Monday, 24 February 2014

You could do a lot with this place (cont.)...

I can hear a sharp intake of breath as soon as I give the location of the flat. Yes, it is still available - the agent explains - but it is in very poor condition.

I take a look at my notes.

'It is described as abitabile', I say.

'Abitabile, si. But in very poor condition.'

'Ah. right.'

'And the building is very poor, un brutto condominio...'

'Erm...'

'...in fact, four people have seen it and said the condition was too bad for them to want it'.

I'm impressed by his honesty, although his sales patter possibly needs a bit of work. I'm just about to sign off politely when he interjects, 'But you should perhaps see it anyway!'

I agree. I have no idea why, but I agree.

Caroline heads off to see it the very next day. My hopes aren't high, yet she returns saying that - although it really is in a bit of a state - it's a lot of flat for the money and maybe, just maybe, with a bit of work...

'Are you saying', say I, 'that You Could Do A Lot With It?'

'Mmmm. Yes, I suppose so.'

I bite my tongue. We make an appointment to see it together.

On a bright Sunday morning we head off to Giudecca. The agent, an affable fellow who has lived there all his life, meets us at Zitelle. The building itself was originally constructed to house workers at the Junghans company, and is located in what I suppose we'd now call a gated community. We enter through a locked door, walk down a passage, and through a series of gardens, past a series of condominiums all of which, it has to be said, look in rather better condition than the one he leads us too.

He tells us to be careful as we make our way up the stairs, and gives the bannister a good shake to indicate how perilous it is. The flat itself is completely bare. There is not a stick of furniture in it. We'd need to get a new kitchen. The bathroom is functional, but a depressing shade of pink, and the plumbing is such that the washing machine drains directly into the bath.

And yet...it is a lot of flat for the money. The location is pretty good, there's a huge amount of space, two terraces (one of which looks out towards the back of the Redentore) and a small (if completely overgrown) garden. Yes, you really could do a lot with it...

Then reality kicks in. The whole place requires repainting. The skirting boards, door frames and some of the doors need replacing. The window fittings are rusting through. Half the of the shutters/blinds no longer work. The floor, I have to concede, is in excellent condition but I'm not sure that "nice floor" is enough of a selling point.

I could, I suppose, repaint it all myself if I felt like spending an entire Venetian summer redecorating an unairconditioned flat. The rest of it is way beyond me. It could look fantastic. It's more likely to be a money pit.

We smile politely, and tell the agent we'll let him know...

Friday, 14 February 2014

What do you miss?

I was recently asked this question on Facebook, and thought it deserved a proper response.

The obvious answer is 'friends'. The more frivolous answer would be 'beer', but it's surprising how quickly the human body can adapt to a diet of spritzes and vino sfuso. I'm not sure if we miss the food or not. Whenever we return to the UK, we try and cross off those things we can't get in Italy - fish and chips, pies, Indian and Chinese food. But somehow fish and chips is never quite as nice as you remember and - after a week of Trad British Staples - we're usually ready for Italian food again. It feels like detoxing. We would like to find a decent Indian or Chinese restaurant over here though.

There are some aspects of our cultural life that we miss (I really did try not to use the phrase, "our cultural life" but it seemed unavoidable. Please feel free to report me to Pseud's Corner in Private Eye). We used to go to the theatre on an almost weekly basis. We don't do that anymore. Maybe we should persevere at the Teatro Goldoni. We used to go to an art event or an opening almost every week - again, we don't do that anymore, although the Biennale kind of makes up to it.

Italian television isn't up to much, but nearly everything we want to watch is available in various degrees of legality. And I think I might even prefer RAI3 to Radio 3.

I don't go to as many concerts as I used to. On the other hand, I take part in more, which seems like a fair exchange. But there is one thing I miss more than anything else. I used to love going to the opera, whether it was Scottish Opera at home in Edinburgh, or travelling down to see WNO in Cardiff. Ten pounds would buy you a perfectly good seat with an unrestricted view. Fifty quid would get you the best seat in the house. That is not the case over here. We saw a pretty good Madama Butterfly at La Fenice last year. Well-enough played and sung, and the set was beautifully designed. Or rather, what we could see of the set seemed to be beautifully designed. The cost was 85 euros. At that sort of price, a visit has to be a very occasional treat. So we find ourselves living five minutes walk from an opera house, something that would once have been my dream, and yet we rarely go there.

So there we have it - completely against my expectations, the thing I most miss about living in Italy is...the opera. You have to appreciate the irony, at least!


Monday, 3 February 2014

You could do a lot with this place...

You know, you could do a lot with this place...

Flashback to 2002, and a place we now refer to as "the crumbling gothic pile"; a flat in Edinburgh we lived in for two years because I was strangely smitten with its, well, crumbliness. I thought we could do a lot with it. In the end, I fitted a new shower curtain. It didn't really transform the place. We moved out shortly after dry rot was discovered...

Ever since then "you could do a lot with this place" has been the siren and blue flashing light that indicates "Stop now. Do not even think about this." And yet, the other day, I saw somewhere that was a bit run down, a bit shabby and yet...with a lick of paint and our own furniture...yeah, we could do a lot with it. I reported this back to Caroline, who went to see it on her own, and came back to me more in sorrow than in anger...

Still, there are other possibilities at the moment. An apartment near San Lorenzo seemed almost ideal. Almost. The agent assured us it was esente acqua alta. I wasn't 100% convinced as I couldn't help noticing that all the furniture had been moved on top of the tables, and a water pump was placed directly by the front door. Still, he assured us it was no problem unless the water level reached 140cm. OK, there was no sign of damp or water damage so he might well have been correct. Then the owner's friend turned up and, before he could be stopped, said he'd come to see if there was any water damage after the recent floods. I'm not saying we're writing it off just yet, but still...

The other place, down in Castello, is similarly almost perfect. Compact and bijou, or, if you prefer, the size of a matchbox; but it's nicely finished off and the neighbours seem lovely. We got well and truly lost on our way back home (heading for Arsenale, we somehow managed to arrive at Celestia) but that was an excuse to stop for a restorative drink and the first fritelle of the year at Rosa Salva.

So nothing has been sorted as yet but at least - after weeks when nothing much seemed to be happening - things are moving a bit now.