Settling Down in Parma
We’ve done a lot since we moved to Parma about five weeks ago. This is a summary based on a letter that Larry Godding recently wrote to his mother and brother since they do not have the internet or a computer. I’ve changed sentences around or added more text here and there to expand the narrative a bit so this is a merger of both of our stories and writing styles.
We began with an uneventful but tiring flight, or series of flights. It takes a few days to recover fully from that. We stayed for a little over two weeks at the Airbnb apartment of our friend, Valentina Gardellin. During those two weeks, Valentina, her husband, Massimo Medioli and another friend of their’s, Erika Saccani, took us around to look at several apartments. We saw eight or nine, and of those, we narrowed down the choice between two apartments. The others were either too small, were oddly configured or had no furnishings, etc.
Long story short, we entered into a lease contract for the one that was in a residential neighborhood, had some furnishings and had a large terrace that wraps around the front and side of the building. The lease negotiations are more complex here than in the USA and we had to make several trips to the realtor’s office over the course of two weeks. In fact, it is like buying a house, although we were told that buying a house or apartment here in Italy is even more complex. Our realtor, Rita Baretta and landlord, Giancarlo Cois were very nice to deal with and we knew we had made a good choice in the location. The other apartment we had considered was more in the downtown area and was fully furnished, but this apartment, in the end, was more to our liking. Our final step in the process was to open up a bank account so we could pay the security deposit and monthly rent payments for our apartment, so with the help of Massimo Medioli and Monica Bergamaschi, we opened up our Italian checking account.
Our crate of boxes arrived within a day of us moving into the apartment. The timing couldn’t have been better as we were able to have it delivered directly to our apartment’s garage instead of to Valentina’s house as originally planned.
Before we could move in, we had to have the water, electricity and gas turned on so we could clean the apartment since it hadn’t been lived in since February. We also got acquainted with the plumber and electrician as the kitchen faucet needed to be replaced and the stove light and fan needed to be adjusted.
That done, we were finally ready to move into our apartment. It is located on the top floor (5th floor by Italian standards; 6th floor by American standards). There is an old-fashioned type of elevator, but of course as many of you know, I like to take the stairs as much as possible!
We really like our apartment, especially the terraces that wrap around the outside of the apartment. From different points on the main terrace, you can see in all directions, especially north, east and south. To the south, you can see the Apennine Mountains, about an hour’s drive from here. The weather comes from the northwest, and some evenings large banks of clouds build up in that direction, pushed up by the Alps. Sometimes these clouds are lit up by flashes of lightening — it’s quite a show, and safe to watch as they’re so far away that you can’t hear the thunder at all.
There is also access to two other small terraces from the main bedroom and bathroom. Almost every room opens up onto the terrace, which brings in lots of light and fresh air.
Off of the kitchen, I’ve started a potted herb garden on the terrace by planting basil, rosemary, thyme and parsley. Two other nice features of the apartment are that we have a small fireplace in the living room and a small built-in fire pit outside to barbecue food.
The first few weeks were quite warm, including a week or so after we moved our boxes into the apartment and started unpacking. Then it became even hotter, with temperatures up into the mid-90s. We had only rented a car for the first week in Parma, so we were without transportation for several weeks. We had packed into the crate our touring bikes; however, we did not want to use them in town for fear they would get stolen. The types of bikes that are used in town are usually one-speed “old fashioned” style bikes with baskets in the front and racks and saddlebags in the back.
Of course we could have tried to figure out the bus schedule, but that seemed daunting somehow. Someday, we’ll get to that, but until then, we “schlepped” by foot all around town in the high heat, doing errands and shopping, such as walking two miles to a store to buy contact paper for some shelves, bed sheets and laundry baskets. Then another mile to another store to buy pillows and small garbage pails. Then another mile to yet another store to buy more supplies and some food. We put quite a few kilometers on our shoe leather!! One day, we were with Valentina in her car and we asked her if she wouldn’t mind stopping at a store where we had previously seen some larger-type items we could use for our apartment. When she gladly agreed, we quickly made our way through the store and bought an ironing board, an iron, a large drying rack, a fan, some glassware, some utensils, a grill for the barbecue pit, some grilling utensils, etc. We figured all of that would have been too heavy to carry by foot!
Finally, we got a hot tip from a fellow American English teacher we had met last summer that her neighborhood bike shop owner and mechanic had a couple of used bikes that might suit us. So, around 8:30 pm that evening, we quickly hoofed it across town to meet Mario and see his offerings. We were in luck! I picked out a nice forest green ladies-frame one-speed bike and Larry selected a one-speed black one, just the kind he was hoping for. The next day, we came back to purchase the bikes as it was rather late that previous evening, and Larry’s bike needed some adjustments. Both bikes are kind of old and a little rusty, so they should not be the targets for bike thefts, but they work really well and are a boon to our tired feet! Mine has a basket in the front and we both have racks with saddle bags in the back. They each have a bell on the handlebars to alert others as you’re going around blind corners. We use the bikes to go shopping for food and household items nearly every day. On one occasion after a small shopping trip, instead of going immediately home, we took a two-hour tour around Parma. It was fun to explore areas we had not seen before. Parma has an extensive bike path system, so we’ll need to do more exploring both with our city bikes and with our touring bikes.
