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

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A Visitation, and the Barcola

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A buliding along the Barcola

The last ten days have been both busy and kind of annoying. I’ve been waiting around the house all morning, every morning, waiting for the police to arrive to verify my residence. Needless to say, it hasn’t happened yet. I was told “sometime in the next two weeks” by the woman at the Anagrafe, though that, I think, means sometime between then and this Friday. Regardless, I have things to do, and really wish they’d get here so I don’t have to keep waiting. My brother tells me that they don’t necessarily wait very long after they ring your bell, and if I happen to be in the shower or, gods forbid, out taking my dog for a quick morning walk when they show up, I could miss them entirely.

The other part of the reason it’s frustrating is because I was told I had to go sign up for health care, and the only time that office is open is in the morning, when I have to be here waiting. Italian governmental offices are often open for only a few hours a week, and if you can’t get there, you’re kind of screwed. Fortunately, there’s not a hard time limit on the signing up for health care – I can do that anytime in the next couple of months without being too concerned.

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Faro della Vittoria

I was recently visited by a couple of people I met online – Daniel, a Harvard professor of literature and music, and his partner Marta. They spent a couple of days in Trieste, and are currently in Florence. He’s supposed to do a talk in Turin on June 20th on his most recent book, which sounds really fascinating, and right up my alley. I’ve ordered a copy and will see if I can get to the presentation. While I’m not much of an expert on Trieste, I did show them around to some of my favorite places for walks and food and coffee; they really enjoyed the food and the city. Daniel has done work on James Joyce, so we visited some Joyce sites. He’s also doing a book on Giuseppe Verdi, so we wandered around to Teatro Giuseppe Verdi and saw the Verdi statue near Viale XX Settembre, and they went to see Castello di Duino during the next day when I wasn’t available to hang out and show them around.

We talked a lot about art, literature, film, food, and music as we wandered the streets and got rained on. There was a big thunderstorm the first night they visited, and we walked along the riva in the evening, as the storm was moving in, with lightning flashing over the Adriatic. The lights of Piazza Unità were, I think, even more impressive than usual under the darkening sky. By the time I headed home from the apartment they were renting via Airbnb, the hail and the worst of the rain had passed, but my umbrella still got destroyed by the wind. I’m still not used to dealing with them, after so many years in the Pacific Northwest.

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La Mula de Trieste and Miramare

Earlier this week I was over at the AIA helping out with some cooking for a volunteer appreciation evening. I spent a couple of afternoons in the kitchen and had a lovely time. I enjoy cooking for people, though I wouldn’t want to do it for a living. This evening I’ll be going over for a roundtable discussion on LGBTQ activism in the US from the 1970s to the present, hosted by one of the humanities professors at the University of Trieste.

On Sunday, several of us met a woman from the base at Aviano and her two young kids, to show them around the city. Most of the people stationed at the base never leave Aviano; there’s an unfortunate streak of paranoia that the military encourages in its people and their dependents that can be hard to understand for anyone who hasn’t actually been in the military. When I was in service in the 1980s during the Cold War, it was Russian spies under every rock, even when I was stationed in Hawaii. Now, just substitute “terrorists” for “spies” and you rather have the idea of it. Anyway, she had a great time, and her kids loved the train trip, so perhaps we can encourage people to overcome the propaganda and actually enjoy the gift of being stationed in Italy.

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Statue in Pineta di Barcola

Yesterday I ambled down along the coast to the Barcola, Trieste’s “beach,” which is mostly a paved waterfront walk that stretches for several miles from the north end of the city up to Miramare. (There’s a far better, though still short, Wikipedia entry on the Barcola in Italian here.) What natural waterfront exists is stony, like the majority of the beaches I know from the Salish Sea, and from parts of New England. The walk was probably 8 kilometers out and back, and I was really aching by the time I got home, but the glorious view was absolutely worth the time and the aches. The Barcola is where the Triestini go when the weather is nice, to walk or to swim, or just to lie in the sun. On the weekends when the weather is good, it’s apparently nearly impossible to find a place to put a towel down, and the buses are stuffed to the gills from early in the morning until late evening, with the coastal road pretty much entirely parked in along the sides.

As is, unfortunately, fitting for a popular beachfront, getting a drink was really expensive. It was €3 for a tiny bottle of peach juice and I’m sure it would have been more had I used a glass instead of having the bottle porta via (to take away). Some of the little bars along the beach will let you use their tables for €.50, but it’s always better to get a little something from the place if you’re going to sit. I tried sitting on a bench to scribble in my notebook, but my fountain pen went dry in the middle of a sentence, so I had to put it away. I usually carry a backup pen, but didn’t have one in my bag yesterday. That’ll teach me to be unprepared. What kind of a writer doesn’t carry more than one pen? (This one, obviously.)

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Castello di Miramare

I also had my first conversation entirely in Italian with a random person as I walked back along the beach toward Trieste. I didn’t quite understand everything, and probably gave a couple of kind of odd answers, but we mostly understood each other. Most of my (brief) Italian conversations have either been with people I know, or in places where I’m paying a bill or buying groceries, and they’re very limited. This was one of those “where are you from, what do you do” kinds of conversations you have with random strangers. I struggle with words when I’m not sitting down and writing, with a dictionary close at hand. Even when I know the words, I have to search for them in my head. “Non ho molte parole” is a phrase I’ve taken to using of late – “I don’t have many words.” That, along with “parlo solo un poco italiano” (I only speak a little Italian) tends to be my fallback when I’m struggling. It’s hard, feeling so limited in my ability to talk with people. Combined with my innate introversion, it makes it very difficult for me to actually talk with strangers, but I’m fighting the impulse to say nothing, rather than make mistakes. Sounding like an idiot sometimes is preferable to total isolation, much as I dislike the idea.

Next week at some point, I’m supposed to go with my Italian teacher, Luisella, and her husband Gino, up to the university in Miramare. He teaches in the Physics department and has offered me and my brother a tour of the facility and a chance to see the particle accelerator. Science geekery FTW! We just have to schedule a day when everyone is available and the place is open to the public.

And I shall leave you with a picture of the Dog of Devastating Cuteness +3, from his first day in Italy.

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The Dog of Devastating Cuteness +3