Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sacrificing a Terrace for a Husband: A Bait & Switch That Paid Off

Daisy in not-so-rare form
In 2008, I met my future husband. I was spending the summer in Italy, partly to explore the possibility of moving there—I’d been a frequent visitor due to my doctoral studies in archaeology—and partly to reward myself for having survived a very difficult year. I’d gotten rid of a bad boyfriend, gotten my elderly parents set up in assisted living (I’d been their primary caregiver in my home prior to that), gotten my finances in order and even gotten my Tasmanian devil of a dog trained. I finally felt I could breathe again.

And that's how I found myself at 41, never married, no kids. In many ways, my life had become the epitome of my worst fears. I’d lived my whole adult life focused on finding “The One” and chasing men down one rabbit hole after another, only to wind up brokenhearted, disillusioned, and another year or two or five older. And at the end of every bad romance, I found myself right back where I’d startedjust older, and perhaps more in debt and more cynical. Faced with the choice of continuing on the same road, and waiting for the next bad boyfriend to come along (and in their defense, some weren't so much bad boyfriends as we were bad matches) or finding ways to make some radical shifts in my life, I focused on spending the summer in Italy.
Key components of my summer in Italy plans...

Moving to Italy had always been a fantasy of mine, the impossible dream that could only be made possible if I hit lotto, married well or landed some terribly exotic job. But instead of telling myself that it would never work, I decided to find out if there was a way it could work. Could I afford to move to Italy? How much money would I need? Could I find work there? And most importantly, when the fantasy of life in Italy hit up against the reality of day to day life in Italy, would I really love it as much as I imagined I would? Or would I simply find that I was just as lonely, just as longing for a spouse, and just as likely to make the same bad choices, albeit in a more romantic setting?

Orvieto, which is full of terraces on which to drink wine
Photo by Barbara Gillespie
To answer these questions, I decided to spend two months in Orvieto, a city in central Umbria that I’d visited once and fallen immediately in love with. I’ve had that experience in a few places—Vienna, Austria and Vancouver, BC, among others—where I stepped out of the train station or taxi or what have you, and felt immediately at home, that sensation of, “Yeah, I could live here.” Orvieto, a medieval hill town perched high on a plateau of tufa, or volcanic stone was one such place, and for a variety of reasons known and unknown, it called to me.

It was also important to me to choose a city where I knew no one, and where I was less likely to be surrounded by English speakers. To really test drive my move-to-Italy fantasy, I needed to be the stranger, plunked down in a place where I had no friends and no contacts, and where I’d be forced to speak Italian. (At that point, my Italian language skills were only good enough to order dinner and ask the location of the closest bathroom, and not much else.)

This is not a terrace.
I lined up a long term rental in a bed and breakfast, sent a deposit via wire transfer, and started communicating regularly with the friendly owner, Valeria. My future apartment had a terrace with a view over the rooftops of Orvieto, and I imagined this is where I’d spend the majority of my time, reading, writing and sipping wine. Expect that about a week or so before my arrival, Valeria emailed to tell me that I would be in a different apartment in a different location unrelated to the B&B. Her sister, who lived nearby, had just finished renovating a ground floor apartment below her home, and that’s where I’d be staying. It was larger and appeared more comfortable than the B&B apartment, but there was no terrace. “There’s a beautiful panorama of the hills from the apartment window,” wrote Valeria. But a window is not a terrace. I couldn’t sit at the window and drink wine and contemplate the view. Well I could, but it just wouldn't be the same. 

I tried to remain clam, but I was certain that I was falling victim to some kind of a bait and switch. Valeria kept assuring me that her sister’s apartment really was nicer than the B&B apartment. Her sister, Alessandra, emailed me a few times and Alessandra’s son sent several photos of the newly refurbished apartment. It did look nice, I had to allow. But still, no terrace.
But it did have a nice view. Photo by Barbara Gillespie

As it turned out, I got a pretty good deal in the end. At Alessandra’s apartment—my apartment, at least for those two months—I was in a neighborhood. I met my Italian neighbors, including a couple who lived most of the year in Houston and spoke English. I became friends with Alessandra and friendly with her 30-something daughter and son. I got invitations to dinners, to festivals, and I made contacts that might potentially help me in finding work or advancing my dissertation research. I met a few American couples who lived in Orvieto full- or part-time, and despite my pledge to avoid spending time just with English speakers, I was glad for their company and friendship. My Italian improved, at least a little bit.

Don't I look like I'm wondering
what the hell I'm going to do with my life?
I had all these experiences and exposure specifically because I was in that apartment, and not at the B&B, where I would have met other guests who came and went, rather than the Orvietani neighbors I saw every day. I would have spoken English with those guests and with Valeria, instead of learning Italian via the sink or swim method. And I think ultimately, I would have had a lonelier experience, sitting on my coveted terrace, drinking wine and looking over the rooftops of Orvieto, wondering what the hell I was going to do with my life.

My friend Barbara came to visit me from New York, and stayed about 10 days. Barb and I have been friends since high school, and we went to college together. Our friendship has endured for nearly 30 years now, through fallings out and hurt feelings and reconciliations. She knows me and my strengths and shortcomings as well as anyone in my life, and stood by, wincing much of the time, as I plodded through one disastrous relationship after another. So she also was my biggest cheerleader when it came to me remaking my life, and she fell almost as much in love with Italy and Orvieto and my little corner of town as I was.
And we did get to drink wine on a few terraces...
photo by Barbara Gillespie

We decided to put together a party for the 4th of July, just a few days before Barb was to head home. We invited the neighbors and the American friends I’d made, and of course Alessandra and her kids. Her daughter called to ask if she could bring some friends to the party, and I said of course. That’s why, had I been tucked away in the B&B instead of at Alessandra’s apartment, Paolo would have never walked up through my door.

He showed up with bottles of his homemade wine and a big grin on his face. He was taller than anyone there, and had a personality to match his stature. Truth be told, he had eyes for Barb at first, and it wasn’t until a group dinner the next night that a little spark started to ignite between the two of us. (It probably helped that he learned Barb was happily married.)

So the apartment bait and switch turned out very differently—and much better—than my hosts or I could have possibly imagined. I was indignant at having to give up that terrace with a view. But I got a husband and now, a daughter out of the bargain. I’d say it was a pretty good trade-off, all in all.  
Who doesn't love a happy ending? 

1 comment:

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