Saga of the Condo or My First Year in Italy

turkey day at the AIA, selfie by Gabrielle

turkey day at the AIA, selfie by Gabrielle

Saturday the 13th is the first anniversary of my arrival in Italy. It’s been a busy, exciting year and, while I haven’t made nearly the progress with language that I wanted to, pretty much everything else has been going very well for me. That includes finally, this week, closing on the sale of my condo in Everett.

my old place in Everett

my old place in Everett

Here is the saga. You can sing it to any ballad tune you like. I rather fancy Thomas the Rhymer at the moment, or perhaps The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry.

The condo got listed back in late June of 2013, so it’s been over a year and a half in the doing, and it has not been easy. The basics of cleaning, preparation, and actual moving are things anyone would have to do. Photos were taken, a sales agent contracted, applications for a short sale made.

Short sales, for those who don’t know, are sales where the value of the property falls short of the amount of the mortgage. Because of my inability to drive, I couldn’t stay, so for me it wasn’t the usual “I can’t afford this property anymore” issue but a medical necessity that I move to a location with more accessible transportation. It was a Veterans Administration loan. And there was a small second mortgage on the property, which is where a lot of the problems arose.

In August of 2013 I had an offer from a potential buyer, but the second mortgage company kept putting things off for so long that she had to back out, and we had to start the process all over again, after nearly a year. Once again, applications had to be made. “Hardship” letters had to be drafted. Now that I was in Italy, even more problems seemed to arise. And part of the problem had been that I had tried to pay the second mortgage off early, so I was nearly a year ahead on my payments, and the company insisted that I had to be in arrears before they would approve a short sale. So I had, essentially, screwed myself over by trying to do the right thing.

Anyway, we got a second buyer, who is apparently being a miserable arse to my neighbors. I was informed (rather than asked) that they would be renting the place until the sale went through, so I was getting some rent, but ended up paying over half the amount I got in that three months to the homeowner association for back HOA fees and special assessment, so I didn’t end up with much of anything extra. The mortgage company wanted me to pay four months worth of rent because, obviously, I had all this extra money sitting around. As though I can’t add.

At the point of the sale, I was feeling rather like Arlo Guthrie in Alice’s Restaurant. “What’d you get?” people want to know. “I didn’t get nothin’. I had to pay $50 and pick up the garbage.” I had to pay $300 before they would let me sign the sale agreement. So, no, selling my condo doesn’t mean I got rich, it means I got rid of a huge debt that I may still have to pay taxes on. I’m hoping it won’t come to that, because I’m uncertain where I would get a lump sum to send to the IRS.

But enough about that. Confetti has been thrown, cheers have been cheered, and I close a door on a chapter of my life.

Triestino graffitti

Triestino street art

My first year here in Italy has been filled with lovely people, fantastic places, and great food. I’m making new friends, slowly learning how to speak to people, and carefully trying to navigate a new culture without creating too much offense due to ignorance. I’ve been fortunate enough to have friends and family come visit, and this month I’ve got a friend from Prague coming down over the Christmas holiday for a few days, as well. Saturday, I’m having a little party here with friends I’ve made and people I’ve met, to celebrate my first year anniversary. Moving to Italy is a decision that has suited me very well and, despite some frustrations on both sides of the ocean, I don’t regret it at all.

the balcony, summer

the balcony, summer

I don’t know what the coming year will bring. I hope it will be more new friends and visits from old ones, more opportunities to travel lightly and inexpensively, and many more photos taken. It should bring a new book, as I’m close to ready to submit the manuscript to my publisher. And I know it will bring more facility with Italian as I spend more time in class working on it. My brother will be bringing his tv up from storage later this week so I can watch the Italian news and get more exposure to the language that way. Actually having and turning on a tv will be strange, as I didn’t really use one for years back in Everett.

A new year. A new phase of my life.

A new page.

Write on.

la mula, summer

la mula, summer


Live and direct from Everett

I left Trieste on Sunday so that I could go with my brother to lunch at the home of some friends. We had a lovely time, but I got no sleep that night. The next day it was off to Venice. I wanted to pick up a couple of gifts for some of my friends who have been helping me out, and for my girlfriend.

