Saturday, July 30, 2005


After a fairly stressful week, things seemed to have returned to normal around here. We went to Marsciano with Armando on Friday to sign up for the Italian healthcare system, but I hadn’t brought any financial information with us. We were hoping that because we were retired, the pension wouldn’t be counted as income. We were wrong. The woman at the USL office told us that we would need to bring a copy of our tax form and that we would be charged at the rate of 7.5% of that income. This would cover both of us until the end of the year.

Because our tax form had a one time stock sale on it last year, I simply created a new tax form in TurboTax and printed it out. We returned to Marsciano on Saturday morning. In addition to the tax form we also needed to show our Permesso di Sogiorno.

I had converted our U.S. income into euro but the woman made a call to someone else to either verify my calculation or to compute the fees due. I had already calculated the fees based on the 7.5% we had been told, so we had a good idea what the total would be.

As the woman, Ms. Peccia, began to explain things to us, she told us that because it was almost August, it might be better to wait until December to join the system. In Italy the rate covers the calendar year and is not pro-rated. We would pay the same amount whether we joined in January or November.

Of course we had to interrupt to explain that Art had just been released from the hospital and we assumed that joining would certainly be less expensive than having to pay the hospital bill. And then something unusual happened: She picked up the phone and called the hospital to find out just how much our bill was going to be!

Although she was told that our final bill wouldn’t be ready until Monday morning, the billing clerk told her that it would be over €2000, well below what our annual fee for the healthcare system would be. Ms Peccia agreed that it would indeed make more sense to go ahead and join, and she prepared the documents that we would need to take to the Post Office to pay.

We had some cash with us that we’d withdrawn to pay for our garbage tax, and I made another withdrawal from the bancomat at the Post Office. We withdrew the balance from our checking account and will replace it in a few days when we’ve withdrawn the cash from our U.S. bank. (We’re limited to withdrawing $500 per day)

Once we’d paid the bill and had the receipt we returned to the clinic and presented it to Ms. Peccia. Luckily for us hers was the only office open on Saturday so there were very few people there. After waiting for a few minutes it was our turn again and she began entering our information into the computer.

During all of this we’d had one slight complication. Several months ago we’d been contacted by an American couple, Paul and Mer from Boston. They were living in Montepulciano for three months and had been following the blog from the beginning. We were supposed to meet them for lunch and had given them basic directions to Marsciano along with our phone numbers and had told them to call us as they got close. We were scheduled to meet around 12:30 or so, and when we hadn’t heard from them by noon we began to worry. Eventually Art decided that he’d drive back up to San Venanzo to see if they’d called the house and left a message. He explained the situation to Ms. Peccia and she had him sign the required document before he left.

By the time Art returned to Marsciano the documents were almost ready. Art told me that yes, Paul HAD called the house, but he hadn’t given us their phone number! Since our cell phone hadn’t rung we had to figure that they had the wrong cell number and that our only option was to return to San Venanzo and hope they called again.

When we got back home there was indeed another message on the answering machine confirming that they were dialing the wrong cell number, but also leaving THEIR cell number! At least we could call them! Unfortunately they said they still hadn’t figured out how to answer their cell phone so we should leave a message and they’d call us back.

After a few minutes Paul returned our call and told us that they were stopped on the side of the road near a cemetery. Since we know of only one cemetery in this area, we told them to stay right where they were and that we’d be right there.

Guess what? They weren’t at the cemetery just outside of San Venanzo! We drove down the hill towards Marsciano, trying to think of where another cemetery might be. I told Art to turn up one street we’d never been on, thinking that there might be a cemetery we’d never seen. Although we didn’t find a cemetery, the phone did ring and it was Paul again. We told him what had happened and he said that he was heading back towards Marsciano and was looking for some sort of landmark so that we’d know where they were.

Just then I saw a car drive by on the main road and I said “Paul, are you wearing a yellow shirt?” and he said “yes”. I said “stop right where you are, you just passed us and we’re coming to get you!” Whew!

