Vacation renting business…

IMG_1057The first year You & I decided to rent out parts of il Poggiolo… L’Appartamento Azzurro and La Casa Padronale… we thought 5 to 6 reservations would be a nice start. We had 9. Great. For our 2nd year, we set the bar at 8 to 9 and we got just 5. Not the best of trends. This year I had still hoped for 8 to 9 reservations and to date we have had only 4. Worst still. Well, 5 really but, I don’t count the 2 night stay of an American family with too many XXL suitcases and tablets to book everything beforehand so as not to actually touch Italy. All the others who came were quite wonderful as guests… interesting, engaging and very considerate. We want them all to come back.

The odd thing though about this 3rd year is we have received lots of inquiries, something like 25 to 30. The previous two years we had maybe 10% more to our bookings. And yet, a dearth of paying & staying for 2015.

What’s wrong with my renting Kharma?

What’s wrong with the Kharma of la gente in vacanza?

Many of the emails sent through the various vacation rental websites we belong to are so complimentary… We love your house, it’s so charming and intimate, we wondered if it would be possible for us to stay in La Casa Padronale from July…? I quickly reply with equally friendly terms to any request and, especially to those complimenting me on my house. And, I am often alerted by a squealing cellphone message, since all these websites keep accurate records of how quickly you respond. They also feel so obliged to menace further with monthly statements of how you did. But then… NOTHING.

A friend who rents her house in the village above Codiponte complained to me of the same lack of solid bookings this year too. She went on to hypothesize about a world rife with too much competition and/or the growing nightmare of house trading… someone comes to say in your house while you go to theirs. Ever see the movie The Holiday? Cute, very feel-good and highly romantic about switching abodes. Superb cast of Cameron Diaz… quite a comedienne, Jude Law… sexy, sexy, sexy, Kate Winslet, Jack Black, who I do not understand why he even exists much less stars in movies and, Eli Wallach, Bless his now gone heart, what a great actor. The novelty often does not entail lucking out with a beautifully manicure home in Beverly Hills with abundant Staffing, as in the movie. And the new found custom bodes ill for us who want to earn enough money to pay the ever rising taxes on a 2nd home in Italy.

What I think is many vacation-folk rummaging around on the Internet pick & place several inquiries to see what pops ups best with respect to price and location. Ah yes, the old adage of location, location, location. Doubles the intrigue when price, price, price is added on too.  Ignorance does not help either. The Lunigiana, Codiponte, il Poggiolo are better situated to see Pisa, Parma, Genoa, Florence, Lerici, Versilia, Forte dei Marmi AND the le darn Cinque Terre than any old place down near the heartland of people’s conception of Tuscany, San Gimigniano. Yeah, right. Every 50 yards there are signs for B&B’s, agriturismi, country frigging hotels and their ilk amongst the Disneyland of tall cypresses along a climbing dusty track to a lone chapel. But so… HOT.

Yesterday, a straw arrived which broke my camel’s back. And I will name names… Francois sent me a message through House Trip which arrived at my email’s proverbial door-step at 11:40 AM. He requested an arrival for that same afternoon… yesterday!!! Caspita. I was on my laptop so, I immediately replied and hit SEND at 11:44 AM. I kindly asked if he could let me know ASAP to have time to put to the ready & perfect L’Appartamento Azzurro… wine, cheese & bread included… which he expressly asked for. I HEARD ABSOLUTELY NOTHING FROM FRANCOIS!!! Thanks to his inconsiderate behaviour… besides asking the same day, would it be so hard to reply with… Merci beaucoup mais nous avons trovee un’autre maison? I HOPE HE BURNS IN VACATION HELL!!! Thank you. Now, I can let go… ahhhhh! Big gads.

Perfect house guests…

IMG_4476Having a house in Italy, Friends & Family will come to visit…

The nearly most perfect House Guests, a cousin and her family in from Denver, CO USA, came to Il Poggiolo and have since gone away to the Scottish shores of Saint Andrews… to play golf, for crying out loud!!! It is NOT raining there like it did here the two out of the six days of My Denver Cousin’s visit. They loved it though. They could sleep in, even during the noisy thunderstorms at 4 in the morning. London apparently did them in.

