The sixth and final installment of the ‘Landing in Lucca’ series
After two years of fine-tuning plans, last summer Sandy and I took the final steps to becoming bi-continental. This entailed selling our home in Edmonds, buying and downsizing to a condo in Seattle, and finalizing our ‘permanent’ living situation in Lucca, Italy, which we accomplished in five months time.
I’m a firm believer that letting go is an active state, not passive as it is so often regarded. Seems the quickest way to move on is to let go to something; an idea, a new technique, a dream. Many people do it unconsciously when they rebound out of a relationship, embracing the notion ‘the best way to get over a lover is to get under another.’
I think about our habits and how they define us. Sure we need our daily routines, but beyond that I am increasingly convinced that the word ‘home’ is a warm and fuzzy misnomer for a centralized collection point of procured patterns on auto pilot. Sounds bleak when put that way but the point is, it requires reprogramming to create a new pile of habits to satisfactorily dwell in a dwelling called home, more so when there are two. And even though you are ‘living the dream,’ it isn’t necessarily fun.
Loss by design
It’s been five rollicking months of the unfamiliar, and I’m downright wonky. Whether it’s on Italian or American soil, everything has become a learning opportunity, a chance to create new neural pathways as I let go of the old and embraced the new, yada, yada yada. It’s Velveeta Cheese after it’s gone though a cheese grater in this head of mine.
We are setting up two homes on two continents at the same time. Everything once familiar, anything that could have been done on autopilot in the ‘before times,’ now takes concerted mental effort to figure out and twice as long to accomplish. The learning curve isn’t so much steep as it is unrelenting.
On one continent, daily banal functions like how does this Italian toilet flush, where does this light turn on, and how do you unlock the door, will sort themselves out in good time. Where’s the meat thermometer? Do we have one here? Actually, where is here? Am I at this house or the one down the road? More than once I have woken up and not remembered where I was.
On the other continent where the nuts and bolts of life are more intuitive came a barrage of technology: key fobs and apps for the new condo that all required passwords and time to comprehend new software. Things like how to remotely allow someone in the front door seven floors down, to driving a computer powered rocket ship called a Tesla, the in-house car share, all required technology I’m not used to. I figured it would be best to master the elevator first. In case you wonder ‘how hard can that be?’ it requires a key fob and once inside there are no buttons to push.
Five months ago I was worried about my purpose in life. What would I do in Italy? Who would I be? After moving households five times since August I haven’t had time to get bogged down in that end of Maslow’s Hierarchy and my purpose revealed itself: I’m a professional mover, and I’m damn good at it.
Lost and found
Then there’s all the stuff, habit incarnate, that needs to be dealt with. With this level of upheaval it’s inevitable that things that weren’t part of the conscious ‘let it go’ program managed to get loose anyway.
The Train, October 27, second Edmonds move.
I have never seen this look on Sandy’s face. I have never seen him move in this way. It is the jolt of recognition that courses through the body and flashes onto the face when you suddenly realize you have made a major, game changing howler;
‘Oh my god. I left my backpack on the train.’
We were flying from Lucca to Seattle to sign papers on the sale of the Edmonds home. It was crucial we be there. Despite a crazy market, despite smoke inundating Seattle and obscuring the view, and despite the feds raising rates during that accursed delay, our realtor Cliff had pulled the rabbit out of the hat. Five offers over asking, house sold in a week.
I looked at Sandy dumbfound and frozen by the implications. We had traveled thirty minutes from Lucca by train to catch our plane which was leaving from Pisa in less than two hours.
‘Uh . . . was your passport in it?’
‘Yes. And my wallet.’
Care to guess how long it takes to replace a passport? Neither did we, and with that Sandy bolted back to the train we had left 10 minutes before, leaving me standing at the commuter shuttle to the Pisa airport.
Sadly, when we really needed the Italians to be off their game, they weren’t, and anything representing a glimmer of hope had left on time, headed back to Lucca.
Sandy began texting me:
9:33 Train is gone. You should go ahead.
My eyes slowly closed. This is bad. This just changed from a rescue mission to a recovery, if that. Meanwhile my love of flying was having a free for all with my internal bean counter. I’d be alone on 18 hours of flight having to listen to both of them. Another text came in:
9:48 The customer service person is calling the train inspector to locate my backpack.
Call it projection, but this isn’t a country raised on the Nordstrom service mentality, and my ‘I-don’t-want-to-be-a-bother baseline, augmented by, clearly-I-am-because-I-can’t-speak-the-language’ fourth child programming is roaming around in a country where tellers are noted for yelling at customers for what seems like little provocation. That fourth child is downright confused. You got someone to help you?
10:02 They found my backpack and are bringing it back to Pisa in 30 minutes.
It was one of those moments. I had to consider if my believing might help. I go all in.
10:37 Got my back pack. Heading for the airport train. Train will arrive at 10:58.
10:54 2 minutes.
I looked up from my phone just as Sandy walked through the airport door, backpack in hand and all contents intact. We had an hour to spare. The best part of the story, besides Sandy getting everything back? Unlike the trains running on time, the planes weren’t, and ours was two hours late.
The Watch, November 5, end of the second Edmonds move.
‘Beep beep. Beep beep.’
‘Beep beep? Where’s that coming from?’ I thought.
We were packing, again, and making our second and final move out of Edmonds, removing all furniture used for staging. Having successfully returned and signed on the sale, I was washing dishes in the sink and looked over towards the sound. There on the drain board was a wristwatch. I guessed it had been unearthed from some hiding place these last five years and somehow landed near the sink. I moved it to the kitchen island intent on showing it to Sandy.
In the shuffle of the day it slipped my mind but of course it had a way of making itself known:
‘Beep beep. Beep beep.’
