One night this week was spent in the company of another couple of impoverished expats with a house in the locality, about five miles from ours. They are from southern England and they bought their place at around the same time as we did, in 2001.
Unlike our modest little two-bed farmhouse – a straightforward, if major, rebuild – they fell for a huge wreck that might at the time have seemed an equally huge bargain. Its many rooms and outbuildings, its acres of land tempting them with the prospects of a pool, a tennis court perhaps, guest quarters, you name it, presented all sorts of possibilities for restoration – but every single one of them was massively expensive. So far, not even the main house has been completed.
Nothing has gone right for these poor people and they are lumbered with a nightmare of a house, riddled with insuperable problems, of which the main ones could probably be said to be its unremarkable location, calamitous drainage defects, no phone signal, no broadband, and unpleasantly close proximity to a hideous modern house that has recently been bought by a large family of Romanians with five constantly barking dogs. It is very difficult to draw any positives at all from their dreadful experience, other than the fact that at least they themselves have been responsible for squandering hundreds of thousands of their pounds and not Bob Diamond or any other banker.
Our friends have not a word of Italian between them – after all these years of home ownership and encounters with builders – and they still don’t have either a working kitchen or a sitting room where they can relax in comfort. As a consequence, when they’re over here to supervise yet more building work, they eat out every night.
Thus it was that we encountered them in the village where HD and I had gone for an evening drink. We shared a bottle of Prosecco with them at the bar (€6, complete with snacks) and then walked along the road to the restaurant. Here, much to HD’s horror, a children’s birthday party was in full swing, complete with hysterical, over-dressed brats rushing about the place in packs. HD was all for throwing them over the balcony, one by one, or at least tripping them up as they ran past, but I begged him not to and in the end they settled at their table outside like a swarm of fizzing wasps, feasting on a vast ice-cream cake.
After our deliciously simple, entirely locally sourced meal, lubricated with the usual litres of wine and shots of mistra, the local aniseedy digestivo, we returned to the bar in the piazza where a night of merriment was underway.
The event was billed as a Piano Bar, but the Italians often use expressions like that without really knowing what they mean. I guess they thought it sounded a bit glam, which it wasn’t, and anyway there was no piano anywhere to be seen.
It was actually a karaoke night . . . shudder . . . but since it was under the stars, with everyone of all ages in the greatest good humour and with not the slightest sign of inebriation, it had a charm of its own. This was enhanced by the fact not one person sang a number from a British musical – an enormous plus.
We sat with our friends and with an Italian couple with whom we’ve made limping conversation in the past. This time, because of the noise of the singing and the distraction of a whole piazza-full of people jumping around and dancing, it wasn’t possible to do more than smile and mouth a few banal greetings, which must have been as great a relief for them as it was for us.
HD and I loved being part of this night of moonlit mayhem, one of those events, as so often happens in our Italian experience, tinged with an affecting innocence. Here were a hundred or more people, many of them ’young’, letting their hair down and having a night to remember. Yet the dominant soundtrack was of music, fun, enjoyment, laughter, bursts of hilarity, applause – and not of the crush of feet on plastic beer mugs and polystyrene kebab containers, as in Anytown, UK.
We finally got home after 1pm and for the umpteenth night running I flopped into bed just in time for happy oblivion to overwhelm me.