Ten days later I’m at the supermarket and I get a call from Laura, “Good news, all the owners have signed the document to agree the offer price.”
“That is great news!”
“So today you need to come to the office to sign a document to acknowledge their signatures.”
“But your office is an hour away and I have gelato in my shopping trolly. I’ll come tomorrow.”
“Unfortunately that is not possible. It needs to be done within 10 days and today is the 10th day. You need to come today to sign that you agree.”
“What is it exactly that we need to sign … A document to say we accept, that they accept, the offer that we offered?”
“Yes that is correct.”
“How about I write a statement and email it to you to say I acknowledge, that they acknowledge the offer that we offered and email that to you today?”
She checks with the boss, “Yes that will do.”
I send it as soon as I get back while eating the gelato. Who said buying a house in Italy is difficult?
The next step for us is to elect a notary. These are scrupulous people who work on behalf of both sides of a property deal. My Italian friend says they spend longer studying and are more qualified than judges, as they have to keep updated with the ever changing property laws in Italy.
We found our notary, Elizabetta through Mick Kelly. ‘She is very, very, good.’ He has me at the second ‘very’. As soon as I meet her I like her, even though she didn’t smile once. She’s probably about 40, blonde, tanned, tall and thin. She’s wearing a Rolex. We rename her Lizzy for our own reference.
A meeting is arranged at Lizzy’s office with the estate agents, Ronan, me and Uncle Francesca, who as always, has a large file of papers in front of her. Lizzy has done the legal checks of the documents with the town hall.
She opens the meeting with the statement; “There are buildings to be destroyed”.
I find Italians use the word ‘destroyed’ a lot when speaking in english, examples are; “I was working in the garden all day and now I am destroyed… I can’t come to dinner as I had three meetings today, I am destroyed.”
Everytime, I hear them describe themselves as being ‘destroyed’ I get an image of a Marvel character brought to their knees after being deprived of their energy source. Now my notary is saying buildings need to be destroyed, so I’m imagining spacecrafts dropping bombs in the garden as we speak.
She is flicking through the plans and descriptions.
“Allora (a great word which means ‘so’), there are nine courtyards, four houses, a vineyard and three outbuildings – two of which need to be destroyed as they do not have the permissions.”
That word again. Cue evil laugh in my head before what she has just said reaches my brain.
“Wait, what did you just say about four houses and nine courtyards? … are we buying the village?”
Laura is quick to step in to explain. “The house is divided into four separate apartments.” She flashes some Italian at the notary and they are both laughing a little. “Apartments, NOT house buildings,” corrects Lizzy, smiling for the first time. She likes my joke about buying the village, which wasn’t meant as a joke.
“The family geometra will need to submit paperwork to get the house recognised as two units rather than four separate units. It can be considered two units for the sale, as one unit is not possible, after the sale your architect can submit it to be considered as one unit, one house. It is then possible. Okay?”
I sort of get it but don’t.
“And what about the nine courtyards?… and vineyard?”
“Look.” Lizzy pushes the aerial view drawing outlining the property infront of me. The fenced garden has been sub divided into nine different sized quadrilaterals each with an assigned registry number. One which is in the middle of all the others is about three meters long and one meter wide.
“Why is it divided like this?” I ask.
Laura shrugs, “It is Italy. Often with inheritance things like this happen, each child is entitled to claim an equal amount of inheritance no matter what is written in the will. This is why we have property law professionals like Elizabetta who figure out inheritance property complications.”
“We need to ensure that all plots are listed during the sale” explains Lizzy in Italian, which I understand and so I explain to Ronan.
“Basically, it’s her job to ensure we are the owners of all the plots because otherwise the person who owns that central small plot, could come along, fence it off and be perfectly entitled to leave their savage rottweiler there.”
He’s looking impressed. “She said that and you understood?”
“What about the vineyard?”
“Perhaps there was a vineyard on the property at some point?” says Laura.
My surprise expectation of owning the village has shrunk back down to reality.
Lizzy asks Uncle Francesca for the court document. She shuffles through her papers and hands a document over. The notary reads through it. She then is saying something factual to Uncle.
