Thursday, October 29, 2009

Translation Frustration

It's the end of October and our visa application still isn't ready to be submitted.

At the eleventh hour we spotted a problem - the Italian documents had to be translated.  And not only that (I'm capable of translating them myself so that wouldn't have been a problem) but they have to be translated by a commercial translator unconnected with us.  There's a half-page of rules about being on the translator's letterhead, etc. etc.  Che noia!
The past few weeks have been one such discovery after another - from remembering about the medical to having to find a registered birth certificate (thanks Dad).  I wonder if there are any others to hit us.
Well, the documents are now - I hope - being checked by the translator.  Perhaps we'll get it in on Monday.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The red and the grey

Clouds sail through the Maiella and Morrone massifs

When Ross finally admitted he would like to go back to New Zealand, it was a shock.  In the early days of our relationship, he had said that he couldn't see himself moving back there, at least not soon.  Absence, it seems, makes the heart grow fonder.
I didn't take the news well.  Although determined to make changes so we could both be happy, it felt like a foundation stone of our relationship had just dropped out.  Not to put to fine a point on it, I am an "old world" creature.  I like to be able to see and touch history, and I love Europe.  New Zealand seemed incredibly far away.
After a while, however, I noticed a change in my attitudes.

Rosehips, from wild dogroses on the mountain road above Bugnara

Italy is frustrating.  Expats have a love-hate relationship with Italy, and so do most Italians.  How nice, I began to think, to live in a country where people care about green issues, where sexism, racism, ageism and most other prejudices are considered crimes, where agriculture works without subsidies.  How nice, on a personal level, to have a better chance of making ends meet because income exceeds expenses.
Today, blue mountains are cloaked in grey-white cloud.  The valley is a riot of maroon, vivid yellow and deep fir green.  We spent a glorious Sunday afternoon collecting more pinecones on the mountain path.  When they dry out, we'll use them as kindling.
We've gone through our 100kg (€12) of oak in ten days.  I guess we did have the stove lit for long periods in that.  If there are about 120 days of winter, that works out at €150 ish for the winter.  Not bad, in comparison to the thousands we've been spending on gas.  (Okay, I admit that we'll still use gas for showers and cooking, and that the stove only heats one room.)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Preparations for our Partenza

Although we haven't lodged our application, it's looking more and more certain that we'll leave sometime in the northern hemisphere winter.  There's no sign of the financial situation improving (indeed I just learnt that income tax is not taken from my salary automatically - so I'll have a big tax bill very soon), so the sooner we get started on our new path the better.
But there are lots of things we need to do before we leave.  We agree that we'd like the house to be occupied in our absence - someone to keep an eye on it at least.  We're not sure whether to rent it out on a long-term or holiday basis.  There'd be a small demand for either, but consensus seems to be that short term is less risky because of the rights of tenants in Italy.  Anything other than holiday lets here is called a "four by four" - i.e. it lasts 8 years and is reviewable only after 4 years.  Owners can have a lot of difficulty, I'm told, in evicting unwanted tenants.  On the other hand, it would mean that someone was inside during the winter months, which is when disasters like burst pipes etc. tend to happen.  Meanwhile, holiday lets would be more work, and probably bring less income. 
Before leaving, regardless of who, if anyone, we let it to, I'm determined to finish a lot of loose ends.  There are many.  A tricky job here, a lick of paint there, getting the last internal doors, fixing a bannister, and taking rust of ironwork....  It's all time-consuming and neither of us have much desire to do it.  However, it will mean leaving the house in good shape rather than a nagging problem.
Assuming everything is in order with our application, it'll finally be submitted on Tuesday.  I'm hoping Ross can be my delegate to both collect the medical cert and then take the application in person to the Embassy.  I don't fancy trusting my passport to the Italian post if it's not necessary!
Meanwhile, the rain has stopped, the scirocco (warm sahara wind) is blowing, the sun is shining and here's a pretty red admiral  (C, S, O, E & M - this is on your front step!).

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Autumnal Joy

The colours of Monte Genzana

I am entralled by autumn, captivated by colour.
The landscape has taken on intense, moody hues of maroon, scarlet, yellow ochre and dusty blue.  To complete the effect, the hills are topped with a perfect layer of royal icing, glowing crisply against the blue, blue sky.
The slanting sun slits through the ruined walls of the Grancia of San Biagio - a one-time monastic farm.  Its roofless walls gently crumble down through the brambles in the pituresque decay of ancient ruins.  I dream of what it was and what it could be in the future.  Autumn walks down country lanes must be one of the great pleasures of life.
Returning to the village, the smell of wood smoke drifts through the cool air.  It reminds me of thick, slow tomato sauces prepared slowly on the stufa - the cooking stove.  Anything cooked on a stove seems to take on a different flavour - perhaps we could define it as patience. 

Bonfire in Bugnara

I am deeply, hopelessly glad to be here.  Despite the horrors of yesterday in Rome, despite money, despite politics. 

