Meeting ‘The Folks’

Following Lola’s subtle request, I will write something about ‘The Folks’.

I was, in a way, slightly apprehensive about meeting them. We had been together a long time. F doesn’t really say much about what he may have said to them. I know, before I meet them, certain things.

I know his father has been ill, a year or two ago and has lost a lot of weight. I know his Mum cooks. I have heard the story about S, the ex, begging F to stop the food coming (as he couldn’t say ‘no’). I know his sister talks. I know nothing about his brother (before we meet, really). I know there are a myriad of aunts and uncles and cousins and second cousins, etc.

I know his mother and father ran a dry cleaning and laundry place in the town and are now retired.

To be honest, it’s difficult to remember exactly how it was when I first met them. They are all, without exception (well, except for 1) utterly charming and so nice to me …… it seems. I say ‘it seems’ since a) I don’t speak Italian very well and b) apart from his niece (his sisters child), no one speaks English at all! This makes for, shall we say, short and shallow conversations.

So, let’s see. His father is a really sweet man. Kind, gentle and, well, tiny! But then, I guess, F isn’t exactly tall. He sports a moustache that would have been perfect in the 30s or 40s. He is slim (although F says he used to have a ‘pot belly’ but it is hard to believe. He cooks. He cooks some wonderful stuff. Now he kisses me on both cheeks as Italians do. I’m not sure if it means anything or not. He tries to hold conversations with me. I try to hold them back. His Italian is better than mine!

His Mum is lovely. She is the local ‘help everyone that needs it’ person, apparently. She is not thin but not huge either. A typical (for those of you from the UK) Italian Mum. When we were going to stay at the House, she immediately went to find some old curtains that we could use to put down on the floor for the dogs. Apparently, she likes me because I eat – i.e. I eat more than other people. This is true, I suppose. Although I have mentioned it before, I will say it again – when she cleaned the House for us, she made up only the one bedroom, with a double bed. She knows, of course.

Both his Mum and Dad have stopped mentioning S – at least in my presence. Not that it bothers me at all, but it is worth noting. It is almost as if, until I had been ‘sussed out’, I needed to know there was competition. It’s OK, I knew – if only because F did the same sort of thing. Now I am accepted or, at least, it feels like I have been. I shall, of course, remain polite and nice for many years yet – not that I get impolite or horrible, ever – just that I don’t get out of the ‘being on my best behaviour mode’! It’s a thing that I do.

They live in a large flat (for Italy). I’ve seen the other houses the family lived in as a child. Not a large family. Parents and three kids. Middle class as they had a shop/business although my parents would have looked down on it as something lesser, no doubt, even if my mother’s mother was a shopkeeper.

Johnny and A, I have described before. They were truly fantastic. Lovely people. I learnt afterwards that things have not always been rosy between F & Johnny and, from what I am led to believe, they didn’t speak for years. Although twins and, although they have a similarity, they aren’t really alike. I think (but this is only a guess on my part), there is some envy on Johnny’s part. F, after all, left home, has lived in the US, the UK and Austria, travels for work (and that is always exciting to outsiders) and, having left the hometown, has shirked his responsibility for ‘the family’ and, of course, like the prodigal son, every time he returns, the fatted calf is duly slaughtered. The fact that this is as much to do with F’s personality as to anything else, bears little weight on the argument. But his is just my supposition. Johnny and A know that F is gay and that I am the new boyfriend. It makes things easier.

B, his sister, is lovely. She is a large lady. She teaches disabled or disadvantaged children. The first time I was taken to her house, F showed me the living room. It was immaculate. He said that her flat was always perfectly clean and tidy. Ten minutes later, B gave me a tour. She jabbers at me as if I can understand every word she says. She jabbers away at anyone who will stay still, long enough to listen. We went into the lounge. She apologised for how she hadn’t been able to clean it and so how it was a mess!

She did a rice salad for us to take to Umbria. To have eaten it all would have taken an army of people or the two of us about 2 weeks. F complains about her and her incessant talking but he’s not unlike her in many ways. She has suffered from depression and the drugs that she has been taking over the years contribute to her size. She is lovely to me. I think she knows but, in any case, when we were talking, on the beach, Sunday afternoon, and F translated for her that he had told me that, even if he’s away and if the weather is good, I should come down anyway. Straight away she said I should come to her place ‘to be fed’!

She knows everyone on the beach. She probably knows everyone in the whole town(s). She lives just down the road from the House. He complains about her but I think he really has a soft spot for her. She is the ‘older’ sister and probably looked after the twins. She has a niece, named after F but the female version. His niece is about 18 and is going to or about to go to some sort of medical school. She is very sweet and beautiful. She sits with us on the beach. When I asked F about this he said that he was her favourite uncle and that doesn’t surprise me. He is always buying her presents and stuff and, from what he says, always has done. She speaks some English but is a bit shy – but, again, quite lovely with me.

B is married to Fa. He is the exception. Although quite nice and he does seem friendly, for some reason that escapes me, I can’t ‘connect’ with him (if you see what I mean – I mean to say, I can’t properly communicate with any of them but he seems, somehow, more distant). However, the Sunday before last we did have a bit of a chat over Sunday lunch. It was a difficult and awkward chat but at least we both tried. F doesn’t really like him very much, I think.

