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New Year, New Adventure

Valerie Schneider

One thing I've discovered about myself in our adventures abroad is that I'm a 'nester'. I like to feel settled-in and cozy. I mentally rearrange, renovate, or redecorate nearly every home I enter, thinking, if you take out that wall and add a fireplace... or, this place would be great if you move the sofa over there, install a wall-to-ceiling bookshelf and change the artwork. I’ve been known to shuffle furniture around in vacation rentals in order to get a comfy chair closer to the reading lights or make a snug room easier to navigate. This usually makes the room feel larger, more functional, or more comfortable for our stay, but the problem with this activity is that I then forget the exact spot where the furnishings had been before my intervention.

I’m also a habitual picture-straightener. If I see one hanging crooked, I have to level it out. Don’t mind me if I do it in your house; you’ll thank me for it later. One picture in our home in New Mexico refused to hang evenly no matter how often I adjusted it. After many months of poking and prodding it to try to get the dang thing to hang properly, I discovered that the wall was slightly uneven. As you can imagine, that news didn’t sit well with my need for proper proportion.

It was probably the ‘nester’ in me that drew me to the concept of Slow Travel in the first place. The opportunity to live like a local, have a place to call home, even temporarily, instead of sitting in a small, sterile hotel room, held definite appeal to me. And I’m sure this same instinct is what made us plant ourselves in Ascoli Piceno for more than two years now. We settled in and sort of stayed put. Sure, it's been our base and we've employed the ‘concentric circle’ concept to explore some of Central Italy from here. We have certainly seen every hamlet, castle, and rabbit trail within a 100-mile radius. We have ventured into Umbria and Abruzzo, have made forays into Lazio, and have visited beautiful Bologna. While we've made several trips to farther-away Basilicata to visit la famiglia and explore the motherland, realistically we've not spent much time truly traveling around other parts of Italy.

When I stop to think that we've been in the bel paese for more than two years and have never seen Sicily or Puglia, even I am startled at myself. Two and a half years! We must surely be the slowest of the Slow Travelers!

It was this realization that partially contributed to a sort of wake-up call. That, and the fact that we would be finding ourselves effectively homeless at the end of the month. Do you remember that in last month’s article I mentioned that our landlord wouldn’t be renewing our lease? He had started dropping subtle hints a few months back. They were so subtle, in fact, that at first we missed them completely. Then he stepped up the tone a little, casually asking us “What will you do when the contract expires?”, or mentioning la crisi economica and how we could surely find a lower-priced appartamento when the contract expires.

Yeah, okay. We get it. The contract expires. However, he was still mum on why he wanted us out until one day while collecting the rent money he felt particularly and uncharacteristically chatty. He spilled the beans that he actually shouldn’t have rented out the apartment in the first place. He had technically sold it while restorations were still underway and the buyer had put down half of the purchase money, and had chosen the room arrangements, and the tile colors and bath fixtures she wanted. Of course, if she would have asked me, the internal design would have looked much differently, but that is neither here nor there. Things turned sour and for some reason or another, the sale has been tied up in court with the buyer trying to back out for a couple of years now. Knowing full well how long court proceedings can take, our landlord figured he would make a bit of money off the place in the meantime, but the would-be owner got wind of it and protested.

Since it took us more than five months to locate and procure this apartment, we didn’t have much hope of finding something else on a short-term contract on short notice. Most owners in these parts want a minimum of two years, but are much happier if you’re willing to sign up for a three-year lease. We definitely can’t make that kind of long-term commitment. Nesters we may be, but that is excessive even for us.

This cattiva notizia coincided, most unfortunately, with a deep look into the depths of our bank coffers only to find the well was starting to look as dry as a New Mexico stream in mid-summer. Not encouraging news to start the New Year. Not encouraging at all.

But then, we’ve often found that when things look bleak, a glint of sunshine breaks through the embanking clouds, and this time was no different. Not long after the dual discouragements arrived, a friend sent an email that turned out to be a note of electronic generosity. He was offering us a house-sitting position in his splendid villa on the Costa del Cilento. He didn’t want it left empty all winter, and we didn’t blame him. We recently chatted with a local carabiniero who told us that there had been more than 120 break-ins and burglaries around our province between May and October. And that’s just our little provincia.

Our friend also said that he wanted to have some small projects completed during the off-season months, so our presence there would make it easier for him to schedule the workmen to come. Do you just love when those moments of perfect timing intervene? We get to enjoy a few months of southern sunshine just as the rainy season is in full dreariness, and will have a gorgeous place to live just when we fretted and despaired of where to go. That we can also be useful to our friend and help oversee the work he needs to complete just makes it all the brighter for us.

So, we'll be heading laggiu` at the end of the month, and will take the change as the great opportunity it is - a chance to explore a beautiful, relatively unknown area while trying to regroup and coax the money tree to sprout and bear fruit again. We’ve learned that it’s a pretty persnickety plant, the money tree. It is particularly sensitive to global climate changes. The slightest cool breeze can cause the buds to wither. Soil conditions must be optimal, and even if it receives constant care and attention, it can drop leaves and refuse to bloom. We have been diligently tending to it, but only time will tell if the Spring sunshine will bring blossoms and eventual fruit or if the scirocco winds of exchange rates and downturns will do the poor thing in forever.

We’ve already had some tearful farewells and more are planned in the upcoming days as we meet with friends before our departure. However, our plan is to return to Ascoli Piceno, which we consider 'home', when business picks up again or some form of measurable income starts to trickle in again. Meanwhile, we'll be down in the land of the mid-day sun, lemon groves, and mozzarella di bufala where we plan to seize every new opportunity that presents itself to fully enjoy our adopted country and all her allures. We will explore new concentric circles, and pick up the pace a bit. We may even leave the provincial roads for a few strade statale instead. After all, maybe we have been living just a little too slowly.

Whatever roads we choose, they are sure to lead us to new adventures. That’s what a New Year is for.

Additional Resources


Valerie Schneider is a freelance writer, who lived in New Mexico for twenty years before trading the high desert for the medieval hill towns of Italy in May, 2006. She is a regular contributor to Slow Travel, pens travel agency newsletters, and has written for Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel. She and her husband, Bryan, currently reside in Ascoli Piceno where they conduct small-group tours called Panorama Italy. Read more on her blog, 2 Baci in a Pinon Tree. See Valerie's Slow Travel Member page.

© Valerie Schneider, 2009

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