Watermelons are rampant here at the moment, they are ginormous, carrying them to the cash desk is like an Ironman challenge but they are the most refreshing object to munch on in the current 36 degree days we are having here in Italy.
Before lockdown happened when Ronan and I would go to the local supermarket, we often saw a little old couple together. The gent would pick the fruit up with his plastic gloved hand, gloves have always been provided in supermarkets for handling and choosing fruit and veg in Italy it’s not just a covid thing, anyway this old gent would pick up the piece of veg and smell it, inspect it and if it passed the test it would be placed in the basket while his wife patiently waited for each verdict. He was back again after Lockdown and this time he was tapping water melons. It piqued Ronan’s curiosity, “What do you think he is listening out for?”
“A little hello from inside perhaps?”
“Do you think a hollow sound is good or a dull sound is bad? Or would hollow be bad and dull would mean good?”
“I don’t know, just buy a bloody watermelon.”
That was about a month ago, and last week Ronan was back at the supermarket in our town and as usual for this time of year, there were a lot of German and Dutch tourists doing their shopping. In the fruit aisle there was a big crate of huge watermelons. Ronan being Ronan couldn’t resist. He goes along tapping each watermelon and holding his ear to it trying to figure out, or be given some divine sign, as to which would be the best watermelon to buy.
A tourist comes up to him and starts speaking Italian, Ronan doesn’t know what he is saying so asks “Can you speak english?”
“Oh yes great, I am sorry for my poor Italian.” The tourist says to Ronan, who doesn’t speak a word of Italian. “Can you choose one for me?” he says pointing at the watermelons.
Instead of picking one at random and exiting stage left as quickly as possible, Ronan spent a couple of minutes going from watermelon to watermelon tapping each with his ear close to the crate, and giving his new found expert opinion on why one sounded better than the other in his best Italian speaking english accent. “This one, you should choose-o-this-a-one-a,” he said confidently. When he looked up there was a small crowd watching. The tourist was very grateful and Ronan nodded and backed away, having a little laugh to himself.
When he had finished a quick shop and was at the pay desk, he looked over and there were still several tourists tapping watermelons and listening for the magical mystery sound. Ronan who will be forever now known as The Watermelon Tapper came home without what he originally went to the shop for – a watermelon.
Do you smell vegetables before buying? What do you look for to show they are the right choice?
Watermelon – L’anguria
Tourist – Il turista
Battere le dita- tapping the fingers
Can you speak english? – Parla inglese?
Since we’ve come to Italy, vet visits have become a regular occurrence. I’ve had pets all my life but I’ve never had to visit the vet so much in my whole animal owning life than I have since we arrived here two years ago.
We brought two dogs with us Asha – a large black german shepherd who is afraid of the dark, creaking doors and thunder. And a bicon frise called Looney who isn’t scared of anything and likes to save small creatures from cats.
We have since adopted two Italian black kittens, Spooky and Moonface.
Our first vet visit was with Looney, she couldn’t stop sneezing for 24 hours and pawing at her snout. I searched for an english speaking vet and found Maria just a town away.
Arriving at her surgery I suddenly feel tall. I am 5.2” I’ve never felt tall in my life. Maria is less than 5 foot, smiley and welcoming. She thinks Looney has snuffed a seed up her nose. She’ll need to be sedated for Maria to examine further.
Now, what I am used to in Ireland is the vet either keeping the pet in over night or giving you an appointment for the following day. But not here in Italy.
After telling us Looney will have to be sedated, I find myself holding a drip. It’s happening now and we are part of the assisting operating team it seems. Ronan is excited, I’m not. I’m not good at these things, I’m squeamish as hell. Ronan looks after all cuts, bruises, tiny bells inserted into ears, broken bones, laundry chemicals in eyes, glass eating… all the wonderful things that having kids involves.
So I hand the drip to Ronan and back off. I watch through a squint. Looney is dopey. Maria gets a magic tweezer like tool with a light on the top. Soon she says “Ah yes there it is”. She pulls out the mucus covered seed with long barbs. “It was very far up, it could have been dangerous. These seeds you must be careful of, we have many seeds in Italy that dogs inhale and get stuck in their skin. Particularly these, they burrow into the skin.”
