“Uffa” – essential vocabulary when renovating in Italy

According to Word Reference, the Italian word “uffa” means “what a bore!” But, as you most probably already know, Italians have their own body language too and when uffa is accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders, maybe a pair of eyes darting up to the heavens, a helluva lot more can be conveyed in those two short syllables. I’ve heard it being used to signify a whole range of emotions from boredom to dejection but also desperation.

As the house renovation progresses, I have found myself using uffa more than I would have liked over the last two weeks.

The first time was finding out that our made-to-measure bathtub had actually been made to the wrong measurements!

screenshot_20180529-1633081486992277.png

Though it is a decent size (9 sq m), our bathroom doesn’t have a single corner at 90° (do you remember my post about Pythagorus?), it has a sliding door in the centre stopping us from using that part of it (i.e. no tubes or toilets) and on the only really good wall, there has two windows which categorically rule out any other kind of sanitary artifice. All this adds a certain je ne sais quoi when you’re trying to add elements which are – generally speaking – square or requiring privacy.

Consequently, our bathtub was going to be made to spec – with a rounded finish compensating for the the lack of right angles. The shower unit is already installed and when we inquired when the bathtub might be arriving and received that email above…… our reaction was a simultaneous: “uffa!”


If only it were just the bathroom people who are making mistakes.

On Saturday, the carpenters came to fit the shutters that they’d been cleaned up and restored….. only to find that as a result of some really shoddy workmanship from Tweedledum and Tweedledee (our two insulation fitters / painters / buffoons) the outside walls are very visibly not straight.

The shutters were taken straight back to the carpentry workshop for more adjustments. Uffa. 


Today, I’ve just shown the boss of the flooring company that two of the four tiles that were fitted just over a month ago have come loose.

It was little short of a miracle that the plumber came this morning to fit our boiler…… but he left after just a few minutes having made this unfortunate discovery. This then meant calling the flooring company who came round to take a look. Fortunately the boss has promised that, this evening, a workman will come to glue down the tiles once again….. but we’ve lost valuable time because of all these incompetencies. Now, we’ll cross our fingers and pray to the powers-that-be that the plumber comes back again before the end of the week. Uffa. 


Despite all this doom and gloom, the word uffa has a pretty interesting origin. It dates back to around the 14th century when the Vatican State was building St Peter’s cathedral. Because it was for the Pope, all the necessary goods which arrived (stones, sand, sacks, sheep, mules) were stamped with the Latin abbreviation “A.U.F.” which stands for “Ad Usum Fabricae” and gave all these goods total tax exemption. Because there were so many of these items needed for the construction project, the customs officers spent their days saying “auf! auf!” and over time, that morphed into uffa.

Similarly when work started on the Duomo in Florence, all the materials were stamped with: “A U.F.O” meaning “Ad usum Florentinae Operae” and were therefore exempt from the city taxes. Even to this day, “a ufo” means “free” i.e. mangiare a ufo = to eat for free.

Burning “La Befana” – Very Much A Local Tradition

One of the things that I try really hard to impress upon visitors is how divided Italy is. Until very recently it was not one country and mobility between towns, cities and across mountain ranges was limited. As a result, regional traditions are more localised than you may have first imagined and remain very much undiluted.

I’m in the Veneto, up in the north east between Lake Garda and Venice. More precisely, my town lies on the boundary between two provinces – Verona and Vicenza. When I first moved to Italy, I was staying on the Verona side; now I’ve moved over to Vicenza. The two places are only a 15 min drive away but there are many differences.

Firstly the dialect is different:

‘What shall we do?’ is Cosa facciamo? in Italian. “cosa faemo?” and “cosa fazemo?” in dialetto vicentino. Not huge differences but enough for it to be obvious where you come from.

Similarly, you may well know that “a glass” is “un bicchiere” in Italian. In vicentino, I hear “biccher” quite commonly, while back on the other hill, it was “un goto.”

Finally “cucchiaio” (“a spoon”) becomes “cuchar” or “cucharo” if you’re in the province of Verona… but if you get closer to Vicenza and across to Padova, it’s “scugliero!

It’s not just the language; there are many cultural differences too.

In the province of Verona, the most important celebration over the Christmas period is the Festa della Santa Lucia on December 13th. It is traditionally on this date that the families get together and presents are exchanged. In Vicenza, however, Santa Lucia is not recognised, nor is Christmas particularly, and we have another important date instead: the 6th January.

