A New Home

Mimmo suggested taking the scenic route back to Naples via the Sorrento Peninsula. There was a pizzeria in a little town called Vico Equense, that had become famous for making delicious, metre-long pizzas from dough containing lard. Mimmo thought that a metre of Margherita might be a nice way of rounding off a very pleasant day. We parked the car close to the railway station and went for a walk around Vico Equense itself. What a lovely little town Vico was! Although we were only one hour away from Naples, it felt as if we were on a different planet, The buildings here had no graffiti at all. They were all freshly painted, and some of them even had window boxes full of flowers, something I hadn’t seen outside of the Austrian Alps. The air was much cleaner than in the city and there was a delightful little old-town with narrow streets and secluded villas where there were no cars or Vespas at all. We walked down to a quaint terrace where a ludicrous but imposing pink church perched on a cliff overlooking the entire Bay of Naples. From here, you could see everything, from Pompeii, to Herculaneum, Naples itself and even as far as Ischia and Procida.
“Rent must be pretty expensive here,” I said to Mimmo through mouthfuls of pizza later that evening.
“Not necessarily,” he replied. “Most people prefer to live in the city rather than travel in every day.”

“How much do you reckon a small flat would cost, then?”
“Dunno. Tell you what. Let’s stop outside an estate agent’s and look in the window on the way back home.”
The rents, as Mimmo had predicted, looked quite affordable. We jotted down the number of the estate agent, jumped back into the car and went back to Naples.
Later on, Giovanna and I discussed the possibility of moving to Vico Equense. Giovanna was concerned about the journey.
“Are you sure it wouldn’t kill you? It’s an hour in and an hour back in the evening.”
“Yes, but what with the traffic in this place, I can easily spend that amount of time on the bus every day. And at least the trains have timetables, and I can have a seat and read the paper.”
Giovanna didn’t look convinced.
“And think of Pucci,” I went on. “Lots of safe places to take her for walks. Not like here!”
That was true. Just a few evenings previously, a young idiot had lost control of his car and it had mounted the kerb, knocking me right off my feet before hitting a metal bollard. When I got back up again, I had found that I was holding onto an empty dog lead. Assuming that Pucci had ended up under the car, I had lashed out at the driver, intending to reduce his head to a thick red paste, and had even accidentally punched a very understanding woman, who had tried to separate us. It was only when a witness told us that she had seen the dog run off and we found her quivering and quaking under a bush, that I calmed down.
“Are you a foreigner?” the young man asked. He was shaking violently.
“What the fuck’s that got to do with it? Just ‘cause I’m foreign, does that mean you can flatten my dog?”
“I’m sorry. I just lost control. But I did beep!”
“I’ll fucking beep you!” I could feel myself getting angry again.
“I’m sorry,” said the man. “If it’s any consolation, things are worse for me. At least your dog’s OK. I’ve got to explain to my dad what happened to his car.”
That thought did, indeed, cheer me up a little, but not all that much.
“I’ve got to get out of this city,” I told the assembled congregation and dragged a still-shivering Pucci off back home.

Giovanna looked thoughtful. “Well, if you don’t mind the travelling, I suppose we can give it a try. It might be good for you. You’ll go nuts if you stay here.”
“Damn right I will.”
The following morning, Giovanna phoned the Vico Equense estate agent and made an appointment for the next day. At the crack of dawn on Tuesday, we were sitting on the train for Vico, so that we could be there and back before work started. The estate agent bade us sit down and then spoke to Giovanna.
“English, you say?”
“Is he clean?”
I laughed indignantly. “Yes, I am!”
“Well, I’ve got a couple of flats we can look at. Not far from here. If you are agreeable, we can take a look now.”
“Sure,” we both said together.

