Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Cost of living in the Italian countryside

The other day I filled up my car. I was horrified, not because the pump just stopped before the tank was full, but because it took 78 big old euros to get that far ... and it still wasn't finished - the pump was somehow set automatically at that amount, and so it didn't even fill up the tank. €78??? That translates to about $114, or R893 (South African rands).

Such is the price of living in the Eurozone. It prompted me to thinking that those of you in the netherlands (USA, South Africa, the UK, and other places) might find it interesting to know what it costs to live here. So I put together a list of day-to-day items. (In truth, I didn't just do this for the blog - I have a couple of assignments that were looking for this info.)
The grocery items come from a local co-operative and include in-season fruit and vegetables, which are either more expensive or simply not available out of season.

Shopping basket Euro South African Rand US $
Loaf of rustic bread 2.03/kg 23.24/kg 1.36/pound
Milk 1.25/liter 14.31/liter 6.95/gal
6-pack of coke 2.64 30.23 3.88
Bottle of table wine 3-5 34-57 4.50-7.35
6-pack of beer 3.76 43 5.53
Mineral water 0.45/1.5 liter 5.15/1.5 liter 0.66/1.5 liter
Sugar 0.90/kg 10.31/kg 0.60/pound
Coffee 2.05/205g 23.50/250g 5.47/pound
Free-range chicken 4.30/kg 49.25/kg 2.87/pound
Ground beef 6.00/kg 68.70/kg 4.00/pound
Pork chops 4.90/kg 56.11/kg 3.27/pound
Norwegian salmon 7.90/kg 90.50/kg 5.28/pound
Prosciutto 19.80/kg 226.70/kg 13.23/pound
Bananas 1.69/kg 19.35/kg 1.13/pound
Peaches 1.89/kg 21.65/kg 1.26/pound
Onions 1.28-2.45/kg 14.66-28.05/kg 0.86-1.64/pound
Potatoes 0.86-1.14/kg 9.85-13.05/kg 0.57-0.76/pound
Zucchini 0.89-1.49/kg 10.20-17.05/kg 0.59-1.00/pound
Carrots 0.89/kg 10.19/kg 0.59/pound
Tomatoes 1.48-1.98/kg 16.95-22.67/kg 0.99-1.32/pound
Quality Pecorino (sheep's milk) cheese 14.50/kg 166/kg 9.69/pound
Italian butter 1.66/250g 19/250g 4.43/pound
Eggs per 1/2 dozen 1.32 15.10 1.94
Spaghetti 0.86/500g 9.85/500g 1.15/pound
Olive oil 5.05-9.59/liter 57.80-109.80/liter 7.42-14.10/liter
Monthly costs for running a 2000 sq ft (200 sq m) farmhouse Euro South African Rand US $
Water & electricity 60 687 88
Gas (for cooking, hot
water and heating) – winter
375 4294 551
Gas (for cooking and hot
water) – summer
100 1145 147
Fixed phone(moderate-significant international calling) 50 572 74
Cell phone 30 343 44
Hi-speed internet 25 286 37
Satellite TV 45 515 66
Going out Euro South African Rand US $
Movie tickets for 2 w/popcorn & 2 sodas 18 206 26.50
Dinner for 2: 3-course + wine 50 575 74
Espresso 0.80 9.15 1.18
Local beer 2.50 28.65 3.70
Car expenses Euro South African Rand US $
Gasoline 1.47/liter 16.83/liter 8.18/gal
Diesel 1.44/liter 16.50/liter 8.01/gal
Car insurance per year (bare bones for 10-year-old car) 1200 13740 1764

Monday, August 25, 2008

HRH: pre-teen going on 20 ... or 70







This is the regal telephone diction of HRH. He's rather more eloquent with us, but only sometimes, and only just. I guess it's the age, and the concomitant slide into monosyllabic taciturnity.

This summer, a new habit has evolved - the Urbisaglia get-together. Urbisaglia is the little town just 10 minutes away where HRH goes to school. His mates live there. They go out to the local piazza and campo (field) on a daily basis to play football and "hang out" (one of HRH's more verbose phrases).

We typically drop him off at about 4 or 5pm, and pick him up as close to midnight as we can manage. Italians are night owls, and their children get inducted into their ways when they're still toddlers, so there are often plenty of them still milling about when we pick up HRH. Needless to say, this "early" pick-up is not the most popular of our parental actions.