You may know that date as being Epiphany, y’know, the three kings, twelfth night, end of the festivities… Not so. Here it’s called La Befana.

La Befana is a old woman or a witch who would fly across the sky at night, delivering presents and treats to children. (Haven’t I heard this story before…….?) In this case, there’s a slight twist because she’s supposedly searching for baby Jesus…. here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the legend:

“The magi invited her to join them on the journey to find the baby Jesus, but she declined, stating she was too busy with her housework. Later, La Befana had a change of heart, and tried to search out the astrologers and Jesus. That night she was not able to find them, so to this day, La Befana is searching for the little baby. She leaves all the good children toys and candy (“caramelle”) or fruit, while the bad children get coal (“carbone”), onions or garlic.”

You might think it’s all hullabaloo and old folklore but several of my local friends got stockings full of presents from La Befana yesterday and this seems true in other regions throughout the boot.


There’s a second thing though and this seems more localised. On Jan 6th in the evening, all our neighbouring towns hold bonfires, upon which they have an effigy of La Befana who gets burned (yes, very much like the story of Guy Fawkes in England.) I’ve heard it explained that it’s the occasion to get rid of or burn anything from the previous year that you don’t want to take with you into the new.

As for us, well, we had gone to a small town called Valeggio sul Mincio (between Verona and Mantova) for a long lunch with a dear friend (more about that soon) and then came back to watch the bonfire. Most of the town’s population turned out for the event, which was washed down with plenty of mulled wine, sausages, polenta and prosecco.

New Year’s Eve in Italy… and the importance of lentils!

Happy New Year’s Eve! Or “la notte di San Silvestro” in Italian.

Whether it’s out partying or staying in wrapped up in a blanket on the sofa, I hope you’re spending the last few hours of 2017 exactly as you want to spend them. I’m personally not much of a fan of New Year’s Eve. There seems to be so much hype about what really is just another day. Many moons ago, I would choose to take a shift working in a bar or restaurant on NYE. That way, I was at least in a festive ambiance but I wasn’t spending stupid amounts of money on a set meal and a bottle of over-priced Champagne.

More recently, I’ve preferred hosting friends for a dinner and drinks party and that’s exactly what we did this year – just a small dinner party for some local friends. To lighten the load, it was agreed that they would bring the appetisers, cheese course and the dessert, and that I’d cook the main course.

The traditional main course over the winter festivities in Italy is a type of sausage called cotechino. It’s a large pork sausage, originally hailing from Modena but even my local butchers make a pretty good version.

I’m not sure why, but I always feel a little uneasy about cooking classic Italian foods for Italians. I suppose I fear that whatever I serve couldn’t possibly live up to whatever their mamma or nonna used to make.

As a result, I resort to typical English or French dishes, with which I’m fairly confident there won’t already be ridiculously high expectations. For tonight, I’ve decided to cook Beef Wellington. If you’re not familiar with this antiquated-but-undeservedly-so English speciality, it’s essentially about a kilo of beef sirloin, wrapped in finely chopped mushrooms, wrapped again speck (I chose speck ham for the smokey flavour over the more traditional prosciutto crudo) and all of that wrapped in puff pastry! I’m going to be serving it with roast potatoes (requested by the boys) and two cold side salads – red cabbage and orange (inspired by BBC Good Food) and kisir (a Turkish salad mainly of bulghur wheat and tomatoes) – and a warm side: lentils!

When I was running through my proposed menu with the boy, “yes, but you must also cook lentils,” was his advice. Lentils are a bearer of good luck and prosperity, apparently.

 

It would appear that in Ancient Rome, there was a tradition to give a leather bag filled with lentils as a gift. You would attach this bag to your belt and apparently (but I mean this is rather a stretch of the imagination!) the lentils would transform into coins!

So there you have it, a bowl of lentils is going to be on my table this evening…. just in case! Happy New Year, one and all!

Waiting for Advent

The final days of November always feel strange to me. It’s this weird time of year when you’re in limbo. My American friends have already made me hungry for turkey but yet it’s still too early to really start the Christmas countdown: mince pies, festive music and twinkling lights.

I don’t recognise the Thanksgiving holiday but I may have indulged in a little Black Friday shopping anyway (*slinks away guiltily…*) I love London in the run up to Christmas; it’s my favourite time of year to see the city. The lights in the commercial heart (Oxford Street, New Bond Street, Regent Street) are far better than anything on the Champs-Elysees and Avenue Montaigne.