She also pulls out two small rotting teeth.
We have been with her nearly an hour. The sedation medicine cost €30. The total bill cost €40.
With four pets now, we have Maria on speed dial and have been to her for sterilising, a tail amputation, a fractured back, sore paws, ear infections, eye infections, bad breath and teeth.
We were back again last week as we noticed flies around Asha and discovered a cut under her long hair at the top of her tail. It wasn’t pleasant. Off we go to Maria. Asha has been there so many times at this stage that she walked straight over to the scales, stood on it and looked back smiling at us proud of her 55kg.
Maria has her assistant vet with her today. I feel even taller as her assistant is a slight woman even shorter than Maria. Do you have to be a small woman to be a vet in Italy?
Again we’re there as Asha gets sedated and we are put in a room to let it take affect while she attends another patient. When Asha is out cold, Maria returns and gives Asha the best Brazilian ever, she should be a beautician. She cleans the infected wound,. I gag. But luckily we have caught it early otherwise it could have got very serious. She gives us a prescription for painkillers and an antibiotic. She says something about humans being cheaper but I don’t quite understand. Is she telling me she treats humans too on the side but doesn’t charge as much?
While there she gives Asha a full check up of her ears, teeth, eyes. All good.
The total bill is €50, with the sedation included at €40. So for a checkup and treatment Maria has yet again charged us €10 for her time (plus 22% VAT).
Our local chemist doesn’t have the antibiotic, so we go to a neighbouring town. They don’t have it either, but wait. He looks it up on the computer, “It’s a big dog yes?”
“Yes” I nod.
“There is a human form of this antibiotic, it is the exact same but under a different name. I can give you that? You need two boxes, the animal form of the medicine is €49 per box, but the human form is €7 per box. The Italian government subsidise medicine for humans but not for animals.”
Ahhh that explains what Maria was saying about humans being cheaper! … And it’s also why Asha is now a human as far as the pharmacist is concerned.
Dog – cane
Cat – gatto
Injured – ferita (feminine)
Not eating – non mangiando
Infection – infezione
Seed – seme
Sedate – calma (feminine)
Antibiotics – antibiotici
9 Missing Doors.
9 Missing Doors Who?
Who took them? I don’t care they’re back!!
We went to the house with the Estate Agent and Uncle Francesca and there they were, all neatly stacked with intact door frames still attached. I learn that they are what they call ‘Madonna’ Doors – the door frames attach to the wall and the doors hang from them. We were going to go down the route of charging them for getting the doors rehung but we have put up much more difficult doors in our years of house renovations (you could say we are well hung?) so we would rather do it ourselves and not involve them anymore and just move on.
As expected Uncle Francesca launches into a long story about the doors which Laura, the Estate agent’s assistant, is translating for us – It wasn’t cousin Marco as she first thought, it was Cousin Vincent! (well the Italian equivalent of the name which I am unsure of the spelling of so we’ll just call him Cousin Vinny). Like Cousin Marco, Cousin Vinny was out for revenge on Uncle Francesca over the dispute since the 1974 family inheritance incident. I now feel a bit bad that I had convicted Uncle Francesca for the door robbery without a proper trial. As we’re going to meet Cousin Vinny at the final signing, she couldn’t blame him without it being true. She’s very apologetic, I tell her not to worry, it’s water under the bridge, I jest that she give’s me Cousin Vinny’s number and I’ll sort him out.
After the door inspection we go to the Notary’s office to pay the deposit and get things moving to the final signing. I can see how there is a 45 year family dispute – Uncle Francesca, the little crumpled 4 foot 10 lady, causes arguments. At the office, she argues again about the document the notary asked her to get, which the only thing holding up the finalising the sale. The notary tries to keep calm and explains again and again and again what she needs to do to get the document and finally says she will write the document for Uncle Francesca to give to the judge to sign. Uncle tries but can’t seem to come with a decent objection to this.
Then Uncle Francesca disputes my request for the keys to be left with the notary, she wants to hold on to the keys, so that she can shame Cousin Vinny into returning the missing furniture also. The notary doesn’t want them and Marco, the estate agent, wants to give them to us. Marco ends up raising his voice at her, accompanied by flailing arms and lots of hand gestures. Basically he does not want to have to drive the hour from his office every time I need to have access to allow builders in to give us quotes on the work to be done and it was agreed at the last meeting with the owners that we would get the keys upon payment of deposit. We are given the keys.