I’ve also met the aunt and uncle who live near to the House. Not to speak to really, just as we passed by and I was sitting in the car. We did go to their daughter’s place last Sunday (again, very close to the House). We didn’t stay long but later, when we were on the beach, she texted to say that she ‘like[d] your new boy’. Obviously, I asked if she knew and, yes, she did!

Many people said that I had ‘changed’ after I met F. Some implying it was for the better and others for the worse. And, yes, I’m sure I’ve changed. Some people recognised that I was happier, for certain. I wonder if they see that in F too? Certainly, in spite of the communication barrier, they seem to have taken me in and I’m ‘part of it’ as far as that can go – unless they always do that, of course, with any of F’s friends.

Still they are all nice and very friendly and I like them and, I think, they like me. I hope so and I hope they see that F is happy with me, which I think they do. We shall see. We go back again this weekend (another long weekend) and then again in a couple of weeks, F will fly from Spain to Parma on Friday night and the intention is that I go down that night too – if the weather is reasonable.

I don’t believe it! Well, OK then, maybe just a bit – but only for the things I like to hear!

“You know that I don’t actually believe all this stuff, don’t you?”, I say.  Actually, I don’t believe much of anything, I think, as I write this.  Further, I never really have but, certainly, it’s taken me 50 years to get to the point where I believe less than I used to.

He doesn’t reply. Later I say “Oh, go on then, let’s see what she says”.

In the end, although I don’t believe it, I still want to know. It doesn’t even make any sense in my head either. I’m nervous – well, not exactly nervous but something lesser. It’s a kind of anticipation.

She holds both of my hands, palm upwards, F next to me to translate.

“You’re very sensible”, F translates to me. She says this a number of times. I agree that I am. Later, in the car, I say that I must be very boring. F doesn’t reply. Either he didn’t understand or he agrees. It’s not good. Perhaps I am too boring!

We had gone to the bar on the seafront again. This woman, someone that R & F used to be at school or college with, is there again with her daughter. Her daughter is a bigger version of her. She’s about 16 but looks older (the daughter, obviously). It’ll be the ‘goth’ look that she wears that will do it, I suppose.

They’re really nice. I forget names. Too many people that I met, really. The woman, I am told, reads hands. She reads someone’s hand. Another guy she takes away to read in ‘private’ at another table. That’s when I say that I will do it. I don’t believe it but I want to hear good things.

We sit at the same table when the other guy has left.

Apparently, I shall have a long life. This does surprise me given that I’ve been smoking for over 40 years! Ah well, I don’t believe it anyway. And, yet ……

F later says that we should cut down on smoking. I say why, since I will live a long life. He says that yes but I don’t want to spend the last 20 years in hospital. It makes me laugh but he has a good point.

See, my grandfather, whom I really loved and admired and everything, lived until he was 82 or 83 (in spite of my sister saying that he didn’t) and he smoked until he was in his sixties. So, although I don’t believe her, I want to believe her and it does fit in with my own theories.

She assures me that I am very sensible. This is true – to some extent. I want to say that whereas I may seem sensible on the outside, I did kind of leave everything to come here 6 years ago and that I am constantly pushing myself to NOT be sensible since being sensible doesn’t really let you experience anything. I did that for far too long.

She says I have come out of a very long and very painful relationship! Well, as my regular readers know, I have had two long-term relationships. the first for 10 years and the last for almost 21 years. I think OK but I didn’t think it was SO painful! But I can’t say that; F is doing the translation. I suppose that most long-term relationships can end bitterly or have years where one or both parties are very unhappy.

Apparently I started another long relationship. “That’ll be you”, I say, gleefully, to F. I know he is pleased by this.

>She says I am ‘transparent’.  ‘Yes’, I say to F, ‘everyone thinks there is something that I am hiding and I keep trying to say no, this is me and this is it!’.  I’m not sure he understood but I feel it’s a good thing that she’s told me – it means, maybe, to him, that he can trust me.

Again she says I am sensible. In the car, the next day, it suddenly hits me. Another of those bloody ‘false friends’. I say to him – “She didn’t mean sensible last night. She meant sensitive?”

He doesn’t know the difference. He tries to explain what it means. I explain what it means to him. “It’s someone who feels things more deeply. Someone who gets hurt very easily”. “Yes”, he replies.

So, it turns out I’m not as boring as I thought! Maybe that’s why he didn’t answer – he didn’t understand!

Of course, seeing as he’s met her before I was down and being as she’s a friend of R, who probably knows almost everything about F & I (at least, from F’s viewpoint), she may already know about the long-term relationship bit.

And saying you’re going to have a long life? Well, what am I going to do if she’s wrong? Ha!

And, I’m obviously with F and, since F’s previous relationships (except 1) haven’t lasted for more than 6 months, this would be quite a long-term relationship ….. for him. Perhaps she was telling him more than telling me.

On the other hand, if she wasn’t, then, maybe, it would help him to relax a bit more about ‘us’!

So, no, I don’t believe it. There was nothing bad. She ran out of things to say that were good, I think. Or, maybe, she saw me as the non-believer that I am and wanted shut of me? But the things she did say, although a bit general, made me feel good or confirmed my view. Maybe I should only believe the good bits?

