It's Italy

My new home is as central as you can get; I’m above a bar, next to the massive carabinieri building, and a stone’s throw from Piazza Grande (aka Napoleone) where the likes of John Legend and Ben Harper will play in summer.

Suitcases don’t mix well with the uneven paving here, so we clatter through, making a lot of noise. The amazing Tanya is waiting for us. She’s the agent for the owners; Lucchese, raised in Chicago, came back and renovated the family home. She’s petite, lean…and strong.

“I’ll take it,” she says, reaching for the 30kg monster suitcase. I protest, she insists, and then she drags it up 12 flights of stairs, arriving at the top with no sign of exertion – no sweat, no glow, no puffing.

12 flights, I hear you ask? Well, it’s really only six full flights; the rest are half-flights. So, this puts me under the roof in an apartment full of light.

There are some things you need to appreciate about Lucchese apartment buildings:

  • Very few have an ascensore (elevator)
  • My apartment usually has a tenant Dec-June each year, but not this year. Tanya tells me many tourists won’t stay because there is no elevator.
  • Unless it’s a palazzo, the stairs tend to be quite narrow, and they get narrower the higher you go. They also get steeper.
  • Picture windows hadn’t been invented when these buildings went up, so they’re often quite dark. My previous stay in via Pelleria required the lights on the whole time.
  • I HAVE A BALCONY. That’s what sold me on the place – a balcony. Again, balconies weren’t a thing unless it was palazzo. It’s about 1-metre wide and I can see Piazza Grande from it.
  • I have two sets of French doors….and a visit from a blackbird. We all know what they do when they’re scared.
  • A grey/white tabby cat has passed by a few times.
  • The apartment next door is empty, awaiting renovation and one door is open to the balcony. 

Tanya points out useful things like light switches, the caldaia (boiler), rubbish arrangements (everything in different bags – this country is awash in plastic), the shower…I HAVE A BATH! Probably won’t use it given the cost of hot water here. Through the roof would be apt.

The shower is bliss at the end of a long day’s travel. The bath is under the window. Oh, look, there’s the back of the carabinieri building.

The fun begins the next morning.

There is no hot water. Tanya and I exchange WhatsApp messages and images. She will call Marcello the electrician. Tanya has that brilliant combination of Lucchese heritage and American business savvy. The New Zealand conversation with the electrician would take several minutes; here, it’s a matter of seconds. Marcello will come.

Marcello arrives up 12 flights. Inspects the caldaia. Ah, there’s the problem, a loose wire.

Me: I had hot water last night. But not this morning. [In other words, how did the wire come loose overnight?]

Marcello: Mystero. [aka, it’s Italy]

No internet. They’re working on the phone lines. This is a constant here and can mean you lose internet for days. Luckily, I have Vodafone Italy on my phone and an obscene amount of data for just €10 a month. 70 gigs of data. Pan-Euro roaming. Do I want free streaming with that?

No internet.

No internet.

They’re still working on the lines.

I’m trying not to annoy Tanya.

On a walk, I see the men who are working on the lines. Get on with it, I want to say.

A technician will come. He doesn’t like the 12 flights of stairs and has no English of any kind. He stares at the modem for a long time – never a good sign. He does some tests; he cuts and re-attaches the wires; he creates ping-pong noises. He rings Tanya and they have a long, Italian conversation and then she tells me that a modem will be delivered tomorrow.

Remember, this is Italy.

The floor at the end of the kitchen bench slopes, so my little table slopes (no, I can’t move it; it has to be here for the power point). I type on a slope. I make a note to buy something to prop it up with.

The lighting is low. Not good for typing. I make a note to buy a desk lamp.

Remember, this is Italy.

The door buzzer goes and a torrent of Italian comes through the door phone. I have no idea what the woman is saying. We are caught between cultures. Later, I think, “Hmm, maybe that was the courier with the modem”. It was. I confess to Tanya that’s I’ve stuffed it up. Said modem is now on its way back to Livorno and will be delivered on Friday. This means I must remain at home, typing on my sloped table, complete with mood lighting, until the courier arrives.

Google translate prepares me a little phrase or two to use, to indicate that I have to come down 12 flights of stairs and that takes a minute or two.

Remember, this is Italy.

The light over the kitchen sink is only half alive. I take a photo and Tanya will order an updated LED model. This one requires Marcello to remove it because it contains mercury. Of course.

I buy a desk lamp. Now, I need to buy a lightbulb. Yes – the lightbulb is not included.

The courier arrives. He has some English. He has asked Tanya – because here, when you’re Tanya and you know what you’re doing, you can talk with the courier themselves (this is Italy) – whether he needs to bring the modem up to the lady. No, says Tanya, she’s quite sprightly.

I trip down the 12 flights quite sprightly and Signor Courier takes the old modem and hands me the new one. Five minutes later, I have Internet.

Remember, this is Italy.

There is a light switch outside my door, because a few floors down, it’s pitch black – neck-breaking territory. The switch has now stopped working. I pick my way down the stairs using the torch on my phone.

I’ll bet that bathroom window has one-way glass, so the carabinieri and the other neighbours can’t see…ah, no, it doesn’t. Learn to close shutters when showering.

Remember, this is Italy.