On the way home we get a text from the Estate Agent to say Uncle Francesca will follow up about the furniture but here’s Cousin Vinny the thief’s, phone number just in case. Data protection really isn’t a thing here it seems. What do you think we should do with it?? Send him disturbing texts in the middle of the night? Songs by the Doors perhaps?
It’s early February and all we are waiting for is the Power of Attorney letter with the correct wording which Uncle Francesca needs to get redone in court in the next few weeks. So we find and fix a date that all eight owners (from Milan, Florence and Rome) can meet to sign over the house to us.
The date is set, the date our family history is to start a new chapter in Italy will be the 10th of March … but instead that date turned into a dark chapter of Italian history, it was the first day of the Covid Pandemic Lockdown. Everything was put on hold, not only the final signing meeting, but also all our summer wedding work which we had budgeted to pay for the renovations. Our world and the world around us suddenly became very wobbly.
I get a long email the night the doors go missing from two of the eight owners – a cousin and her mother who live in Milan, pleading with me not to back out of the sale, they have spoken to all the other parties involved and assured me none of them were thieves and how we must find a solution. The estate agent had told me that these two owners were very religious and would not lie. But at this point I don’t know who to trust, I’m also wondering how did she got my email address to write me a plea letter, data protection seems to have gone out the window or out nine empty doorways in this case.
I think about it and answer:
‘At the meeting last week we specified about the furniture – it is old but I can renovate it. When we visited the house on Sunday and saw how the doors had been ripped away we were very upset. We had began to feel the house was our home and it now felt like someone had ripped it’s heart out. It always looked abandoned but fixable with a bit of hard work and loving care and we had a nice feeling when in it, now it just looks and feels like a slum.
‘As it happened within 48 hours of us signing for the house, and after the house having been untouched for 10 years, we thought that one of the owners, felt it was their right to take what they felt was theirs from the house including the doors. We were not accusing anyone of being thieves, we just thought they misunderstood the agreement, and perhaps they thought we were going to get rid of the doors and replace with something modern and thought it would be okay.
‘We just want to get the doors back. However that does not seem possible now if it was not someone in the family. The doors are not really replaceable as they are all different sizes and made to measure. We were just so shocked.’
To us this seems similar to us offering to buy a car on a Friday and then arriving to collect it on the Monday and the owner says someone has stolen the engine but we are still expected to buy it.
‘A house is not a house without doors and to get doors the same as the ones that are left in the house will be impossible I think, so the only solution if the doors found, is to replace all 22 doors which are estimated at one thousand euro each and the price is deducted from the final balance.
‘However, there is still a possibility the doors will be found, there are CCTV cameras in the town and we know the colour of the van and the time it was there so the police will find the number plate I am sure. Also my mother in Ireland is praying hard to St Anthony that the lost doors will be found, she has a very strong connection with the Almighty and also is very good at putting curses on those that do wrong.’ …
Yes, I have lied all the way through this email. I am in no doubt that it was one of the owners, I do not believe there was any misunderstanding, I don’t know if there are CCTV cameras in town and my mother is not praying to St Anthony nor is she a witch, but my thinking is that this email would be forwarded on to all the owners and whoever took the doors would see it. If the thought of getting a large chunk of the sale price reduced, or if the fear of the police didn’t scare them into returning the doors, then the fear of God or an Irish witch cursing them might? I was using all my bullets.
That evening I took out my Tarot cards and asked about the doors, I got The Magician and The Sun – so my interpretation of that is that the doors will ‘magically reappear’.
On Saturday nearly a week after the doors had been taken, I texted the estate agent and said, ‘if the doors are not coming back, I need to make an appointment for the carpenter to come out and measure up for new ones so the owners know how much they will be paying.’
Text response: ‘There is good news about the doors. I update you soon, Don’t make a carpenter appointment yet.’
