Friday, 14 March 2014

Dulce Domum

I committed to renting a flat last week. For at least three years. Without even seeing it. No, really.

I'm working six days a week at present, and so I'm rarely in the city during working hours. We'd seen somewhere that sounded extremely promising, and Caroline had the chance of the first viewing. The problem was, the agent explained, that eighty other people had also expressed an interest. Now, even allowing for hyperbole, this didn't sound beyond the realms of possibility : any number of flats proved to be taken by the time I rang up to enquire. So it would almost certainly have gone by the time I was able to see it as well.

There was really only one thing to do. I told Caroline that - if she liked it - to just go for it. If she liked it, I reasoned, I was almost certainly going to like it as well. And besides, think back to 2001 and my decision to spend eighteen months in a crumbling gothic pile with dry rot. Whose opinion would you trust?

So after lessons one Friday morning I checked my phone and found a message saying that, yes, she'd made an offer and actually put money down as the first step of the deposit. Later that day, the agent came back to us saying that the landlord had provisionally agreed. There was still a week until everything could be finalised but, last Friday, she went along to sign the final agreement.

And so it was that I found myself signed up to living in a flat without actually seeing it. We got the keys a bit earlier than planned, and I was able to go around there after work. Behind the church of the Scalzi, near the railway station, in a block originally built for railway workers.

It isn't perfect, but we'd realised that nowhere was going to tick every box and this ticked more than anywhere else we'd seen. Truth be told, the only real problem is the kitchen. In fact, it's not even the kitchen itself (which is bigger than the one we have now), but just the cooker hood and the fridge which the previous occupant had decided to paint an unpleasant shade of yellowy-brown. Why would anybody paint a fridge yellowy-brown? For that matter, why would anybody paint a fridge at all? I have no idea, but I can probably sort it out. I think I'm capable of painting a fridge. At the very least, I'm capable of ignoring it until I don't notice it any more.

So there we are. Two bedrooms, a bathroom with a proper stand-up shower at last, a decent-sized living room. A balcony that looks over a nicely-maintained communal garden. A shared altana that looks towards terra firma and the mountains on one side, and right over to the campanile of San Marco on the other. Ten minutes walk to Piazzale Roma, which should save us an hour of commuting every day; and just a short walk to the station in case of a bus strike.  I think we've been lucky.

I committed to renting a flat last week. For at least three years. Without even seeing it. Because my wife is brilliant.

Thursday, 6 March 2014


It sounded too good to be true.

A friend of a friend had a flat available for rent from early March. Near Rialto Mercato, overlooking the Grand Canal, private altana. 4+4 contract available, and no agent fees to pay. I looked at the photographs. It looked fantastic. But there was no way in hell we could afford this...surely...? Still, I mailed the owner and asked what the rent would be.

I blinked when I read her reply. This couldn't be true. How could you possibly rent a flat directly overlooking the Grand Canal for that much? Had she missed a zero off the end?

Neverthless, it seemed to be true. We had to wait an agonisingly long time to view it, but, finally, the existing tenants moved out, Caroline went along to take a look, and came back saying that - although completely unfurnished - it was also absolutely fantastic.

I ran through the figures. The rent seemed an incredible price for what it was, but still at the absolute upper limit of what we could afford. Then there'd be the cost of transporting our furniture and installing a new kitchen. It was more money than we should sensibly pay.

Yet, how could we not? A flat on the Grand Canal, at that price?

There was just one problem. The movida. Don't look this up in an Italian dictionary as it doesn't appear to exist, but the newspapers use it to describe giant pub crawls of young people moving from bar to bar late into the night. Campo Santa Margherita is the area most notoriously affected by the movida, but the areas round Piazzale Roma, Strada Nova and Rialto Mercato are also prone to it.

OK, this isn't a cemetery town (yet). Young people need a place to go, and in a city with only one nightclub (Piccolo Mondo, a place in which one of my students danced the night away in cheerful ignorance of an earthquake shaking the city outside) there have to be alternatives. But the problem with the movida is that the crowds spill out into the streets, where the combination of beery ranting and loud music blasting out from bars makes the area an absolute misery for those unfortunate enough to live in the vicinity.

Still. We've lived in Leith. How bad could it be? We'd set our hearts on the place, and I was due to go for a look around when the owner called to say she'd already let it.

We felt a bit crushed at first, until later that evening. We found ourselves walking home through Rialto Mercato, in the thick of the movida. It is almost impossible to describe just how ear-bleedingly noisy it was. Music hammered out from every conceivable space in an unholy cacophony, as the punters on the street bellowed themselves purple in a hopeless attempt to make themselves heard.

Conversation was impossible but, through the medium of sign language, I managed to ask Caroline if the flat was nearby. She pointed to an adjacent building, and a flat - three stories up - directly above the almighty row below. 

Ears ringing, we made our way home. Three nights of this every week? For the next four years? It had sounded too good to be true. It probably was.