Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Merry Christmas from Scotland

We are spending Christmas on the beautiful, remote Isle of Skye. Our hotel had Santa visit our room last night, leaving us a bottle of whiskey, some chocolates, and a lovely candle. This photo is the view from our hotel suite door - 9am is still pretty dark this far north!

Our wee bonnie lassie turned up sick a couple of days ago, so our tour of Scotland has also included the UK National Health Service emergency room. We just have to watch her breathing carefully for the next few days to make sure her airway stays clear.

We wish you all a Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 14, 2012

More Post Office Secrets

Another day and another trip to the post office. Some of you may remember my post office woes from last year, which I wrote about here. This summer, I discovered the secret is to be 8 months pregnant and insist on head of the line privileges. It helps to have rivers of sweat pouring of your swollen, misshapen body. I've been able to discover a way to circumvent going to the post office to pay our gas and cell phone bill by paying it at the local Tabacchi store. They run the bill I receive through a little, reading machine, I hand over money, they give me a receipt. It's all very handy. I thought I was home free, never again to have to experience the horrors of the Italian post office.

And then I got a speeding ticket. Our freeways around Naples have an automated camera system, ensuring I dutifully followed the ridiculously low speed limit our first year and a half.  And I got tired of driving 45mph on a freeway. And after months of driving a little faster than I should, and no ticket, I rested on my laurels. Then Nathan called me one day towards the end of November to say I'd gotten a ticket. (Tickets come to him at work because our car is registered through a military DMV system rather than the Italian version of the DMV.). We deduced, based on the day and the location of the camera, that it was one of the many days this summer I headed to the doctor - the camera caught me in August, the information from the camera was downloaded in October. We have some sort of rule that says we don't have to pay tickets from x number of months ago, but this ticket, we had to pay. Unfortunately for me, a new camera system was installed on a road I travel frequently and at perhaps a higher speed than I should. The speeding ticket is a flat rate, 170euro ticket (roughly $220) for going anywhere from 10-40km over the speed limit - that's 6-25mph. So go six miles over the limit, get caught by a camera and pay $220. Ouch! With the two to three times per week I was going to the base for doctor visits and the like in August, I told Nathan we might be in for a rough ride. Sure enough, the next day, another ticket came in the mail. I confidently headed down to the Tabacchi to pay my fines...and got turned away. The Tabacchi could not take the payment, only the post office. [Picture my face full of horror and silent screaming] Please don't make me go back there.

Before I could get a chance to schedule four spare hours or so, a friend told me of her recent post office visit with her young baby, and all the people let her go first. Because of the baby. I have one of those! So one day, Baby and I headed to the post office, me thinking I'd get in, some nice person would tell all the other people that I needed to go first because of the baby, I'd take the 60 seconds I use to hand over money, and we'd be outta there. I got into the post office through the still-very-weird door lock system, pressed my Number A button on the ticket machine, and realized I'd gotten number 108. The number board informed me that we were on Number 24. As I turned to face the disgruntled crowd, I realized there was not a chance someone was going to give up their spot.

