was okay (I wonder whether it was really?!), but to openly compare prices between competing shops is a big no-no, considered very offensive and the affronted owner might well just tell you to go the other shop then!  Mental note: do not follow instinct to negotiate hard or ask someone to price-match in Puglia!

All in all, a tricky day and I'm quite relieved it's over. I'm just hoping that tomorrow my builder will have softened somewhat and started to rectify his mistake without further confrontation.  I know it was very clear to everyone around me today that I was not at all happy.  I used a tip I've read of sounding off in your language to convey your emotions and it worked.  Plus it felt amazing after being so constrained by the Italian language and the overriding sense that I can't appreciate how strong certain strong words actually are or how they may come across when spoken by a woman to an Italian man!!

Mamma mia!  What a day!