We eat our takeaway-train breakfast at 6am around our new kitchen table in Bologna. And after golloping down 6 slices of yellow, plasticky Austrian cheese, a tub of chocolate spread, two pots of yoghurt, and four cartons of orange juice, we go back to sleep for an hour in our new beds. This is an amazing thing for The Husband and me, as it pretty much amounts to our first lie-in in four-and-a-half years.
We wake up, roll up the blinds, coo at the warm blue air, and take in our surroundings. The building is beautiful – 1950s glamour with enormous walnut doors and bannisters, and the most beautiful duck-egg blue lift we have ever seen. There’s a window in our bedroom framing a faraway picture of green, pine-covered hills, and the children have their own room with their own beds – unheard of (they share a bed at home and they share a room with us whenever we go away) – and a cupboard full of retro Playmobil. We are the proud borrowers of a salmon-pink bathroom housing a ridiculous quantity of pictorial towels from the 1980s and a bidet, which the children think is a funny, small bath for dogs; it’s funnier still when we inform them that it’s the place where grown-ups wash their bums. Finally, there’s that all-important balcony complete with four bendy, white, plastic chairs and a table for al fresco dining, overlooking the rolling wooded landscape, next-door’s apartment block, and a carob tree heavy with long, brown seedpods.
Whilst the children explore their new home, I explore the kitchen and find that, amongst the generally well-equipped cupboards, there are absolutely no sharp knives for chopping or boards for chopping on. (And I thought Bologna was ‘Europe’s food capital’!) We notify Alberta, our landlady living next door, who immediately brings us three of her own favourite knives and a chopping board, along with a look as if to ask why we are cooking when we should be eating out in town all day long?
We have arrived with a huge bag of dirty washing and as there’s no machine in Alberta’s place, we venture out to the nearby-ish launderette. Here we spend twenty minutes figuring out how to buy a sachet of washing powder from a vending machine, where to put the washing powder in the washing machine, and then how to turn on the washing machine. Whilst Roo cleans the floor passionately with a mop he picks up in the corner of the shop. Various passersby attempt to help us in Italian, which isn’t actually helpful but makes the experience all the more, well, Italian. One man stops to help because he thinks The Husband is his friend, or rather looks like his friend. Unfortunately, he too is useless at turning on washing machines.
The cycle lasts for half an hour so we dash up the street to get our first Italian cappuccino. And it is GOOD. Just the right temperature, not that service-station-scald you get in England. The children are very happy with their ‘latte tiepido’ and, should you ever need to know, there is no such thing as a ‘babycino’ in Italy; if you ask for one, a barista will stare at you like you are the bonkers English mother you are.
We go back to the launderette to collect our wet washing and then lug it back to the apartment via the local shops. Whilst I go to the butcher, The Husband takes the children to the playground next door, which is probably best because I have never been so flirted with over cured ham in my life. I leave with pasta, which is probably not the best thing to buy from a butcher.
When we return home, The Husband hangs up the washing on the balcony using The Psychotherapist Boyfriend’s washing line, whilst I fix lunch. We sit down to eat amongst sopping socks and pants, but it turns out that pasta from a butcher in Italy isn’t that bad. In fact, the fresh tortellini filled with ricotta and herbs, tossed in soft plum tomatoes and basil, is rather delicious. Even amongst the wet washing. The San Gabriel Ambra Rossa, a local ruby-coloured artisan beer from Treviso made used radicchio, is easy on our bellies too.
The afternoon’s soundtrack surrounding the balcony is a playful playlist of piano lessons, children’s laughter, mothers scolding, crickets clicking, food sizzling, church bells peeling, and the distant plinks of carob pods falling from the ‘chocolate tree’. Zippy says the sound of children laughing makes her smile. I feel as if I’m in a real life production of ‘Westside Story’; and this is all the more confirmed when, later, The Husband and I choose not to close the balcony doors during a heated discussion about something-or-other… We know that soon enough, we’ll hear another couple across the street doing the same thing.