My brother and I had lunch in Venice and wandered the glass shops looking for just the right thing for Caera. Charles and Patrick got leather-bound journals, made by a woman whose family has been making and binding books in Venice for 85 years. I picked up a card from the shop and will definitely be back again when I am in need of new notebooks. When we finished up in Venice, my brother dropped me off at the hotel near the airport and left me to my own devices. Things went reasonably well, and I spoke a fair bit of my rudimentary Italian. I made it all the way through dinner at a nearby restaurant with no English whatsoever, surrounded by American and other English-speaking tourists. It was a good feeling, even though all of it was simple stuff. I feel like I’m improving, a little at a time.

My flights were uneventful, thankfully. In Frankfurt, the planes were parked away from the terminal and we disembarked onto the tarmac and were bussed to the airport, then back out to the next flight. The Lufthansa people were very nice and quite efficient. I had no trouble at all. I have to call them today to get final instructions about when and where to check my dog in when I fly out on Thursday.

Upon arriving, Charles picked me up at the airport. I was hungry so we headed up to the hill, where I got a bowl of chicken pho, which I’d seen hide nor hair of (skin nor feather of?) since I’d been in Italy.  After that, it was over to Edge of the Circle, where I bought a book and visited a bit with Raven B, who reads cards there. She was one of my roommates for a while when I lived in West Seattle. She plays bass for a local goth band, Legion Within. Then it was up to Everett to see my sweetie and visit the pupster (who was mellow but happy to see me), and get some sleep.

The next day, I got together with a bunch of my friends over at Travelers. I was there from when they opened at 4:30 to when they closed down at 9pm, with company the whole time. It was a lovely evening, and I bought a bunch of my favorite spice mixes from them — curries and sambar and garam masalas. I’ll be happy to have a little taste of home when I get back home to Trieste. Much chai was drunk, thali was had, and there were many wonderful discussions.

The next day I went to visit Shiuwen at Floating Leaves, and to get some tea from her, and meet a friend for lunch in Ballard. I took the bus down, as Caera was at work, and Charles wouldn’t be awake until later. I stopped at Half Price Books and got a few things for myself and some books for the Women’s Space at the American library back in Trieste. When Charles picked me up, we ran by Edge again so I could say hi to Robert, then wandered over to Elliott Bay Books, where I picked up another pile of things, including a big box of Italian word flash cards so I can do review a little more easily. It was nice to be in Seattle again. In some ways, I feel like I never left. In others, I feel quite disconnected. It’s an odd space. It still feels like home, but Trieste is feeling like home these days, as well, even if it’s not yet as familiar as 30 years in Seattle. I’m wondering how that will feel during later visits?

Yesterday was deal with the dog day. We hauled the DoDC+3 off to the vet for his exam and to fill out the mountain of paperwork necessary for the flight. It took quite a while, as the forms are a little confusing if you’ve not dealt with them often. The example forms were in English and had instructions, the target forms to actually be filled out are in Italian. Monday we have an appointment down in Tumwater to have them stamped by the USDA. We took the pup for a long walk, and went to a pet store for supplies and to have him scrubbed down and brushed. When we got back to Patrick’s place, the poor little guy didn’t want to get out of the car and have to stay. He doesn’t understand that it’s only for a few more days.

This afternoon, I’ll be visiting with some of my former neighbors. I’ve signed a little more paperwork about the condo. Later in the afternoon is a reception for some friends who have renewed their handfasting vows. That was happening Tuesday evening when I got in, but I was too tired to cope with the whole thing, and had got back to Caera’s a little too late in the day to get there on time for the start of the festivities.

Tomorrow I’ll be going up to Anacortes to see several of my other friends.  I’m going to stop by the AFK to see if Kayla’s there. She’s been really busy opening a new AFK down in Renton and has been going back and forth between the restaurants. She says she’ll be in Everett in the evening, so we’ll see what happens.

This coming Tuesday, I’ll be hanging out for the evening at the AFK up here in Everett, hoping to see some of my steampunk friends.