I was still on the phone with Paul as Art pulled up beside him. We waved and told them to follow us to the restaurant. Originally they had invited us for pizza at Ternana’s, but it wasn’t until later that I realized that Ternana’s would be closed during the month of July. Too bad for Paul and Mer!

We decided that we’d go to a nice little local restaurant in Marsciano instead, and had planned to stop by earlier in the week, just to make sure that they were open on Saturday for lunch. We weren’t able to check because of Art’s unexpected hospital stay, so of course once we arrived at the restaurant they were indeed closed! Great!

We pulled into the parking lot and I got out of the car to talk to Paul and Mer. At this point we hadn’t really even met…just talked on the phone and waved from the car! I approached the car and said ”How do you all feel about the “F” word?” and Mer said “oh go for it!” At that point I summed it all up by saying “We have had the worst FUCKING week!” I then went on to explain about the hospital stay, and Mer told us that she’d just said to Paul (when they’d been unable to reach us) that she wondered if Art was okay….how strange!

Because Paul and Mer were over an hour away, we’d asked them to spend the night, just like we used to do with Jill and Larry. Luckily I had prepared the food for our dinner and it was waiting in the refrigerator.

We led the way up the hill to San Venanzo and settled in for lunch. I think both Art and I felt immediately comfortable with Paul and Mare and really liked them. This initial impression was only confirmed the more time we spent with them.

They had brought us some gifts….a bottle of Brunello because they’re staying near Montalcino, some CHEDDAR CHEESE!

After lunch we gave them the house and garden tour. Because they had followed the blog for so long they knew much of the story and could appreciate the many changes. In situations like these we’re always at the disadvantage….people know our story but we usually know very little about our guests.

Paul and Mer told us that they both work at Boston College and love Italy….so much so that they were married in Florence. They make regular visits to Italy and have friends here, but this was the first time they had ever spent such an extended time here. They’re several years from retirement and don’t know what their plans are. They own a summer home in Vermont and have thought about spending some time in Italy and some time in Vermont. Not a bad plan.

After lunch we took Paul and Mer on a drive…past Rotecastello and Fratta Todina and up to Monte Castello di Vibio. As expected they were charmed by the drive, the views and the town itself.  We wandered around for a while then ended up back in the square in front of the theater. Monte Castello boasts the smallest theater in the world, seating just 99 people. (The website is here….

Luckily for all of us the theater was open for tours! A pre-recorded message in English gave us the history of the theater and after listening we were allowed to wander through the theater. The main floor has about 60 seats and the remaining seats are in boxes on two levels. The walls and ceilings were covered with beautifully ornate paintings. The whole theater was like a tiny exquisite jewel box.

While we were there we checked to see if there were still seats available for the August performance and when the answer was yes we decided to buy two tickets. A belated birthday present for Art!

After we left Monte Castello we drove back through Marsciano. One of the best things about our drive was spotting the sunflower fields…apparently Mer is just as crazy as I am about sunflowers, and the intensely yellow fields are easy to spot.

Paul and Mer had told us that they had sampled gelato all over Tuscany, so we wanted to share one of Umbria’s best gelateria’s, Stefania’s, with them. As expected, Paul and Mare seemed quite impressed.

Because what I’d fixed for dinner had been eaten for lunch, because Paul and Mare wanted to treat us to dinner, and because our options were limited, we decided to eat at La Credenza, the restaurant at our local hotel, Villa Valentini. The restaurant had closed down over the winter and when they reopened they had added a pizza oven. We’d had the pizza there twice and it NOWHERE near as good as Ternana’s, but their regular menu is very good.

It was a mild night so we ate outside under the canopy. Everything we had was wonderful, from the appetizers of arugula with pineapple and a balsamic vinegar dressing to Art’s steak with mushrooms and Mer’s risotto with red wine. As we ate we heard music playing down in the small piazza at the bar centrale. After dinner we walked down to check it out.

