In Piemonte, and the Langhe Hills in Italy, we have found our perfect home, our spiritual home and our neighbours have been the biggest part of making us feel at home. Coming from Dublin, we were fairly spoilt, we lived in a close knit community in a cul-de-sac, right in the heart of South side Dublin city centre. It was a haven of tranquillity, yet, only 200 metres away, one of the main, dual carriage, arteries into the very centre ran by the house, but it was so built up we never heard a murmur of the endless cars, bikes and buses that toiled up and down the main road all day. The cul-de-sac has a beautiful flower garden, made by two lovely old 'fellas' who adopted it a couple of decades ago from a slab of empty, degrading, council concrete. We were very fortunate to find that home. Our neighbours were mainly over 60 and some had even been born in their current home, along with 10 other children. The amount of children our neighbours parents had was staggering. I kid you not, one of my closest now sadly departed friends, Patricia, had been born into a family of 21 children (same parents), albeit on the other side of town, quite spectacular. All day long there are coming and goings of grand kids and grown up kids dropping into visit our neighbours, some actually come every day to visit their parents. It’s that type of community. A rare community in the city.
I think some of the Dublin neighbours were a bit put out when we moved in to the cul-de-sac, us 'yuppy' types', so they thought, and with the Mercedes, and right in the top price boom year, 2006, a doomed year for all who bought in Ireland! But the house price was very much within our comfort zone, thankfully. Some of the neighbours had tried to secure it for their adult kids, but had been out bid, or hadn’t even tried to bid, on the, what they thought, extortionate house price; after all some of them had bought their house for €5,000 back in their younger years. So we had to meet the begrudgers and make friends. Which we did, by gardening our socks off out the front of the house, we adopted some waste land circling a street tree and turned it into a herb surround and a window box of lavender and heather and a blooming rose bush by the front door. They were happy then, we weren’t those ne’er do wells who buy a house and rent it out to uncaring souls, we wanted in, and we got in. Over the years we have sadly said our farewells to good people who passed on and we all attended, as a community group, all the funerals, there were no weddings, as we were all beyond that. But we mucked along, with the odd fall out, normally over people parking outside each other’s houses, the prime spot, every house owner cherishes in our street, right outside the front door, no driveway you see. God forbid a visitor unknowingly steals the cherished spot outside a neighbour’s’ door. Most of the time, in the early years, it was our cherished spot that was hijacked, until, Andrew, the new Alpha male of the street, went into battle. So spells of not talking and sulking did descend into our pleasant spot but it was never for long, the day soon came when normal conversation about the weather, and ailments and flowers resumed. So I can’t say that we lived in some stereotypical cold city centre spot, because it was warm and treasured but what we have found in Italy has taken neighbourhood to a whole new level.
Giovanni, our Langhe neighbour, and our house vendor, had taken it upon himself, with no prompting, to march us round, after we closed the sale, to meet the neighbours adjoining our land. We were met with the gruffest, grumpiest dog ever, and no, not one who becomes a dote after a few strokes. So, keeping the grouchy dog at bay, we had been taken into a lovely old kitchen for our first neighbour visit. We were offered plates of biscuits and nuts and coffee and had a good chat. A real Italian welcome, no visit, it turns out, goes without refreshments, we have to keep our own cupboards stocked with emergency biscuits for such an occasion, of which there has been plenty. Then we met the wonderful Gianna who lives in the house above us, retired, of course, and she has three houses, the one near us she uses for the summer, and it is also the one she was raised in. Seeing a similarity, I hope. Gianna is like the stereotype in the movies you watch about people moving to Italy, she loves shouting a ‘Buongiorno!’ at me from over her terrace balcony, which, each time, scares the wits out of me, normally she catches me in a trance while I weed the flower bed and, once recovered from the shock, I always bounce back a smiling ‘Buongiorno!’.
In our Langhe Hills region, it is courteous to always announce your arrival, if there has been some absence, not to announce one’s arrival led us to the most amusing, if not a little irritating, moment this first year has provided us with. We had set out in March from Ireland to our new Italian house, prior to moving there full time, and had decided to purchase a couch from Ikea in Genova, a good 2 hours away. So we had hired a van because they didn’t deliver back then, though this summer Ikea decided we weren’t that far for a delivery, the usual Italian inconsistency! So we hired a massive white tall van and drove to the house the day before the trip to Genova. All fine. We awoke in the morning and Andrew went for his morning stretch, taking in the 'bella' view over the veranda outside, most often he does this just in his boxer shorts, thankfully not this time, only to see Giovanni trotting up the drive. He went down to meet him half way (it’s a very long drive) and ended up being met by Giovanni and the Police! Giovanni thought we were being burgled by some white van mob and had called the police to get to our house asap, “Why didn’t you call?”, he said, and “cellulare me” (mobile phone), “I didn’t know you were here!”. Embarrassed, he sent the Police off, goodness knows what they thought of us, and I joined the, very wound up Giovanni and more chilled Andrew in the ‘welcome’. My thoughts were, ‘why on earth would I need to call the neighbours to come to my own house, we own it, it’s not a holiday home’ etc etc. So, slighted at being treated like a tourist, I joined the discussion, a little bit too strongly, and with arms flapping, from both sides, Giovanni “arrivederci’d” at us and stalked off. We didn’t talk to Giovanni for a good couple of months after that episode! Chiefly, because he didn’t do his usual daily visit, which had irritated me in the first month, bless him. He doesn’t speak English, and why should he, so we couldn’t call him and make peace, as we’re not quite that fluent. Then, one day in early summer, accompanied by my mother, a person Giovanni seems to have taken a brotherly shine to, we dropped into his home. He met us as if nothing had happened, three kisses, wine, nibbles offered and we have since then carried on as normal, with Giovanni visiting a few times a week, not daily and a number of wonderful reciprocated dinners with him and the other neighbours. Truth be told, I don’t know what we would do without him. We really did buy him with the house, that was the joke we had with our estate agents, but it really is true. Though we know when he doesn’t like a decision of ours, such as where to put the veg patch, as he has a ‘tell’, he quickly shuts down the discussion with an ‘arrivederci’ turns on his tail and walks off. Though we are so used to this we laugh it off and sometimes run up and give him a hug, no silent moments have passed since.
I have since read that Italians treat their friends as family, and I don't doubt it, for us two 'blow ins' we have truly landed on our feet here.
Find out how we started this Piemonte Italian dream here.
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