Uncle is responding sweetly smiling, lots of prayer like hand signals. They are both talking back and forth.
Laura translates, “Yes. Uncle Francesa has got the power of attorney document from the court to act on behalf of her aunt who has alzheimers who is also an owner, but the notary has told her she needs to go back to get it specified of the areas her aunt owns. Otherwise it could cause problems as now on the document it looks like she owns the whole property.”
Uncle Francesca’s sweetness and ‘I know-a nothing’ attitude while shuffling through papers is not going down well with the notary. She has stopped being sweet and is arguing back, but it’s not working, Lizzy is telling her firmly that she needs to go back and get it changed. I’ve a feeling Uncle Francesca up to something.
On the way home we stop at the house. The grass has been cut so we walk down the garden for the first time. Along the bottom boundary there is a shed built with yellow cement bricks, although they are difficult to see as most of the building is covered in thick ivy. The shed seems to be divided into four rooms. This is one of the buildings that needs to be DESTROYED. We peer through the ivy and can see cobwebbed shelves, old suitcases, boxes and possibly a barrel. We’ll need to come more prepared to get through the ivy.
In front of the shed that needs to be DESTROYED there is a path of concrete posts, used to hold up vines in old Italian vineyards. On the posts nearest the shed that needs to be DESTROYED, there are still five old vines, badly in need of pruning. “Ah here’s our vineyard!”
The estate agents have stopped by the house too, to meet the geometra and Uncle Francesca is there to let them in. She’s scurrying towards her car with a bag, she gives a little wave but seems to be looking guilty. We take the opportunity to look around inside again. Yes, we still want it, more than ever.
In the glass cabinet there are large neat clean dots in the beige dust. “Ah crap she has taken the champagne glasses!”
She has the two ceramic jelly moulds and some rosary beads are on the table near the door ready to go. She is one of the owners and perfectly entitled to take what she wants, I just wish she had cleared them out in the 10 years previous instead of waiting until I had seen them.
“Are you happy about the meeting today?” asks Laura.
“Yeah, we’re just wondering how long is the process all going to take?” she shrugs.
From previous experiences if you had buildings without planning in Ireland or had to change a building’s purpose, it would take months for the plans to be approved, and for a document to be approved in court you could be on a long waiting list. We needed to do all three of these and Italy is notorious for being very slow with all it’s bureaucracy. I’m beginning to rapidly loose hope of a quick sale.
“Perhaps two months” she says apologetically.
“Oh really? That quick?” I’m feeling hopeful again.
A few weeks later I get a text from Laura.
“We can proceed to the preliminary deed (Compromesso) next Friday, it is the date that all the owners can be there.”
“All the owners will be there?”
“Yes it is law in Italy that all the owners must be present for the reading of the final deed. For the Compromesso next week, six of the owners will be there, for the final deed all eight will be there…”
Eight owners? I thought there were six.
“But I need to warn you,” Laura continues, “some of them do not get on with each other and no longer speak.”
I’m now looking forward to the meeting like a long awaited movie, will there be fist fights? I’m thinking of bringing popcorn.
If you missed PART 1 of Buying our House in Italy click here
If you missed PART 2 of Buying our House in Italy click here
We hadn’t really planned to find a house so early in our pre-preliminary-pre-search stage.
But here we were, going to an estate agent to sign something, about something to do with buying a house with a lot of potential if you squint.
We walked down the centre office aisle lined with five or six agents at their desks to a back glass partitioned office. I wasn’t imagining it, they were definitely staring at us with awe and big smiles. I was having my red carpet moment, I felt there was a strong possibility of a spondanious standing ovation. ‘Brava, BRAVA for buying the unsellable house, you are so brave … (or possibly stupid), but Brava anyway for taking it off our hands … you mad Irish.’
Mario the head Estate agent and Laura his assistant who also acts as translator, sits opposite us at the boardroom table.
First we established that we want to include the field with planning in the sale. I fancy the idea of having a big garden with no possibility of someone else coming along and leaving a half built house beside ours.