Here in Italy, I’m out in the countryside so Christmas lights are few and far between. That said, the 8th December is a bank holiday (la Festa della Madonna, apparently) and it’s on that precise date when they put up and decorate the Christmas trees.

When I was told about this tradition, I looked at the boy excitedly, eyes wide open like a kid on Christmas morning. “Oh no! You don’t have a tree amongst all that stuff, do you?” he asks worriedly….

— Short aside: Most of my stuff is still in boxes. A whole room at the back of our house has been given over to the contents of the removal truck from Paris! :/ As we’ll be moving into the new house in a few months and there’s simply not space nor need in his place for me to unpack, it was decided that they would be put out of the way for the time being. The boy has clearly but wisely decided to consider that area potentially contaminated with nuclear something or other and not to go anywhere near it! It’s for that reason that he is still blissfully unaware of the presence of two large Christmas boxes! —

I’m feeling particularly festive this year; full of good cheer and all that malarkey. It’s rather out of character.

We’re going to a panettone party tonight. Yes, it appears that’s a thing. It’s held in a local restaurant and we’ll testing all the best artisanal panettoni from the region.

All this premature festivity is getting to me. The problem, though, is that December is looking decidedly busy; I’m in France for five days and then back in the UK on the 18th until at least after the holidays. If I put up the tree on the 8th, it will essentially be uniquely for the dog’s benefit. I’m sure she will enjoy tearing it to pieces in my absence! I’m wondering if it would be acceptable to put up the tree a few days before…. I wonder…

November 11th is the Festa di San Martino

Whilst November 11th is Armistice Day in the UK and much of northern Europe (in memory to end of WW1) here in my corner of Italy, it’s the Festa di San Martino.

San Martino is one of the more important harvest festivals… at least, it was the case many moons ago. It depends where you are as to the particular significance. In most parts of Italy, it signifies the end of the agricultural year and, more precisely, is when farm labourers would move from one employer onto the next. In other parts, it marks the exact date by which you should have finished sowing wheat for the next year.  The tradition here (in wine country) says that it’s on the day of San Martino that the recently harvested grape juice finishes the alcoholic fermentation and turns into wine.

The feast day of San Martino, a Catholic saint, was imposed upon an existing pagan holiday (as nearly all of them were) and for them, it was apparently New Year’s Eve. Nowadays, if you live in a large town or city, children may go round asking for treats (much like our Hallowe’en.) In Sicily, but also to a certain extent in my area (because we also make passito wines and have our own Vin Santo DOC), we raise a glass of sweet wine to honour San Martin. In Sicily, they dip anise-flavoured biscuits into the wine. Where I am, we make a special biscuits (or cookies, if you prefer American-English) supposedly depicting San Martino, fully armed for battle, on his white horse.

If you want to try making it for yourself, the a cut-out of the traditional form can be downloaded here.

dolce di san Martino a forma di cavaliere a cavallo, con confetti colorati
(Photo from the Comune di Venezia)

In other news, the cold has hit. The outside temperature is lingering around 6 degrees right now which means that I’ve picked up the pace of my walks around the vineyard with the dog. No time for dawdling.

The temperatures in the cellar have fallen so whilst the wines are progressing nicely, we’re babysitting a demijohn of Cantillon beer yeasts and a small steel tank of fermenting beer. They need warmer temperatures or the yeasts will slow down and eventually stop.

Warmth is a relative concept; because we’d anticipated moving into the new house before winter, we made the (with hindsight) foolish decision to remove the central heating of the place we’re currently in. That means we’re entirely reliant upon a wood fired stove – called a stufa –  in the living room. It’s not so bad but I wasn’t planning on camping out in this room for the next three or four months. Let’s hope this winter is a mild one!

Sexual Harassment – it doesn’t have to be this way…

I want to take a second from my usual food-related ramblings to talk about something more serious: harassment on the streets of Paris.

The wave of women posting #MeToo statuses has meant that journalists are getting the green light to publish articles which state the bleeding obvious.

The Local, for example, recently published a piece detailing the experiences of women in Paris. It’s a sad state of affairs that the only woman they could find who hadn’t experienced any kind of harassment was a 19 year old student who only moved to Paris “a few weeks ago.”

My experience is much the same. On a daily basis, I was made to feel uncomfortable, being subjected to looks, calls, whistles… all of which were supposed to be taken as compliments.

I tried to change my habits. I would wear jeans rather than a skirt. That didn’t stop the harassment.