The House

“We can come down in March, next year, and do a bit of cleaning and painting”

We can. I agree. Yes, that’s right, that was me agreeing to doing decorating, even if, as usual, I will end up with more paint on me than any of the walls. I agree to it not only because of the implications of the statement but also because it will make him happy and it will make it more comfortable for us.

The house is, as usual here, not a house at all but a flat. For those of you in the UK it is, what we would call, the downstairs part of a two-storey, detached house. The upstairs currently being occupied by an 80-odd-year-old uncle – the upstairs part has been promised to Johnny which is why the flat is ‘jointly owned’.

It is old but not old enough to be rustic nor charming. It is not, at first glance, in a particularly nice area. It is close to the main railway line. It is surrounded by other houses with gardens and, more importantly, dogs that a) live outside and b) tend to bark at our dogs (a lot).

Dino, I’m sure, taunts them. He walks around in front of them. Slowly, deliberately, staring at them, walking as if he is walking on eggshells. They bark. He stares. Then stops staring and walks quietly on, a few steps, then stares again. Is he petrified of them or taunting? I’m convinced it’s taunting.

Given a second glance these houses would not disgrace one the nicer parts of the UK and have gardens to match, carefully tended and watered. The trains that go past, surprisingly, don’t make so much noise. The roads in the area would not look out of place in a Cornish village – narrow and difficult for two cars to pass each other.

We are, unfortunately, a little too far from the sea to just walk there. We are, also, just a little too far from the main town to walk there. Here you would need at least a bike, if not a car. With the dogs, a car.

The flat is quite big, by Italian standards. The entrance hall is large enough for a three-seater sofa on one side and a sideboard on the other. The kitchen is large enough for a large, marble-topped table in the centre that would very comfortably fit 6. The units are not new (probably early 70s) but serviceable.

The bathroom looks as if it hasn’t been touched since it was installed in the 50s (my guess). The sink has no hot water. At least in the 50s they hadn’t got round to having avocado suites! The bedroom that we were ‘allowed’ into is very large. The furniture looks like it is from the 40s or 50s. Maybe, because it’s Italian, it is later. Either way, it lacks the clean beautiful lines of the 30s or the sleek modernness of something later. Old but not old enough to be beautiful – just old. If it were in the UK I would expect the smell of mothballs and find myself smelling them anyway – but it’s probably all in my head.

The other bedroom, the one we are not permitted to enter, apparently, now I am told, because it might contain “mouses” (sic), is supposed to be as big as the one we are sleeping in. So, for here, the house is huge.

Outside, there is a garden to four sides although one of those sides is given over to the flat above with the uncle who, for mid to late eighties, looks surprisingly robust and in fine health. So the garden, for this flat is on three sides. I learn, later, from his father, that F’s father used to have vegetables growing here until last year, when it became too much hard work for him. He’s had stomach cancer or something a year or two ago – I don’t like to ask too many questions.

You can see that anyway. Although it is grass, there is an unevenness about it which implies it was once tilled soil. At the back there is a kind of patio area with another, very large, marble-topped table – suitable for eight or ten people, under a cover that has seen better days but the structure is sound. It’s not a canvas covering but something similar – only now there are a few holes. To one side are some sinks – it could almost be a kitchen outdoors – just without a cooker.

The walls, on the outside are concrete. Unfortunately it has not been kept perfectly and so, over time, has become porous, which shows through into the rooms inside, the paint over the plaster peeling off in places. I imagine this place feels damp in the winter.

It’s not ‘pretty’ but it could be made to look much better. F says that they might have to pull it down and rebuild. I don’t think so. Unless, here, it is all done differently. They have planning permission for some extension (I think something where the ‘outside kitchen’ now is) – to make another kitchen and convert the existing kitchen to a bedroom.

Certainly, the garden could be rather lovely. It gets the sun most of the day, so needs some trees for shade – or else, use it for vegetables.

We talk about coming here again and coming here next year. I tell him the dogs love it here, which they do but also, sneakily, because I know how to say the thing that will matter and therefore means he will want them to come more often.

Which is, I guess, why we are talking about tidying up a bit before next summer.

Later he says to me that I should come down here on my own, if he has to work and if the weather is going to be reasonable.

“You can go to eat at my Mum’s” he says.

Later, on the beach (I still owe you a post about the beach), his sister comes by with some home-made fruit salad for us, after lunch. She talks. As she’s telling a story to F she will look at him, and then look at me, who is watching her intently as I’m trying to understand the stories. F tells her that I don’t understand so she doesn’t have to look at me. She looks back to him and continues her story almost without pause. She looks at me again. Sometimes F reminds her that I don’t understand. She talks too fast.

He mentions that I might come down on my own. She says I can come over to her flat for something to eat. She is sweet although I would end up the size of a house if I was there often enough!

We go back there this weekend, again for a long weekend.

The main thing about going back there this week was that, even if I did have four days at work, it felt as if there hadn’t been a break in the holiday. Getting back, although not filled with that relief that I used to have coming back after the holidays (maybe because we were staying on our own), it wasn’t as bad as last time. This time F was with me and that just made everything right.

Perhaps I’m giving the wrong impression?

I realised, reading back, that the holiday doesn’t really come across in the right way.