There is a four page standard, but very detailed, form produced by the estate agency to be completed, called the ‘Proposta Di Acquisto’ which means ‘Purchase Proposal’. We are thankfully given an english version. He starts to ask us questions, name, date of birth, country of residency … I know all these answers we are doing well. He hands me the Italian version to check the details. In the area where it says we commit to buy the property, the price entered is 130k.
“This is incorrect” I say. Laura translates.
“We never offered 130, it was 120.”
“No it was 130”, he says via Laura.
“No it was definitely 120. I know it was 120, as I don’t know how to say 130 in Italian so I couldn’t have said it.” I think that was a fair argument.
“But with the field and the planning and the wells the property is worth much more than this, 130 is more than reasonable.”
“The property is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it.” says the wise Ronan. “We understand that it is a great property but we are only prepared to offer 120.” I’m nodding, he’s so wise. Then he says, “Take it or leave it.” I stop nodding, I am screaming at him through telepathy “NO don’t say that!”
I’m holding my breath incase they say, “Leave it then”.
“Yes I agree,” Laura says nodding at Ronan. “It has great potential but there is A LOT of work.” The three of us are nodding now, like we’ve all suddenly developed Parkinson’s. Laura is lovely and honest and seems to forget she is there working for the company and not for us.
We’re now chatting about the potential of the house.
Mario interrupts, his voice is getting louder. He thinks Laura has been translating what he said and doesn’t realise that we have been just talking about claw footed baths.
Laura translates something we said, or is making up something we said, about the price staying at 120k. Mario’s voice is getting louder he is gesticulating with his hands, Laura is getting red blotches on her neck, I feel bad for her caught in the middle. Mario is talking a mile a minute. We have no idea what he is saying, but his hands are flying all over the place and he’s getting more and more animated. Every now and then he directs his litany at us forgetting that we don’t understand a word, I just sit smiling at him. What else can I do? It is difficult to interpret how Italians are feeling by their tone of voice alone. They could be saying ‘The weather is nice today, I think we’ll go for a picnic’ and it sounds like they are having a massive argument. The opposite also applies, they could be saying, ‘I will kill you and all your family’ and make it sound like an undiscovered melody.
Mario stands up suddenly and drops or throws, I don’t know which as I missed the movement, his pen on the table and walks out of the room.
“What’s happening?” Ronan mutters to me, he seems to think I have suddenly become fluent in Italian.
“I don’t know!… Did he drop or throw the pen on the table? …If he dropped it then perhaps he’s taking a toilet break, if he threw it, then perhaps he’s doing it for dramatic affect?”
“What is he doing?” I ask Laura.
She shrugs, “I don’t know.”
We watch Mario stomp towards the front door.
Not understanding Italian while house negotiating was in our favour. If we knew Italian, we would have argued and then perhaps met in the middle or called him back to the room and caved just to calm him down, but at that moment we are unsure if he was trying to sneakily increase the agreed price by 10k on signing by way of a pretend tantrum at our preposterous offer, or if he has eaten a dodgy lasagne the night before.
By now he has reached the front door and is standing outside glancing in towards the room to see if we are coming to pacify him with a better offer, but we aren’t. He’s at a loss as to what to do, so he starts to pick at the plants in the window box.
“I am sorry you are stuck in the middle.” I say to the rattled Laura, I am afraid she will get the blame for not persuading us and loose her job. “I have a solution, I will call Mick Kelly and get him to negotiate on our behalf.”
Mick Kelly is a local architect we had talked to about the house before the meeting. His name is ‘Michele’ which sounds like Mick Kelly, and a likely name to see on the side of a construction van in Ireland. Mick Kelly has a wonderful soft voice. Not in a sleazy smooth way but soft and calming. He’s like an Italian version of Jesus Christ, you feel you could trust him with anything.
Before Mario gets back to the room I have Mick Kelly on the phone and I have explained that there was a ‘misunderstanding’ of the price and could he talk to the upset Mario. I hand the phone to Mario who rants for a full five minutes to Mick Kelly and then hands the phone back to me.
“He said the price agreed with the owners is 130 thousand.”
