Monday, 30 September 2013

Conversing in Italiano with kids!

So I just had my first conversation with my friend's 4 year old: not a "Where are you?", "I'm coming to find you!", "I found you!" game-type interaction where his contribution is mostly Si, No or giggling but an actual 2-way exchange of information and ideas.  It ended like this (in Italian of course!):

4 yo: You know, I fully understood everything you said.
RR: So you think my Italian is getting a bit better?
4 yo: Yes.
RR: But I'm a still a bit of an idiot in Italian! (usually renders him in giggles!)
4 yo: No!  You're not an idiot!

I've been lucky enough to witness my friends' children's development over the years in terms of understanding that I speak another language and how to best communicate with me.  The 4 kids now range from 4-7 years old and over time I have seen the older ones go from babbling in Italian and giggling when I say I don't understand before babbling again, to repeating themselves slowly, to sounding out words for me.  All this in stark contrast to my visit to another family with kids the same age who were baffled by the concept of someone who didn't understand Italian - so much so that the younger one at around 5 years old was terrified of me and wouldn't come near me the whole day!

Now, my friends' two older kids at 7 years old tend to slow down and simplify the language they use, but the latest development is speaking grammatically ugly sentences in order to be on my level!  A few days ago, the 7 year old girl wanted to show me the ice cream maker she had received for her birthday and said while pointing indoors Io... macchina... mia (literally "I machine my") much to her parents' amusement!  But in fact, she has always been the most advanced when it's come to finding a way to get her message across to me, and in reality, who among us hasn't ever found ourselves in conversation with a foreign tourist uttering lines such as "He my husband" or "Me no like football"!

Today, just now, the 4 year old baby of the gang, the only one I've known since birth, has started on that path of communication development and, truthfully, it's a real treat to behold!

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

A friend said he'd heard Italy was cold just now

I think it made him feel better to imagine it was as grey for me here as it was for him there. 

Nearly October and not a cloud in the sky!

Sorry about that!

Monday, 23 September 2013

Day trip

Yesterday we visited the capital of Puglia, Bari, to attend the largest exposition of homeware in the south of Italy, similar to the UK's Ideal Home Show.  It has 2000 exhibitors and typically attracts around 2 million visitors over the course of the month that it's on for, so it's kind of a big deal here and as yesterday was the last day, it was absolutely packed!

We went with some friends hoping to bag a bargain sofa for our new living room, or at least some useful ideas.  What we found was an awful lot of diamante, glitter crown motifs and other totally OTT design elements!  This was the advertising poster for one of the collections!

Would you buy a sofa from this man?!

Probably the coolest thing I saw all day was the interior design of the Eataly newly opened in Bari.  It's a deli and restaurant chain doing incredibly well internationally selling good value, wholesome Italian food, but our friends' opinion is that it won't last long in Puglia.  The reality is that unlike perhaps in New York or Japan or northern Italy, their offering isn't anything new to the Pugliese who can get great priced, healthy Italian meals in hundreds of restaurants up and down the region already!

Eataly's espresso cup display!

So no sofa, nor foodie inspiration but a fun day out and a great opportunity to see there's more to Bari than just the bus route between the airport and station!

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Tough day

Lost my temper on site and shouted for the first time.

To summarise, one after another, day after day, aspects that were agreed long ago would be part of our new home, now have to be compromised or paid for as an extra on top of the original price.

The key element to all this is timing.  We are in the very last stages and they know we are desperate to move in, so the idea is that we will pay whatever they ask in order to do so.  The architect referred to it as a type of ricatto (blackmail) and coupled with yesterday's experience with the ice cream maker (see Things I've taken for granted in UK: consumer rights!) I'm feeling a touch jaded.

(All this reminds me of a joke my Italian builder told me a few weeks back: When God created Italy and saw how very beautiful the country was he had to redress the balance, so he created Italians!)

Thankfully, there is as ever, a song which helps.  This has been on repeat either on my phone or in my head most of the day.  It's haunted me from the first time I heard it, so let's share a little soothing:

P.S. Perspective check: just incase it needs to be said, I do know of course that there are more important things in life than this project.  Someone who has been kind to me every visit I've made to Puglia over the years, lost his wife this morning.  My difficulties are small in comparison.  Of course it's just a house and only money, and it's not lost on me the irony that the song Long Nights was written for a film about walking away from all such things to live in the wilderness!

Things I've taken for granted in UK: consumer rights!

Yesterday was my friends' little girl's birthday.  She was so excited to receive an ice cream maker from her aunt and uncle, but when the (rather dated and sun-faded) box was opened it was clear it had been used... a lot!  There was sugar stuck to the inside of the bowl, dribbles on the outside and aged, yellowing grease in every join: really made me quite queasy.  Everyone was so apologetic but I figured it was no big deal - clearly it was the shop's mistake as it had been bought just that morning, and a quick return with the receipt would result in a replacement or a refund, right?