As we approached the stairs leading down to the bar, the area was lined with people listening to the music. We saw friends and neighbors talking and enjoying the music. Children were dancing in the front of the band which was composed of three young women. There appeared to be one lead singer and two backup singers. One of the backup singers also played the accordion, and we later realized that the band was named after her-Erika.

As we listened to the band it was obvious that the lead singer really had a great voice. Art turned around to see that he was standing right next to Gioberto, our muratore (tile guy!) and he introduced us to the parents of the lead singer then told us that the two backup singers were his daughters! Complimenti!

As you can imagine, one of the best things about an event like this is just people-watching. Watching the kids dance was hilarious, especially as we watched one sweet little two year old try to get someone, anyone, to dance with her. Eventually a few of the adults danced too, and watching them was such a treat! They really knew what they were doing, but then of course we know that most of the town takes dance lessons. (If you don’t understand how we know this, you haven’t been reading the blog long enough)
During the evening we saw Mauro, Elvio, Frank, Armando and many others. It’s so nice to feel like a part of the community and to see friendly faces. What made this night even more special was to be able to share it with Paul and Mare. We don’t need to say a word about how much we love Italy, all people have to do is experience our life here and they immediately understand.

Eventually we walked back home…although Paul and Mer would be spending the night we knew they’d want to get up early. They had been invited to lunch by their friends in Montalcino, and after staying with this family for over two months, they felt like part of the family and felt obligated. It’s amazing how quickly people take you into their lives, and how easy it is to just become a part of this life. Somehow Italy seems to embrace you, to make you feel welcome…to make you feel at home.

Sunday morning got off to a slow start… be honest I still hadn’t caught up on my sleep from when Art was in the hospital and I KNOW I could have slept until noon! Luckily on Friday I had made a simple coffee cake for Sunday morning, and we had that along with coffee and yogurt.

As we sat at the kitchen table the phone rang. Because we know so few people in Italy, the phone ringing is still rather unusual for us. This call was even more unusual than most…it was the doctor who had come to the house on Tuesday night, just calling to see how Art was feeling! Can you even imagine such a thing happening in the states?!

By this time Mer was becoming more and more enthusiastic about living in Italy. The green of Umbria really appealed to her, and after seeing how we live, how we eat, and how much we love our life here, I think she was ready to make the move! Although Paul still has at least two more years before he can retire, Mer was planning to go home and crunch some numbers.

Art, ever ready to encourage people to make the move, showed Paul and Mer the plans for the new house that Mauro is planning to build just outside of the centro. We still had the plans from when Ramon and Anna had been here. Maybe Art’s just trying to choose his neighbors!

We walked the short distance out of town and showed Paul and Mer the building site. Although the view is spectacular, the site doesn’t have enough land for me. There is a small plot on the side where you could put in a small garden, but my recommendation would be to make friends with the neighbor….her garden looked great!

As we walked back to our house we passed one of our neighbors. She asked Art how he was feeling, and once he told her that he felt fine, she said to him (in Italian) “What are you doing, scaring everybody like that???” Just like family.

Eventually it was time for Paul and Mer to head back to Tuscany for their lunch. We offered to show them a different, more scenic route back to Montalcino. The E45 south of Perugia isn’t very attractive, and it’s probably longer to drive that way. We had them follow us down the SS317 through Marsciano then up along the ridge. I could just imagine Mer’s reaction to the fields of sunflowers!  We took the turn-off towards Chiusi, past Spina and eventually we pulled off to the side of the road to say goodbye.  

We hated to say goodbye to these two new friends. We wished we had set up a meeting earlier in their stay rather than at the end so that we’d have another chance to spend time with them. Right now they don’t’ plan to return to Italy until November 2006, but I don’t see how it will possible for them to stay away that long. We encouraged them to be on the lookout for special airfares and told them that our guestroom is always waiting for them.

We fixed chicken fajitas a few nights later, using fajita seasoning and salsa mix that I had brought back from the states in May. Although we’d had those mixes, we’d never had cheddar cheese to complete the fajitas, and now, thanks to Paul and Mer, we could enjoy the whole enchilada……uhhh..…fajita! Thanks!


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home