It was time to pay another gas bill. Our landlord gave us the already overdue bill last Thursday night. As I was heading off for a two day trip to Rome with my aunt and uncle on Friday morning, I confidently strode to the post office first thing before we left, and faltered immediately. A friendly man stopped me outside the post office, where lots of people were milling about. Was it a strike? Opening late? Fire emergency? The nice man was finally able to get across to me that it would be impossible to get service today because all the pensioners were there for their money. You may wonder why this happens at the post office, much like I wonder why I have to go to the post office to pay a gas bill. I don't really know. What I can tell you is that in the three times I've been to the post office, I've yet to see any of the dozens of other people filling the lobby do anything such as mail a package or purchase stamps. I do not think "post office" means what I think it means.
I was late getting there today because my landlady had shown up with the handyman (more on that later). And so...
I arrive at the post office at 11:45, and they close at 1pm. I have 75 minutes to get to a window, but the number I pull out of the ticket machine makes me 35th in line. I watch with great interest as different windows handle different services (none of which seem to involve actual mailing services), I watch the women tapping their boots (always the boots - boots or schnazzy tennis shoes are the only approved footwear), I watch the crowd grow increasingly restless as the clock ticks towards 1:00pm. One man's number is skipped - we go from A172 to A174. He is A173 and skips between the windows that keep progressing upward - now we're at A175, and he keeps getting waved off. He tries to explain to A175 that it's his turn, and A175 actually elbows A173 out of the way. Meanwhile A176 snaked up to another open window. I watch with mounting anxiety that my number, A193, will also be skipped. I frantically flip through my memory index of words to form a sentence. The only thing I come up with would roughly translate as, "My number is not in the sky." I can already see the disdain on the faces of those around me as this imaginary scenario plays out. "Why are Americans so dimwitted?" they are thinking. Americans can't pronounce basic words, they order cappuccinos after 11am, they don't know how to eat their food in order, they have no idea how to follow directions, and they're obsessed with following the rules. The clock continues to tick, and now I remember something else I need to prepare for. When my landlady came over this morning, she asked me if I'd paid the bill. All I could say was, "It was not possible. There were many people." She kept waving her arms about, saying "scadenza," which I finally looked up and found that it means expired/late. I wished I knew how to say, "I know it's late, but your son just gave it to me, and it was already late when he gave it to me." I did not know how to say this, so I just looked at her helplessly and promised that I will pay the bill today. These are words I know.
So now I'm here, in the post office, trying to pay the bill - but what if the clerk quizzes me about my tardiness. How do I explain that I just got the bill, that I came to pay it but the office was overrun with pensioners blocking my way, that I'm sorry and will pay a late fee? More frantic flipping through my mental index for words. We hit 12:45pm and the natives are restless. Feet start shuffling, there are many glances around the room, as if assessing what each person is there to do and how long it will take. I am wondering what actually happens at 1pm. Are people with numbers out of luck? It's 12:50pm and I am third in line...and I'm in. The clerk doesn't quiz me on my late payment, she does however short me my exact change. She rounded up to the nearest dollar and gave me change for that. A neat trick for the post office since my receipt clearly stated that I paid the exact amount of the bill (which is what will then be given to the gas company). So the post office made .34 off of me - if they do that for everyone, they can turn a tidy profit. Perhaps it's something the U.S. Postal Service could consider as well. I resolve to let nothing stand in my way of an 8am arrival the next time a bill is due. But I couldn't turn my landlady and repairman away today.
A few weeks after we moved in, little chunks of plaster began falling from the dining room ceiling. The hole grew ever larger, and I dutifully pointed it out to our landlady each month when she came to collect the rent. Then, a few weeks ago, a crack opened up and actual rain began coming in. The water damage spread to the nearby wall and other parts of the ceiling, along with a growth of mold. I again reported it to our landlady. One night, about 8:30pm, there was much buzzing of the doorbell and shouting out in the street. Our landlady had arrived with two of her nephews and the english speaking girlfriend of one of them to act as our translator. We all trooped around on the roof in the dark before fixing a time for the nephews to return the following week as long as it doesn't rain on our appointed day. It rained. I called my landlady, and she just said another time. Last week, when we went to dinner at our landlord's restaurant, he said he'd come by today to take a look. Two hours after our appointment time, our landlady showed up with a handyman from their hotel who has done some work at the house before. He lugged a huge propane tank and roofing material up to the roof, and I watched in horror as he then lit a huge torch on fire, then just laid it down on the roof, too near to the propane tank for comfort. He rolled out the roofing material and used a huge laser flame of fire on it. I have proof:
|See the white glow in the very center of this photo, on the roof - that's fire and the fire torch.|
While Mike was setting the roof afire, Mamma Anna (landlady) found a broom and began sweeping the numerous terraces that encircle the house. She then moved on from sweeping to weeding the 70 or so planters that dot the terraces. When I tried to help, she waved me off and told me that she likes to clean and I should go do something else. I went off to another terrace to weed the planters there, but saw later I had not done this task satisfactorily as she was out there redoing it all. She also did not like the broom tray I provided (it was hers, left here at the house), and she threw it in the trash can. We love that tray, and I tried to tell her, but she said it doesn't work. How can it not work? You hold it on the ground and sweep trash into it. It has a long handle on it, so you don't even have to bend over - ingenious. I've just dug it out of the trash. Mamma Anna just kept muttering that the house is so much work. This was worrisome to me because I do not want Mamma Anna to decide she no longer wants to rent the house out. We do have a lease, but the landlord can break it if there is a repair he/she is not willing to make (such as a moldy wall, which we now have). I began using all the superlatives I know to talk about how wonderful the house is, how much we love it, how we enjoy all the work on the gardens. I do NOT want to go through the house hunting process here again!
Eventually, Mike was finished with the fire breathing and Mamma Anna was finished with the weeding and sweeping. The inside cracks, falling plaster, and mold are saved for another day because Mike has too much to do at the hotel right now. Since the busy season is just starting, I cannot imagine he will have free time before next November or so. We'll live with the cracks and falling plaster, and I'll just bleach the moldy wall. Things are different here.