Rural Idyll: query number 1

IMG_0002This is our house: that grey patch towards the centre top in the photo. So, being slightly off the beaten track, a fair few Italians round here speak only Italian. This works brilliantly for me when, for example, I’m trying to use my Italglish (as I like to call my own particular brand of trying to communicate here), to buy basil or tomato plants:

‘Allora, il meso questo giugno allora il basilico in pieno campo non in …’ I trail off and point to a pot. By the way, I read ‘in pieno campo’ from the back of the seed packet. I didn’t know that bit straight off.

I enjoy this kind of exchange – I get to practise speaking just a little and I get to listen to a great deal of Italian poured forth extremely quickly as I race alongside trying to pick up the odd word I know. So far, I’ve managed to elicit from such exchanges how to buy a SIM for my mobile and directions to the garden centre and swimming pool.

Incidentally, that was quite amusing: anyone with one child, let alone three, will know that getting out of the house ‘con bambini’ takes just slightly longer than it does ‘senza bambini’. (If you don’t have children and are reading this, I suggest googling that Michael McIntyre sketch entitled no doubt, something along the lines of ‘trying to get out of the house with kids’.) Throw into this the requirements for swimming safety, hot weather and hunger and it takes exponentially longer. We’d been up since 7. We set off for the pool at 10.45 (remember, we were trying to avoid the heat of the day – mad dogs and Englishmen being the ones out in the midday sun, not wannabe Italiani). The children were really excited: H. was wearing her ‘fling on over cossie’ dress; P. had the swim noodles; everyone was slathered in factor 50. The route to the pool was slightly circuitous (for which read: Tom and I had forgotten precisely where it was) but that Italglish helped me out and we got there. We parked. We wondered why the old guy in the only other car in the car park kept glancing over. Just as we were about to unpack everything he called out ‘piscina?’ – si, si – ‘Chiusa. Troppo fredda’ – what 25 degrees and a bit of wind is too cold to swim in an outdoor pool? These guys clearly haven’t made it to the UK. In London, they’ve just opened a pool by King’s Cross complete with weed at one end, totally and completely unheated, for Londoners desperate for a bit of summer action to use, voluntarily, after work – for fun. But I couldn’t say all that in Italian, so we turned round and bribed the children with ‘gelati’ instead.

Anyway, I was pondering this Italglish at the end of day five while looking out over this:


I was feeling quite pleased with myself and my mash-up of French, classical Latin and a slightly Italian slant to get by. Then la Principessa toppled over in one of those little Tikes plastic cars and, when I rescued her, blood was pouring forth from her mouth. I remembered my NCT friend’s daughter who had managed to bite straight through her lip and needed hospital stitches. I remembered the hospital trip we made when P. slid over on the wooden floor and split his forehead. I looked at the beautiful terrace before me. The beautiful tiled floor inside. The beautiful and very hard terrace. The beautiful and very hard floor. The beautiful and very hard steps between the two.

Allora, in the event of a real medical emergency – where are the exit routes?

As in, how do I get help to us?

I can foresee jumping into the car and heading into C. to ‘l’ospedale’ but, you’ve seen the view – we’re not quite here, not quite there.  It’s not that easy to explain where we are in relation to the nearest village in English to an English man, let alone in ‘Italglish’ to an Italian if I’m trying to call an ambulance. For that matter, what number do you call in Italy to get an ambulance? Resolution 1: Find emergency services numbers. Resolution 2: Find Italian-English speaker to translate for me: ‘I live on the dirt track forking left off the other dirt track on the left off the road heading west between M. and P.’

La Principessa is fine, by the way. Mum on the other end of Face Time was left looking first at the blue sky and next at the guttering as I tried cold flannel, H. tried ice block wrapped in flannel and we all tried chocolate. Fortunately, while chocolate worked wonders for H. and P., a bottle of milk worked for la Principessa, and the bleeding abated while we watched the beautiful sunset.  She’s now just a beautiful bambina inglesa with a big fat lip for a few days.


One mamma, three bambini and a great deal of luggage

Well, rather than tell you about the golden sunshine, stunning vista and the beach day we had today, I thought I’d start off with getting here!

120 kilos of luggage and a Ryan Air flight and we set off for our life in Toscana. How to get 120 kilos on Ryan Air? Those car seat bags are genius – stuffed full of clothes, towels and anything last minute and you could barely see the car seat in it! Mind you, I did need to bring ‘Uncle Alex’ to the airport to help me load it onto the oversized luggage belt, and anyhow, being the right side of 30, Alex probably didn’t have anything better to do at 5 am on a Monday morning…

I was probably as happy as I am to see the sun in England as I was when the Stansted overhead announced we could ‘check in hand baggage for free if with hold luggage’ – brilliant – two lots of ten kilo ‘hand baggage’ I didn’t need to haul through the airport once aforementioned brother left me at security. This more than made up for the superb start to the day as La Principessa vomited all over me in the taxi literally as we were about to step out of it. La Principessa had a change of clothes. I didn’t. Delightful. But H. and P. doused me in perfume samples as we dragged our way through Duty Free.

Three work colleagues sitting across the aisle gave me faintly anxious but encouraging smiles throughout the flight. P. was mesmerized with what was going on outside his window – he ‘thought that above the clouds was space, but actually – it’s where the sun lives!’ Ah ha – it’s where the sun lives in the UK, but in Toscana, it’ll be a different story.

I befriended those three companions as we made our way through passport control. At that point, they already thought I was teetering on the edge of madness– little did they realize that in addition to the two children, one baby in sling, one hand luggage bag, one small backpack, one change bag, two children’s back packs and one bag stuffed with coats and jumpers, I also had three 20 kilo suitcases, the 30 odd-kilo oversized car seat bag, two more hand baggage bags and a buggy coming in on the baggage conveyor. Ah – the intrinsic good of human nature – the two men went for my trolleys, loaded them up and wheeled the whole lot through to the other side, where we all collapsed on Tom and I hugged and kissed my nameless companions in tearful delight. I’d forgotten that I smelt of baby sick diffused with a mélange of free perfume samples.

And all I lost en route (yes, Celia, I know that should be in Italian, give me a chance!), was a baby romper suit and a vest. Given that I could easily have mislaid a child, I think that’s pretty good going.

So, benvenuto in Toscana alla famiglia … (or something like that) our house of dreams awaits us.

And what a welcome it was: just look at this view.

Finally, three exhausted, but finally clean children were in their beds and Tom and I sat and breathed outside and toasted, quite a few times, with a fair amount of wine, this: the start of a dream which began with a throw away comment over 18 months ago. We pushed on that door which had opened a crack and at each inch it opened, the plan seemed a little more possible, albeit really quite crazy. Of course, it’s still all unreal, just a sunny holiday in a bigger house than we would ordinarily rent, with slightly more toys and clothes. I have come to the conclusion that reality will bite when something goes wrong or slight awry which I know will happen sooner or later. I am rose tinted right now, but in only three short days we have come to understand a little of Italy’s idiosyncrasies and we are sure to find them troubling by degrees as we go. Until then, I am going to drink up this peace, the sound of cuckoo in the morning, the birds of prey wheeling in the skies over head, the sky in its magnificent variance, the fruit trees and smell of jasmine and the panoramic vista rolling out before us.

P.S. For anyone worried about our feline friends, you’ll be pleased to know that Zephyr is settling in well:


He has had his first face off with a gatto Italiano. I’m not sure what confused him more: that fact that he was defending a territory about which he is not yet confident of ownership or that il gatto seemed quite happy to share the space and make friends. To the extent that il gatto was waiting outside the kitchen door for him on Thursday morning… watch this space!


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