July 23, 2019
It's time for our fourth update on moving to Italy from Chris and Eva Lock. Enjoy an adult beverage but you may want to put it down when reading about the horse fiasco. What we do for love!
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So we'd arrived at the pivotal point. We'd heard the sad stories of expats in online forums describing similar situations to ours that ended in them heading for home, a fire sale of their dream house, often separating as a couple too under the pressure. Broken dreams. It was like a line from Eros Ramazzotti's song 'La Nostra Vita' - "la nostra vita che e paradiso e inferno." Our life of heaven and hell.
We didn't want the 'inferno' bit, we had come to Italy to move closer to our 'paradiso'. So we dug deep. We'd invested too much of our souls to walk away - and we're firm believers in the adage from Henry Ford that goes something like 'whether you think you can, or you think you can't, you're probably right'.
We decided to think 'we could'.
So after a 'group hug' (we're big on group hugs) we started to fight back as follows:
1. I got a job washing dishes and being a kitchen helper at a local Agriturismo. It was slave labour to be honest, but I learned a lot, and would come home with a belly full of food and wine and a bag of left-overs. We already had a special connection with this place because one of our dogs, Ghianda (Acorn) was the 'runt' puppy of the ristorante dog, Luna, who used to beg at table. We loved Luna and so when we found out she was having puppies we asked for a female puppy. Just as well we did because we found out afterwards had we not taken Ghianda she would have been killed. This is rural Tuscany not Milan you have to remember.
2. We went to war on every household bill, many of which had been set up on our behalf on tariffs which were questionable to say the least. It wasn't easy with our limited Italian and in what was a highly uncompetitive market at that time. But we slashed hundreds of Euro off our monthly outgoings for Electricity, Gas, the way we heated the house (switching to wood), Telephone, Insurance for the House and Car and WiFi. For the WiFi alone we were paying €145,00 per month to beam the signal in from a German satellite. I had the brainwave of convincing an independent company in our nearest main town to open up a service to all potential users in the various villages dotted around our valley. It took a petition signed by dozens of households (many of whom in all likelihood didn't know what they were signing) and negotiating a deal to use the roof of the Agriturismo on the distant hill line where I was still washing plates. But it worked. We went from €145,00 to €0,00 per month because in the end we introduced a shed load of new monthly subscribers. Result!
3. We re-negotiated the mortgage we had only recently taken out onto a longer term.
4. Radically changing our shopping and consumption habits also yielded savings (most notably of course amongst Ex-pats is the infamous switch to Vino Sfuso from quality bottled wine!!).
5. We transformed our home into a Boutique Bed & Breakfast. We'd cunningly calculated that if we pitched at the niche of 'Lunigiana, Hidden Gem of Northern Tuscany' as opposed to the wider tourist market of Tuscany we stood a good chance of getting a very positive Google search ranking. We were right, people from around the world found us quickly online and loved their visits to L'Olivo Piegato.
6. Eva was also able to sell her paintings to B&B guests and wherever an opportunity could be found to get them in to view with our other clients and 'influencers' who could organise an exhibition. It was in developing work for an exhibition sponsored by our local Comune that Eva started to produce work which would later give us the idea to launch Shabby Sheep Design where we now sell Italian Themed Designs across a range of clothing and accessories.
7. We took on work doing house cleaning, garden maintenance etc. Initially we did this via an agency but it became clear quickly that people had more trust in us than they did the agency and so we went solo, as time went on doing less of the 'grunt' work ourselves and concentrating on being 'problem fixers' and rentals managers in our own right.
8. Not long after I'd started looking after one particular property the owners enquired whether I'd be interested in looking after their swimming pool. I knew that would involve an understanding of water chemistry, running specialised pumping and filtration equipment and the regular use of potentially dangerous chemicals. None of which I had any experience of. I was terrified at the prospect. So naturally I said 'Yes'! And so I became a 'Middle Aged Pool Boy' to the rich and famous.
We have waaaaaay too many stories and anecdotes from the years that followed to squeeze into this final blog. Many stories would be unprintable too, but I'll share this one with you... My mobile phone rang one day. It was a favourite Scandinavian client who had an impressive holiday home in the area. It was winter and Eva and I had long since closed his pool. He said 'Chris, I need your help please - there's a horse in my pool.' Turns out his neighbour's horse had wandered over into his land, seen the green winter cover on top of the pool and decided to walk across it (Unsuccessfully). My client was away on business and so the poor beast which luckily had fallen into the shallow end had been stuck there for more than a day until the neighbours discovered it was missing and managed to walk it out via the roman steps with the help of a tractor.
Enter 'Captain Chlorine' who over the next two days returned a murky green horse shit filled swamp to a sparkling oasis that was fit to swim in again (if it weren't winter). I expect many of you have often asked yourselves the question 'How much shit does a terrified horse produce over 24 hours?' Well, I know the answer. And it's a lot.
To nudge our story along I'll summarise by saying that through a mix of our own adaptability, resourcefulness, hard work and a bit of blagging and good luck we managed to turn the corner and were able to start enjoying our new life again to the point where in fact we are now 'retired' and concentrate our 'work' efforts on growing Shabby Sheep Design.