Why perfect? Well how can you beat having a guest/guests clean, cook, serve and treat you to meals & rides for services as Team Leader, Guide, Translator? None of this had I dreamed of. No. In fact, I had with its opposite. So, I was unprepared for the visit to be so effortless, so pleasant, so unstressed EXCEPT… well, except in the choice of their rental car… a Lancia Ypsilon… Yes? What’s that? A dip-compact from Our State Supported Friends over at FIAT… and the manner in which they sought to drive it. Tactically avoiding any admission of a lack of real experience with a manual drive car, the Cousins complained instead of a severe lack of power with the car. It’s not like our cars at home! Fine. But, have you ever been in a car driven in the 2nd gear on a highway with the speed limit set at 120 kph? An amazingly gear grinding experience. One not to be repeated for the car. I would gently suggest, perhaps, maybe, possibly of changing to the 3rd or, Hey! How about putting it in 4th? only to be thwarted, while the designated-Cousin-as-driver maneuvered the screeching Ypsilon around, through… AND NEARLY OVER!!!… trucks, buses and other passenger cars sharing the lanes of the autostrada with us. Another interesting trick was for driving-Cousin to slam down upon the accelerator in 5th gear, frustrated to the max for the lack of POWER, gripping the steering wheel to WILL THE CAR PAST a semi-truck near a curve on a narrow state road with oncoming traffic. I prayed to live till My Next White Wine. Thankfully, God had Mercy upon me. And, in reflecting during the God-granted Cocktail Hour, alone while others showered and cleaned themselves up after a solid day of tourism, I wondered why people who have ENORMOUS SUVs with PUSH-THE-DAMN-BUTTON AUTOMATIC DRIVE transmissions and living in a HUGE 4.7 million metropolis with streets straighter than straight clicked the box for a manual-drive Lancia Ypsilon on the car rental website. Because it’s going to be Italy? Beyond my ability to find a suitable answer.

Between these automobile excursions, I had difficulty tearing the Cousins away from the Loggia of La Casa Grande. Piping hot caffe’ & fresh brioches tempted them during the morning hours. Arctically chilled vino bianco, salami, formaggi e pane nero did the same job in the evening. In between, we all four were at our laptops & smart-phones going full-tilt during our off-days from mass tourism. You know, the Americans work 24/7 even on vacation. Of course, our collective wi-fi participation slowed the reception down a bit. In between facebook, emails and the Wall Street Journal, the cousins adapted quickly to the key element of experiencing Italy… eating and drinking. Finalmente, ci siamo. We toured the local ristoranti.

Then, we pretty much had to venture out to a few Tourist Spots… Florence on a Tuesday and Le 5 Terre on the Thursday after. I was shocked… WE WERE SHOCKED… over the style & quality of tourists seen in The 5 Lands. Here’s what we saw…

hiking boots and ghastly thick multi-colored socks covering hairy legs… micro-shorts… short-shorts with unattractive cleavages… A-shirts for men & women… any AND all visible bra straps… women with visible cellulite over-dose, thanks to their A-shirts & micro-shorts… men with thick, wonky calves… men with pumped to the hilt chests and chicken legs for contrast, we supposed… and a stupid woman who dove into the sea only to be taken to the Guardia Medica for stitches of severe cuts incurred from barnacles encountered as she awkwardly climbed out of the sea. The First Law of Sea Swimming is to ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS think first… How do I get out… safely? Oh! And there was one American hunk of the pumped chest & reedy legs variety and devoid of any sense to cover himself… self-publicity for the investment in a gym, I supposed… who I saw devouring an entire pizza, then an ice-cream cone… and followed by, and now get this… another entire pizza 10 minutes after that gelato!!! How dare he eat and have pecs & abs of tactical temptation!!! We left the glories of one & all with their grotesque tourist fashion sense and headed for the Loggia al Poggiolo for a much needed white wine, etc. Gads.

Spring Cleaning…

Not an veritable explosion of flowers in the Garden al Poggiolo but, there are a good many varieties… from the ???… yellow flowers in the Fish Pond to the camellias on the Courtyard.  I hardly have had time to notice…

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I don’t remember Spring Cleaning being so arduous in years past. This year it has been my Mt. Cavalry. Given the Green Light for bell tempo by the RAI Weather Capitano, I descended with The Dogs to Codiponte and spent a solid week + one day… for me this means a morning AND afternoon bout of physical employment… and, in that time, I cleaned the three cantine, the Esseccatoio… and the oven too!!!… the Stanza dei Tini and its bathroom and the Courtyard. In between, I cut the grass and bush-whacked what the lawn-mower could not reach. Our Little Man & Wife came to severely prune all Our Fruit & Olive Trees and a couple of recalcitrant willows. Their attack left me with four solid days of gathering, cutting & stacking what was felled to be burnt next Winter. Then… PUFF!!!… The Dogs & My Aching Hip & Back returned to Genoa.

