Wednesday, March 15, 2017


Well, that's settled. 

I've been charging around, all over Umbria for three weeks - Norcia, Narni, Terni, Citta di Castello - and it's finally come down to Perugia, and a small place in the country. It's not fancy. It's not posh or suburban. But it will do. 

I left Citta di Castello in a funk on Tuesday morning. It was hopeless. The logistical problems of having three cats, a house full of furniture - but no kitchen - and needing a place that was both close enough to the centro storico that I could go to Mass, but also needing a place with a garden and away from traffic - was impossible. There's a lot to tell about Citta di Castello, and I'm going to be writing about it elsewhere soon. Suffice to say here that it didn't work out, and is in reality quite a depressing place. I was glad to leave, in fact. 

I took the little local two-car diesel train down to Perugia and just wung it. Deciding to start from the middle of the bullseye, I got a hotel room (off-season prices quite good) in the middle of the centro storico at the very tippy-top of the "scala mobile" - the escalators that take you up from the train station at Porta Sant'Anna to the medieval town on the flat top of the mountain. It was cold. And windy. 

The hotel wifi found me all the realtors in town, and I made appointments. Came back to S. Marinella on Wednesday afternoon, fed the kitties and slept. Rested all day Thursday, and then charged back up to Perugia for my appointment on Friday. 

The hunt was strange, and it wasn't until a last-minute change of plans that it seemed to go from hopeless to solved in the space of ten minutes. 

The appointment on Friday sounded promising. I saw one place that was very nice and posh and modern, with a fireplace, four bedrooms (and two identical full baths next to each other, which seemed like a shameful waste of space) and a teeny garden, a beautiful view just outside the city on a bus route. It seemed pretty good, but it didn't "feel" quite right. The bedrooms were all extremely small and the price was a bit high for Perugia. I put it in the "I'll keep thinking about it" file. 

It turned out, however, that that was the last thing they had for me. There was another very beautiful and quite affordable "casa independente" in the country, but it needed transport, since there was no bus.

Anyway, by this time it was nearly bus time and I was getting painfully tired. I wandered back to the train station and found out there was about a 45 minute wait for the next bus. Remembering that I'd seen another agency on the strip not far away, I decided to go there and make my needs known, in stead of just sitting waiting. It turns out that this other place was populated with just the right sort of Italian lady - the mothery kind who can't resist a stray cat - and one of them spoke good English.

I explained the whole sob story and they said that a possible solution could be to take something for a shorter term near Perugia. This would at least buy some more time, allow me to be closer to P so I could be there to look for something more permanent, and would give the kitties somewhere to run about. They called the lady in Deruta (frazione of Torgiano, which is a frazione of P) and she agreed. They said to come back the next morning at 10:30.

So instead of going back to S. Mar, I took a room in the same hotel, and stayed. I thought it was quite a good suggestion, since I was starting to really feel the pinch of not having time to do this. I had told Lina I would be out of here by the end of March, but it wasn't looking good, even in Perugia - which is supposed to be the best rental market in the country.

So, I stayed, and was quite hopeful and cheerful. I went back the next morning, and instead of going straight to Deruta, the guy offered to show me a place in the country that was on a bus route. So we went waaaay out into the farm-y district, and close to a small village was this nice couple with a big farm house, down on the flat between Perugia and Torgione. They had set up a suite in the house for the mother-in-law, who I suppose has died.

It wasn't fancy or posh and suburban like my house in Norcia, and has only a wood burning stove in the kitchen, not much of a "salone" (lounge) but two very large bedrooms, and very bright. It's very much a country farm house mother-in-law suite built in the 70s. They're putting in a new stove and redoing the bathroom - even tearing out the old pipes - so that is going to take a little longer. They said I could take it by April 15.

I've been thinking about how to put it together, and thought the second bedroom would make a nicer living room/workroom than the tidgy little salone space, and then realized that the tidgy little narrow space - that has a big Umbrian double window at the end - sure looked a lot like an oratorio to me. Take out the fridge, the ugly little dining table and big hideous faux-wood china cabinet, and it's a perfect little home-chapel space. A lick of paint and some chapel-y decor, and bob's-yer-uncle.