“But we didn’t offer 130, that price was never mentioned, and we told him our limit was 120, that 10 will pay for alot of windows… Do you think we should go up in price?”
“I think we try to stick with 120 and see what happens.”
I hand the phone back to Mario, we can hear the soothing tones of Mick Kelly’s voice responding to Mario. I hear Mick Kelly mention the road, the train track, the 10 years of abandonment, the possibility of the house deteriorating into a ruin if left another winter. Mario is listening to his reasoning, drawing little invisible shapes on the table with his finger nail. Soon Mario is saying “Si… si…”
Then he laughs, Mick is sounding animated, but still in a soothing Jesus Christ way. “Si, si, si” says Mario, they are now talking like old buddies. If Mick Kelly was here Mario would be slapping him on the back.
Mario hangs up and the change in his humour is nothing short of miraculous. He talks directly to Laura for a minute and they both stand up. He is smiling and leaning over the table to shake our hands.
“It is agreed!” Laura says triumphantly.
“The price for 120.”
For the house and the land?”
“Yes!” she exclaims. Mario’s will call the six owners and get them to agree and then do up the new agreement which you will sign on Friday in your architect’s office after his appointment to see the house.”
We’re shaking hands and Mario is nothing short of cracking open the champagne.
Six owners? I thought there were three? Never mind.
The following Friday we are back in the house with Mario and Mick Kelly, who is impressed by the central staircase. The house is divided into four living quarters for the four families that once lived here; three similar apartments on each floor on the right side of the house and a two-up, two-down on the other with a walk in attic on the third floor on the left side of the house.
A lot of old Italian houses were purposely built divided into separate living spaces so that when children grew they would have a marital home to themselves. Often it resulted in four generations living under the same roof but in their own self-contained living space with separate entrance staircases on the exterior usually.
Mick Kelly likes the detail on the door surrounds, he dismisses the cracks in the stonework, it has stood for 100 years already. The roof will need to be completely replaced, not just repaired, so will the windows, electrics and plumbing. It’s on mains water, sewerage and natural gas.
I’m starting to notice the furniture that has been left. There’s a beautiful single wrought iron bed with an amber inset, that needs some TLC. There are about 20 saucer champagne glasses in a glass front 60s style-unit and a dusty bottle of champagne. There’s a mix mash of veneered bulky antique style furniture, several sofas and armchairs, a marble table and chairs, and a lot of cheap furniture that was popular in the 60s and 70s. One room still has books and papers piled on a drawer unit. And there is the spooky room – a walk in attic with no light source but we see outlines of objects, including a bath and what looks like an old gramophone stand perhaps. Like the TV show ‘Storage Wars’, there could be gold in there or a lot of stuff that will end up costing us money to get rid of, we’re buying it blind, only able to look in from the door but without the advantage of light.
We go to Mick Kelly’s office and sign the agreement. I learn that in Italy you must sign your full name and it must be legible. So if you have a doctor’s scrawl style signature which mine has sort of turned into, you need to develop a new signature in an instant. I revert to the one I spent days perfecting in 1982 when, as a 10-year-old, I felt it was important to practice in preparation of becoming famous. It was an adaptation of my favourite celebrity’s signature – Miss Piggy. Luckily I still remembered how to do it, just this time without the love heart on the ‘i’ and not so many swirls.
This would be the first of many times that I use my Miss Piggy signature on the many pieces of paperwork involved when buying a house in Italy.
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1. Start Searching Online
Search houses for sale online for about five years, dreaming of a ‘maybe someday’ possibility. Villas with pools and frescoed ceilings to caves which once housed three families during harder times. Castles to crumbling trulli, anything is game.
Decide to make the move to Italy, life is too short to wait around. Or like us, when your country’s economy crashes and you loose your income and have your home repossessed by the bank, decide to move to a country you can actually afford to have a nice life in, our No.1 choice was Italy. Rent for a couple of years and then consider buying when you are back on your feet.