Now, The Dogs & I are back again al Poggiolo and, ably accompanied by Our Dynamic Cleaning Woman… The Dogs sun-bathed out on the Courtyard… La Casa Grande & You’s Terra-cotta Kingdom are Spic ‘n Span. Monday, the Dynamica Una will tackle the Appartamento Azzurro to render it spotless too.

While Order & Cleanliness are restored inside, I have assessed the rain-damage & chill- killed bushes and have attempted to make amends by planting 20 new plants. And, I ain’t done yet. There is still to seed the grass, rebuild the ramp and weed till I drop!!!

What is all this fury about beyond eradicating the traces of Our Winter’s Absence? Well… on Tuesday, a South Korean couple arrive to spend four days staying in the entire house. Eee, gads!!! They leave on Friday morning and in the afternoon a family from Edmonton, Alberta Canada drive in. Less Eee, gads ’cause they answered my emails. We are nearly best friends. Once I have survived the week, I will gather Dogs & Myself, return to Genoa and hop aboard Lufthansa for North Carolina to see My Dear & Aged Mom. Gads.

Vacation scams…

Thank God, we are finished with January! February’s running now and is next door to March and Spring! Spring!! Spring!!! However, the new month came in wet. Real wet. This cramps My Two Weimaraner’s Life-style of 4 w-a-l-k-s a day. So they get 2 with the added treat of tussling them into their respective rain-suits… RED for Nina-beena and BLACK for Mr. Moses. They HATE them. Fine. Can dogs catch pneumonia?

In the meantime, I have been manning The Reservation Desk for Il Poggiolo. Not too much coming down the pike. One wrote and asked if a chef could be arranged for a 4-day visit in March. I suggested eating out instead. There’s more local Culture & Atmosphere at a trattoria and the food would be the same, if not better. Nothing beats the ravioli la signora del Bar Cecchi prepares for pranzo! Have not heard back. Another asked if the whole house could be taken for just 2 persons for a week in July. I sent an immediate why-not. Who am I to say what 2 persons would want/need/other with 3,000+ square feet of farm-house on two floors plus garden even though, I must say myself, the entire house is splendidly decorated & furnished. And then, there have been the entertaining and once-a-week Con-mails. Or, that’s what I call them. Usually sent from the UK and written in an extraordinarily creative though grammatically alarming version of English, these con-requests seek sorts of accommodations which have nothing to do with Il Poggiolo like, for example, to house a wedding party of 30 and the absolute need of a swimming pool! These con-folk must pick up My E-mail Address from hacking vacation rental sites rather than paying a kind visit to Il Poggiolo’s website at: http://forrestspears.com/ilpoggioloacodiponte

I cannot figure out what the swindle would be beyond the Terms & Conditions set in the first Con-mail expedited from a Gentleman From Glasgow last year. I thought at first that the request for availability in June for 6 persons plus costs was legitimate. I promptly replied though mildly suspicious from the mail’s bizarre English. 48 hours passed then, a reply. Il Poggiolo’s accommodations were confirmed for 6 persons in June. I sent another e-mail explaining payment options through PayPal, etc. All seemed on its way. 48 hours passed and then, another reply. And what a reply! The Gentleman From Glasgow demanded that I accept not only the payment for the week’s stay at Il Poggiolo to My Italian Bank but, tons more cash too for the guest’s living expenses while staying at Il Poggiolo and for which I would be responsible to make payments to restaurants, bars, etc on their behalf. ??????? What crossed My Mind as I read & re-read the Gentleman’s Terms & Conditions was this might be a scam to funnel money out of the UK… drug money, prostitution money, oil $$$S, whatever… hidden by the common pretext of expediting funds for a vacation rental in a foreign land. Or, with the bank account number, a sly method to hack its balance. Who’s to say? I’m not that smart nor conniving. I sent back what was My Final Communication to the Gentleman From Glasgow reconfirming My Terms & Conditions and only they were to transpire between us, nothing more, nothing less than those. I got one last e-mail from the Gentleman From Glasgow re-demanding his. I read it for its entertainment value and then hit DELETE.

Since then, the Con-mails have been more far-fetched & financially complex and quite frequent too. They all continue to rigorously maintain a complete ignorance of Il Poggiolo as a vacation rental in the most ludicrous English and coupled with Terms & Conditions for some other Financial Time & Space Continuum.