I chose to Vélib rather than take the métro. That didn’t always work because on several occasions, a car would follow/keep pace with my bike just to check out my ass or proposition me. On another occasion, the man also took a Vélib bike himself and chased me down the street to my house.

I took a taxi a short distance to go home late at night… and that got me nothing but a black eye when the driver assaulted me.

I got cat-called and mocked by the vigileat Monoprix. They are supposed to be the ones who help and keep you safe and yet they failed desperately. Their head office subsequently received a strongly-worded letter.


Women should not be told: “you live in a big city, you should expect this.” 

Let’s hope that the next generation of boys will grow up knowing that this behaviour is unacceptable and the next generation of girls will no longer be afraid of speaking out.

In the meantime, we’re in this transitional period in which we know it’s wrong, we’ve had enough but we need to speak up and take back control of our streets.

That’s the key word: control. What’s most hurtful and traumatic in these harassment situations is your sudden lack of control. That someone else has the upper hand, that you are being objectified.

False. False. False! Legally, you CANNOT do this.

Number 1: please, take a self-defense class. I cannot recommend highly enough Ladies System Defense in Paris but there must be others too.

If you are physically attacked – like the British woman in the supermarket in the Local article – kick the fucking man in the balls. Men have never been particularly good at listening… but they do remember acute pain. Put your two hands on his left shoulder and drive your right knee up where it hurts. (The same movement can also be used on women too… if need be.) Incidentally, this technique worked wonderfully on that aforementioned taxi driver (read my piece on Medium below.)

That said, if the initial attack is verbal, you must remain verbal. If the attack is physical, you can get physical as long as your reaction is APPROPRIATE, TIMELY and ALLOWS YOU TO GET AWAY.

If you slap someone for having said something, according to French law, you are in the wrong. Please, please read this (written by the same French police officers who take time off work to teach self-defence) to know your rights.

View story at Medium.com


Number 2: Speak out or step in when you see it happening to another person. Always consider your personal safety but if you can intervene or take a photo – or better still, a video – it may well become the most valuable piece of evidence to take to the police and result in a conviction.

The points at the end of this Guardian article are worth remembering.


Number 3: If you have evidence, or you’re worried for your safety, go to the police station. I will most likely write something about the inner workings of the French justice system, of the differences between a main courante and a plainte but that’s for later.

View story at Medium.com


Finally, I want to end on a positive note.

I moved to Italy – a country with a reputation for dark-haired Lotharios calling out ciao bellissimaaaa – but I’ve been here for over a year now and I have had just two such experiences:

I’m sitting outside a café, writing the address on an envelope that I’m about to send. Suddenly, breaking my concentration, a car pulls up, with the window down and the man calls out: “hey girl, come stai?” … I give him a filthy look… He continues “how’s Alessandro?” Oh shit, I realise: this is Alessandro’s cousin, a guy I’d met once before and he’s just being friendly.

Secondly, walking along the pavement with my dog… and a guy on a bike cycles past and calls out, “ciao bello” to which I realise (because he’s used the masculine) that he is actually addressing my dog!! Yes, my dog got cat-called! He gives me a courteous nod and says “buona giornata / have a good day” before cycling on.

Ok, I’m in a small town in the north of Italy where people generally mind their own business. But street harassment does not have to be part of your daily life and nor should you accept it as such.

So You Think You Speak Italian?

So you’ve taken a couple of classes, downloaded Duolingo and bought a hefty dictionary. You can breeze through conversations with natives and even answering the phone to an unknown number is no longer intimidating.

You’re ready to move onto the next level. The next three phrases are not the Italian that you learn in a classroom, but the kind of language you hear on the street.

“È un botto e mezzo.” (origin: Veneto.)

Meaning: “It’s one thirty.” Literally “it’s one bang and a half,” it refers to the church bells which ring out over the hills.

 

Battoro (origin: Sardinia)

Meaning: Four. To go from quattro to quattoro to finally battoro is not a straightforward leap but you can just about nod and go, ah yes, that makes sense. Still, the first time you hear it, it sounds really strange.

 

Xareza (origin: Veneto)

Pronunciation: sa-reza

Meaning: cherry. Xareza is the word in Veronese/Vicentino dialect for cherry and there sure are a whole lot of cherries in this part of the world (especially the Val d’Alpone.) I’ve found that many words in dialect are somewhat similar to the French equivalent, and this, cerise, is no exception. Remember that when this dialect is written down, an “s” sound becomes an “x.”


