Usually the talk here in the depths of rural Umbria, in the delightful sleepy valley of the river Chiascio that looks southwards towards Monte Subasio and the city of Assisi is of farming. Whether it is the right time to plant a crop, sow seeds, that the weather will get colder next week and water is finally returning to peoples’ wells, of a recipe suddenly discovered and tried and found to be successful, the birth of the first of this years’ lambs, the speed or lack of internet connection, the hopelessness of the telephone network and the state of the overflowing council rubbish recycling bins and of course who was seen out with whom.
One of the delights and things most important to me about living here in Umbria is the warmth and friendliness of my neighbours. I have been warmly welcomed and encouraged in my endeavours and furthermore made many real friends here in the valley and surrounding area – they even mimick my appalling English accent when speaking Italian! (you know I never knew there was no ‘u’ in appalling) it is all done in a positive supportive way. To be an expat living here full time it is all a real plus, there is a tangible warmth. We share bowls of pasta simply cooked with vegetables from the garden or local pecorino, eaten at the kitchen table. When jobs require more than one pair of hands others magically appear.
To analyse the reasons why a bit, (red underscores everywhere – this spell checker is driving me mad this morning, analize, analyze, analyse, ynalisze, I cannot work out is all of a sudden I am dyslexic, senile, or Apple are subtly changing spellings and British English is being re-written or phased out and replaced with iWrite) it is most likely a good thing for someone to buy an abandoned house and farm deep in the rural Italian countryside, and set about its restoration and turn it into a year round home and associated business.
I understand to open a business is commendable, it shows enterprise and commitment, and brings life back into the community, but when the business is not exactly mainstream and is in the midst of an area with very traditional catholic values, life could have gone sorely wrong. But it has not. I am very lucky to be here amongst such supportive people. Life is honest and relaxed, our values are real, there is no great materialism here, we are firmly rooted to the land, and to helping each other. Yes, we all have problems to solve, most are now really suffering from the economic downturn, jobs are precious and scarce, costs are rising exponentially, but there is a sense of a real community and people wanting to live in harmony, and they cope admirably with a gay guest house in their midst. Possibly in some peoples eyes that is a simplistic analysis. To us it is the norm, reality, and is liberating. Ok, if one thinks about it, one does tend to miss out on the mainstream of life, all fads and fashions and celebrity can pass one by, whether this is good or bad time will judge, but for now I wouldn’t change it.
However all of a sudden the locals have become like switched on slick city dwellers. The resignation of Mario Monti last autumn and the upcoming elections have sparked a fire like I have not seen before in my time here in Italy. Talk revolves around who will lead the next government, what their policies will be – reality not spin is being searched for. How the abuses and scandals of the past cannot and must not be repeated.
The recent announcements by Silvio Berlusconi that he is going to stand, will not stand, and now wants to be the finance minister has set the jungle drums beating. In the past here people have not thought of how Italy is seen on the world stage, they either have not had the media access or have not believed, but now they are tuning in, becoming increasingly proactive and aghast and having undergone real pain in the past year are looking for real change.
Over the past year Italy has begun a huge and necessary upheaval. Taxes have risen, cuts are being made everywhere and prices are rising, it affects all of us. The role of people in various civil service jobs is being challenged, their roles questioned. Bureaucracy, the plague of Italian life is increasingly bemoaned, people want an honest pay for an honest day’s work and a simple honest way of being able to achieve that. The way of life is changing, and now having felt the pain, and I speak for my friends, they, like me want to see the job through to recovery and good times. They are incredulous at the prospect of a return to the past, rich getting richer and poor becoming even more downtrodden, lies spun by billionaires whose actions are not seen as being aspirational, whilst the infrastructure crumbles.
After one of Mr Berlusconi’s last anti-gay statements I made the jest that if he returned to power or is worse still becomes the ‘king maker’ I would emigrate – I rarely voice an opinion on Italian politics, a subject which still baffles me, and anyway as a foreigner I cannot vote in parliamentary elections, and I would, for all the reasons stated above, be loathe to leave Bellaugello, but this time I did and was met by a wave (dare I say Tsunami or is that not PC?) of agreement. It seems there will be a mass exodus.
Finally this country is waking up to the abuses and scandals of the past. Let us hope common sense prevails and a constructive fresh government is formed to take this wonderful country that has shown me on a local level such friendship, support and warmth back to stability, growth and halcyon days.
But for now it is all a bit of a shambles.