Sunday, May 17, 2009

When in the Italian countryside ...

Spring is probably my favourite season here - warm days, cool nights, green everywhere, wildflowers blooming, trips to the mountains, and a busy bustle on the streets. Things don't just grow in this time - they explode into life, bursting out of their slumber and smothering the landscape with their colour. It's a phenomenon.

Of course, this applies everywhere - out in the fields, up on the slopes ... and in our garden. We've arrived - by a sort of natural evolution - at a horses-for-courses division of labour: Maria does the artistic work, nurturing and helping things to grow, while I'm the destructive maintenance man, cutting the grass, cutting the trees, and gathering up the detritus for burning and stacking for next winter's fire.

So an arduous week of cutting back our garden jungle back in April was barely over before I had to start again, given the vigourous growth that the warmth and moisture contrived to foster. It's one of those tasks that induces sighs and prompts thoughts of other "necessary" tasks to divert from the pressing need to get out there. Eventually you realize that it can't be delayed any further, and so out you go ... only to discover that your trusty lawnmower or weed-eater/strimmer or some other machine is not as eager as you are (and that's saying something). All of which brings me to the point of this post ... buy Italian.

First of all, rule #1 for garden machines with engines - they will break down, and they will need to be fixed. Rule #1a (applies to rural Italy) - if it's not an Italian machine, they can't fix it. Italians tend to be a tad xenophobic, which could be interpreted as nationalistic when it comes to cars, clothes, household appliances ... and garden machines: they (almost) always buy Italian. Consequently, when one takes in the German mower or strimmer for repair, the response is invariably the same: "Where am I going to get the parts?" If said machine is Italian, however, parts are readily available, technicians know how they work, and often there's a replacement available while your machine is being fixed. Now I can't speak for the big cities, or even further north, so maybe this is just a regional rule.

The Germans are very proud of their workmanship, and so initially I didn't resist the inclination of my German wife to procure gadgets and gizmos on her fairly regular trips home. But now I know. Even German machines break down, and I'm getting a bit tired of having to coax neighbours' and friends' mowers and strimmers and such
out of their clutches so that I can delay the inevitable overrunning of our property and our house from the green advance.

It's going to take diligence to keep this mantra in full sight, because Italy is not Europe's cheapest country - in fact, it's generally more expensive than its neighbours, in many cases by some distance. But I know that any temptation to buy German engineering at a cheaper price is false economy, pushes the limits of neighbourly friendship to a degree I'd rather not, and ultimately makes for more work than the initial substantial load. I put this new-found wisdom to work recently, buying a top-of-the-range strimmer - Italian, of course.

But it doesn't end there. Just buying Italian doesn't always cover all the bases. If you've got a go-to guy for fixing all these things, he's the guy you need to buy it from. Only then will the not-to-be-sneezed-at Italian proclivity for going the extra yard kick in. Hence we bought the strimmer from Roberto, who rewarded our final acceptance of the rule by giving us a nice discount off the substantial price.

So for those thinking of bringing your appliances over here when you move - without even starting on the different electrical requirements if you're coming from the US - unless you're absolutely positive that your fearless flamethrower will never, ever stutter and stumble, sell it. Buy a new one when you get here. It's taken me over two years to learn this valuable lesson, but I have now reached the point of integration where my automatic response - with unflinching conviction - to any who has bought a new watchamacallit, is this: "Is it Italian?"