As a side-note, the Sicilian electrician currently drilling away in the house next-door has a wonderful way of speaking. He came a couple of weeks ago for a meeting with the architect and the plumber and when asked when he would start work, he replied “un lunedi.” Monday came and went with no sign of him. When we phoned a couple of days afterwards, his reply was so good I will remember it for the rest of my days: “no, I said I would start on a Monday.”

Fortune Favours The Bold

Setting up life in a new country is never simple. That said, it’s been almost exactly one year since I made the decision to move and I don’t regret it at all. For every “that didn’t work out the way I thought it would” set-back (I wouldn’t go so far as to say failure, although some ideas did fail), I’ve made a huge, astronomical leap forward.

What is rather strange, when I reflect on it, is how the best things to have occurred to me didn’t happen because of or due to any of my own calculations. They occurred purely by chance.

My four-legged companion, who is currently snoozing by my side, found me. She had been abandoned one night on the top of a hill, aged just two and a half or three months, and she sniffed out the winery where I was staying. She announced her presence by, unwittingly, causing a huge fray with the winemaker’s (rather aggressive) German Shepherd. By the time we took her to the vet the next morning, it was too late – love at first sight!

People said, “are you really going to keep her? What will you do when you travel? What about that wild nomadic lifestyle you have? You don’t even have a proper house to call your own.”

I will admit that I woke up at 4am the morning after making the decision in a cold sweat. I grew up with dogs and I knew that I wanted them in my future too, but this was much sooner than planned. Wasn’t I supposed to be settled first? “What have I done?! They’re right. Oh ****!”

The man then lying next to me (fast asleep) still doesn’t know the important role he played in those deliberations that night.

He too was a chance encounter. We came across each other three times (we both work in the same industry, in a part of Italy that’s as big as the back of an envelope) before he asked me out.

For him as well, it turns out, I was completely unexpected but happened to arrive at a fortuitous moment. He had recently come out of a very long relationship, a partnership so established that it seemed unfathomable to me. (See “wild nomadic lifestyle” above!)

“You’re the first girl I’ve been on a date with since breaking up…”

After our second date, I initiate a heart-to-heart conversation about if he wanted to jump straight into another relationship. “With you, yes.”

We’d only been seeing each other for a month or two when I wake up in that panic. It was my gut feeling as I watched him sleeping which convinced me to keep the dog. I could see a future here with those two in the leading roles.

I would have had neither the man nor the dog had I not left everything behind and made a leap of faith. Having been single or chasing after the wrong men for most of my twenties, permanently renting apartments, this feels like a very healthy step to have made.

I knew what I wanted: to leave France, to leave the city and to settle down in a rural region, where I could continue to work in wine. I was fully expecting to have to go it alone – I was looking at houses to buy, wondering how I would set myself up and if I could make it all work despite Brexit. But just this once, life played me a good card.

audentes Fortuna iuvat.

Renovating A House In Italy Is Nothing Like “Under The Tuscan Sun”

Picture an old house, on a hill, in the lush Italian countryside, completely surrounded by vineyards. Sounds idyllic, right?

Especially if you’ve seen or read “Under The Tuscan Sun” you’ll already have indulged yourself in a fantasy of doing up a house in Italy. Read this superb article in The New Yorker if you’re under any doubt of the power of this perceived paradise.

My move to Italy was nothing like that. I arrived, knowing only that a winemaker would be putting me up for a few months. I knew nobody else in the area but when you are working harvest, you don’t have time to be bored! I had thrown caution to the wind and let fate decide my future.

As it happens, the order in which things worked out for me is very different from that commonly portrayed in the films: only once I was here, did I meet the dream man (meaning that I chose to stay in Italy.) Then the puppy arrived (she found us) and that prompted me to settle down but she now rewards me daily with her company and then the house, which is our current project and the point of today’s blog post.

For the sake of keeping Under The Tuscan Sun film within two hours, no mention was made of the hurdles of legislation that you’re going to have to jump through when renovating a house in Italy.


Let’s do a quick quiz to see how realistic you are!

So imagine that you are the new owner of this dream-house. Because it is actually close to falling down, you have to do some renovation works on it. You have an architect, engineer and a trusted workforce. However, the local comune has decided that this old house has “historical value” and therefore must be protected.

Question 1: What can or can’t you do with this house?

a. Because the house is protected, there’s nothing much more you can do than a few cosmetic touch-ups. It’s protected after all.

b. You can restore the existing structure and build a relatively large extension for your guests once they come to stay in the finished house.

c. Demolish the building completely but you have to build it again to the exact, same, precise dimensions.