True, the journey down, the first night and most of the following day were terrible – but, after that it was truly wonderful.

>For the first time that I can ever remember, arriving home did not give me that feeling of satisfaction at all. I wanted to stay. I wish I had been able to stay. F is down at his home town for another week – maybe it’s that he didn’t come back to Milan with me.

OK so, in short – after the first day, every day was really nice or, even wonderful. Most of it was relaxing. 4 days in Carrara and some new experiences for me. Taking Dino to the seaside and having a dog that really wanted to swim was one of them. Having an ice-cream sandwich was another (but that’s for another post).

The first few days in Carrara were a bit different, in that we were staying at Johnny’s place, so it wasn’t just us. Plus there were family to deal with – not in a bad sense – but we went to see the sister, the parents, etc. Another post will talk about going to the beach. It was fairly relaxing.

>On the Saturday we travelled to the place in Umbria. This place was in the hills but with a wonderful view. The flat we had was nice and much bigger than we had thought. There was a small terrace overlooking the woods and the valley. The sun shone (after the Saturday) and it was hot. We would, most days, spend the morning by the pool, have a simple lunch on the terrace and then play cards and/or go back to the pool. In short, we didn’t do much expect for the one day of visiting. But it was so peaceful, so relaxing. No computer, so reading (again, for the fifth or sixth time) ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’ and starting (again for about the sixth time) ‘The Blind Assassin’ – my two favourite books of all time. We competed at cards and at sudoku – it was fun.

I got a bit of a tan – not that I’m particularly bothered with getting one – but now that I have one, I remember that I quite like it :-).

And we didn’t stay at the pool every day. We visited Todi, Orvieto, Città della Pieve and, on the way back, Pienza (which was glorious and a real gem) – go and buy the cheese there – it’s a specialty.

Saturday night, we returned to Carrara but stayed in the house that is empty but is shared by F and Johnny. His mother had cleaned it and his father had cleared the garden (for the dogs). It’s in a small village next to Carrara. As I’ve mentioned before, his parents don’t know that F is gay. Well, they don’t know officially – however, it was interesting that his mother had only cleaned the one bedroom (we were instructed not to go into the other one as it was not clean) and the double bed was made up for us.

Sunday morning was back at the beach and then lunch with the whole family again (except Johnny and A) and then back to the beach for a bit and then I came home – with both dogs as I decided the responsibility and stress for F to keep Dino would be too much.

F wanted me to take a day off on Friday (tomorrow) and come back down – so I am – and I am really looking forward to it. This time I won’t have F huffing and puffing about bags or anything and it will all be easy and clear – well, apart from traffic, maybe!

Religion costs, apparently!

19th August, 2010

When we were in the UK (really? Was it almost a month ago?), I took F to Hereford Cathedral. It is, after all, one of the main tourist attractions of Hereford, along with the ‘Black and White House’ in the centre (which was closed when we were there).

Of course, when I was a child, as I explained to him, and a pupil at the school that, in only three years, had such a profound effect on my life, the Cathedral was a haven. It was a haven, not in a religious sense, however much, at the time, I needed something to ‘save me’, but a haven from the cold in winter. Although the Cathedral could never be heated properly, they had these great big radiators/boilers at intervals and round those we could, at least, keep from becoming solid blocks of ice. I say ‘we’ but, actually, I don’t remember who ‘we’ were, that whole three years being almost a blank, save for a couple of people and some very important ‘learning’ that took place.

There was one other thing I remember from the Cathedral – the Mappa Mundi. All those years ago, relegated to some side aisle of the Cathedral, I don’t even remember if it had a light (but I think it did), operated by a switch which automatically turned off after a short, set time.

Now, of course, things are different. Then, a visit to the famous Chained Library was by appointment (and I’m pretty certain that I never went) – now it’s by payment. The same payment allows you to see the permanently illuminated and better explained Mappa Mundi. It was, if my memory serves me well, £9. But for me this is OK. I mean to say that it does not detract, in any way, from the ‘religiousness’ of the Cathedral proper. It was all discreetly done, at one side of the Cathedral.

Yesterday, we went to Orvieto. A very pretty (though typical), hill-top, Umbrian city, more catered to tourists than, say, Todi where we had visited just before.

The Duomo at Orvieto is quite beautiful. In a way (in that it’s made of layers of black and white marble(?)) it reminded me of the Duomo in Florence but with a front façade that is truly wonderful with decorated frescoes or mosaics (I’m not sure which).

We took it in turns to go in (F is just beginning to learn that the dogs should not come ‘everywhere’). I went first. It required an entrance fee of €2. I paid and went in. The people who didn’t want to pay were stuck, right by the entrance door, in what I can only describe as a ‘pen’. They had, to my mind, successfully turned the Duomo from a place of worship into a museum. There were no pews in the main aisle, just a few plastic chairs where those who had paid, could sit.

A service, held in one of the side chapels and accessed (for free) from a side door but fenced off so that if you went to the service you could not, then access the rest of the Duomo, seemed to be out of context. I walked down the one side of the main aisle. there was another side chapel and I could see it had rather splendid painted vaulted ceilings and walls. A girl was there – she asked to see my ticket. “No”, she said, wagging her finger at me as Italians do when something is not permitted. There was no “I’m sorry” and, until asked, no explanation.