2. Filter Your Choices to Suit Your Budget
Become realistic and filter your search by the area you want. Try not to cry when you see that a modest three bedroom house in the town you love will cost about €420k. Try a different approach and filter your house search by price. You’re left with the caves and crumbling messes. Maybe with a lick of paint, they would be okay? … Go back to looking at the pretty ones in the area you want with a pool… or at least some windows.
3. Arrange Viewings
Take a leap and arrange some viewings. Just for the fun of it. Sure why not, it’s okay to dream and you have to start somewhere. Don’t disregard the houses the estate agent tries to talk you out of… ‘on the market for 10 years … ALOT of work to be done… I will send you photos of the interior… you still want to view it?? … Did you receive the photos?’
Remain open minded and visit the ones with pools and the one with cobwebs worthy of a starring role in a black and white Tarzan movie – the type of cobwebs the baddies got caught in just before they sank into the quick sand. Broken windows, tattered furniture left behind, scenic sky views through the roof, waist high grass that moves ahead of you. You’ve progressed from Tarzan movies to Jurassic Park. Your husband walking a few metres ahead pauses and shouts back casually ‘a snake just went over my foot’. It suddenly feels like you’re walking on Madusa’s head as the ground moves beneath your feet. You laugh hysterically and run towards the electric gate that is no longer electric.
4. Be Fooled By TV Programmes
Two weeks later be captivated by a new TV show, where a couple buy a chateau in France and do it up. She’s cutting wallpaper shapes and sticking them on the wall, they’re shining up copper pans and hanging them in the kitchen. They haven’t fixed the roof but that does not seem to matter. They’re laughing, having a great time.
“We could do that”. Your mind goes back to the house of cobwebs.
He knows what you are talking about, he hesitates but says it anyway. “It is a beautiful house.”
You may have renovated before and said “never again”. You may, like us, have renovated homes twice before and said “never, ever again”. It’s sort of like childbirth, you are screaming ‘Don’t you ever come near me again’ at your husband while doing the last push, but then something happens to your brain once the baby is born, you forget the pain of your body being ripped in half and something as simple as the smell of a new born baby’s head, has you all doe eyed again and saying, “Let’s have another”. It’s how the human race has continued to go on, and how old houses manage to get renovated apparently.
Cobwebs, snakes, we’ve got this. ‘It would be an amazing house.’
“Look at them”, you point at the TV, “they never renovated before, we have, look how happy they are”.
“We could do that.” You don’t realise you are basically smelling a baby’s head and forget that this is TV. The screaming arguments of assembling furniture together, sewerage splashing in your face, the despair as a ceiling collapses and the horror of never ending bills for work that is not even visible, such events have been edited out of the TV show. You’ve renovated before, it didn’t end well, how are you seeing this through rose tinted glasses? You find yourself texting the estate agent to arrange another viewing.
5. A Second Viewing
The estate agent is surprised at your choice, “not the cute one with the pool?”. She brings the senior boss, she is young and has never handled crazies before.
While you are waiting for the estate agent, a woman in her late 70s or early 80s wanders into the garden. The viewing begins, she tags along. You try to quietly say to the estate agent that she’s not with you, you think she’s just a nosy neighbour until half way through the viewing you find out she’s one of the owners. One of eight owners in fact. You are told her name is ‘Uncle Francesca’.
You’re left to look around the interior by ourselves. The second time around the cobwebs are not noticed, the light plays through the shutters highlighting possibilities of beauty to be recreated. Built in 1923 some of the original furniture is still there, you’ve never reupholstered anything but now you have a sudden urge to do so.
You return to the courtyard where ‘Uncle’ Francesca is collecting the caca fruit into an enamel po she has taken from the house. The estate agent is helping her with the fruit from the higher branches. He’s eating one of the orange fruits, which you know is similar to trying to eat a water balloon. Between slurps he points out the features he thinks you will be amazed by, the lake view … you can’t see it because the trees that have grown in the last 10 years block it, they are on public land so you know they will never be cut down but that is okay, a lake view was not the appeal, you know you can walk two minutes and be at the lake front.