Sandy heard it for the first time. ‘Hey Térè. Whose watch is this?’
‘I don’t know. It showed up out of nowhere.’
‘Well it’s not mine so let’s Goodwill it.’
I agreed. The day wore on. Many trips were made for supplies, the storage unit, and a major goodwill run. At the end of another exhausting day, as I stood in the kitchen:
‘Beep beep. Beep beep.’
‘What the . . .? Didn’t that thing get into the goodwill bag?’ Obviously not. I set it in the just-stuff-it-anywhere section we created on the floor and the packing continued.
Moving day arrived. Four men, two trucks. It was controlled chaos. The movers were delightful. The anticipated eight hour move only took six, and with our entire home secure in a 10’ x 25’ storage unit we returned to the house to round up the final bits and bobs. We walked into the kitchen:
‘Beep beep. Beep beep.’
‘OMG Sandy, that thing is still HERE?’
‘Time to throw it away Térè.’
I picked it up and looked at it. So odd it keeps beeping. I hate throwing away useful things but I didn’t know what else to do.
We made our way to downtown Seattle where we had booked a hotel for the night. Sandy was due out in the morning, flying to California, and I was returning to Lucca in the evening. It was a windy fall night. We had dinner and returned to our room to turn in:
‘Beep beep. Beep beep.’
There on the desk in the hotel was the tenacious wristwatch. I have no recollection of how it got there. Despite the wine and fatigue, I pondered my next move in disposal of this persistent ticker. I considered leaving it with a ‘please give me a good home’ note for whoever cleaned the room the next day.
Morning came and the toll of the last few days made itself known. My back was sore, my quads tired. By mid-morning Sandy was gone and while I waited for a video call with my daughter Madison, I packed my bag. The watch that never stops was there on the desk, looking at me. I didn’t pack it. I needed to write that note.
I launched WhatsApp and Madison came into view. Despite having seen her when we first arrived I wanted to check-in before I returned to Lucca. As we began she wasn’t paying attention and kept walking out of frame:
‘I’m sorry mom I’m sort of distracted. I’ve been trying to find my . . .’
‘Beep beep. Beep beep.’
‘Oh wait I just heard my watch! It’s here somewhere in my apartment but I can’t find it. It beeps on the hour.’
Sure enough. It’s 11:00am.
‘What? Madison, that ‘beep beep’ came from inside my hotel room, not your apartment. The video mic picked up the sound. Are you missing your watch?
‘Yes, I haven’t been able to find it.’
I walked to the desk, picked up the watch and held it in front of the iPhone lens. ‘Is this yours?’
‘Yes! That’s my watch.’
‘What am I doing with it?’
‘I must have left it after washing my hands when I was up the other day. You were out running an errand.’
‘Okay! Well it’s going to Italy with me today. You can pick it up when you come for Christmas in December.’
The Final Lucca Move, December 17
In the two months and three moves it took after selling and buying in Seattle, we moved twice in Lucca. Keys became complicated as we exited a long-term rental that suddenly turned short-term, moved into a temporary one-month sublet, and finally to our long term digs.
‘Hey Térè, where’s my bike key?’
The day before I handed off three sets of keys for the one-month sublet to a lovely woman I did not know. I presumed Sandy had taken his bike key off his set and didn’t think twice when I gave them to her.
‘Uh, was it still on your sublet set of keys?’
‘Well it’s locked up at the sublet now.’
This was a complex situation. There was the original renter of the flat who had subleased to us while she was on holiday in Florida. Enter a new sublessor, Alessandra, whom I passed the keys to when we moved to our long term flat. It turned out she was acting as proxy for her ex-husband whom she was giving the keys to. The bike key was now two people removed, and possibly more as they were hosting adult children who would need their own set of keys. As Sandy and I looked at each other neither of us could remember how the original contact was arranged for the pass off and it was almost Christmas. We decided to tackle the puzzle later.
Later came sooner than expected when we went for dinner at our favorite restaurant. I was deep into my truffle laced steak tartare when in through the front door of this small restaurant came a group of people of which Alessandra was a part. What were the chances of that? I broke my reverie and called out her name.‘Alessandra!’
She turned, as did the entire group, but she did not recognize me. I wondered if my overloaded, now alcohol and raw meat infused brain had made a mistake. Then she smiled in recognition.
‘Alessandra,’ I said, ‘it is fortuitous we ran into you.’ Ya, I actually said ‘fortuitous.’ That’s the alcohol talking.
‘We inadvertently left Sandy’s bike key on one of the sets of keys I gave you. Can you give me your number? I’ll give you a call later so we can set up a time to get it.’
A little twinkle appeared in her eyes. ‘Better yet,’ she said in her French accent, ‘this is my ex, and he has the keys in his pocket. John, take out your keys,” she said with a nudge.
John reached into the dark recesses of his pocket. There was a one in three chance the bike key was on the ring he had. He held it out.
I peered into his hand, and there in all its glory, like a coveted fruiting body of a subterranean fungus coming to light, was the prize. I unhooked the errant bike key, and handed it to Sandy:
‘Tada!’ I squealed.
Now that’s the truffles in the steak tartare talking.
The Moral of the Story
With two homes almost established, we have landed and the dust is beginning to settle. A few endorphins are making guest appearances as I figure out my routines and the constant surge of adrenaline is slowing. I figure it will take a year before there is some sense of belonging in Italy, there’s still that pesky language barrier, and before we see if we succeeded in what we set out to do: Create a domestic situation in which two people with very different needs can thrive.
Thank you for reading my therapy these last five months. This is the end of the Landing in Lucca series. What’s next? Stay tuned dear reader, stay tuned.
©️Theresa Elliott, all rights reserved.