As a result of the rather indifferent and, for me, rather rude girl, I decided I wouldn’t go and pay the extra Euro. And I also felt no reverence in this building. No desire to be especially quiet (although, being on my own, I was). The whole idea of paying, just to get inside a place of worship, owned, as it is, by one of the richest organisations in the world, left a distaste in my mouth which is a shame as it was a beautiful Cathedral.

I know that €2 is nothing and an extra Euro (which I advised F to pay – and which he did) is even less but the way it has been done devalued the experience, whereas, in Hereford, it did not

Apparently, religion costs!


17th August, 2010

It would have been perfect – about 4 weeks ago, when the blue flowers (which I should be able to name and once, a long time ago, probably could) wouldn’t be in their last throes or in spring when the broom (which I’ve never seen quite so much of – or, at least, not that I remember) was in full flower, filling the air with that sickly, sweet scent. It’s not autumn but there is a lot of brown, – patches in the grass, the undergrowth, some leaves on the trees…….

That’s the thing about here, this country. the leaves on the trees in the UK go brown or orange or red or yellow because it’s their ‘time'; here, it’s because they have burnt or have run out of water or something. The oaks already showing it; about half their leaves are that dry, crispy brown, as if they had already fallen from the tree some time ago. It’s all the same, yet different. Blackberries are there, some red, some half and half, some black but nothing like the cultivated ones in the supermarket either here or the ones in the hedgerows in the UK, here not overburdened with individual berries, full to bursting with that dark, red juice but hosting only one, two, three or four berries, small and wasted and not really worth the effort of picking.

The sun is already hot and it’s not even 9! I am already hugging any shade that the trees, harbouring those already dead leaves, can provide.

Dino is ahead. He sniffs the ground and finds the perfect one, Unfortunately he cannot just ‘pick it up’ or, not always. Sometimes, if it proves impossible to pick up, he waits fr me but he always tries first – spreading his forelegs like a giraffe going for a drink, laying his head on one side on the ground to grasp it and so, pick it up and, if successful, proudly carrying it on, jaws agape, tongue lolling out, panting – as I said the sun is already hot.

As I’m writing this, after, today, the French arrived. I mean to say, they’ve been here since Saturday but they seemed aloof, as one would expect of the French. I don’t think we ever saw the whole family together before. Yet we knew they were four. The parents maybe late 30s/early 40s. One child of 10 and one of 6, maybe, my guess at ages always crap. They came to look at the pool, rarely spoke to anyone, although F said they had said ‘hello’ to him one time.

But today they have arrived. Loud. Taking over the pool. Jumping in; causing waves and talking loudly; the older child screaming with joy at being hurled in the air by her father, to fall into the water and sink like a stone.

But I digress.

Sometimes as we walk on, Dino, sniffing the ground before him as he runs ( well, I say ‘runs’ although it is more of an ungainly canter – he doesn’t seem to have the refinement of carriage that Rufus has) finds (sniffs out) another one and will promptly drop the one he has to do his giraffe-drinking impression again to pick up the new one or wait, staring at me as if daring me to pick it up when I get to him but then wanting me to pick it up and throw it further along so that he can chase it.

Rufus, as I have found out this holiday, is, now, almost completely deaf. Now, for the most part, he watches Dino to see how he should react or where he should go or what he should do.

I could hear a car coming up the gravel and stone track, gullies at the side of the track to catch the water when it rains. We had rain the first afternoon/night. I realised then, it’s not like the UK rain, here. We had waited in the car, parked almost outside the supermarket entrance because the rain, not like a shower from the heavens but rather like a bucket from God, trapped us inside the car and the shoppers who’d finished, inside the supermarket, all of us realising that only a single second in this tornado-style rain would drench us in exactly the same way as if we stayed in it for an hour!

We drove back, up the same gravel track that I am now walking down, the gullies having real meaning now but, still, unable to hold the amount of water being deposited and the water exploding over the top and washing the gravel down, exposing the stone and earth below, with the earth, too, getting mixed in.

But now the gullies were dry, or almost dry, seemingly of no value except to trap the unwary or less careful driver or, as Dino, an exuberant dog who went that little too close to the edge.

I could hear the car, I thought. Rufus used to be so good. At the sound of a car, he trotted back. Now, I called but realised that, if he hadn’t heard the car then he wouldn’t hear me! Dino, not so used to all this, just stood, looking at me, questioning without any understanding, this normal pose when called for, as if asking ‘Are you serious?’ or ‘And, if I don’t come?’ – the imitation of taking your shoe off to throw at him the only way he will be made to slink over, grudgingly, in his own time.

The car came. Only when it was on top of Rufus did he know it was there and only then did he do the customary trot back to me, which was good and only marred by the fact that the car and he were now coming to me in parallel. I am amazed that Rufus hangs on so, me expecting him to have given up the ghost a year back. It will, after all, be our last ‘tie’.

We go down as far as the ‘factory’. I didn’t notice it all the times we have driven up and down and cannot tell if it is a factory or a storage place or an assembler of something or what it is.

It’s a couple of large, green, hanger-like sheds, some concrete blocks, some vehicles and, what looks like, a base for a new hanger, in concrete. Maybe it’s something to do with olives or something, I muse, afterwards.

