Remodeling September 2, 2004


September 2, 2004 Having participated in the building of two new homes and the remodeling of yet another, I have always said that building anew is infinitely easier. But here I am in the middle of a major remodeling project which will involve installing a new kitchen, revamping the heating system, removing wallpaper and then painting throughout. And all of this in Italy, no less. I finally got enough moving-in stuff done during the first month so that the apartment was actually livable—lights hung in the kitchen and dining room, existing furniture moved around in ways that worked, telephone connected (but no ADSL for the moment), washer hooked up and so on. Then Thursday morning, after many futile attempts to reach any of the workers to find out when they were planning to begin, the man who will redo the walls showed up unannounced and said that he was ready to start. He has been pounding away all day removing the unwanted tile from the kitchen walls. Telecom called and told me that I should have my ADSL modem installed between 10:00 and 11:00 on Friday. And the plumber dropped by to tell me that he will start on Monday. I guess August in Italy is now officially over.

A Toned Down Olympics. I did get the TV set up in time to watch some of the Olympics and was struck by the quiet demeanor of the American athletes. Apparently, they were given the explicit word to cool it. (Are only the upper levels of the administration allowed the more typical American swagger and arrogance?) This quieter side was also in evidence with the recorded version of the national anthem played during the victory celebrations. Instead of the usual key of B-flat, it was toned down to A-flat. And instead of being played by a marching band, it was scored for orchestra. Brasses dominated the opening phrase as one would expect, but the strings predominated in the “whose broad stripes” repeat of the phrase. The middle section (“and the rockets red glare. . . .”) was positively ethereal. The arranger obviously had listened to the final scene of Verdi’s Aida a time or two. All in all, it was a quiet but effective rendering. (As opposed to that over-the-top martial medley of USA service songs performed by a choir at the RNC. But enough parenthetical political sniping.)

This was the first time that I had seen an “unedited” version of the Olympics. Always before I had experienced the time-delayed package presented by an American network. EUROSPORT began coverage by 8:30 in the morning and continued until long after I had gone to bed. If I wanted to watch the games in Italian, I could switch to RAI 2. I hope that NBC showed at least some part of the two Marathons, the shot put competition, and/or the outdoor bicycle races. That way those of you who were in Greece in May could go “hey, I was just there!” All in all, the Greeks are to be congratulated. Nobody, self included, thought they could get everything ready in time. They did, and the opening ceremony was particularly moving. Well done, well done indeed.

Banking in Italy. I have been told on numerous occasions that I am living out a dream for a number of you. I am here to tell you that dealing with banks is not part of that dream.

First of all, efficiency is not a long, strong suit. This is known by any of you who needed to change money in the old days (seven years ago) before ATMs became the norm. For instance,
Last week, I needed to pay a telephone bill and to get a receipt. I had the bill and cash in hand when I walked up to the teller. Fifteen minutes later the transaction was complete.
Inexplicably, I needed to be at the bank when the cash was disbursed to the seller of my apartment. We were all there at 3:00, as scheduled. We finally left at 4:00.
The second problem is with the charges. My bank charges for everything.
Monthly fee; €9.26 No surprise here, but that is only the beginning.
Transaction fee, as in every check you write, any debit to the account, whatever: €2.80
ATM usage, even at the bank itself: €2.00 + 5% of transaction (At this point I handed them back my “free” card, but apparently that wasn’t an option. So now I have it in a safe place, never to see the light of day.)
Any automatic deductions, such as mortgage payment: €0.80
And I am sure that I will discover other little charges as time goes by.

But nobody held a gun to my head and told me that I had to move to Italy, or to actually buy an apartment. And since the bank did give me the mortgage, they can dictate the terms, and one of those terms was that I have an account with them. It all balances out: the interest on my mortgage is only 3.96%.

My bank does offer online banking, and interestingly enough, at no extra cost. Those of you who also indulge in this sort of thing know the drill: The bank (or credit card company) gives you a temporary PIN and then separately a password. Then, the first time you access the service, you change the PIN and password to ones that you actually have a chance of remembering. My bank adds an extra twist. First, the account name that they give you is the one you use: no options here. Then you give yourself a PIN and password. When you go online, you enter the account name and password and then they ask for two specific letters/numbers of your PIN (4th & 9th, whatever, it varies) and then you get to access your account. Not sure if this extra step adds to the security, but it is the way they do things.

In closing, I offer the following vignette to describe the pace of life here. As I said in an earlier essay, cats rule in Sarnano. This is good since I have not seen evidence of a single rodent in spite of all kinds of inviting habitat. My particular small street is dominated by an old tom who has obviously been through the wars. He is owned, if you can say that any cat acknowledges an owner, by the woman who runs the small cinema next to my apartment. Like any cat, he spends his day searching out the most agreeable place for a nap, in the sun or shade, exposed to the breeze or in a sheltered spot, wherever it is most comfy. As often as not, this spot is in the middle of the road. So about once a week I hear a horn blasting away, followed by profanity laced invective. The cat refuses to budge until the driver gets out of the car and moves toward it. Only then does he vacate his carefully chosen spot. Luckily for the cat, the only people who drive on the small road are locals, and nobody wants to be known for the rest of their life as the one who ran over the cinema owner’s cat. (back)