Sunday, 17 June 2012


Tuesday afternoon, and time for a post-lunch snooze on the altana. Clear skies, just warm enough, an afternoon for not doing very much at all. Except I notice that it's clouding over a bit and the wind is whipping up enough to make reading the paper rather more hard work than it ought to be. This is a bit irritating, but once Caroline is ensconced in the sun it usually takes a natural disaster of Biblical proportions to force her indoors, so I assume we'll be there until sunset or until a stray gust whips the altana into the lagoon. But then there comes a point (at which I should have been properly scared) when she agrees with me that, no, this is not much fun, and we retreat indoors. And that's it. It's quite windy, it rains a bit, but it doesn't seem anything out of the ordinary.

And then the next day it turns out a proper, actual tornado has hit some of the islands. Sant'Erasmo, the agricultural island, took the worst damage. It seems at least a dozen houses lost their roofs, crops were wiped out, and the damage is running into millions of euros.

Also hit was the island of Certosa, which we pay a visit to on Thursday afternoon.  Like a number of the smaller islands it had hosted a monastery for centuries, was turned to military purposes during the Napoleonic/Austrian period, fell into disuse, and started to be reclaimed during the late 20th century. It doesn't really serve any particular purpose, but it's a pleasant green space and a refuge from the crowds on the main islands. Nobody lives there except the inhabitants of a small hotel, and a colony of wild goats.

A number of trees have come down, but it doesn't really seem all that serious. And then we reach the side of the island opposite the Lido, and it's apparent that it really has taken quite a beating.

Sad, yes, but Nature will sort it all out in due course. And - if you're a goat, at least - there is something of a bright side in that all those leaves are now easier to get at!

To end on a happy note, here's a picture of a friendly and soon to be very well fed little goat :-

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Three Months

And you may ask did I get here? (Talking Heads, "Once in a Lifetime")

So, three months ago a water taxi plonked us down in Campo San Barnaba without so much as a set of keys in our pockets and now...well...are we where we want to be?

Geographically : There were days when the bureaucracy seemed impassible. There were, are, and will be days of thinking we will never get a proper grip on the language. Frankly, there were days when we thought it would never stop raining. And then there are those moments when we get a vaporetto home at night, and the only thing to be seen on the Grand Canal is the silhouette of a lone gondolier, and we think...bloody hell...this is where we live!

Financially : I've got to put my hands up here, I thought I'd been pretty brutal on the initial start-up costs, but I I miscalculated. I naively thought we'd be settled into a flat within two weeks. That sort of timescale just doesn't seem to be possible in Italy. You can't just see a place you like, give your references and deposit and move in the next day. There are a lot more hoops to jump through. I'd also made no allowance for those banal everyday items that, nevertheless, you find yourself needing to buy : a replacement camera (and I'm not pointing fingers here but it was NOT MY FAULT), a bedside light, kitchen scales, a mop, beach towels, a fish slice, a dressing gown (look, it's a flat with lots of windows in a built up area, let's say no more eh?). All seemingly silly, insignificant things, but they all mount up. We got away with this due to some unexpected cash from our previous employer but still...if you try this yourself be ultra-realistic on the initial costs.

Philosophically : There are times when it's been easier for me than Caroline. The reason for this is pretty simple - I spent most of the 1990s working abroad and so I was prepared for the culture shock (and it doesn't matter how well you know somewhere, when you move there long term there will be a culture shock). This isn't meant to sound smug : she spent the decade having a good time in London and Edinburgh. I spent most of it sitting alone in bars in some of the bleaker industrial towns of the Ruhrgebiet and wondering why I didn't have a girlfriend. And yet - if things can seem a bit difficult at times - there are also those moments of chance encounters with lovely Italian people, the pleasures of a free classical concert, of time spent cooking a nice piece of fish for tea, of discovering a fantastically bonkers piece of contemporary opera, of Negronis that taste like a friendly punch, of long afternoons in the sun, and of those wonderful moments when you have an in-depth political conversation and think yes, I speak this language now. And ultimately, of the realisation that you've reached middle-age and never expected to have an adventure again and yet here you are, right in the middle of one.

Are we where we want to be? Oh yes.