We turn back, me realising that it is quite a long hill to climb now with the sun hotter than before.

I make for each bit of shade, the hot, in-the-sun bits to be endured until the next shadow. Rufus, more often on the way back, by my side as he is obviously struggling a bit now.

We stop at a point where the stream (that I have heard gurgling and gabbling all the way) meets the road. The dogs find it – I didn’t even notice it.

We make our way back up, Dino occasionally dropping his stone for me to throw or because he had found a new one.

I love the peace of this. I love the aimlessness of this. Walking the dogs through undiscovered (to me and them) countryside has to be one of the best things in life!

Broken resolutions and diving dogs

Approx 12 and 13 August, 2010

We are both tired but we are both, it seems, eager, to be calm and not pick a fight. My resolution from last night (see previous post) is not quite as unshakable as it was, not least, because I am tired. I resolve that my resolution still stands – but that I shall wait a little bit before announcing it – I really can’t be doing with a shouting match this morning.

I had woken when Johnny left for work – it’s not like I was sleeping soundly anyway. I and the dogs went outside. True enough, F was asleep in the car. I smoked some cigarettes and wrote the last post – long-hand as I had not brought my computer – on purpose. I wondered if Johnny had noticed F in the car on his way out.

I would have preferred to have gone and taken the dogs for a walk but the gates are operated by remote control and I cannot leave. I would have preferred not to have been there when F woke but I can’t do anything about that. F awakens and seems OK. We don’t mention last night.

As the day wears on, I am less inclined to drive a few hours back to Milan. And, anyway, F seems almost normal – unlike the raging monster of yesterday.

A, when she wakes, makes us coffee and gives us a key to a small side gate so we can get out with the dogs in future.

We take the dogs out for a walk but it is later than we would like.

The next day, we get up early (again) but, this time, we can get out and we take to dogs out on the normal walk. We go to one of the ‘free’ beaches and see what Dino and Rufus make of it this time. There is almost no one around. Rufus hangs back from the surf coming in. Dino, on the other hand, wants to paddle. F decides to take off his shorts and wade in. Dino follows.

The waves are not big but they break into white surf as they near the beach. Dino, following F, jumps the first couple of waves. F goes deeper still. Dino jumps again only this time, unfortunately, the water on the other side of the wave is much deeper and Dino sinks.

Actually, ‘sinks’ gives the wrong impression. The jump that he took and the subsequent head-long thrust into the water looks exactly like he meant to do a dive. And like someone taking a dive into water, he plunged head-first into the water, scrabbling to resurface a few seconds later.

It was one of the funniest things I have seen. F just loved it.  He now had a diving dog!!  It didn’t seem to worry Dino overly much but, still, he came out of the water. Then, of course, he needed to dry out. Normally, if on grass, he will rub himself on the grass; if at home on the carpet – here? Well, on the sand, of course! He looked really funny but we had to stop him. Thank goodness there was no one else on the beach!

In the following few days, F expanded on the single dive he did to the fact that he ‘saw him dive three times’. I say nothing since it does no harm. We wished we had a video camera and resolve that, next time, we will. However, I’m not convinced the ‘diving Dino’ will be around, next time!


Wednesday, 11th August, 2010

It’s 6 a.m. Actually, I’ve had less than four hours sleep. I wish I were back in Milan.

F, though adorable, is too stressed and angry with, well, everything and this is too much like V. This is both unexpected and unwelcome.

For me, a holiday is to be a relaxing thing – I would worry about getting to the airport on time, if we were flying somewhere – but, in general, it should be relaxing. Unless you have something to ‘catch’, then let’s not worry.

F had to work and the dogs had to go in for a haircut – he took them. He called me. The dogs would be ready before 1 p.m. and could I go and collect them. Of course I could.

I arrive a few minutes before, having received the text at 12.45. Not too bad. As it turns out there were other people collecting too and, as usual, they were not ready before 1 but more like 1.30.

F had pre-paid the haircut. This is a little annoying but not enough to spoil my holiday. He meets us as we’re walking back – it’s a surprise – I thought he would finish later. He hasn’t packed yet. That’s OK. Neither have I! Or, rather, I haven’t finished.

I am slow at packing – that is to say, I can be fast – but if there’s nothing to catch I just can’t be really quick.

Later I go to pick him up. We return to my place and load the car. He is unimpressed by how many bags there are! And, whilst I do understand, we’re going by car. Most of the bags are dog’s stuff.

He takes some stuff down to the car and I am to follow with the dogs and the last few bags. He phones, asking if I need help – I am taking longer because I have to close up the flat, take the rubbish out, etc. and this is all taking rather longer than expected and, certainly, rather longer than he would like.

The dogs are already driving me crazy. They know that something is happening and are constantly under my feet. I admit to being a little stressed by them but I know that once I have them in the car everything will be alright!

I get to the car, laden with stuff AND trying to keep the dogs under control. We get the dogs in (then I know they will be fine), then I start to put some bags behind my seat. And this is when it starts. He is frustrated, obviously, and starts taking it out on me – complaining that I have too much stuff (which is, probably true – a ‘dog-walking coat (in case it rains), shoes for walking in the rain, a jacket in the evenings(in case it gets chilly – we shall be in the mountains/hills, etc.).