There are two wells on the land and he quotes their amazing depth…. ah yes wells… the reason for many childhood nightmares and now possible death traps to your cats, they will be the first things covered up. You like the idea of your own water source but as you are not an Italian farmer, nor someone who has experienced massive drought, the appeal seems to have been lost on you.
Planning permission for another house. While this sounds like a great investment possibility you are not a property mogul, you are looking for a potential home. There are 21 rooms in the house, there are three of you, so why would we need to build another house?
He hasn’t grabbed you on any of his big sale points but what he doesn’t realise is the house has captivated you. As soon as you walked in you felt it was home. It wrapped it’s arms around you and made you feel safe … and happy. You wanted to linger. The ceiling mould and rising damp, is more beautifully labelled in Italy as ‘humidity’ invoking tropical tones of rainforest rather than rain, floods and cold, which the word ‘damp’ conjures up back in Ireland.
6. The Offer
You are told the asking price is €240k which is down by over 100k from the previous year. They are quick to state it’s negotiable. Uncle Francesca let it slip during the viewing that only one other person has come to view it in the three years it has been with this estate agent.
You judge that there is about €150k worth of work to be done to make the house a home. It’s a non-runner. The estate agent asks what price range are you looking in. You decide that this is a good time to practice saying numbers in Italian which you have just learnt in class this week. You say for a house needing work, you can afford €120k.
’Impossible!’ he laughs ‘the site with planning for the other house is worth that alone’.
What is he talking about? You were just telling him the price range of houses you are thinking about in the far off future, when you may decide to buy. You know the house when renovated would be worth close to half a million, but you do not have €250k to buy it and renovate it.
‘They can keep the site, we’ll just take the house,” states your husband to the estate agent.
You nod… Why are you nodding? Oh yeah you are just cheering him on in this unplanned game. It’s just a bit of fun.
The estate agent goes back to Uncle Francesca who is swatting a wasp from her face and running around the tree but then is distracted by a plump caca. The estate agent’s assistant is talking and you are trying to find a gap in the conversation so you say goodbye. You’re not listening to what she is saying as you are thinking about what to have for dinner.
The estate agent returns, “They will accept €150k”.
“No we can’t do, thanks anyway”.
“Arrivederci”. You wave at the old lady.
7. Offer Acceptance
While sitting in the car on the way home, you’re both laughing about the whole experience, but also talking about how amazing the potential is, it would be a fantastic space for someone to buy to host creative group retreats in Italy.
You stop into the supermarket to buy your dinner ingredients. On the wine aisle you get a text from the estate agent. “On Tuesday come to our office at 11am to sign the sale agreement.”
You catch up with your husband at the fruit and veg section. “Do we need bananas?” he asks, holding a bunch in his hand.
“Ehhh I think we’ve just bought a house?”
“I think they have accepted our offer on that house?”
“Did we put in an offer?”
“For how much?”
“I think I said €120k? I’m not sure I tried saying it in Italian.”
‘Ohhh… For just the house or the house and the field with planning permission?”
“I have no idea, but it seems we are signing for it on Tuesday?”
It’s a great house for that price. A steal! But… what would we do with such a big house?”
“Host creative groups who want a retreat in Italy?”
“That’s really not a bad idea … Did you say, if we needed bananas?”
You go back to the wine aisle and buy a bottle of Prosecco, unsure if it is to celebrate or to block out the confusion. Have you just decided to buy massive renovation project plus start a new business, in the space of time it takes to decide if you are short of bananas?
Apparently you have. It’s exciting but there’s also a creeping fear that there is quicksand ahead and not just a puddle, but a whole lake of it.
And that’s how you find a house in Italy the Rosie way. It’s all about being at one with bananas.
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Travel has changed. In the 80s and early 90s, we saved for our Inter-Rail tickets, we had to figure out different currencies, we had a money belt with traveller’s cheques, no credit cards, a backpack, no mobile phone, no internet, a cheap camera and a roll or two of film. We had a paragraph underlined about the destination we were heading to in bibles such as ‘Work Your Way Around the World or ‘Europe by Rail’, an address of a hostel and perhaps it’s phone number. Inspiration to visit somewhere was from a documentary or a description told to us by another traveller we met along the way. Travellers talked to each other without hesitation, automatic comradary as we didn’t have access to friends through video chat – that was only on Star Trek. We needed to be alert, we needed to plan, to stay visual and sometimes rely on our intuition.