So, there’s been a little fun while I yearn for real people desiring to partake of Il Poggiolo in the Lunigiana’s Delights & Pleasures in an eclectic ambiance to knock on My Cybernetic Door. Any takers amongst you? Gads.

Marketing…

While during the autumn & winter seasons plants grow roots, I too have been with marketing Il Poggiolo for the coming vacation rental season 2014. Last year I found 6 sites on a pay-per-booking basis. T’was not an easy task. Most want the money up front. I do too but, have little recourse. Late in Season 2013, one P-P-B was knocked off the roster…

do you all know about this already?… I knew deep, deep, deep down inside I shouldn’t have signed on the dotted line with that Dutch site from Amsterdam. There were too many nagging points of disaccord cut with big incentives to join. A Big Controversy was an iron-clad exclusivity for bookings made three months in advance. How generous. The agent, after his personal inspection of Il Poggiolo & Codiponte, led me to believe climbing aboard with such terms to join a global network of vacation sites would glitter with $$$. I asked for a pen. Scribbling My John Hancock meant I could take any & all of the three-night minimum stays of Hey!-We’re-coming-to-Italy-next-weekend-on-Ryanair-into-Pisa-and-we-fell-in-love-with-your-place bookings between the proverbial Now and 3 months hence, but not the ones of Hey!-We’re-coming-to-Italy-in-the-fall-and-your-house-would-be-perfect-Are-the-first-two-weeks-in-September-OK? made the January before. Bucking thanks either way, I received no reservations. Well, until one appeared on the boards the very moment I was given a date for my hip-op. I cancelled it. See… it’s important for me to be present for Our Guests. I like to meet them, show them around, explain how to get to the Cinque Terre by train and not get lost or mis-directed… for instance… and make sure they haven’t trashed what was wonderful up in L’Appartamento Azzurro. The annulled booking provoked a fire-storm of telephone calls & emails, mostly from the agent loosing his cut, but a few came galloping at me from Amsterdam HQ for a flagrant violation of the contractual terms. Gosh. I persisted. The agent & HQ gave up, but not before kicking me off their global team of vacation rental owners. Tsk-tsk I thought.

Since last November though, I have gladly found another five to add. But what work! To find such a beast requires frying one’s eyes & brains Googling the Internet for hours & days at a time. I don’t think anyone was born to preform such tricks. I certainly wasn’t. I persisted. Then, for two of the sites, I had to drop My Pants to demonstrate certain items of Privacy which, not even My Dear Aging Mother in North Carolina knows and she’s seen me in My Birthday Suit! Well, not recently and certainly not since I have discovered white wine. Does anyone really need to have even the last 4 digits of My Social Security Number? Fat lot it will ever do me. But really. Then, there were the hours & days of plugging in the myriad info of descriptions, amenities, photos & tags, things-to-see-&-do-&-eat. One of these sites rammed a Trip Advisor Guest Guide up on my laptop’s screen to fill out before receiving the Green Light to go LIVE. Well, trying to hunt & peck places in the out-back of the Lunigiana I normally recommend in person… drawing cute litte, easy to read maps… nearly sent me to a psychiactric ward at L’Ospedale di San Martino in Genoa, Italy. If curious, you may go to: http://forrestspears.com/ilpoggioloacodiponte at the very bottom of the page and have a go at it. Cannot tell you though how proud I am of the folk at Bar Cecchi, the keenest place to park & eat anywhere in the world. Their ravioli are yum-yum.

I have one last site to prepare… the bug-a-boo of the lot since, I must go through a call-center to speak with a signorina for any desired changes/clarifications/modifications. Then, hopefully, I can sit back & watch the bookings roll in. No big roll yet. I have one reservation from a family from Edmonton, Alberta Canada. I can hazard that an Italian vacation will be greatly appreciated by the time of their visit in late-March. Beyond that, only a few nibbles. Let them come though for I am almost ready. Gads.