He grabs some of the bags I have just arranged and puts them in the footwell, at his feet (which means he cannot sit properly), grumbling and complaining – “Why have you got 4 books?”, as an example.

I try to explain that there is room behind my seat but he’s not listening to me.

We go. Most of the journey is in silence except for the CDs he has made and his ‘baby talk’ to Dino.

I am not stressed but I am silent since I don’t know what to say and I am not stupid enough not to know that anything I might say may spark him off. I lived with V for 20 years. I know he hates me driving (but hates driving himself even more). He needs to chill out a bit – in general. Of course, I could suggest that but I’m not that stupid. Still, the journey is good with light traffic, so not stressful – at least, not for me!

We arrive at his brother’s place and everything seems good.

As we get our bags out of the car he says that we look like gypsies – so many bags. There is no point in arguing – and I can’t be bothered to argue with someone who won’t listen – this much I’ve learnt.

A, his sister-in-law, has prepared something to eat and we sit in the garden drinking and eating. It is lovely but although the weather is warmish, it is considerably colder here than it was in Milan! We go to bed – early. Johnny has to be up for work early in the morning and, anyway, we are tired (and some of us are fractious, it seems).

We discuss taking the dogs to the beach and decide to wait and see what time we get up in the morning. He watches some television and I start to sleep. He switches the TV off. Unfortunately, that’s when it all kicks off. Dino, having had his ears (I mean to say, ear hair, of course) trimmed, finds, as in the past, that it is tickley. Every minute or so, he shakes his head vigorously, causing his ears to slap, rather loudly, on the sides of his head. Or, he scratches them – again loudly. Or, because he can’t settle, wanders round the very small bedroom, bumping into things. Whatever it is he is doing – it is keeping us awake.

F suggests, after much ‘cazzoing’ and ‘va fan culoing’, that he will go and sleep in the car. I say (because it is true), that I had already thought of me taking Dino there and staying with him. He replies that if I do that he will go and get a train, in the morning, and go back to Milan because ‘I am crazy like that’. He is angry – but what can I do? I say ‘I guess’.

He is obviously looking for someone to fight with.

He starts. ‘You made me come down here’. ‘You wanted to come and forced me to bring you’. Blah, blah. I wait until he is finished.

‘That is neither true nor fair’, I reply.

He gets up and leaves, taking the car keys with him. Oh well, if he’s going to be a stupid arse then let him be.

Dino almost immediately stops most of the scratching and head shaking and moving around – of course.

I resolve: tomorrow, after breakfast, I and the dogs are going back to Milan!

I wake at 6 a.m.

Packing, English milk and other things

Of course, I should be packing now instead of writing this. But I am always ‘last minute’.

The dogs are in being groomed. I may have to collect them at any time.

F is at work. He is slightly peeved that I didn’t answer my phone straight away but it was on charge.

I’ve been and got the money from the scratch cards for him. I went to the supermarket to buy Autan because the vet suggested that this would stop the dogs getting bitten by sand flies (that pass on some dreadful disease, apparently) but I shall get a collar when I pick them up later too.

Whilst in the supermarket I saw that they had English milk. Well, not exactly from the UK but, rather, made in the English style. I drink a lot of milk. The problem here is that it is a bit watery for my liking. Proper, full-fat English milk would be great – except that they are in bottles. Not plastic bottles but glass bottles. So maybe I won’t. Carrying that back from the supermarket would be a real pain. Plus, it was expensive.

But now I must get back to packing. I don’t want to be doing it still when F arrives and wants to leave!

And, so, it’s unlikely I will post anything for a week and a half or so. I have decided not to take my computer. I have books and we have cards. The danger with the computer is that I will play the Facebook game – and that is time consuming and not something I should be doing when on holiday!

We have four days at the beach in Tuscany, followed by a week in Umbria, in the hills. It should be lovely. F wants to take Dino down to the sea because he thinks Dino will swim and enjoy it. I’m not so sure but it will be fun finding out!

And so, my dear reader, I leave you for this, our first real holiday together. I am so looking forward to it.

Whatever you are doing, have great couple of weeks and I will see you when I get back :-)

I go to the bank…………and again…………and again.

Being our holiday, and F having given me a money box (a Shaun the Sheep one, in case you were wondering), we decided to save all our loose change at the end of each day. We’ve been dong it for about two months.

Surprisingly, it was quite heavy.

And, on Saturday, we decided to count it all. It was surprisingly good and came to much more than we had thought it would. I had also been putting €5 notes in there too, so the haul was nice.

In coins, we had just short of €300. Now, although this is nice, paying for a €50 meal with 50 cent coins may not be welcome by the restaurant owner. So it seemed quite reasonable to get it all changed for notes.

In the UK, this would have been a bit of a pain. First I would have gone to the bank to get some special bags, then I would have had to bag it up, and then take it to the bank. Any bank, of course – although they might insist on their bags. Here it isn’t like that.

It’s worse.

I suggested to F that I would go today (this was written yesterday – or most of it). He said to try the tobacconist first. I mentioned it to them (one of my regular tobacconists) – and they would have been interested but they were shutting up for two weeks. F seemed to think that this might be a problem – but didn’t explain why.