We wrote long descriptions home on special airmail paper – extra light – and planned where we will be in a few weeks so that home could write their news to us and we would have a letter waiting – cherished letters we kept with us and reread over and over whenever we felt homesick. Phone calls happened whenever we had enough coins, found a phone box and if we weren’t too distracted.
Few photos were taken, the essence of adventure was more easily portrayed in descriptive conversation and writing.
I have had mixed feelings about how travel has changed in the last 10 years or so. Flights became so affordable that overland trips were no longer the more cost affective option, hopping on a plane to go somewhere foreign for a weekend was common, no more plotting and planning and saving for a year necessary. No one seemed to ‘look’, ‘absorb’ with their eyes anymore, always through the screen of their phone, selfies and videos.
Travel pre internet was adventure. Mobile phones, GPS and pins have eliminated the possibility of getting lost which before had it’s advantages – having to find a new route, discovering a gem along the way, having to speak to a stranger who, could be a serial killer, or more probable a new friend for life.
Yes, technology is good for parent’s nerves, I still don’t know how my parents coped when I ‘forgot’ to call for three weeks. I am grateful, and relieved, that I can be on video chat with my daughter if she is walking home alone in another country, if I needed I could find my teenager’s exact location through a phone app within seconds. Without the possibility of video calls with family this Lockdown would have been a much more difficult experience.
However, with technology has the excitement and mystery of adventure been lost? Everywhere has been photographed, blogged about, reviewed, social media-ed to death. Before, when you read a few descriptive lines in a guide book imaginations ran wild about what to expect, now no imagination is needed. Often it is the opposite – a sense of disappointment when a destination does not live up to the expectations portrayed in filtered, colour balanced and altered IG photos.
The few times I have been out since the ease of lockdown has started, I’ve noticed people looking at the scenery around them, actually looking, not though a camera on their phone. Perhaps it is because they are from around the area and not tourists, or perhaps they are actually looking with new eyes and have a new appreciation of what is in front of them.
It is most likely that flights may be more difficult to get and more expensive in the ‘new’ normal. We will have to choose more carefully where we go and how we spend our time there – museums, restaurants, beaches, everything will need to pre booked. Thought will be needed and patience practiced.
Things in uncrowded spaces will look different, perhaps we will gain a new appreciation and a new sense of wonder and awe, after patiently waiting on a list to see a masterpiece.
We will have to think about new ways of finding our way through new travel challenges that are not yet google-able. We will need to be more alert, more visual, plan differently, use our instincts. A new version of adventure is ahead of us. It won’t be easy but then again, adventure never was.
Why do I feel a bit ashamed to admit I’m actually loving life right now?
Granted, this ‘pause’ caught us all by surprise. I felt like a rabbit stuck in headlights for the first three or four weeks of lockdown here in Italy. As a destination wedding planner, I just didn’t know what direction to go, people were looking to me for answers to questions such as; When will it be over? Will there be flights in June? Will it be gone by the summer? Questions I, nor anyone one else, could answer.
Unable to function as normal, I procrastinated over my work. I felt a sense of achievement, if I managed to get through two or three emails, when normally at this time of year, I would be dealing with 60 emails on average per day, plus buzzing around meeting couples, doing venue visits, menu tastings, lots of meetings. But instead I was sitting in my own silence. Waiting. There was no end in sight, it was like falling down a dark bottomless pit.
However, now that the numbers in ICU are dropping and the number of new active cases are decreasing each day here in Italy, there’s some light at the end of the tunnel. Governments are talking about exit strategies. I’m no longer feeling fear, although very cautious.
Mentally I ‘manage’ the sadness and tragedy of the situation by lighting a candle at 6pm each evening for those who have died, a reminder that they are not just numbers, I then watch the news. I leave the radio and TV off during the day and I don’t read social media news. So my time of sadness or contemplation is confined to that one hour in the evening when I have the candle lighting, and then I blow it out and get on with life.