Since I’m currently trying to post this from my iPad, I’m having technical problems now and then with the bluetooth keyboard and with the site, so there aren’t any photos for you this week. I haven’t really taken any yet since I’ve been here, as I’ve been far too busy just being here. If  I remember to take some, I’ll try to share a few when I’m back home in Trieste. Until then, I hope you all have a fantastic week!

The Dawn Chorus

They start well before dawn, really. I’ve heard them going at 3:30 and 4am, before the light has even started seeping into the sky.  If I’m half-awake, as I often am at that hour, I hear them crowing. There seem to be roosters everywhere.

Back in Everett, it was Canada geese, wild ducks, and seagulls, or the occasional osprey. Sometimes the Oregon juncoes would join in or, rarely, a Steller’s jay. Here, roosters. Multitudinous roosters.

I haven’t lived on a farm in decades and when I did, it was the sort where the potatoes didn’t wake you up before the sun rose. You didn’t have to worry about squawking cucumbers or restless squash. Vegetables, as a rule, are a silent lot. Chickens are not.

Yesterday one of my brother’s friends showed up at the door, needing a hand with one of the huge, cylindrical bales of hay for bedding. She knocked. My brother was asleep, as we’ve both been down hard with head colds; I’d been perusing Indo-European Sacred Space: Vedic and Roman Cult, a little light reading and an interruptible project. I fumbled with the key in the lock, trying to open the door; I’m not terribly practiced at letting myself out because there’s nowhere to go out here, so I usually leave with my brother. The farm is gated and I don’t have an electronic door opener, so I can’t really even go out to take a walk by myself. There are moments when I feel like I’m secretly in a Laurel and Hardy short film.

Once I got the door open, his friend asked if he was around. I offered to help, and then my brother woke up, so all three of us wandered around to the back of the building, where we were confronted with a mountainous bale nearly as tall as I am. I’ve heaved the smaller rectangular bales in my childhood. I’m not as young as I was then, and I’m a little iffy on the whole walking in a straight line thing, but I’m capable of putting my weight behind something and pushing. We needed all three of us.

I met some of the denizens of the farmyard out there – a horse, three donkeys, and a bunch of chickens, along with several more cats than I’d previously seen. The donkeys were not terribly patient and were trying to nibble off the bale as we rolled it through the mud. It’s been raining a fair bit, and yesterday we actually had some sun, so it was the best time to move the bale from the barn to the shelter in the barnyard.

The view of the Dolomites from the barnyard is really quite spectacular, whether they are cloud-crowned or not. Snow fell in the mountains recently, and the peaks looked distinctly fluffy from this distance. They’re much closer than either the Cascades or the Olympics were back on Puget Sound. When the view hasn’t been fogged it, it’s been lovely.

But chickens. Most of them live in the barnyard. Two of them, however, live out in the front here, with the humans and the dogs and a couple of the other fowl. Chickens, as a rule, are a flighty lot. Quick to scurry out of the way or to have a bit of a panic about whatever happens around them, they have, in my experience, at least, been a bit excitable. These two are the Zen masters of chickendom. A car pulls in to park? They arise, ruffle their feathers a bit to straighten them out, and take a leisurely stroll out of the way. Dogs go off at the wind in the leaves?  A feathery eyebrow is raised, a wing might be shrugged, and the Zen chickens get on with whatever they were doing. Napping, most likely. They’re always within a few feet of each other, a symbiotic chicken unit of mellow. I hear them in the mornings out front, rooster-doodling along with the rest, declaring the sun before it rises, rain or pre-shine. These chickens will probably calmly announce the apocalypse and then settle in again for a nap.

Selling my previous life

Tomorrow I’m selling off all my remaining things in a moving sale. If you’re local to Everett, Washington, please feel free to come by between noon and 3pm to have a look!

I’ve spent the last week hauling my things out to the garage, and the last two days sorting and pricing things; I’ve arranged for Northwest Center to come and pick up what they want of what’s left a few days later. Arrangements have been made for taking the last few boxes of my things to my storage unit in Seattle, my desktop computer will be shipped to my brother via priority mail, and I should be out of the condo by the morning of December 7th, latest.