The Apple Festival…

The entire village of Codiponte is rockin’ and a rollin’ in preparation for The Big Event… La Sagra delle Pomme on the 6th – 7th – 8th of September. It is the oldest of these eating, drinking & dancing feste in Tuscany. It won’t be like last year’s, thanks ever so much to that 5.2 of last June 21st. The bohemian locality up at the Piazzetta del Borgo Castello is OFF-LIMITS. An untimely aftershock might cause a cornice or two to fall & bonk some unsuspecting revelers on their heads. Too bad too. It’s a good spot to raise a Hell of a ruckus until 3 in the morning… or later. Ditto for the traditional Saturday Night LIVE Band Dancing down at the Piazza Civico, thanks ever so much again to that -quake, which rattled un poggiolo to the classification of DANGEROUS by the Genio Civile… the Italian government’s resident earthquake experts. No, not My Poggiolo but, a real balcony dangly precariously from a house on the piazza and right where many would want to mob-dance. It’s IN to do that sort of stuff now in Italy. And finally, the once-upon-a-time Only Through Street of Codiponte is… officially!!!… OFF-LIMITS, though all in sundry still pass underneath while looking up to check the state of an enormous cleft in the vault, thanks ever so much one more time to you-know-what. I would bet you a Euro that the Vigilli will BLOCK THAT UNDERPASS OFF during the sagra. This will KILL circulation. The choices for the LOCALS are three… 1. go around by the New Bridge to get to Our Beautiful Side of Town… 2. go down to the river & cross the ford, remembering to take-off your shoes before attempting the watery & slimy crossing… or, 3. stay at home. Due to these three OFF-LIMITS, the sagra will be in a new & less charming location… i.e. where the trash dumpsters once were between the once-upon-a-time asbestos clad mini-warehouse and river below the Medieval Bridge. Those smelly & ungainly containers have been relocated, the grounds clipped by weed-whackers and the DEAD refigerators, garden chairs & tacky plywood furniture have been transported to a quite angle along the State Road 445. What a lovely impression for Our Sagra Guests to see as they drive to the sagra. However, I was certainly not consulted for a better hidden location.

In the meantime, attempting to figure out how the possessive article is written for Pomme… is it delle Pomme or di Pomme?… since, GOOGLE Translates is trash, I surfed the Internet this morning for Sagre, Sagra delle Pomme, Sagra a Codiponte, etc. and I discovered that NOT ONE of the Lunigiana tourist info web-sites… and there are many!!!… had any mention of this historic festival paying homage to the local variety of apple. There wasn’t even a facebook page. I WAS SHOCKED!!! I have since sent a facebook message to one of the young organizers of the sagra to protest this serious absence. All of My Esteemed Guests this summer had & used their ipads & iphones to plug-into the Lunigiana while here, from how to get to Il Vecchio Tini restaurant to What’s Happening This Week in the Cinque Terre. It’s high time to remove the blinders and open up to a Greater World, men & women of Codiponte!!! If the ASL… the Italian government’s health experts…  insists on these gargantuan & burdensome sanitation procedures… then, these young organizers need to get on the proverbial stick and make some Euros out of this affair and us foreigners are The Answer. So much for my rag but, some Italians just don’t get it at all.

So, out w-a-l-k-i-n-g The Dogs one day last week, I was congenially coralled by one of these young organizers to do a drawing of Codiponte laid low by The Earthquake for the highlight of Sagra Sunday’s… The Parade of Floats!!! No-one seemed able to do a sketch. One float will have a large painted panel showing the destruction of the village… as per my compilation-sketch, neither real or true, shown here below… and the kids of Our Little Community will happily reconstruct it from puzzle pieces… a sort of put it back together again. Cute, no? Gads.

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Guest Couple #7…

Yeah, more Australians…
down at the bottom of the above map, sort of where the top tip of the Tasmanian island… Do know it? If you don’t, it’s easy since, it is the only one on the map!!!… might spear the Australian Continent just southwest of Melbourne and way below most of that color-coded tribal mess, there ought to be a small beach-town by the name of Ocean Grove. It is home of Guest Couple #7. They said their town is a surfer haven. I THOUGHT ALL OF AUSTRALIA WAS A SURFER HAVEN!!! They said there are Bihg Wayves. I’m so glad to hear it. They both work in Melbourne. Four hours to & fro are eaten out of their lives with the commute. Happily, this happens ONLY three times a week. One day to recoup and another to get on with really interesting stuff. She’s a Doctor of Women’s Issues, Please don’t hold me to that particular title. I am deaf… another encroachment of Old Age upon My Well-being… and I might not have understood properly her Australian terminology. He is an ex-musician… been lots on TV too… and now a lawyer but, is moving into finishing a novel. They came… well, he came to work. Up at 6AM, writing ’till Noon… while she lazed about in the garden on blankets & pillows under the Mulberry Tree reading intense novels. A speed-reader. I must tell you, though laid-low by Tremors & Things, the cancerous lack of Good Government in Italy, Berlusconi’s stabbing shenanigans di pessima gusto e giustizia, taxes & taxes & taxes too, I am encouraged about Our Future due to people like Guest Group #7. I believe the World could do with more thoughtful Folk like them. Perhaps there are already but they haven’t book L’Appartamento Azzurro yet. Chissa? That we could talk about sex, movies, books, OURSELVES!!!, she with her beautiful blond smile and he with his shy one, was all wonderful side-dishes to their Quality, Character & Charm while hosting them for 8 sunny, tremor-filled days. They took that last item in their stride, by the way. I hope they come back… and soon!!! I miss them already. Gads.

