venerdì 20 giugno 2008


Having spent the past year and a half living a five minute drive from my office, I am now back to living the commuter life, and - mamma mia - it’s a shock to the system. When I first arrived in Northern Italy, I lived for nine months in Bergamo, which is only 40 kilometres from Milan, but on the slowest train line in the western world, so I had a two-hour round trip each day and permanent dark circles under my eyes. I had arrived from a three-year experience in Sardinia, where I drove everywhere and made time everyday for a dip in the sea. Not surprisingly, it took me a very long time to get accustomed to the city commute, and having had a two year break, the past few days have served as a reminder as to why I moved to the centre of Milan in the first place…
I’m not a morning person for a start. My ideal sleep routine is from 2 am to 10am – and I know this to be true because whenever I have a period of time where I don’t have to go to bed or get up at any particular time, this is the routine which my body automatically adopts. Hearing the alarm at 6:40 is not fun at all. I have to say, however that I find the train journey itself rather relaxing. Much as my classic English personality generally steers me away from situations involving close body contact with sweaty Italians with particularly sharp elbows, once the initial dash to the station and fight for a seat is over, it’s nice to be able to lean against the headrest and have a nap or get into a good book. The downside is that when there are strikes or delays, there’s nothing you can do except be inconvenienced, and you have to fall in with Trenitalia’s timetable – bad news for the colleagues who seem to get a kick out of staying in the office until eight o’clock, attempting to drag you down with them. I tried the car alternative on Monday and Tuesday, but spent an average of three hours completing the round trip on both days, such is the chaos to be found on any road that leads into, out of, or around Milan at pretty much any time of day. One thing I do like about train travel is that you get to observe the world around you, listen to people’s conversations and people-watch without fear of recrimination. The closely-packed seats and over-crowding can even turn into a learning experience, even if my most profound example so far was spotting the exact shoes that I want this morning, and asking their owner where she bought them. OK, so it’s not learning in the most academic sense, but at least it passes the time…..

mercoledì 18 giugno 2008

The big move

Saturday morning the clouds finally broke, the sun came out, and we made the best of it, with the help of a hired Amico Blu van and about 10 litres of Powerade.

Three and a half hours to load up the truck (try carrying a sofa down from the third floor!), two hours to unload at the other end, and a whole lot of boxes later and we were in.

Oh, and it appears that a (rather large) family of gypsies has taken up residence on the market square, directly behind the house. I'm assured by local people that they are 'just visiting for a few days' and that they are 'not trouble-makers'. Hmmm.

P.S. If I could work out how to upload more than one picture per post, I would. Any advice??

venerdì 13 giugno 2008


There’s obviously not enough drama going on at the moment, what with the new house, the bank, work etc. I think we need some more. Last night, hanging out at Luca’s bar, just as they were preparing to close for the day, I hear an ear-splitting, blood-curdling scream like something from a horror film from the courtyard out the back. And then another – literally as if someone had been murdered, followed by shrieks of “AIUTO!! AIUTO!!”. Adrenaline shooting through my body, I run through the kitchen, followed closely by Luca and his colleague Paolo, to find Luca’s sister-in-law, Patrizia, clutching baby Maddalena to her, with a blood-soaked sponge pressed to Maddi’s forehead. Still screaming, she removes it to reveal a deep cut, pouring with blood and mixing with Maddi’s tears to produce a bloody puddle on the courtyard floor. I freeze, Luca grabs some paper towels, and Patrizia stands there, screeching like a murder victim. Hearing the chaos, Luca’s mum races through the kitchen (in my mind in slow motion), shrieking “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO”, grabs the baby and hurtles out of the gate and up the road, in the direction of the nearby hospital, with Patrizia chasing alongside, wailing like a banshee and dragging three year-old Carolina behind her – also wailing. At that moment, there is a huge clap of thunder, and the skies open as if someone had turned on a tap.
The whole scene lasted no more than 5 seconds.
It took half an hour and two-and-a-half proseccos just for my heart-rate to return to normal. 45 minutes later, Luca’s mum, brother and little Carolina stroll back into the bar as if nothing had happened, Carolina stating quite matter-of-factly that “Maddi had a bobo because she wanted her Koala and slipped all on her own”. Everyone goes back to work, and I am left pale and light-headed, wondering just how they do it.
And that was Thursday.