There’s still a little left to do here as far as getting things out to the garage, but I’ve been saving the last few cooking things, flatware, and kitchen utensils until the morning, so that I can use them today and tomorrow morning. After it goes out to the garage, it’s restaurants for me until I leave. It isn’t the cheapest option, but it’s certainly the most practical, and there are a couple of restaurants right next door. I suspect I will be living on teriyaki and sushi rolls for a few days until this is over, as it’s inexpensive and filling. I’m giving the rest of the food I would have to cook to one of my neighbors, and tomorrow evening it’ll be time to clean out the fridge. I’ve already given things to my girlfriend that she can eat, but there’s a lot left that she couldn’t take from me, so it goes to the next person on the list.

Yesterday, I hadn’t planned on participating in any turkey day festivities. I didn’t have the time or the energy to deal with it, but seven of my friends brought the holiday to me, with folding tables and chairs, food, a log for the fire, and their good company. Despite having a migraine, I had a really lovely time with them. One is a couple of weeks out from his annual winter in Mexico. Another stopped in with his partner on the way home to Bellingham from their own festivities in Seattle.

My neighbors have been talking with me out in the parking lot when I take the dog for a walk or get my mail or haul things up to the garage for the sale. They have all said they’ll miss me and are very sad to see me go. It’s nice to know my presence has been appreciated despite my unusual hours. One neighbor dropped by while I was sticking price tags on things and bought a few things from me already, so that’s a couple fewer items to worry about! I’ve been overwhelmed by the sea of my possessions and am glad to be getting rid of everything that’s left.

I am at the point in this process where I just want to be done. I want to be on the plane and not have to deal with the intervening 11 days. Beam me up, Scotty! I’m feeling restless and at loose ends in this empty space. I’ve got accounts to close, addresses to change, and last minute details to attend. I’ve got myself a Skype US phone/text number so my family and friends here can stay in touch with me and not have to make international calls, but it’ll be strange not to have the same number I’ve been using for about 15 years now. I couldn’t get a Skype number with a 206 area code, like the one I’ve had for so long. Even my displacement is displaced.

Earlier this week, I went with one of my friends down to Seattle to walk around Green Lake for the last time. The weather has been clear, if cold, and I’ve had some lovely views of Tahoma to file away in my memory. The rosy orange glow of sunset on its snowy peak from the south entrance of the Veterans Hospital was particularly beautiful last week, with that slight touch of unreality that follows when things are in flux. The mountain seized me emotionally when I first got to Seattle many years ago, and it is hard to imagine not seeing it regularly. I have been looking at things with the eyes of one who will not see them again for a very long time and it steeps sadness into me even as I am letting go and looking forward to my trip with excitement. Every time I am down in Seattle, I realize how much I will miss the place, and how much of a home it has been to me for most of my life. Seattle’s mountains and water, and its green spaces have become a part of my soul. I hope that I can find that same sense of connection in Italy.

My brother’s last day with the Air Force was this week. This means that we won’t have to worry about him leaving me alone at his place out in the countryside with no way to get around while he’s at work. He’s driving down to Venice to pick me up, rather than taking the train; it’ll be easier on both of us when I first arrive, as I’m going to be exhausted. I’ll have been in transit for about 18 hours, not including the time it takes for me to get to Seatac and get through security, then wait for the plane. I’m guessing closer to 24 hours will be my total transit door to door. I will be fried when I arrive that morning; there will be lunch and then sleep. The next day, we’ll arrange for me to go to the Questura to apply for my Permesso di Soggiorno before my eight days are up. He says that the office in Pordenone has become much more efficient in recent years, so it shouldn’t be too much trouble. Then again, I have no idea what to measure that against. It could be downright Dantean, even by Veterans Administration standards.

I’ll be sure to bring a book. And a sense of humor.

