We’ve been here nearly a week now. I’m typing this (Saturday) on a warm afternoon (high 20s), with hazy sunshine outside. (I’m inside as it’s far too hot and bright to use a computer out there.) It’s been sunny all week, but last weekend was the tail end of one of the worst storms the area has seen in recent years. Two days before we arrived the rain fell by the bucketful for the whole of one night. The evidence can be seen in Bordighera (ten miles away on the coast), with mud along the sides of the roads, and all the local garages are engaged in cleaning up cars overwhelmed by sudden floods. Up here in the hills our house escaped any damage; some rain crept in under the tiles and came into the pantry, but otherwise everything stayed dry. A few miles up the road to Bajardo, however, the road was blocked by rubble washed down from above, and every weekday the trucks go back and forth carrying road-mending equipment. I imagine the road will reopen soon, but for the time being we can’t go and visit the next village. Fortunately we usually only want to go to Apricale and down to the valley, which has no problems. But it’s a reminder that we’re in a very different climate and terrain.
We still don’t yet actually own our house. To cut a long story short, when the house was extended eight years ago it was mis-classified as a single dwelling. However, because there’s no staircase between the two floors it’s been reclassified as two apartments. (To those who may be wondering, we’re on a 30 degree slope so each floor has its own ground-level entrance and a path leads down and round from the one to the other.) The plans were due to be processed by the local commune back in July, but for various reasons nothing happened for ten weeks. Outside the major cities, Italy still closes up for two months each summer. Fortunately for us, because it’s two apartments we can live in the guest one while the seller continues living downstairs (or ‘below’, to be more accurate). Yesterday the necessary papers were released by the commune so it looks like we’ll be able to take over in a couple of weeks. We can then call our remover to ask for our furniture to be taken out of storage and brought here. Until then it’s a kind of extended holiday.
Life here is as peaceful as you want to make it. Most of the time the only sounds are cicadas, the occasional frog and some birds – a flock of about 200 rooks passed over the other day. There are other smaller birds around but we have yet to spot one. A praying mantis landed on the terrace yesterday and a gecko scuttled under the crockery cabinet. We’re told they bring luck as well as clear up unwanted insects. There’s a minimal amount of traffic along the road; maybe it’ll increase a bit once the road reopens further up but it’s not a major route anywhere. The sun rises over the mountain opposite just after 8am at this time of year, and disappears behind the hill our side at about 5.30. Around 8pm it’s suddenly dark. Night-time temperatures are in the mid teens.
We walked into Apricale one morning. It took us about 30 minutes, but with more practice and cooler weather we could reduce that a lot. Part of it is a fairly steep and rocky path so you need to take care with each footstep. Once you’re in the village there’s the main square, a small supermarket and a few bars. You don’t need to sit in one for long before hearing English voices; it’s a very popular place to visit. There are a number of expats living in and around the village but we haven’t met any yet.
Anna, from whom we’re buying the house, has been very helpful in showing us around. One afternoon we went to the coast at Balzi Rossi, right on the border with France, where there are Palaeolithic caves in towering cliffs. There’s also a small beach (private, as is the Italian way, with a cafe and umbrellas for hire) but next to it an area of rocks by the water’s edge, making it ideal for snorkelling. Or you can simply fall off a rock into the water when you get too hot.
On Thursday Anna took us to the Hotel Parigi, on the sea front in Bordighera. This is the weekly meeting point of the Anglo-Ligurian Society. The club consists mainly of Italians wanting to learn English so there’s a constant shortage of new English blood, particularly anyone under 70. But it’s worth joining because whatever question needs to be asked there’s probably someone there who can provide an answer or know a man who can. We discovered there’s an extensive (and free) English library in the town, so that’s somewhere to visit soon. Nearby there are more rocks so we returned on Friday to try some snorkelling. The water is clear and warm, with shoals of little fish we could only dimly see because our contact lenses are packed back in England!
One of the most important factors in living here will be shopping. It’s difficult to judge this early but prices seem to be on the whole similar to or a little lower than in England. The choice seems wider; instead of lots of shops all selling basically the same things (that’s my impression of English town centres recently) there are small specialist shops and a few larger places that sell a huge range of products. Clothing seems to be done by the specialists so there’s a lot more room for aisles of kitchenware; pans of all shapes and sizes in Teflon, aluminium or steel, strange looking plastic containers whose purpose can only be guessed at, garden furniture, tools and so on. A cross between a big kitchen shop and B&Q without the joinery. Some things are of course famously cheap; a bottle of Spumante costs about £2, but prime cuts of meat at a good butcher are probably dearer than in England. It’s difficult to be sure.
I nearly forgot Ventimiglia market. This is a covered square occupying the space of a large supermarket, with a vast array of farm produce; fruit, vegetables, cheese and so on. Don’t bother going by car if you have any alternative; the whole town is usually gridlocked. On a Friday we hear the whole of the town centre becomes a market and the French flood in for bargains. Maybe we’ll try it next week; it’s useful having the scooter. At one end of the market is a fish shop, packed to the gills (har har) with fish of all kinds, some at very attractive prices. Such as fresh tuna for nine euros a kilo. So far the only fish we’ve tried was a pair of mackerel from a supermarket, and these were absolutely wonderful.