Immobile

Immobile, in Italian, has two meanings, one, “unmoving,” just like its English equivalent, and two, a “property or real estate asset.” The two meanings have converged for me recently, in an unmoving way.

This morning, I locked myself in the bathroom. It had been one of those weeks: we’re moving house—actually, I am moving house, my teenage daughter and my boyfriend having done less to help with the move than our pet fish, which, after being transported sloshing and slopping IN its aquarium (my idea) to the new house, spent a week leering at me from the bottom left corner, in that fishy way it has, as if complaining about its new quarters.

My daughter has been complaining more explicitly. “This house sucks!” has become her mantra, the house having replaced me as the reason for all her problems—arriving late for school, forgetting a textbook, not being able to find THE ONLY JEANS she will wear—this last actually a reasonable accusation given that we do not have a working washing machine.

We had been living in limbo, our old house already missing sofas, chairs and tables, our new house still without beds or appliances, all thanks to my now-clearly-reckless plan to do most of the moving “ourselves,” in an interval of eight weeks between the two days for which I hired a moving company. After a few weeks of going back to the old house to do laundry, the movers finally brought my extra-large washer to the new house, carried it upstairs and attached it. It would not start, however, and I discovered that the water supply to the laundry room was turned off. Undaunted, using a wrench, I experimented with opening and closing various valves—to no avail. Then, the other day, I noticed there was another washer attachment downstairs, but now there’s no one around to move that monster back down. I have, however, managed to drill some holes in the laundry room wall and hang clotheslines, so we are fully prepared to dry clothes whenever it becomes possible to wash them.

The kitchen came much better equipped. There’s an oven—“brand new” according to the former owners–which I keenly tried out on the first night we spent in the house. It has a number of quixotic features, including a handle on its door that heats to the same temperature as the oven itself and an internal space unencumbered by racks. I could have lived with these eccentricities, but the oven also short-circuits the entire property. As the technician revealed on his 100-Euro visit, although the oven was indeed new, it had sat unused for so long that its “resistenza,” or heating element, had failed. A new one was ordered, and when he brought it, the technician not only charged me another 100 Euro but immediately diagnosed what was wrong with the dishwasher, which has been leaving a grainy film of churned up food bits on whatever I load. The silverware basket was interfering with the circular motion of the spray arm: first, I tried cutting off its handle (Do not try this at home!) and when that didn’t work, I abandoned the basket, scattered the knives and forks around in the top level and pressed start. The spray arm still didn’t turn, though, because it was blocked by dinner plates. I had assumed a dishwasher was equipped to handle a standard nine-and-a-half inch plate—were plates smaller in the old days when the dishwasher was born? Hidden upside: without plates encumbering the dishwasher, the scattered silverware comes out much cleaner.

The lack of WiFi at the new house would normally be driving me nuts—you’d think I’d need it to run my business–but I haven’t had time to run my business—I’m too busy moving!–so being off the grid is mostly fine. In any case, the 1.8 mega-byte per second cell network happily accommodates what I have been doing instead: hate-texting with the movers. They were friendly at first, but they took a three-hour lunch break one hour into an eight-hour work day, which in itself is fine—a man’s gotta eat! What irked me was that they had rented me a fancy moving truck with a crane for those same eight hours, the operator of which they accidentally took with them on the lunch-break marathon. He had to eat too, as the firm texted me back. At that, I stooped to texting a long paragraph (always a sign of losing the upper hand) to point out that my employees have regular lunch breaks, too, -regular in the sense both of daily but also of “at a normal hour,” i.e., not at “10 IN THE F@#%ing MORNING!!!!@#?!”

I’ve been trying to point out to my daughter all the advantages of the new house. Most of the other appliances function. The doorbell, for instance, rings when you push its button, although it may feel marginalised by now since the front door no longer closes. The lock started giving me trouble, so I had the handy man take it apart, because I was afraid I’d get locked out. He put it back together, but got a key stuck in it so that it no longer turns, which together with the swelling of the old, long-unused wooden door, leaves the entrance looking very welcoming, as if it were signalling in an underworld code, “Come rob this house.”   

A permanently open front door would worry me from an ecological standpoint, but “It isn’t winter yet,” as my electrician keeps telling at me when I call him to come and unblock the boiler that he certified on the day I moved in for 150 Euro and which stopped working as he drove off. Stopped working is maybe too harsh a way to describe the boiler’s recent behavior: it does work after I reset it, for an hour or so, but I spent more time resetting the boiler last week than I did washing dishes by hand, so the jury is out.

Other than the front one, doors are mostly not a problem, except for a few of which I had to remove the handles—the inside or outside handle kept dropping to the floor upon closure, risking leaving someone closed in or out of a room, but without any closing mechanism at all, it would be impossible to get trapped. Except I did, this morning, in the bathroom: I had forgotten to remove the outside handle and was now locked inside.

Maybe it’s for the best, I thought. I can take a long shower, and someone will eventually find me. Alas, the boiler needed re-setting so there wasn’t any hot water.

Renovation in Translation

As sure as porcini appearing ten days after a rainstorm, the winter real estate sections of the FT or the New York Times inevitably feature a couple who has bought and renovated a house in Tuscany, making it the center of their leisurely, but culturally rich and intensely social lives. I can only marvel at how quickly they assimilate, how friendly they become with the quirky but helpful, open-minded locals, and how thoroughly they live the dream.

Silhouette of arched window“Dale and Lori Hutchinson had always longed to buy a house in Tuscany, and while they own other properties, they now consider their house here in Lerigno, an out of the way corner of this beautiful region, their one true home.” Dale and Lori came to the Tuscan real estate fad too long after the publication of Under the Tuscan Sun to get anything within fifty miles of civilization. They come for the middle two weeks of August and not a day more.

“Lori’s passion for nature and all things Italian meant that she felt at home here from the beginning. ‘Here, we can be close to the land. We grow our own vegetables and the children play in the fresh air all year round,’ Lori explains.” Lori speaks Rosetta-Stone Italian to her gardeners, without realizing they’re Albanian, while the kids hunker down in the basement media room. Continue reading Renovation in Translation