“The systems just aren’t very robust.”
That’s become a rather common phrase for us in Italy. Whether we’re talking about the telephone connection, the electrical service, the water or the heat, our lament always seems to apply. Something is always breaking down, turning off, or just wavering enough to be annoying. To say such things about a country that is so rich in antiquities and blessed with some of the most inventive minds in the world is strange to us. Everywhere we look, there are things that are older than God, yet still seem to work—in fact, flourish. So why in this technologically advanced age is it so hard to make simple things last, or at least to make them consistently work? We’ve made some observations and come to some conclusions over the years.
An example for clarification: Whenever it rains for an extended period of time, say 2-3 days, there comes a point when the lights go out. No big deal. We know the drill. I put on my old shoes and grab an umbrella (of course, it’s always raining when this happens) and trudge down the drive to the posta, mailbox. On the back side of the structure (much more than a simple mailbox) is an iron door that must be wrestled with for several minutes, to get it unlocked. Inside are all of the main breakers for the house. Invariably, one of them has tripped, so I turn it back on, and afterward re-wrestle the door closed again. After having trudged back to the house and up the 20 steps, we often find to our dismay, that the breaker has tripped once again within my 7-minute return. This process is repeated ad-infinitum until everything finally stays on. At that point the job is done. No one knows exactly why it trips (not the electrician, the neighbor, the electric company, or us) or why it then suddenly stays on, defying what only 2 minutes earlier was the norm—non functioning. It’s just an intriguing mystery of Italy. Not very robust has become something we decided to just live with.
The difficulty is that you don’t know what you can really count on, because eventually everything has its little quirks. So you end up sort of waiting subconsciously for things to break. Proactively keeping things running doesn’t appeal to Italians since everyone seems to be a self-professed crack problem solver. When there’s no problem, no response is needed. Italy truly only responds to “problems.” Hands go up and shoulders shrug saying, “Che cosa si deve fare? What can you do?” As the years have passed, we have done what most Italians do—just get over it. In fact, after a while, you get so used to patterns of breakdown that you really don’t even see them anymore. It becomes “normal,” and life just continues on—within an altered, much slower pace.
Okay, here’s the truth. What actually happens since I’m not really a true Italian, I do get annoyed when things stop working. I grumble while putting on my old shoes to go out in the rain. I’m really frustrated when I can’t seem to fix things. Then I get even more aggravated because of the protracted inconvenience, namely trying to get an expert’s attention on the problem. And then getting them out to the house is another glitch. What I’ve concluded is that to my chagrin, I’m exactly like an Italian utilities system. At times I’m also not very robust. When problems occur, there’s a “short” in my own inner wiring that tends to shut me down for a while. Distracted from whatever I was doing, I slip into a tailspin of negativity. A cloud moves over the beautiful Tuscan experience, and for a while, I lose my way, wondering why I’m here in Italy at all.
Typically, insecurities loom large and I find that I’m really no better than the faulty systems that frustrate me. Cheryl usually has to put on her metaphorical work boots and trudge out into the nastiness of my murky mood to reset my breaker. Of course, after several tries, it eventually works and everything is back on track. Sometimes I wonder how much of my life is wasted on negativity and idle frustration.
So now, I’m starting to see Italy as one of those rare opportunities to work on Self. Breakdowns become reminders of emotional “faulty wiring.” Each time I head out in the rain to that darn breaker box, I’m being tested to see if I’ve made any progress on my inner system.
Maybe one day when the lights go out, I’ll find myself skipping barefoot down the drive without an umbrella, singing Chè sarà sarà, whatever will be . . . will be.
Note: Following is the song we wrote about one of those times when we experienced a “Short In the Wire,” when our metaphorical lights went out momentarily, without warning.