Hmmmm. So I go to the Arezzo Antique Market the next day, with an aim of buying something for the house, anything at all, just something to make me feel it is still going to be ours. Without thinking I buy a set of Art Nouveau door handles for €20 … just as I pay for them, the estate agent texts me: ‘Great news! All nine doors were taken back to the house, they are on the ground floor.’
It’s a miracle! She wants me to go ‘visit’ the doors with Uncle Francesca on Wednesday. But I have said ‘no’, we’ll go see them next week when the estate agent is available. I want a translator there as I am dying to hear her explanation. Perhaps I should bring flowers and a ‘Welcome Home’ card?
If all is well, we will go to the notary, pay the deposit and the estate agent’s fee on the condition that the owners leave the keys with the notary, and the owners do not have access to the house once we pay the deposit – just incase they take a liking to the windows also. So it seems positive but I’m not believing until I see them. I wonder if it was the fear of God, the police or an Irish curse that did it?
I text the estate agent, my upset has turned to anger. To replace those doors will cost thousands as they are all slightly different sizes. I tell them that we need all doors returned or replaced and the furniture as agreed otherwise we will not be proceeding with the purchase. We are sure it must be Uncle Francesca and she may be intending to return for more as there were two other doors taken off their hinges. So she needs to be stopped before doing anymore damage to the house.
Within an hour they have spoken to Uncle Francesca but she knows absolutely nothing. They have warned all the owners. ‘Tomorrow we’ll find out who did this and get you back all the doors’.
The estate agents ask us to meet with them and the geomtera at house the following morning to look at the situation and find a solution. We agree, although, I’m not sure why we are meeting to look at the empty spaces where there used to be doors and I can’t think of a solution other than the doors be returned or replaced.
We meet the next day and Uncle Francesca is there too. She’s being very dramatic. She’s using the word ‘terrible’ a lot. The estate agents are looking very embarrassed, “This is not normal. This is not normal in Italy.”
We walk around the house all together slowly to look at the spaces where the missing doors had been, I’m still not sure why, maybe they are hoping they will miraculously reappear? The house looked sad before but now it looks like a slum.
Everyone other than us is denying it is a family member. The whole time Uncle Francesca doesn’t stop lamenting and talking.
Then she announces a neighbour saw a white van there on Sunday morning.
On the sofa in the hall there are piles of old books ready to go in the next collection. Romance novels mostly, Readers Digests from the 70s. A plastic sewing box with scraps of lace, two faded pictures from the wall and an old fake gold drinks trolley.
Our son notices a perfect cross shaped clean mark on the wall above the bed, a crucifix has been removed.
There’s also an old copy of a ‘Children of Fatima’ book on top of the romance novels. So we are guess the ‘thief’ is religious … the irony is not lost.
I make the point that it has to be one of the owners – the house has not been touched for 10 years, who else would turn up with a van during daylight within 24 hours of us signing to buy it? She’s still talking a mile a minute, hands are going everywhere, she is re-enacting and piecing the whole crime scene together in front of our eyes.
And just like any good 70s crime series, her re-enactment gives her a sudden revelation, she concludes that it must have been the devil cousin Marco wanting to get his revenge on her about the dispute over the other inheritance. The neighbour’s description of the man with the van fits the cousin’s description perfectly.
Up to this point I was still convinced it was Uncle Francesca in the kitchen with the crowbar but now I’m leaning towards Colonel Marco in the library with the candlestick.
“But why the piles of romance novels in the living room?” I ask. Uncle Francesca’s answer is very animated and high pitched. “He was searching for secret documents about the last inheritance,” Laura translates.
Mario, who is nothing short of twiddling the end of a handlebar moustache he doesn’t have, makes a statement to Uncle Francesca, “I will NOW bring you to make a police report. Perhaps they have cc footage of the van in the village.” Uncle Francesca, is flapping about a bit, looking through the box of lace scraps. She looks at her watch. “Si si. We go now.”
They return shortly. The police station is closed for lunch.
Mick Kelly has turned up, he knows an artisan carpenter who can make doors from old wood that will replicate the others. We agree that the cost will be deducted from the amount we pay at the final signing.
… However, me thinks the doors will magically reappear.
Join us again next Monday for the next instalment of this game of Umbrian Cluedo and the case of the Missing Doors.