Last piece of the puzzle - the medical

My application for a visa for New Zealand has taken a while to get together.  I'm being sponsored by my partner, who is a New Zealander.  We needed police certificates for both of us for everywhere we'd lived in the past ten years, as well as a medical certificate for me, and, most importantly, proof that we'd been together for as long as we have.
I had forgotten about the medical cert in the hassle of getting the police certs, which is a shame, because I could have done it during my summer break if I'd remembered earlier.  In Italy, there are only a handful of doctors, all in Rome, who do the exam.  I chose the only one close to Tiburtina station (where I arrive from Abruzzo), which was also the only one to do both the doctor's exam and the chest x-ray (checking for tuberculosis apparently) on one premises.
Having done medical certs in Italy before (for driving licence and sports insurance), I was expecting this to be similar, especially in cost.  These cost €50 a time.  My boyfriend's British father (who also goes to NZ with a visa) warned us that we might be in for a shock.  When I googled it, people seemed to have paid around £150 in the UK.  I called the doctor's and asked for details.  €300.  Ouch.
One parental loan later, I headed off to Rome at the crack of dawn yesterday.  It was a painful experience from start to finish.  I had difficulty finding the centre, and arrived late at 11am and stressed.  They pushed my appointment back to 12.30.  I had had to fast for the blood tests, so was already grumpy, being one of those people who don't function without a hearty breakfast.
The doctor doing the tests was kind, but explained that she had just discovered a change in the form when other NZ applicants had arrived that morning.  The NZ authorities wanted, she explained, a very complicated and excessive test of kidney function that involved collecting 24 hours of piss.  Could I stay in Rome until tomorrow?
I could not.  Getting a day off work was already not ideal, and I had no intention of taking two.  The only thing for it was to collect the next day's, i.e. today's piss at home/work and send my poor boyfriend back with it (he doesn't have work) tomorrow.  Joy.  And we needed to make a third trip to pick up the results next week (having been told on the phone that the centre would be posting them to the Embassy).  Could they not post them?  Absolutely not.
Then the dragon of a receptionist told me it would be €433.01.  "Why the change?  I did call beforehand to check the cost?"  "Non lo so, signora, non ha parlato con me!"  (I don't know, madam, you didn't speak to me.)
Now, the cost increment could have been explained by the extra test, or it could have been the receptionist getting her own back for me being late.  In any case, I would have liked at least an explanation.  When you struggle to afford heating and food, €130 extra is nothing short of a catastrophe.  That woman, with her scornful little laugh, left me seething with anger.  I probably had a racing pulse and high blood pressure in the tests thanks to her.

Sun splits the cloud across the base of the Peligna Valley, looking toward the Gizio river valley

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Curry party

Clearly the wood-burning stove created a good atmosphere. This morning, I have less of a hangover and less cleaning up to do than I have any right to expect. A dinner with two friends turned into a wildly drunken party with all the other wine-infused night-owls of Bugnara. Ross made curry, which now has a couple of new fans. I gave up about the same time as the cat (2am), who bravely defended his armchair for as long as was practical.
I am, however, glad to see that Ross enjoyed himself. It's been a black week. The sooner we make a fresh start the better.
I'm off to spend some time with an English friend in Pacentro, and some down-to-earth girls chat.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Long White Cloud

Kitty enjoys the stove, complete with my bag of pinecones, raided from the mountain
New Zealand is called Aotearoa, the Land of the Long White Cloud. I have never seen it.
Outside, the new white topping on the Apennine ridge blends seamlessly with the white sky. It's October and winter has come suddenly to the Peligna valley, the temperature dropping from a t-shirt-worthy 28C to 8C in a matter of days. Our draughty 16th century house combats the bleakness with a newly-installed wood-burning stove. The Eels blast out "God damn right, it's a beautiful day," on iTunes, despite the evidence to the contrary.
The stove is a chestnut-brown relic from the seventies, a present from our friend Daniele. It's presided over many a merry night in its history, providing the heat for teenage get-togethers when our friends - now around thirty years old - were young. The style of the stove is questionable, but its effects are not. Although we've only had it lit for a few days, all three of us (Ross, Seamus the cat, and I) now fight over the nearest armchair. I'm currently sharing it with the determined cat.
To fuel the fire one needs wood, of course. The folk of Bugnara, our village, advised us to buy all the wood for the winter during the summer when it was dry. Unfortunately, we had to wait for my teaching work to recommence in the autumn. I still haven't had a full month's pay (teaching doesn't start properly until October), and so, I went to the sawmill this morning to see if it was possible to get just a small quantity. It was a fascinating experience.
The two brothers and the older man who I assume is their father never remember me at the sawmill. All three probably have enough fingers between them for two men. I explain again that, no I'm not Italian, but yes, I do live in Bugnara, and yes I work locally. (Here, the question isn't "What do you do?" but "Do you work?" - an indication of the unemployment here.)
It's the first time I've bought wood to burn, and, despite my friends' instruction, I'm not too sure what I need. Nonetheless, they sort me out with some dry oak, and cut it into small enough pieces for the stove, before packing it into my car boot. Oak burns slowly, although it's difficult to light. I collected pinecones on the mountain during the summer to use as kindling.
The most fun part was weighing the car. I drove onto a metal patio and the old man disappeared into a wooden shack. Following him, I saw a big cantilever scale with brass knobs. He nudges the knobs along until the long lever balances, exclaiming with surprise that our 1l Opel Corsa weighs 930kg. (Mental note, clear the crap out of the car.) After 12 euros of wood is added, it comes to 1030kg.
And so, enough wood is bought to get us to the end of a cold month.