Rain is the same everywhere.
We had a guest staying with us last summer. He came from Helsinki where he lived in a super comfortable flat with central heating and double glazing. During his stay he used to sit outside in the mornings, a thriller and an iPod in his lap, admiring the undulating sea of hills.
‘Lucky you, you live in paradise,’ he said to me. ‘It’s impossible to get stressed here. You just look at this scenery, and your muscles relax.’
I didn’t say anything. Because I didn’t want to look around me. Because if I did, I’d only notice that the grass had got too long and the lawn should’ve been mowed days ago, and the roses hadn’t been watered and there was some serious weeding to be done almost everywhere. And that really made me stressed, scenery or no scenery.
Now it’s December and it has been grey and damp for weeks. Naked vines are drooping in the rain and the mythical Chianti hills are covered in mist, so that you don’t see anything but fog and mud around you. And I think about our friend, who has vowed to quit his well-paid job and mortgage his super comfortable flat, and come to restore an old farmhouse in Tuscany, because you only live once, and you’ve got to gamble in life, and everything in Italy in general and in a Tuscan farmhouse in particular seems so much more picturesque – just like in a movie.
And I think about the numerous foreigners who have come to Tuscany to start a new life, just because a fixed panorama in their heads (hilltop villages, cypresses, vineyards, olive groves, blah, blah, blah) has convinced them that life is nothing but romantic here. And so they have bought that farmhouse of their dreams, all perfect with just the right kind of patina on old doors and ruby-red geraniums on the windowsills. And during the first months everything is delightful and pretty, and the newcomer expats are nothing but happy.
But sooner or later they’re bound to find out that life is life, even in Tuscany – and yes, it does rain here in November, and on those days life is pretty damn awful – and that the imagined Florence of tourist guides and E. M. Forster novels is not the same as the everyday Florence of traffic jams and fights with bureaucracy at the county office.
And that’s when the newcomers are likely to be disappointed. That is exactly the point at which their honeymoon with Italy will end, and their idol will metamorphose from a virgin bride into a scarlet woman, a nasty harpy slowly sucking their blood and vitality and making their lives hell. And we all know how such love affairs end.
For your own good I hope that you are not one of those people, and chose to read this blog, not because you want to know everything there is to know about life, but because you want to read everything there is to read about life in Tuscany, even if it is badly written and stereotyped. And maybe you have even dreamed about changing your life and buying that ruined farmhouse.
If that is so, here’s my warning to you:
STAY AWAY FROM TUSCANY!
IF YOU MOVE HERE, IN A FEW YEAR’S TIME YOU’LL BE TRAPPED IN A HALF-RUINED FARMHOUSE NEAR SIENA WITH THE ROOF LEAKING AND THE TELEPHONE NOT WORKING!
AND EVEN THOUGH YOU’VE BEEN THREE WEEKS WITHOUT A PHONE TELECOM STILL HASN’T COME TO FIX THE LINES!
AND YOU DON’T EVEN HAVE THE MONEY TO RESTORE THE DAMN PLACE!
AND YOU WANTED TO BE CREATIVE! YOU WANTED TO START PAINTING OR WRITING THAT NOVEL OF YOUR LIFE!
BUT YOUR WORD COUNT IS ZERO BECAUSE ALL YOUR TIME GOES ON FIGHTING WITH TELECOM!
AND YOU DON’T EVEN UNDERSTAND THE BLOODY LANGUAGE!
STAY AWAY! WHEN YOU FIND OUT THE REALITY, YOU WILL TURN INTO A NAGGING, DISAPPOINTED HUMAN BEING!
DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW MUCH IT COSTS TO RESTORE A FARMHOUSE ROOF IN TUSCANY?
WITH THAT MONEY YOU COULD FLY TO THE BAHAMAS AND ENJOY YOUR LIFE!
AND EVEN IF THE SCENERY IS HEARTBREAKINGLY BEAUTIFUL, YOU DON’T EVEN NOTICE IT ANY MORE! YOU DRIVE TO THE SUPERMARKET LOST IN YOUR WORRIES!
BECAUSE YOU’RE THINKING ABOUT TELECOM AND LEAKING ROOF AND THE LATEST GAS BILL!
AND YOU KNOW THAT THE GAS COMPANY IS CHEATING YOU!
BUT YOU’VE GOT NO MEANS TO PROVE IT!
BECAUSE YOU DON’T SPEAK THE BLOODY LANGUAGE!
Print this page, attach it to your diary or put it on your notice board, and every time you feel like changing your life, selling your mortgaged flat and quitting your permanent job, read the warning at least twice.
Because the grass is no greener on the other side of the fence (or in Tuscany, or in a wonderfully picturesque old farmhouse) – and that is the honest truth, and nothing but the truth.
And maybe, just maybe, your life isn’t that bad after all.