Question 2: There are tons of building regulations in Italy and an expert from the comune will come to check that the works have followed the proposal to the last square centimeter. What changes or exceptions are allowed?

a. You can use these renovation works to put a door where there was previously a window and vice versa…

b. Ok, you don’t want a really large extension… but you would like to put in another couple of rooms, which would correspond to an increase of roughly 25% in terms of surface area.

c. When rebuilding your protected-but-demolished house, you can raise the height of the roof a certain amount but only to put in earthquake protection measures and isolation panels.


Question 3: In Under The Tuscan Sun, Frances Meyer found a wonderful, original fresco in her villa. In this old country house, what did we find?

a. Authentic mosaic flooring.

b. Absolutely nothing exciting.

c. A dead goat’s skull.


ANSWERS: In all three questions, the answer is the final option. You can demolish an old house as long as it is rebuilt to spec; we’ve only been able to raise the roof for the cement anti-earthquake structure and, yes, we found a goat’s skull!!


Previous posts about this renovation: “Building a Life” and “Shaky Foundations.

To Survive In Italy, You Must Be Resourceful

Living – and surviving – in Italy means being resourceful.

You think something’s going to be ok because previous experience has taught you how it’s done. Well, moving to Italy means putting all that “I’ve got this figured out” attitude aside and being prepared to eat a lot of humble pie.

After a while, however long it takes for to train your brain cells to think quickly, it gets slightly easier. For example…

Exhibit A: You want to buy some stamps. Most days, I add on “… and two stamps please” to my coffee order at the local bar.

“Ah, no, we don’t have any stamps today,” comes the reply on this particular occasion. “Try the place down the street…”

Turns out that the place further down the street doesn’t have any stamps either. I’m going to have to go into one of Dante’s circles of hell: the Post Office.

It is approaching 11am. There are two workers manning the windows. I wait 20 minutes in line for my turn, only to be told that I need to wait and speak with his colleague.

Another 15 minutes goes by (… by which point my dog is really fed up!) only for me to be told “signora, we don’t have any stamps.”

“What? You’re a Post Office! How the hell is that possible” goes through my mind, but fortunately the only audible sound I make is a surprised “ma, veramente?”

Si, si, mi dispiace, ciao, arrivederci signora…

My dog takes the hint and gets up to leave. I, unfortunately, am not going to be defeated so easily. Not after having spent the best part of my morning trying to send these two letters.

“But could you, maybe…” I am aware I have to get the next word exactly right or I will find myself back out on the street a second later… “affrancare my letters?”

With a sigh, the lady backs down. My knowledge of the outdated postal system (I think the last time a letter of mine was franked was at least 20 years ago!) has meant that her coffee break will have to be postponed for another few minutes. Victory!!


Exhibit B: Taking your bicycle in Florence also means having a bag full of accessories (tissues, water, puncture kit, umbrella) that even Mary Poppins would have been proud of. You need to be equipped for every possible situation. In my case, I got in the habit of taking multiple bike locks (even if I didn’t have the corresponding key, like for the red lock below) because you never know when they might come in handy.

On this particular occasion, the railing to which I wanted to attach my bike was set a long way back into the cement wall. As a result, it required three chains, looped together, to secure my bike…. as you can see in the photo below.

Problem solved!

Exhibit C: There are two temporary signs on the street saying “no parking for building works”. These two signs happen to fall neatly on a defined orange zone. I asked an Italian friend yesterday who confirmed that the signs indicate the beginning and end of the space needed. I parked my car in the adjacent blue zone.

Just now, upon checking on the car, the builders tell me I need to move it. I maintain that I’m parked on the correct side of the sign. They shrug, in that “do I look bothered” way, saying they could just move the sign further up the street and therefore my car would be parked illegally.

I ask how much extra space they need. One of the builders is telling me that the official rule in this kind of matter – didn’t I know? – was up to the nearest lamppost. Yet his colleague signals to the parking meter, thereby superbly negating this supposed Italian rule of the road.

In any case, the difference is no more than a foot and there’s almost a yard between me and the car in front. I suggest, rather that looking for a new spot (impossible in Florence at this time of the morning anyway), that I simply close up this gap. They convene to consider the suggestion.

By the time they’re somewhere close to an agreement, I’ve already started the engine and am inching forward. In the end, once I’m sufficiently close to my neighbour’s bumper, they give me the thumbs up.

European problem solving, like a boss!