On leaving my friends and family

Last night, I had a going-away party. About twenty of my friends showed up, a small fraction of the people here that I know and love. I live about twenty miles or so north of Seattle, in the furthest southern reaches of Everett, across a very busy road from Silver Lake. Many of my friends don’t have cars, and getting to my place is difficult. Others weren’t feeling well this weekend, as there’s a cold going around, and some are just tired from being too busy of late. Some had emergencies they had to deal with. Still others had previous commitments. Many simply live too far away. I wish they could have been here, but I understand why they could not.

I was so happy to see everyone who came. There were good conversations and a lot of warm hugs. Tea was shared, and teaware went home with some of my friends, as did tea I wasn’t keeping. A couple of my friends are mixologists and brought supplies for some lovely cocktails; they make their own liqueurs, and one of the most delicious ingredients they used at the party was a liqueur made from black cardamom, which has a sweet but smoky flavor. Blended with rose essence and honey syrup, along with other ingredients I didn’t think to ask about, we had some very nice drinks. I sent bottles home with friends – Ardbeg and Jameson’s, a small bottle of 18 year old Glenfiddich, some Frangelico. A bottle of Talisker 57 North is going back to the couple who gifted it to me for my 50th birthday a couple of years ago. It is intense and smoky, but there’s no way I’ll be able to drink it all before I leave.

There were steampunks and druids in my home, musicians and world travelers, language teachers and ferret-fanciers. My girlfriend’s band had been doing the final mix of their EP earlier in the day; their release party is two days after I leave for Italy. I’ll get to hear their music, but I won’t be there to see them play. Amid all the excitement of my move are my regrets. I won’t see Caera’s band at their release party. I won’t see my friend Brandy perform this season with the Medieval Women’s Choir. I won’t get to Abney Park’s New Year show at the Columbia City Theater.

In the wake of so much good fortune, I will miss the music that my friends make, the performances I would see, the people whose artistic work I would support with my tickets and my enthusiasm and my attendance. My friends are a diverse, talented, wonderful group of people. No matter what they do or where they do it, no matter what their day jobs are, they are creative and engaged with the world. They are kind and generous and loving and I will miss them all more than I can say. If our lives are measured by the friends we keep, I think I am living a very good one.

Today, my friend Casey is driving down from Vancouver BC in a borrowed car to help me deal with some of the boxes in my storage unit in Seattle. We’ll shift things around in my garage for my moving sale, sort them, and go through the boxes I packed assuming I was going to be moving to Seattle. I’ve known her since about 1985, when we were both writing in PaganAPA together. She has been a dear and constant presence in my life.

In a month, I’ll be in Italy. I will be lifted from my context and placed into a new one, adrift and seeking new friends and a new community. Because of the internet, I won’t lose track of the friends I have made here over the decades, and I am grateful for this. I’ll be able to stay in touch with people, and will visit them from time to time as I’m able, but they will not be so easily accessible for a cup of tea and a quiet conversation across a table as they once were. A week or so ago, one of my friends said, “It’s just starting to sink in that you’re actually leaving.” It is for me, as well.

Leaving my friends and my community is intimidating. I haven’t walked out alone like this in a very long time, not knowing what I will find on the other side of my journey. I can only trust in the goodness of the universe, the kindness of strangers, and in my own small strength, hoping that what awaits me will be something rich and beautiful, that I will find new friends as good as the ones I leave behind.

Windows in Venice

Windows in Venice

How did this happen?

Italy was a surprise.

I’d wanted to live in another country for decades but never imagined I would have the chance. After a rather devastating shift in my health that left me unable to drive, I needed to move to a place where I could walk to things, and where public transit was actually useful. I thought that place would be Seattle, a city I’ve loved for over thirty years.

During the summer of 2012, I couch-surfed across Europe to visit friends and ended my visit in the north of Italy, staying with my brother. Italy was an easy country to fall in love with. I thought I’d love to go back and spend a few months there exploring and seeing more of it. Early in 2013, my health took a turn for the weird and I knew I could no longer live in the home I’d had for nearly ten years. When I realized I would have to sell my apartment in Everett, Washington and move elsewhere I thought, “Why not try to move to Italy?” In October of 2013, I was granted a residence visa and I’m moving to northern Italy in mid-December.

This blog is the story of how it happened.