August 16, 2004 Greetings from Sarnano where chaos and confusion reign. After ten days in purgatory waiting to take possession of my new-to-me apartment (the palazzo was built in 1550), the day of the closing finally arrived. At the very beginning of the proceedings, the seller requested that I not take possession until the bank paid her in full in 10 to 20 days. “Surely this would not be unreasonable,” she demurred. Naturally I balked. Spending another two weeks in a hotel did not seem at all reasonable to me since all of these details were to have been worked out during the two months since I had agreed to buy the place. We went back and forth to no avail and finally I was led into another room while the two real estate women, my lawyer, the notaio and the bank representative tried to talk sense to her. (I think the seller’s new companion precipitated this crisis. Perhaps he felt he needed to do something to justify his presence at the meeting. At one point during the three-hour ordeal, I asked my lawyer “Where is Rossini when we need him?” Certainly, there were comic opera aspects to the whole scene.) Finally a compromise was reached whereby I agreed to sell the place back to her if the bank failed to come through with the mutuo (mortgage) as promised. New papers were drawn up, translated, and duly signed. As required by law, the notaio then read all of the fine print of the contract at an impossible clip, even by Italian standards, while I dutifully followed along on the translation. Then we signed every page of every document and translation. At the end of the time, signing Barker Laurence Earl, Barker Laurence Earl, Barker Laurence Earl in the Italian way seemed perfectly normal.
Then the fun really began. My apartment had not been occupied for about four years. After her husband died, the seller apparently returned to Rome to live full time. You can imagine the dust and the molds that collected in an unheated space with a cracked window or two. She left my place partially furnished, but it would be more accurate to say that she abandoned a lot of things that she didn’t want or need any more. One comical moment came when the tecnico was installing my new satellite receiver. He connected her abandoned TV to make sure that the receiver was working and as he was flipping through the channels, the screen suddenly went blank and smoke started pouring out of the back. We quickly unplugged the old set and I learned a new term in Italian: buttavia, to throw away. The term is always accompanied by a dismissive gesture, a backhand flick of the wrist.
And buttavia has been the operative word for mismatched pots and pans, incomplete sets of glasses and dishes, drawers of makeup, medicines and medical paraphernalia, an incredible number of shoes, an old sewing machine, truly ugly furnishings and so forth. I have set some of this aside for the Italian equivalent of Goodwill, but daily trips to the dumpster have been the norm.
Thus far I have not regretted the move for a moment. Sarnano has served as a summer destination for Romans for many years as it is usually about 5°C cooler than Rome and Verona. Sarnano is lively and has a vitality that belies its small population. Thursday is market day and it seemed like all 3,000 of the inhabitants turned out to shop, join the passeggiata or simply sit around and watch the passing scene. Last weekend there were two parades and about half of the town participated, the other half lined the street to watch. I asked the proprietor of the frutta & verdura shop what was the occasion and was told that it was because it was estivo (summer). Whatever, it works for them.
This Saturday night there was yet another parade, this time for the Palio di Serafina. I was quite impressed with the costumes as most of the lords and ladies, pike men, peasants, monks and so forth, looked as if they had just stepped out of a medieval painting. No Nikes or Adidas were in evidence as authenticity went well beyond the tights, robes and gowns, all the way down to the footwear.
Meanwhile I wait for the phone company to connect me to the outside world and to install an ADSL line. But this is August in Italy so who knows when this will happen? I rely on the kindness of Costantino, a geologist who has an office in the flat below, to let me plug into his phone line for a s-l-o-w dialup connection.
And I wait for the idraulico (plumber) to show up again to give me a quote for connecting the metano (natural gas) line that the city has recently provided to all of the houses in Sarnano. With this change he will need to install a new water heater for the bathroom, kitchen and radiators. A return call by the elettricista (electrician) will also be welcome, as I seem to trip the circuit breaker with alarming frequency. Ah, the joys of home ownership. Mercifully the ferramenta (hardware store) is within easy walking distance. (back)