High and Low

Greetings from the mountaintop. It’s just beautiful today, with all the mystical Umbria clichés working together: snow-capped mountains, mists floating in the valleys, hilltops that looks like Renaissance painting backdrops, sheep roaming, the smell of a fireplace in someone’s house, neighbors who wave as they drive by. The whole deal.

Still, I wonder if living here brings out any latent bipolar tendencies I might have. All this beauty comes at a cost. When I think about it, it’s not a huge cost, but there’s a learning curve and more than a couple of times I’ve felt as though I’m losing my mind, only to get it back again when I realize how lucky we are to be here, now.

Case in point, yesterday. The Spartan Woman and I take a walk. The morning was snowy and cold, so I stayed in and, anyway, I had work to do. With the snow melting, TSW went out to the supermarket in the town below. I sent a bunch of emails, scouted for news stories, wrote a couple of short pieces and posted them for later as North America awakened. We had lunch (she made a zucchini and peppers frittata), then we got restless.

So we went out, bundled up a bit against the chill. Because of the earlier snow, we avoided the forest trails. The dirt around here is clay-like, and when it gets wet, it’s really viscous. We headed out instead along our road. As far as mountain roads go, it’s a major thoroughfare, but only sees a car every half hour or so. Most of those passing are neighbors.

The road is on a ridge between two types of scenery. Looking south/southwest, you see what you think of as typically Umbrian: rounded green hills, olive trees planted in rows, houses perched on the hillsides, a valley, mists floating in and out. The other side is stunning; there’s a long downward sweep into the River Chiascio valley, Lago Valfabbrica and a dam, then there are the cragged peaks of the Apennine range, which separates Umbria from the neighboring region, Le Marche (pronounced, roughly, lay mar-kay). We walked about five kilometers, or three miles, all told, accompanied by our canine escort. The dogs know that TSW carries doggie treats. They come up for a nibble, then find a smell to investigate, and if there’s a wide field, they run at top speed for awhile, rejoicing in being a free dog not bound by a leash and people.

The clichéd bit

You feeling it yet? Take a deep breath of the mountain air. Look at the hills, the changing sky, the mailbox.

Yes, the mailbox.

“I think there’s something in there,” says TSW. “Maybe we should check it.” Not a bad idea—we’ve been here two weeks, and hadn’t looked. Who sends us mail, anyway?

In three words, our insurance agent. That’s who sends us mail. There’s a terse letter that reads, in Italian, “Here’s a reminder to you that your auto insurance policy expires in December.” Details follow. Oh shit. Not only did the policy expire a month ago, but we’ve been happily driving around for two weeks not knowing it.

My heartbeat speeds up and gets more intense. I grab my phone and call the agent. “Yes, I was wondering about you,” he says. I tell him that I just got here and well he has my email address and could have at least sent me a message. Or called me earlier. “Sorry,” he sheepishly says. I pull out my wallet, tell him I can pay now with a credit card. “A credit card? How? MasterCard? No, sorry, you can’t. Maybe in the U.S., but not here.”

He then goes on to describe this payment system that will get me covered as of midnight. “It would be good not to drive until then,” he admonishes. It goes like this: He sends me a code. I go to the bank’s ATM in town and pull out the cash. Then I go to a tobacconist that has a “Lottomatica” machine. They all have them, I’m told. I give the tobacconist the code the agent sends me, the money gets transfer, bingo, the world’s a better place [ed. note., they don’t have the payment system part of Lottomatica].

So I drive gingerly down the snaking road into town, careful not to do my usual rally driver imitation as I round the curves and downshift. I do the bank thing, find a tobacconist shop that has the magical Lottomatica. “Do you have your codice fiscale?” I’m asked. I do have the equivalent of a Social Security number; it’s used for all big transactions here. I look it up on my phone. “No, I need the card. Do you have your identity card, or health card?” I don’t—I’m an Italian citizen, but not a full-time resident, so I don’t have those. He says he can’t do it, apologizing and looking very sympathetic (shopkeepers here have a lot of empathy). “Do you have a friend you can call?” Yeah, and they’re all busy on a Tuesday afternoon.

Almost done. I decide to drive to the agent and hand him the money, only I’ve forgotten where he is. I call him, we talk about the risks of driving to a town that’s three towns away. I take the risk. He pings me with his location, I put it into the car’s navigation system, and we’re off and running. Slowly. Carefully. I try to imagine a big cushion around the car. Ommmm.

I love technology when it does something useful, like showing you where your insurance agent’s office is located. Everyone uses WhatsApp here.

We reach Luciano’s office, he ushers us in. I hand him the wad of cash. He plays around with his computer, prints some stuff out, including a new insurance card. Done. Phew. I drive very carefully home, on the lookout for cops and feel so happy to be home when I pull into the driveway.

Life is good again. Dinner, a fire to warm us up, and Netflix. The next morning, this morning, another walk, some work, and this post.