Yesterday, as I didn’t have bags, I put the coins into rolls of paper – similar to the ones that are given to shops. Obviously this was my own, made-up, paper rolls – not nearly so neat as those used by the banks but, at least, I could write the amount and the type of coins on the outside, once they had been rolled up. It took forever! The coins kept slipping sideways until I got the knack of doing it.

But now they were all rolled up in blue paper (it was the paper I had to hand) and each one marked with the coins contained and the total amount inside. What more could the bank want?

And so, this morning, I went to the bank. As there is one just across the road from me I thought I would try there. It is Banca Intesa or Intesa San Paolo or something. anyway, one of the bigger banks in Italy, with branches everywhere. In fact, there is another branch on the opposite side of the piazza that I (almost) live on! So, opposite the one I first went to.

First I had to get into the bank. All banks here have a series of doors to get it. This is to prevent robberies by a mass of people I suppose. You have to enter something similar to an airlock! The door behind you has to close fully before the one in front of you will open. Funnier still is the ‘no guns’ signs that I have seen in banks – but, then, this isn’t the UK, I guess.

So I get inside the bank after repeatedly pressing the ‘man’ sign to find that, in fact, you had to press the small green button (that I mistook for a green light). But I’m in! There is hardly anyone around – this being 11.30. A nice young lady comes forward eventually. I explain in my terrible Italian, that I want to change some coins.

Apparently this is not possible. Why? Because, at 11.30 a.m. on a Monday morning, there are no bank tellers. Apparently, she explains, they will be here this afternoon – from a quarter to three to a quarter past four!

You have to remember, banks here do not work like they do in the UK. In the UK (more or less), the account holder is the customer. Here, you have to be grateful for a bank at all – and you should treat them as the customer. Certainly the opening hours are, more or less, from about 8.30 or 9 in the morning until about 1.30 p.m. and then for another hour or so in the afternoon!

I asked if I should try the Banca Intesa branch opposite. She said that sure, I could try – but she looked doubtful.

Of course, I am, somewhat determined (some may say pig-headed) and so off I go, across the piazza, to the other, grander and newly refurbished, Banca Intesa. At least, here, I thought, they will have cashiers.

And, true enough, they did! Two of them. Both occupied with clients at the moment. I see, like the post office and other places, there is a queuing system, done by printed ticket. I look around for a machine, expecting something like ones you see in the post office! I don’t see anything. There’s only me anyhow, so maybe it won’t be necessary, I think. But, to be on the safe side, I keep looking. I see a thing that looks more like an information box or cash dispenser. I go over, on the off chance, as, anyway, this is the only thing that looks remotely like a machine to print a ticket.

Sure enough. This is the ticket dispenser! I am, at once, both relieved (to have found it) and slightly peeved (at how stupid I am not to have seen it before). I get a ticket.

It seems I wait ages. However, it is air-conditioned AND they are playing some light pop music (although I forget which song – although I could sing along with the chorus, so it was a song sung in English). It’s not an unpleasant wait.

Eventually I get to go to a counter.

Unusually, this is not a stand-up counter but one where you sit down. However, this IS a cashier – my Italian is good enough to know that.

I don’t sit down. I ask the guy if I can change the money here. He asks if I have an account. I don’t and, in my best English, which, to be honest, is a life-saver more often then it isn’t, ask him what I should do, ignoring the fact that I’m not an account holder.

He explains that I need to put the money in these special containers. OK, I say. No problem. He gets out two. This will hold about €10 worth, if that. I explain I will need a lot more than that. He goes to chat to a colleague who is hidden behind an opaque glass screen.

He returns.

Apparently they can’t change it for me because I’m not a customer of theirs. I protest – but you’re a bank, I say. Apparently that makes not one iota of difference. I protest some more. He is Italian. We have the blank face and usual shrug of the shoulders. It’s not that they can’t, it’s that they won’t. In other circumstances, I would have been more persistent but, maybe, I am succumbing to the Italian disease of giving up when faced with a ‘can’t/won’t do it’ shrug. Or maybe it’s because I really couldn’t be bothered and had better things to do.

I told F. He said he would do it the next day. But, being me, I hadn’t quite given up.

Just after a quarter to four, I went to the bank across the road. The same bank I had been to in the morning where they had no cashiers.

There was one guy being served – and one cashier open. I waited. For some reason I felt more hopeful about this, in spite of the fact that it was the same bank, just a different branch. This branch was not sparkly new. It didn’t have music playing. It was air conditioned – but then, of course it would be.

It was my turn. I explained what I wanted. He started to open my carefully prepared packages – he saw my face. He explained that they had a machine. We could just put all the coins together. He and I spent the next ten minutes undoing my 3 hour work and mixing it all back up. He put it all in a plastic bag.

He asked if I knew how much it was. I got out my piece of paper. ‘No, don’t show me’, he said. And walked off with the money. I laughed. This would be a test of both my counting and the machine.

I could hear the coins being tipped into something. After a few minutes he returned. He wrote down the number and showed it to me. I showed him mine. They matched. We both laughed.

He gave me the money. F said I should have asked him why the other bank could not do it and yet they could. I explained that I didn’t know enough Italian. But, to be honest I didn’t care. OK, so I wasn’t so persistent with the other branch – but I did get it done in the end – and that’s the important bit, really.

The other branch just had lazy, good-for-nothing people!