Over the years as things improved for us we started to express and develop ourselves in a variety of ways which we never thought we would:
1. We learned Ballroom Dancing at a local night class run by the brilliant Angelo and Rossella (Italian Champions). The Slow Fox and the Mazurka were our signature dances, whereas (and I'm sure Eva shared the same experience) the Tango always felt to me like I was wrestling an overweight burglar to the floor as he fled the house!
2. We produce our own olive oil. Over the years I've planted around 60 trees many of which are now sturdy enough for me to climb in to harvest and prune. We're biased of course, but believe our olive oil is truly awesome and nothing for me can beat it.
3. We grew our own veg and potatoes, built a chicken run and started keeping laying hens. The eggs were amazing that our free range ladies gave us every day and we were delighted to find also that chickens are pretty intelligent, are great company and are right up there with other animals you'd more likely consider to have as pets.
4. We join in at local sagre (a saga is generally an outdoor eating event organised in the summer by local groups as fund raisers which often specialise in one type of food or another). Sometimes there’s live music in support. Thankfully, to date we've managed to avoid both of these 'caught in a time warp' acts!!
6. We have also supported the local community, helped grow a local Mountain Bike and Trekking group, assisted a family of refugees from Ghana who arrived via war torn Libya and we've had several of our suggestions adopted by our Mayor including 'litter picking days' and very recently the banning of plastic cups, plates and cutlery at all the sagre held in our Comune's main park.
And so that's pretty much up to date. We're stable. We get by autonomously in our adopted land even without thinking about whatever it is we have to do. What I'd call 'Unconscious Competence'. We've nurtured a network of Italian friends - some very special - and found good company too with a few people like us who've followed their dream from around Europe and America.
We've been true to ourselves, done some really stupid things and made some massive recoveries and are truly happy living in Italy. Personally I don't like the phrase ' la dolce vita'. Life is as sweet as you want it be, wherever you happen to live. The sweetness comes from how you live it and how you think. If someone's a worrier or has a rocky relationship or is prone to depression or whatever, then coming to live in Italy isn't going to cure any of those things. If anything it will amplify them. Italy gives you a guarantee that you'll eat well, drink well, meet mad, lovely people, experience jaw dropping countryside and architecture and of course have people driving at you on the wrong side of the road with a mobile phone in their hand. But how that makes you feel, well that's down you.
Looking to the future (we don't know when exactly because it's beyond our control) we'd like to 'come down from our hill' and re-enter the world again in a different sort of orbit. Our house is on the market, but it's a niche market. Selling would enable us to move to large town (most probably near to where we are now) where we could have everything on our doorstep, in walking distance. From food shops to bars and eateries and some cultural centres. Somewhere with a bit more of a people buzz that we can feed off and contribute to. We think it would make us more ‘Italian at Heart’.
But that's the future, and as you've seen in these 4 blogs I'm not very good at planning! We know there's another chapter or two left in us yet and we want those to be in Italy. My application for Dual Citizenship has been provisionally accepted (it's a much more straightforward process for EU nationals) which I guess is more evidence of where my heart lies. Although a strong part of my application was also my protest to the British people and Government who through collective ignorance voted for BREXIT. GRRRRR!
In the meantime Eva and I will be devoting our energy towards Shabby Sheep Design. It's a great vehicle for us both to be creative and it also gives us huge opportunities for learning lots of new stuff, and meeting some great people - like your host Marilyn Ricci here on Take Me Home Italy. We have more ideas for Italian themed designs than we'll probably ever be able to deliver to our online site like new Negroni designs, and City themes and we see great potential in the Personalisation of clothing and accessories - like we've started with our Beach Towels and so on and so on.
The businessman in me would like to cordially invite you please to take a wander around our website or FB page. Please do all the usual things like Following us on FB, Signing up to our Newsletter via our website. And please do think whether there might be a place in your world or your partner's or your children's or grandchildren's world for a bit of ITALY ON A SHIRT.
I've enjoyed the chance to throw down onto the keyboard all these memories across these four blogs and I hope you have enjoyed them too. If you have, then I am truly humbled, thank you. I've read some lovely comments and responses from many of you already - who doesn't like a small bit of praise.
Grazie mille it's been quite a journey for me, but whilst I may look a little different now compared to when I arrived in Italy I still know who I am. I'll leave you, where I started this final guest blog with with a few more lyrics from Eros Ramazzotti's 'La Nostra Vita'. Translation by me, all rights and royalties to him!
Ho raccontato la mia storia (I've told my story)
Ora mi fermerò un po' (Now I'll pause for a while)
Metto il passato in memoria (Put the past behind me)
Il mio futuro vivrò (It's my future which will live on)
Lo custodirò (I'll protect it)
Con la forza che sento in me (With every bone in my body)
È un sogno che (It's a dream which)
Non morirà mai (Will never die)
Ciao for now!
Thank you for following!
Ciao for Now!
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