One of the requirements when you move to Italy is to establish residency, whether you are Italian or another nationality. As part of this requirement, the police (vigile) make an unannounced visit to verify that you actually are living where you say you are living. At the time when you apply for your residency, you have to indicate what hours you agree to be home in the morning and the evening. The police have 45 days in which to make this unannounced visit. For us, that meant we could expect the unannounced visit anytime until September 11, 2016.
So in our case, we were bound to the house until 10:30 am every morning and had to be back by 8:00 pm every evening, Monday-Friday, and also couldn’t leave until 12:00 noon on Saturdays. On Sundays, we were free to come and go without any restrictions. We jokingly referred to the house restriction as being under “house arrest.” Now that restriction may not sound so bad, but most shops, city services and banks are closed in the afternoon from 1:30–3:30 pm every day, so that limited what we were able to do.
As Larry wrote to his mother and brother, “Every day we hoped for a visit with the eager anticipation of a child waiting up for Santa. Appropriately, I was still in my pajamas this morning (August 20, 2016) — no kerchief, though — when we heard the doorbell. The police officer (vigile) came up to our apartment, said, ‘Permesso?’ (which means, ‘May I come in?’), stayed for a few minutes to fill out a form, asked us a few questions and said we were good to go!!! Tutto a posto! We were now official residents of Parma, free to come and go as we pleased!! Whoo-hoo!! On Monday we’ll go to the local government office and apply for our ‘Carta d’Identità,’ our identity card.” Anyway, it is a relief that the vigile came this morning so we can continue to experience our Italian life.
What this also means for us is that we can now go out to restaurants. We were previously restricted as most restaurants do not usually open for business until 7:30–8:00 pm, although we were able to try a few places. We now look forward to eating at other restaurants we passed along the way on our travels throughout Parma.
Since we were not able to go out to eat, I busied myself with preparing meals at home. I like to cook. I looked forward to preparing food that I haven’t made in quite some time due to my previously heavy work schedule. One of the first and very easy things I made was seasoned sea salt. It was fun to use the herbs from my newly created herb garden.
Cooking in my new apartment has been by trial and error. It took a bit of getting used to the appliances in my very small kitchen since there generally wasn’t an owner’s manual, or if there was, it was all in Italian. For instance, the microwave turns out to be a microwave, grill and convection oven. For the stove/oven, the stovetop is gas, but the oven is electric and very small. The degrees are in Celsius, as you would expect. For measuring food, the unit of measure is in grams and milliliters. I had brought both an electric/battery operated scale for measuring food, plus my trusty small manual scale. Good thing for the manual scale as the other one must have de-calibrated during the journey here and I haven’t taken the time to re-calibrate it. Converting from one unit of measure to another is a bit time-consuming, but the internet makes it easier than doing it by hand!
The gas stovetop is a bit tricky to light consistently, but we are getting the hang of it. I’ve made roasted peppers several times now since I have the gas stove! This is a favorite in my family as my late Italian grandmother, Amelia Rossi, made the best roast peppers I have ever had.
Then, I became quite ambitious and I invited our wonderful across-the-hall neighbors, Isa and Umberto, over for a several course Italian meal I prepared from scratch a week ago. I had made a tomato-based fish soup from two recipes I had adapted from my Italian relatives (Enza Sormani and Giulio Migliavacca) as the first course after the antipasto with the roasted peppers, prosciutto and a variety of cheeses. For the main course, I made a cheese stuffed pasta dish (ricotta/provola/asiago/parmesan/mozzarella) with homemade tomato sauce. This was served with diced grilled zucchini. Then, for dessert, I made an apple cake (torta di mele) from a recipe I had gotten from another one of my Italian relatives (Chiara Migliavacca).
This evening, we went to Valentina’s house for dinner, so I roasted more peppers, trying out another technique for holding the pepper over the flame on the stovetop. I also made a berry cream cheese tart pie (blackberries, raspberries and blueberries) from a recipe I had gotten from one of my work colleagues, Beth Luchsinger. I couldn’t find graham crackers in our local grocery store, so I substituted with a type of cookie that worked well for the crust as it is generally used to make the crust for cheesecakes. The tort was well-received, especially by Valentina’s 11 year-old son who really liked the dessert.
The next stage of mobility for us will be to get a car. That will most likely happen this coming week. We actually signed the papers to buy a used Peugeot hatchback about two weeks ago at a car dealership, but buying a used car here is not so simple. Once you sign the papers, you do not simply drive away with the car. Oh no! Instead, the car goes to a garage where preparations need to be completed — oil, other fluids, filters, etc., etc. We were told this would take a week to perform and that we would get a call the following Tuesday or Wednesday to come get the car (after we first stopped to purchase the car insurance). But, you have to realize that August is the time when Italy goes on vacation. Everyone, or nearly everyone, or those that can, go on vacation to either the mountains or the sea coast and beaches. There is an Italian holiday on August 15 called, “Ferragosto,” a celebration of summer. Many businesses close entirely from about August 12 or so until the end of the month. The car guys might have mentioned to us they had no intention of working on the car when they realized it was mid-August. Instead, they headed for the exits without calling to say anything! It looks like they will be back, tanned and rested this next week, so we’ll see…
In the meantime, Larry wishes we could buy a Mazda sports car. Arrivederci until next time!