At this point, a married couple came up so the lady could coo over the baby. She immediately felt her hands and proceeded to scold me because the baby's hands were cold. I have yet to leave my house without being scolded for taking my baby out into the rain/cold/wind, etc. Pick your poison because one of them makes me a horrible mother. Now the day was mildly cold, Nora was dressed warmly, had on a hat, had a blanket over her, and my stroller bassinet has a cover that almost completely encloses her. The baby is not going to freeze. I just told the woman that Nora is like me, always with the cold hands and feet. This was mainly just to pacify the woman. She immediately grabbed my hand to feel it, then proceeded to tell me that my hands were warm and the baby's hands were cold. Doesn't the baby have gloves, she asked. This discussion went on for far too long, especially since it was essentially all about me being a bad mother. Then we moved on to where do I live and why am I in Italy. It comes out that she doesn't have any grandchildren because of her three sons, only one is married, and he and his wife are very, very poor because he does not have a job. Her husband wants to know what my husband does. Her husband keeps whispering things in her for her to ask me, such as can my husband hire their son. I'm thinking I'm trapped in one of Dante's circles. And then Nora starts screaming. I pick her up, and now the husband starts to scold me because there is too much cigarette smoke in the air for the baby. I agree! Even though there is no smoking inside, every person in there probably smokes, so the smell just coming off their clothes is overpowering. I'm bouncing Nora on my shoulder, trying to tell the husband that it is too smoky, but I have to pay my bills, while still fending off the continued conversation with the wife that no, my husband can definitely not hire their son, when I feel wetness down my shoulder. Baby vomit. A lot of baby vomit that is running down both my front and back. I thought it was all over then, and I'd reached disaster point, the moment where the day completely breaks down, when instead, a nice postal worker called out to me, asking me why I was there. While wiping baby vomit off myself, trying to put my ponytail back up and tame the hair that was waving about wildly, and still soothe the screaming baby, whom I'd laid in her bassinet so quickly that she had one leg hanging over the side, I told the postal clerk that I just had two bills to pay...and she waved me to her! Yes, baby - you did good. A vomit covered shirt was a very small price to get out of that place. And as I left after my 60 second transaction, I realized that in the 40 minutes I'd been there, we'd gone from number 24 to 38. This progress was with five lanes open. I left my number 108 behind gleefully, but with great fear of speeding tickets that may be still to come.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Riddle Me This

In the last two weeks, we have had major electrical problems at our house. They began the night we returned from our week in Slovenia and Croatia, and I promise I will eventually get to blogging about that trip. Although come to think of it, almost exactly one year ago I wrote that I would eventually get to blogging about our trip to the German Christmas Markets...and then I spent the next few months either sick on the sofa, fitting in pre-baby trips, cleaning out clutter, or sleeping.

Any-hoo, here in Italy, we have two choices for how we pay our power bill. Either the landlord keeps the utilities in his/her name and tenants just pay the landlord (or in our case with our gas bill, she brings us the bill and we pay it directly) or we can go through an office called Residential Services on base. For a fee of $10 per month, this office handles our billing. For problems, we call them and they contact the utility company on our behalf. They close at 6pm. The night we arrived home from our Thanksgiving trip, we arrived after dark on a rainy night, got the car unloaded and unpacked the bare minimum, fed the baby and got her to sleep, then collapsed on the sofa. And about 30 seconds later, the lights went out. Only our house. After awhile, the power came back on, we chalked the problem up to a "living in Italy" issue, and thought nothing more about it. Until the next night when the power went out again. The power going out continued sporadically, would last from 30 minutes to 2 hours, and there was no common denominator. Finally it happened during the daytime, so I was able to call Residential Services. The rep there spent almost two hours trying to contact the electric company, and when our power came back on by itself again, she stopped trying to call them. And so our world turned. I tried various things such as never using the dryer and heater at the same time, not turning on the kitchen light, all sorts of combinations and reductions in usage, all to no avail. This week, the power went out right at 6pm. But this time, on a very cold, winter night, it stayed out. The temperature in the house kept dropping. We wrapped our little baby in her fleece pajamas into a heavy, fleece swaddle, put a hat on her head, and I spent most of the night, until 3am when the power returned, awake and checking her to make sure she wasn't freezing. Thankfully, the power went out again just a few hours later, in the middle of the day, when I could actually call for help.

Residential Services contacted the electric company, got thru to them quickly, and in about two hours, called me to tell me that the electric technicians were on my street, but they could not find my house. I asked if they were in a car or a truck so I would no what to look for, and their answer to the Res Svc rep was that they were in a white van. I walked up to the piazza and down to the main crossroad - no electric company white van around. The Res Svc rep, who was on the phone with me the entire time, asked if I was sure of my address. I've lived here for two years, and while there is much about Italy of which I am not at all sure, I can safely say I know my address very well. And I've looked it up on Google Satellite, so, unlike many addresses here, mine actually exists to the outside world. As it turns out, the electric technicians had gone to the street with the same name two villages over. They eventually made it in their white "van," which turned out to be a four door, hatchback sedan smaller than our Toyota Camry, but they did have two ladders strapped to the roof, so perhaps the ladders changed the designation from tiny car to van.