I must confess that rural Italy is probably one of the few places I'd feel comfortable about doing this. I'm sure he'll want to start moving further afield the older he gets - he's already started talking about getting an Ape when he's 14 (fat chance) - so maybe our concerns will grow accordingly then. Last year it was Colmurano, this year Urbisaglia, next year ....?

But even then it's not a major problem - the local comune puts on buses to the discos on the coast a half-hour away that pick them up at 11pm on a Saturday night and bring them back in the wee hours. Now that's what I call a pro-active attempt at keeping the youth happy and keeping them safe at the same time. But in any event, I'm hoping the fairly frequent presence of girls in the current crowd helps to motivate a more "local" interest.

Last night I went to pick him up just before midnight at one of the local bars. Now this is not the type of bar you'd find in the US or the UK or South Africa, for example. Here they're gathering points for the village, probably the biggest item they sell is coffee, and anyway heavy drinking is not something one finds in rural Italy.

The boys had gone down to watch the Inter Milan - Roma derby on TV. When I arrived, they were playing cards on one of the outside tables. Just across from them on another table, the 60 and 70 year-olds were also playing cards. Both tables were engaged in rapid-fire chattering, loud remonstrating, and hand-led gesticulating as is the Italian wont. I had to do a double-take. For a moment I thought I was looking at a superimposition of future time against the present - which one of the old guys was HRH?

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Colmurano Go Kart Grand Prix in pictures

The setting

Didn't quite come out as intended, but the sweeping colours are interesting

Through the neighbourhood

Avid potential go kart buyers (HRH at center)

More unintentional waves

Monday, August 04, 2008

Hot August

Hot. Stinking hot, in fact. Indeed, it wouldn't be out of place to suggest, Bruce, that it's hot enough to boil a monkey's bum (a knowing nudge and wink to Monty Python adherents). As dry as dust, too, with a hot wind just to make it that smidgen drier.

At this point clich
éd vernacular would normally require me to attest: "At least it's not humid." But unfortunately this provides no solace for a sweat-drenched gardener or tree-house builder who has to wear long pants to keep the biting flies off his legs.

On the windless days, clouds puff up into thunderheads, the air crackles with electricity, shadows darken the distant skies ... but it's all just a ruse - nothing happens. I'm surprised, with the lack of rain, that our plants have not simply said "To hell with this place" and died. They're actually still going - well, dragging, really - and some of them (the weeds, mainly) are positively flourishing.

Unfortunately, the heat does not dissipate household and garden tasks, and so - when my writing deadlines allow me a day or half-day - I take to the broiler outside and tackle a heat-inducing task. Like clearing out the back porch so that you don't trip over any one of a hundred stacked-up, metamorphosising "things" ... donning pore-less plastic gear to take on the wasp's nest right on a frequented path in the garden ... building a tree-house with (and for) HRH.

This last task has been both a joy and struggle (although thankfully the latter in lower measure). The heat and our differing opinions on what to do to secure the thing have produced a few beano disagreements, but the end product is nonetheless taking shape, and is - as a first effort on both our parts - quite a thing. Julius even slept overnight in it once the lower walls were up to prevent him rolling over mid-dream into the dark abyss. With just the roof and the deck remaining to be done, I'm hoping it accords some utility beyond the satisfaction of constructing it - we'll see. At some point I'll post some pictures of the finished article.

In the midst of the heat wave, the streets of our local village, Colmurano, were once again transformed for a weekend, this time for a national go-kart grand prix. Attracting top-class drivers from all over Italy, it was curious to see my normal routes play home to screeching rubber and squealing engines. Julius, of course, now wants one, but he's been told that he'll have to be satisfied with his dad's robust rendering on those hairpin bends, an assertion that elicits nothing but contempt from HRH, given his claim that said dad lacks any trace of a spirit of adventure.

The grand prix was somewhat out of the ordinary for this time of year. Italy is in the throes of shutting down for August, and every town, village, hamlet, and collection of more than one house is in festa mode. What's so pleasant about it all is that here they make no attempt to disguise their primary intent behind each festival - eating. This is what it all comes down to - life, the universe, and everything: they want to eat. Lots. Different things too - lentils with pork rind ... paparadelle with duck ... nettles ... And always with a passion that is unique, infectious, and nation-defining. Yes, August in the Italian countryside - I haven't experienced one yet (last year we were in southern Africa), so I'm looking forward to the phenomenon.

But right now I have to go - after all that food talking I'm starting to get a little peckish. I'll have to see what's on the festa menu in Cessapolombo tonight ...