A new season – another new start.
As the trees burst into bloom, we pack up once again. This time we’re moving a mere10 km however, rather than the 1,600 from London to Florence, we did 3 months ago. A little closer to the school, on the other side of the valley, is another Agriturismo where we will be spending the summer.
There’s something bittersweet about this move, as can be expected.
On the one hand, its exciting to be trying out a new place. Its not as rustic as our current abode (Poggio), and there is no one onsite, so our day-to-day life will be more private.
On the other, it will be very emotional to leave the place we have felt so welcomed.
Starting our Italian adventure here in Poggio has been great for so many reasons. Well, mainly one reason: our hosts. The very fact that they are on site has meant I have never felt isolated or over worried about things going wrong because there was always friendly help on hand, complete with local knowledge. There have been storms when the electricity has cut out several times during the evening and I have been left without light/heating/internet and with 2 quite scared children. And while the problem itself (electrical cut-out) may not be immediately resolved, the reassurance of camaraderie is there, and the whole debacle feels more like an adventure rather than a serious problem. They helped us in finding the school for the children, which turns out, has a great reputation in the surrounding area, and rightly so as the kids love going there. (Cassi has another school trip coming up soon, this time to the Kandinsky/Pollock exhibition ). They have even helped us in finding new accommodation to see us over the summer!
Which on first impression made me worried they were eager to have us leave and that the seemingly mutual appreciation, was in fact unrequited. However, it transpires, that it is quite the opposite, and that it is because they like us so, that instead of taking more money from us, which would have been inevitable, they prefered to help us find what we needed and make the transition as smooth as possible.
Perhaps you have began to ask yourself why exactly are we leaving Poggio tre Lune? Maybe at this point it is a good idea for me to explain. It is because, as the name suggests, it is an Agri-turismo. Meaning that they depend on the tourist industry for their livelihood. And now, my friends, we have reached the mid-season. It is not only the flowers around us that explode into life at this time of year, but also the demand for beautiful locations to spend italian vacations. Tuscany often being the most desired place to stay, for obvious reasons. Temperature is ideal, fresh air and beautiful views, world class culture in a beautiful city, great food, great wine, blah blah blah.
So inevitably, prices go up; not to mention they are fully booked for the summer now, with both new and returning customers of 15 years. (We were originally offered a flat rate to rent for the year here if we had agreed back in January, but at the time we did not want to commit to anything beyond 3 months as we really had no idea of how this little cultural experience could pan out. For all we knew, we’d be dying to come back to England, desperate for baked beans and rain.)
So our lovely hosts will be cranking up the prices over the next couple of months, peaking in the summer and reducing them again in the autumn. And so us, like migrant swallows, who incidentally are merrily building nests in every crevice here, will move with the seasons, to pastures new, to graze upon greener grasses, at lower prices 😉
I feel as if we are fledglings leaving the nest in a way. Again, there is a natural flow to the way of life here, even for us. Having been gently nurtured into our new life in Italy, now we are ready to go at it alone… 10 kms away.
Now, in among all this, 2 important differences from my general experience of life in London have been highlighted. 1) social solidarity 2) Money.
I am neither a politician nor an economist. As a result my perspective is open, I have no need to defend any particular stance, and am not interested in converting anyone into my way of thinking.
So let me tell you what I have concluded from the little experience I have witnessed as an intruder in a foreign body. The cost of living here is high. As high as it is in London. Something I could never have imagined.
There are so many hidden costs here that catch you out when you are trying to stick to a budget. And ultimately there is no way near the same potential for earnings. So generally, people just about make ends meet, if that. From a few informal chats, it transpires that the tax system here really is predatory, and that for every extra € you make, they’re gonna want at least another 60c.
They will happily just spring a bill for €€€€s either for water use or the recycling or whatever they can, if they even sniff that you may have had a few more bums on seats in your restaurant this month. If you are thinking of renovating the extra wing in your agriturismo, you are going to have to prove that no one is staying there if you don’t want to start paying business rates on that too.
The result means there is very little incentive for anyone to invest and improve their earning potential, which ultimately leads to a slow economy for the country.
Don’t get me wrong, I am pro-tax, I am sorta lefty and I believe in society. The thing is I can’t really figure out where all this tax is going? definitely not the roads. I don’t know of a social security system here and I am not aware of a big Defence either.
Maybe it goes on all those fancy uniforms all the civil servants have to wear? (Everyone has a gun BTW, including the parking wardens).
Anyway, in spite of this utter financial mess. The Italians manage to keep a sunny disposition. It appears that because they have lost (or perhaps never had) this aggressive capitalist attitude, the elusive € is not at the centre of their pursuits. Conversely, chasing the buck, brings them very little advance, so instead they are left to focus on the finer things in life, such as friendship, coffee and the perfect gelato.
Getting your tyres changed in the local garage is a delightful exchange of laugher and insight into the pride each takes in their trade. The garage is immaculate and all the kit is of a high standard. Everyone is smoking a roll-up from the corner of their mouths, wearing the obligatory, strategically oil-stained, blue overalls (this is not azurro for those of you who are wondering; overalls undoubtably require a much more serious darker blue).
They do their job with integrity and good humour. (No one even suggested that it might cost more to fix the tyres than the car is worth and they’d be willing to give us a fiver to take the junk off our hands.)
Buying the bread at the bakers usually results in a few freebies for the kids including half a loaf for us to try out, because we happened to inquire about it.
Is it possible there is a correlation between the lack of ardent capitalism and the local affability?
I know there is a long and violent history of communism in these parts. And perhaps there might be a general “we’ve made our beds” attitude in acceptance of the oppressive and unrelenting, corrupt economic system here. But there does seem to be an upshot. People depend on each other and are happy to be dependable without the need to charge for the service. Its a genuine feeling, and a stark contrast to what I felt as a citizen of the Royal Borough of Westminster, where competition, be it for school places or parking spaces seemed to override any potential for genuine exchange in a lot of cases, even with people I may have known for years. London is a metropolis of disproportionate measures, and it is perhaps ridiculous to compare these 2 hugely contrasting situations.
But contrast they do!