Most of the socialising in country places goes on not in a formal sitting room but in the kitchen anyway. 

There is a ginormous terrace off the kitchen door, and that leads to an even more ginormous garden, which is all mine to play with.

Perugia has an abundance of second-hand shops, including two of my favourite shops: MercatinoUsato - which is like Italy's version of Value Village - so whatever is needed can certainly be had there. And they said I could have it on a year-to-year lease. I told them I wanted to return to Norcia,  but thought it would be quite a long time. And one never knows what's going to happen next.

I went away and thought about it for a couple of days, and the idea has really grown on me. I got a friend who's good at this stuff to go looking for transit and other services in the area and there's a daily train from San Martino in Campo, about a 15 minute walk from the house. (short bike ride). Perugia has a weekly Mass and a good Traddie community. I've visited the Universita of Stranieri and can sign up for their monthly course which is quite cheap at 400 E. 

Perugia seems like a big city on paper, with a population of 160,000+, but the city is actually really compact because it's on that mountain with nowhere to expand to. So that number includes all the frazione (villages and small towns within the municipality) which are really quite nice little independent medieval villages out in the country. 

The house is a bit isolated, basically in the fields between San Martino in Campo and San Martino in Colle. But it will be quiet and peaceful and safe, and the kitties will LOVe it.

The main thing, though, was how much I liked the couple. Somehow it was just one of those rare times when you hit it off with someone - especially Annamaria - and are instant friends. We talked about the house, then where I was from and what I did, and then earthquakes, and then gardening and cooking... (Thank God I bought a smartphone with an auto-voice translator!)

A huge part of the problem with finding a place has been the complicated logistics. I have cats and am not really a city person anymore, so I needed place in the country but close enough to town to do things, shopping and Mass-going and whatnot. This would be perfectly doable, and even cheap and accommodating, if I had transport. The problem I had, however, is that the transit service is good to the towns, but limited to weekdays, and dries up almost completely in the countryside. 

In the case of this house the nearest bus route only runs once a day! Fortunately, it's close enough to a village that has regular service that I can bike to it. But it was very discouraging. Every time I saw a nice looking place I would be told, "Oh sorry, no bus service." 

So, I've decided to make a big change. When I get there, I'm going to sign up at the Autoscuola to get the bottom-rung motorcycle license - the one the kids get - to drive a motorino up to 50cc. It's called an AM license, and if you are an adult you don't even need to take an exam. You just have to show that you've received the requisite number of hours of instruction, a short course. It's cheap at about 150 E and I found while I was out there hunting that I was having very little problem understanding what was being said to me. It's amazing how you magically discover you know more of the language than you thought when you are forced to use it. 

Anyway, the AM license is good for 50cc motorini, the Ape ("ah-pay," those little three-wheeled farm truck thingies) and even a smartcar. I've looked around the internet and of course there are bazillions of 50cc motorini for sale second hand, very cheap.

This would at least make it possible to buzz back and forth from the house to the train/bus station at San Giovanni in Ponte or even all the way up to the Porta Sant'Anna where the scala mobile takes you up to the centro. I have a friend who drove an 50cc motorino all the way from Paris to Florence, right over the Alps, so I think it will make a daily run up to the centro. I had one years and years ago, and it was great fun, and very cheap to run. The internet tells me the annual insurance is about 20 E. 

And once I've got one, it will open up a whole world of possible home solutions that were previously impossible. It's not glamorous, but it will work. I'm really annoyed at having missed that gorgeous house in the country. It was 150 m-sq, four bedrooms, huge country garden, all wood floors and big windows, camino in the kitchen, and 520 a month. A motorino would have made it possible to at least get to the nearest bus stop or mini-train station. But without transport of any sort, it would be impossible. 

So, that's where we are, and that's the plan.

I've just had an email back from the realtor who has said I can come up to sign contracts on Saturday. 