Wrong!  I went in with my friend to see how this sort of situation was handled in Italy and the owner was very dismissive, insisting the item was old but not used.  He plugged it in to show it worked, wiped it a bit with a cloth and then forcefully stuffed it back into its box continuing to argue, without any sense of apology, that a fly must have got in the box and left all these marks!  Seriously!  He told us to return home and give it a clean, and if it didn't work come back to see him.

Of course, in UK a big company like Argos or BHS would fall over themselves to apologise and replace the item without question if bought just that day, perhaps even with a gift voucher if you played up the birthday girl's crestfallen face.  But a small shop like this in a small town, dealing directly with the owner, they should surely be even more aware that people talk and a damaged reputation will cost him far more than the profit he made on the item sold.  How do these businesses survive?

The whole thing made me so angry!  What about the Sale of Goods Act, what about the Goods Missdescription Act?  It seems none of these exist here, and after hearing my friend's stories of other parts of Italy where people have bought boxed goods only to find when opening the box at home that it contained only bricks, I am feeling very wary!

Monday, 16 September 2013

A new experience...

Today was the first day I have driven on my own in very many years.  I don't normally drive in UK, let alone drive in Italy, but today I decided I should try to get my confidence up.  Unfortunately someone kept beeping their horn - I tried to ignore it, sure I wasn't doing anything wrong, but eventually I slowed down and pulled over so they could go past, sure they were just impatient, but they pulled up level, indicated they wanted to talk, then pulled to a stop just in front of me.

They then told me one of my rear tyres was looking low on air and they were concerned it would be dangerous if I went fast.  Of course I was grateful to them for being so persistent in getting my attention and we ended up in a bit of a conversation: I even got a phone number for their recommended electrician and plumber as one of them had just finished doing up a flat in town.

I came away thinking how nice of them, but not now.  Mr RR checked the tyres and says there's nothing wrong with them.  Mr RR thinks two guys saw a car with British plates and a girl inside and thought they'd honk their horn until she pulled over then concocted a story to get into conversation.

But...I'm not convinced they could see it was a girl driving, it's forbidden to use your horn in our town and the guys were quite a bit older, so is it possible they did have good intentions but were mistaken?  It was a busy road with people around and they didn't ask for my number or try to give me theirs so I never felt concerned, but am I just stupidly naive and actually there are creeps that would do all that just to get a 5 minute chat with a foreign woman and I fell for it?

There was an unpleasant story in the local paper today about a woman getting attacked and it's reminded me that of course bad things happen here too and I mustn't be too trusting, but how do you integrate into a new society if you go round wary and closed-minded?  How do you make new friends if you regard strangers who try to engage you in conversation with suspicion?

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Let there be light!

Yesterday they started to fit some finishing touches: radiators and lights.  The day didn't start well when the electrician turned up with his 2 buddies but without the spotlights or his ladder! 

How many Italian builders does it take to fit a wall light?!

Still, eyes suitably rolled, I had a big grin as the site continued its transformation to being our home!

First radiator finds its home

First light fitted

A little atmospheric lighting: I love our new home!

Faintly gratuitous tufo arches photo!

Friday, 6 September 2013

50 shades of grey!

We painted our last house light grey and I loved it, but when the sun disappeared and the light turned colder you could be forgiven for thinking there was the slightest hint of mauve!

Why oh why is it so hard to find the perfect grey?!  
Not too dark, not too light, not too khaki, not too pinky!

It's made even harder here in Italy as you don't buy colours off the shelf: all the greys below are a little bit of white and black paint painstakingly mixed by the builder as I watched and deliberated!

Decisions decisions!

After a bit of experimenting, I'm hoping we got it more or less right with our beautiful front door.

In shaded daylight

At night

Strolling past the other night, someone had left a flower - perhaps a fellow grey enthusiast!

Sign of appreciation?!

Meanwhile in UK, my other big project continues to move forward (both it and the Italian one are months past their deadlines!).  I have been much more involved with the design specification of these 6 flats compared to the first 2, working with the same minimal budget but, to my mind, achieving dramatically smarter results, so I'm happy to share some pics with you.  What do you think?

Showerroom - I love these floorboard effect tiles

Kitchen - complete with wood worktops and metro tiling

I'm even using some of my beloved grey here in the brighter apartments, and I'm loving the look.

Pokey room

It looks so dark!  What have I done?!

Ah, much better once all finished - pokey but with personality!

Returning to my beautiful Italian front door, please indulge me another minute while I focus on the stunning stonework surround - centuries-old hand-carved hearts!  Could it be any more romantic?!

Ah the romance!