The Delightful Down-unders…

An Australian Mom & Dad, two nearly teenage sons, Mom’s brother, who sported an Italian first-name and then, Dad’s sister rolled into Codiponte last Tuesday with n’er an idea of what had been happening here since the Friday before. Lovely to be on vacation… was the reply to the news of our earthquake. They were not going to let a few little jiggles get in the way of it either. And, they didn’t. The Aussie-crowd briskly knocked-off visits to Le Cinque Terre… getting there by every known means of transportation which, apparently, they adored the adventure, Lucca ending in a crushing down-pour, a bit of Versilia for a dip in the freezing waters of the Mediterranean Sea and a day of relax in Il Poggiolo’s Garden. I treated them to a pasta lunch, they delicious fixings for an aperitivo with Our English Friends in the village.  You arrived, and to his amazement, could speak Italian with the Mom. She had come with her parents & brother to visit relatives in both the Veneto & Puglia. A round of applause for the Australian People!!! My batch were polite, appreciative, fun, interesting, laid-back without fault. They even managed NOT to have a car-accident on the wretched detour though unaccustomed to driving on the right as they are. Gads.

Mystified by Guests…

IMG_1064OK… Guest Groups #1 – 5 so far and here is what I have noticed about Guests… much to my mystification… and horror too…

they never open a window… ditto for the shutters… they lock themselves in & on purpose… they turn every frigging light on & leave them on!!!… only one group, the current one, makes their beds… they take showers in the AM AND PM too!!! Is tourism such a dirty pursuit?… towels get hung wherever… they drink tons of water… picking up their clothes, as You would say, is an optional… flip-flops are the key footwear item, regardless of age, nationality or, sex… they get lost, a lot!!!… they love any & all ristoranti, osteria or trattoria I send them to… driving three hours to Volterra & back is nothing. Their dumb Good Luck they do not have me in the care belly-aching to stop for a cappuccino, please!!!… they love the antique furniture, but then, they’re over it… many who inquire about availability through the several websites Il Poggiolo is listed, apparently, do not read what took me hours & hours & hours to post, i.e. Il Poggiolo is not available for a one night stand for a family of 2 adults & 3 kids touring Italy. God invented hotels for that sort of behavior. And, many, again apparently, find using a last name tiring to type in the ill-worded message… and, finally, You & I CANNOT WAIT for the sun to stay out in the all important afternoon hours to read & sunbathe in chaises up on one of five grassy terraces yet, our guests CANNOT WAIT to crowd into a rented FIAT & drive to see things. I suppose that is what Italy is mostly about. I must have it all wrong. Gads.

 

Guest Group #5… USA PINK

An American couple arrived last Tuesday… dressed to the nines in PINK!!! They are golfers, you see… for a radically price-slashed nine-day stay at L’Appartamento Azzurro. They hale from the same town where My Dear Aged Mother lives. That might explain the now established & generous North Carolina Discount. Forgive me… I’m being a bugaboo. I forget that Americans meeting up with another American… though an ex-pat for the last twenty-six years… just automatically feel everyone’s on the same darn team and are due a home-spun hospitality hard to resist. How un-Euro is that? Pretty darn!!! The consequence of this USA Character Trait is… hand-made gifts for You & me were happily pulled out of leopard print carry-all… I’ve been up for drinks on the grassy terrace above L’Appartamento followed by a pasta & salad dinner, which was not bad at all… You & I were graciously invited out to a dinner last Saturday night at our friend’s restaurant where all but You consumed an inordinate amount of vino… and am the respondent to an insatiable curiosity about the noted differences between Italy and America, mostly about the roads & serial u-turns to get anywhere… and the continual reminders of We’re having a blast!!! Well, that’s a relief. Oh! And there was holding-of-hands to say Grace before digging into any meal. This did require a bit of preparation for You… or, perhaps, a WARNING to him of this transposed cultural phenomenon… for Saturday’s night’s dinner invitation. You wondered why such customs could not have been left at the airport Customs. I replied… They’re Americans!!! Luckily for You, the couple forgot to insist. I suspect they were in awe of the green ravioli set before them from the kitchen. Gads.