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Winter …

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It’s a long time ago now, but everything was going well. Our daughter started going to a new school, and our son was still going to Mrs P. Winter came and went.

Here in the north of Italy, winters are invariably cold and snowy. We’re in the mountains, and not far from some good places for going skiing.

In our new condominium we had centralised heating; oil. So there was one central boiler, and the hot water was pumped around all the apartments. Even at that time the origins of our neighbours were varied. In our block, four of the flats were of Milanese folk – who only ever came a couple of times during the year to get away from the steamy heat of the city – a man and his mother, who were newcomers like us, a Neapolitan family with a young daughter, and a Sicilian family with two grown up children, then still living at home – with a boyfriend in tow, living in room in their basement next to their garage. In the other wings there were families, local, Sicilian and from Calabria.

The way the heating was worked out was on a consumption basis – some, like a couple of our Milan flats didn’t have heating at all, as they were only ever used in the summer months. Everyone paid 20 percent. Then each apartment had a little meter outside which measured the use.

We still had lire at the time, but I can still remember the bill that arrived from the condo administrator that first spring. 7 million lire! – at that time it was about CHF 5,800 (Swiss francs) or $4,200 (American dollars) – that was at that time (even now!) a hell a lot of money for heating (it’s not a luxury enormous villa or anything like that – a very modest two bedroom affair). That was about 7 times an average Italian workers monthly salary at that time.

To rub salt into the wound, my Sicilian next door neighbours’ bill was for only 700,000 lire ($420) – and then said, ‘Ah! You don’t know how to economise!’

Help! Welcome to the new life!

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