And that is what I am doing now – life. I’m enjoying having the time to do all the things I’ve been wanting time to do for years. It’s the ‘me time’ I have been craving. My daughter who has been in solitary isolation in London for the last six weeks, is the same, happy as a pig in sh*t. The only issue for her, is that friends and work colleagues, knowing that she’s alone, message her all day asking if she is okay. It’s very nice of them not to forget her, but for the first two weeks, she spent most of her day replying to people explaining she’s perfectly fine locked into her apartment with all her books, art supplies, recipe books and a Nintendo with her favourite childhood game ‘Animal Crossing’.
The author of ‘Moby Dick’, Herman Melville, once wrote a letter to a friend complaining he just could not find time to write about ‘that whale’ because, “I so am pulled hither and dither by circumstances”. Melville said he longed for a big, wide, open stretch of time to create. He called it ‘the calm, the coolness the silent grass growing mood in which a man ought always to compose’.
How many times have we all wanted some ‘Cool, calm, grass growing days’ to pursue something creative or leisurely… create art, write, compose, play music, learn a new skill. How many times have we groaned about it being Monday and wished for a longer weekend? We must all have wished really hard at the same time, and here it is people, the Universe has given us six weeks of back to back Sundays.
Over the last few years the internet has made me feel very unoriginal, I stopped writing because I felt there was nothing left to say, everything seems to have been done before. Not only had everything been done, but I stopped doing creative stuff because I had crossed that horrible line of not creating for the sake of creating, but feeling, if it wasn’t going to bring in an income then it was time wasted. Time was better spent doing the extra 10 emails to get another client. I’d forgotten how to switch off and the pleasure in doing nothing.
In the 24/7 world we’ve been living, silence is difficult to get. We now have the opportunity of silence. A time to rest and create.
We can’t control what is happening at the moment in the world, but we can control what we do with our time and bring something special into our day.
Here are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing again:
1. Think about what you enjoyed doing as a child… writing, drawing, painting, baking, craft – Let that part of you resurface. You don’t have to be the best at it, you don’t even have to be good at it, play with it. Enjoy it, loose yourself in it. Be kind to yourself, give yourself the same encouragement you would give a good friend.
2. Journal or blog – even short notes, we are all experiencing this unique time in history differently. My grandfather kept a diary for part of his time as a soldier in WW1. It has always been one of our families most treasured possessions. I published it some years back. There were thousands of soldiers in the war and each of their accounts was unique to them. Your thoughts and feelings will be a unique part of your family’s history, of the world’s history, so note them.
3. Read – read all the books you have never got around to reading on your book shelves or reread some of your favourites that you haven’t opened in years.
4. Set yourself goals and a routine – If you want the quarantine time to go quicker a routine will help. If you don’t want to feel you have wasted the quarantine time, then setting a goal or two will help.
5. Use all the Christmas gifts you have been saving for special occasions – light the scented candle, use the bath bombs, drink the expensive wine, wear the perfume. This is ‘me time’ we will never get again so make it special.
6. If you feel you are procrastinating and feeling frustrated at not achieving anything, then get yourself an accountability partner. Tell them your three ‘To Dos’ for the day and report back in the evening.
Whatever you do, be gentle with yourself, don’t feel you have to be constantly busy, but find something that brings you some ‘Me Time’ joy everyday.
Not being creative for the last few years had left a void in me. I could use the analogy of a jigsaw with a piece missing, but it was more like the puzzle had been made in the centre of an extendable table, then the two table leaves were pulled apart and the whole middle of the jigsaw had fallen through, just leaving the jagged frame of the edge bits.
Starting this blog gave me some focus from day one of quarantine, it has been often the only productive thing I managed to do. Sometimes I couldn’t wait to write it, other days I have had to push myself to find something light write about.
I woke this morning to find this page had reached 600 followers, I’d just like to thank everyone for liking and sharing my posts and the encouraging comments, it’s made me discover my long lost writing voice again. So thank you