Because my electricity doesn't work, my buzzer to open the entry door doesn't work either. One must have a key. Typically, houses here have a buzzer that acts like a doorbell, and inside the home, residents have a button to push to unlock the door. Our entry door is at the street level and opens onto a small, covered foyer, and then goes up an outdoor staircase onto our terrace and garden. This upper level is where we live as well. We have very tall, iron fencing around the entire side and backyard and most of it is covered with thick, vine plants and thorny, bougainvillea. I have one other entry/exit gate, which is locked, chained, and rusted shut. I let in two technicians to our entry with my key. Two technicians without a ladder. I talked with them a few minutes, then went inside. About 10 minutes later, before the power had been restored, one of the men knocked on the house door and requested that I let him out the entry door with the key. We went downstairs, and as I unlocked the door, I saw the other man whom I'd let into the garden sitting in their white "van." So riddle me this:  How did that man get out of my gardens to the street when his co-worker had to ask me for a key to get out? I'd like to know, mainly because if he could get out without my help, then logic tells me that he could also get back in. I'll never know, but I do have constant electricity now. Hot water, electricity, and heat. I am living the high life! This sort of fancy living will come to an end soon, I am sure.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Water is Driving Me Insane

I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving. We ate Turkey a day late in a small restaurant in Slovenia, complete with way too much food and tryptophan comas. But enough about Slovenia. Let's talk water. As in, why-oh-why can I not have working hot water at my house for more than seven days at a time. You may recall that water issues have been a constant theme since our move to Italy. Our most recent issue started about two months ago. The plumber came out, did a bunch of work, then left...and we had hot water for about two weeks. Then the water started going. Not too hot, not too cold, and definitely not just right. We have hot water during the middle of the day, but not in the mornings and not in the evenings. The plumber came out again and insisted I had hot water all the time. Another week went by, I called him out again, he said I had hot water. I tried to explain that it comes and goes, and I got the dreaded, Italian shoulder shrug. I see his point in that when he comes to my house, and the hot water works, what is he supposed to do. But I can't very well text him at 6am, when Nathan wants to take his shower, or at 10pm, when I want to take mine. My sister was visiting, and she took to boiling pots of water on the stove to add to bathwater in order to make it hot enough. Nathan's response as she walked through the house with her boiling water: "Welcome to the 1800s." I'm just wondering why the people who invented hot, indoor water don't have some sort of ancestral knowledge to GIVE ME A HOT SHOWER! This sounds spoiled when I think about it, considering the millions of people on this planet who don't even have access to clean drinking water, much less have a luxury like a hot bath every day. However, we are paying thousands of dollars each month to rent here, and I really believe that a portion of my thousands should include hot water all the live long day.

I love our landlord, I really do. He is wonderful to deal with face to face. But I have a terrible time communicating with him over the phone. And the phone is how we usually handle matters - we call him, he sends a workman (usually on the same day, which is rare in these parts), the workman may or may not fix the problem properly, and if it's not fixed as well as it should be or only sort of fixed, I'm just too exhausted emotionally to go through another round - the process is more taxing than it sounds. After a great deal of phone back and forth this week (basically me calling to ask where the plumber is and my landlord telling me that the plumber told him he'd already come), my landlord came in person. Hallelujah! I explained to him about the variable hot water, and he instantly grasped the problem. Within another hour, the plumber was here, drilling through walls and such.

The plumber is also here fixing a water leak in the radiator system. I didn't even go into how we don't have heat other than an electric, wall unit that causes our power to go out indefinitely once per day. As I was finishing up this post, I could hear lots of arguing on our back patio and more voices than the two men I let in (when we let people "in" to our home, we open the door to our downstairs entryway that opens onto our gardens upstairs, so it's easy enough for workmen to let in more people on their own). Then my landlord called from the back (aha - that's the extra voice) to apologize and tell me that the plumber would have to return tomorrow to fix the hot water. He was very, very apologetic, probably because he' was looking at a new mom with dirty hair and baby vomit on her and leaving her with no way to comfortably right this terrible, unhygienic wrong. On a better note, though, our radiators are pumping out precious, yummy heat. Mine and my baby's extremities can now begin to thaw. And who really cares if the two of us have dirty hair and spit up all over our necks and shoulders. Other than Nathan, I mean.