The first flat was some way out of the centre of Vico. We went through a gate and over a little courtyard. The flat was spacious on the inside, but was on the ground floor, and was somewhat dark and gloomy. It had a ludicrously high ceiling and I knew instantly that the place would cost a fortune to heat in the winter. For, despite the protestations of the Neapolitans that the Southern Italian winter is so mild that you don’t need heating, I can assure you that you don’t know what cold is until you’ve spent a winter’s night in an unheated Neapolitan flat.
I could see that Giovanna was not impressed. She was walking around with a haughty expression, running her fingers through the dust on the furniture and then examining her fingertips, tutting disapprovingly.
It wasn’t my idea of ideal either, but if it meant getting out of Naples, then I’d take it. What worried me more was the fact that it was on the first floor and thus a prime target for burglars. Pucci would be useless as a guard dog.
Catello, the estate agent, had stopped his spiel mid-flow. He could see that he was getting nowhere with Giovanna. He sighed and said,
“There is another flat I can show you. It’s a little bit special.”
As we made our way back down the road to go and see it, he told us the story.
“It belongs to a dear friend of mine called Roberto. It was his holiday and weekend home, and he and his wife loved it dearly. ‘My little castle’ she used to call it. Sadly, she died of a sudden stroke a little while ago and Roberto can’t bear to spend time there now. But he can’t bear to sell it, either. So he asked me if I could find the right couple to rent it out to.”

The flat was on the top floor of the block, and the minute Giovanna and I went in, we could tell that this was where we wanted to be. It was tiny, but absolutely full of light, streaming from the big bay windows and bouncing off the huge mirror tiles that covered the area over the sofa. It had a happy, open feel to it, despite the fact that it consisted merely of one bedroom/sitting room, one kitchen, one hall and one bathroom. The best possible use had been made of the available space. The double bed folded away as a sofa. Spacious units opened around the walls. What appeared to be a huge storage cupboard in the kitchen actually turned out to be a folding bunk bed. It was just perfect for two people. There was just one problem: Pucci. Not everybody wanted to rent their apartments to people with dogs, and the owner of this one was clearly house-proud. Giovanna had advised me not to mention it, but I didn’t want to get off on the wrong foot with our new landlord. I knew from personal experience and from other teachers’ horror stories just how difficult landlords could be.
“Ahem,” I began, and Giovanna shot me a warning glance.
“There’s just one small problem.”
“Which is?” inquired Catello, raising his eyebrows.
“Well, the thing is, we have a dog.”
“Oh. What sort of dog?”
“Just a mongrel. Not all that big. House-trained and very clean.”
“Mmmm. Not sure what Roberto would say about that. I’ll have to ask him. I’ll let you know on Saturday.”

“Why did you have to go and mention the dog?” asked Giovanna. “Once we’d moved in, there’d have been nothing they could do about it.”
“I don’t want to live like that,” I said impatiently. “I want things to be absolutely out in the open from the very beginning.” Giovanna folded her arms and stared out of the window. “You’re so English.”
My lessons that day must have been atrocious. I couldn’t keep my mind on anything. I wanted that flat so badly. I was sure that this Roberto was going to say no. That night I tossed and turned and sweated my way through one dream after another. Roberto had turned us down. No, he hadn’t. I woke up and was relieved to find that it had been just a dream. He had said that we could move in. No, he hadn’t. Just another dream. On it went until dawn.
I stared at my mobile for the whole of Saturday, willing it to ring, but of course, it didn’t. Shortly before office closing hours, I could stand it no more.
“Ring Catello!” I ordered Giovanna, thrusting the mobile at her.
“Hello,” Catello answered in his usual, bored manner.
“Hello, it’s Giovanna here. About the flat. We were wondering …”
“Oh, yes, that,” said Catello. “I’ve been meaning to ring you. Roberto says the dog’s no problem. You can move in next week, as far as he’s concerned.”

I saw Giovanna’s face crack into a broad grin and I started doing cowboy whoops around the kitchen. We were going to be living in Vico Equense! That was practically Sorrento! It was practically the Amalfi Coast!
Thomas and I made an appointment with Maurizio to give back the keys to Mauro’s flat. We were standing at the front door to the apartment block with our suitcases and all our worldly goods packed into cardboard boxes. Maurizio pulled up on his Vespa. He took the keys and patted me on the shoulder.
“Never mind,” he commiserated and weaved back off into the traffic. Now the porter was standing behind us.
“That’s it, then, boys. You’re off.”
“Never mind.” He looked sorry for us and he shook our hands, turned and disappeared off round the corner.

“YES!!” I hissed, punching the air with my fist. It felt so good that I did it again. Twice. Thomas watched me in amusement. It felt wonderful. I may have to work in Naples every day, from Monday to Friday, but never again would I have to live there. Freedom! Sweet, sweet freedom!

12 pensieri riguardo “A New Home


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