(Listen, Lord, if You wanted me to move to Perugia, You could have just said so. Like, in a dream or something. You didn't have to knock down a whole town... Just for next time, eh?)


Saturday, March 04, 2017



Narni is a total bust. The town is totally everything you might think it ought to be. It's beautiful and friendly and wonderful. But its also full up.

The nice realtor lady called every real estate office between here and Foligno and no one had a damn thing. This is the most thickly populated area of Umbria - the flat lands between Terni and Perugia - and there are 3000 + Nursini running about looking for places to go. I think I have to get out of the quake zone.

I am therefore making a lateral move. I've decided it's time to finally make my pilgrimage to Citta di Castello to visit Bl. Margaret of Castello.

I've just booked a place to stay in Citta di Castello, the very out-of-the-way town in northern Umbria, where I will go today.

This is where the Poor Clares of the Immaculate maintain their siege with FrancisChurch, and have a Mass every day.

Why Citta di Castello?

It's rather off the beaten path in the mountains in the northern end of Umbria, and therefore mostly known only to Italians as a holiday place. Kind of like Norcia.

It's ancient and beautiful and surrounded by medieval stone walls in the Appenines. Kind of like Norcia.

The rents are ridiculously low... kind of like Norcia.

You have to take a train to Arrezzo, and you have to time it precisely so you don't miss the one bus a day that goes up there... kind of like Norcia.

And it's got a monastery of religious there who have the traditional Mass and Divine Office every day... kind of like Norcia.

It also happens to be the place where Blessed Margaret of Castello lived, was raised to heights of wonderworking glory in her short lifetime, and where she remains incorrupt. When I was confirmed, I dedicated the conversion of my family to her because she was abandoned by her family. I took her name when I was confirmed at 36, and when I had cancer I promised I would come to visit her if I survived. It's time to go fulfil the promise.

If I don't find a place, at least I will have visited the town I've been meaning to go to since 2001.


Friday, March 03, 2017

Melting the polar caps

(I'm afraid I couldn't possibly be a real nun. I like rocking out to Pearl Jam WAY too much. But don't worry. I know I'm a podgy middle-aged cat lady, so I don't do it in front of anyone...)

Writing from the train on the way to Narni this morning. I've got a booking in a nice B&B and an appointment with some realtors there. And yes, I'm definitely going to be checking every wardrobe I find. If you never hear from me again, y'all will know what happened.

I can't tell you how much I appreciate the assurances of prayers and ... ahem... "accompaniment" I've received. There is a Facebook group of ladies who are offering me "spiritual bouquets". Seriously! I just got a note on the other blog to say that an entire convent of Carmelites somewhere in the American mid-west, is praying for me to find a suitable home. One in which I can resume being a slacker, half-assed hermit and where, much more importantly, the kitties can run around outside and get back to having fun. I've got about 50 pots of herbs and bulbs and things sitting in the garden in Norcia that need tending.

When I was fifteen I left my family in the dark of a winter morning. We lived in the (lower) Canadian arctic, and it was about - 50 degrees C that morning, and there was an ice fog. It was so cold the snow didn't crunch under my feet, it squeaked. I walked with my backpack of clothes, tooth brush and birth certificate for ID, through a cold that no parka could keep out, to the bus station and got on the early bus to Edmonton, the nearest city. I was 1200 miles away before anyone in my family noticed I was gone. I didn't hear from them until I got a phone call a year or so later to tell me that my belongings had been thrown away.

I've felt completely alone ever since. You get used to it, and by the time 35 years have passed, you take it for granted and mostly sort of forget about it. The Faith has helped, but you have to learn a lot of mental discipline - that old Thomistic thing of subordinating the passions to the intellect and will. But that's pretty damn exhausting, frankly. One can't really just grit one's teeth and white-knuckle it through life. Not forever, anyway.

It's taken a long time, but I think the ice that has covered my soul for all these years is finally receding. A good deal of the work was done during cancer; I was never alone for a moment.

But this sort of thing helps too. More than y'all might ever know until the day when all things will be revealed and there will be no more secrets.