giovedì 12 giugno 2008

O-Key D'Oh-Key

Following on from all of my banking woes, I finally took action and filed a claim for 260 euros which I have been overcharged over the course of the past year. Having made an official complaint to the bank manager, and written a letter to the claims department, I then relaxed, under the impression that I would have NO MORE PROBLEMS.
Oops. I forgot that the cardinal rule in Italy is never to relax.
Having lost my wallet, and therefore all of my credit cards in a rather embarrassing incident, which you can read about further down the page, I was assured by Banca Intesa that my brand new bancomat (debit card) and accompanying PIN code would both be with me in 10 working days. This seemed like a lot at the time, but hey – we all know that Italy is an inefficient country, so you just have to take a deep breath and move on. However, bring Banca Intesa-Sanpaolo into the situation and all bets are off.
On the eleventh working day, I went to check my online account and was informed by a pop-up message that the “O-Key” code generator is now mandatory, and that without it I would not be able to log on. In order to get hold of the O-Key, I would need to go to my branch (bear in mind every trip means a missed lunch break and 10 points on my blood pressure), so I thought I would kill two birds with one stone and get my O-Key and brand spanking new bancomat at the same time.
35 minutes after arriving, I get to the counter and the woman informs me that for the O-Key I have to go upstairs and stand in a different line. OK, fine – deep breath. So I ask for my bancomat. Miraculously it has arrived. The woman takes at least 15 minutes to issue it to me, as they have apparently just had a new system installed and are having a few problems – deep breath. I ask about my PIN. She asks her colleague. The colleague asks another colleague, and a fourth completes the circle, informing me that I should use my old PIN as the card is a replacement, not a new issue. It seems strange to me so I question it and the woman’s response is “You are a bit too precise. You’re starting to confuse me. Use your old pin,” DEEP BREATH.
I go upstairs and wait in line to see my old buddy Massimo (the guy who effectively owes me 260 euros). At my turn, I tell him I need my O-Key, and he looks startled. He calls the manager over. She looks at me with a pitying look, and they put their heads together. No, not that way… Ummmm….. Er….. Non ho capito….. Try this….. OK, try that….. Try putting the tax code in again…… What about….. “Sorry, we can’t issue you with the key because we don’t understand how the new system works” is Massimo’s conclusion. I complain that this is not acceptable, he starts to yell and I have to tell him to stop shouting at me. The manager scuttles away with her tail between her legs. I leave the bank, minus O-Key, plus 25 blood pressure points, and go drink a prosecco with my colleagues, who have ordered, waited, eaten, drank coffee and smoked a cigarette each in the time that I have spent at the bank.
I’m not finished.
I get to the cash point after work, following my gut instinct that I would be a fool to go straight to the supermarket with no cash, on the promise that my pin would work, and guess what….. it doesn’t.
Twelfth working day of cash-flow crisis, and I head back to the bank (I swear that sooner or later they’re gonna lock me between the 2 security doors and leave me there….) and very calmly explain that my old pin didn’t work, so could I have a new one please. Much head shaking and conferring later, and their conclusion is “the new pin must be in the post, and there’s nothing we can do if it gets lost by the Post Office”.
It’s now working day 14 ( almost 3 calendar weeks), and I am still without a pin to go with my card. In the meantime, my English credit cards made their way from London to my parents’ house in Felixstowe, sat there for 3 days, and then travelled the 1000 miles to Milan, arriving at my office 3 days later. I’m off to the bank in about 10 minutes. I may be a while….