Thursday, February 7, 2013

Sunday, February, 3, 2013. It is nearly 4:00 a.m. Since arriving in Italy, I have consistently woken up around 3:30 a.m. -- Just having trouble adjusting to the new time zone. We are spending our second night in Battipaglia. So, let’s see, we arrived in Rome around 3:30 p.m. Thursday, January 31 and stayed that night with the Kelly’s in the mission home. We met with President and Sister Kelly for some instruction Friday morning and received a brief tour of the four floor mission home – three floors plus a basement floor. It turns out that they can sleep 25 – 30 Elders and half a dozen Sisters at the mission home when they have mission conferences. The top floor is filled with bunk beds. Some men were inspecting the mission home for any needed repairs before the new Mission President arrives in June. We understand the Elder Kent F. Richards will be touring the mission week after next. We need to return to Rome for a conference with him on February 13th. We will go up the night before to be ready for an early meeting.

We were introduced to our car, loaded our luggage, and headed south toward Battipaglia just before noon. We had asked Elder Steuer if our car was a diesel like his. He said he thought so. We discovered that we had only half a tank of gas, so our first order of business was to fill up. We stopped at a little corner gas station and tried to decide if our car was diesel or gas. I tried looking in the manual, but couldn’t find it. (I found it later right in the glove box. I just couldn’t see it in the heat of the battle while other cars were waiting to fill up behind us.) It turns out that the diesel nozzle is larger than the gas nozzle and it wouldn’t fit. We then knew our car uses gasoline --definitely a tender mercy. I had pulled into a self-service station planning to save a little money. Luckily, the lady filling up the other cars realized that we were novices and came to help. If we had put diesel into the car instead of gasoline, we would have been in real trouble.

Our car came with a Tom-Tom GPS device, so we entered our address in Battipaglia, and set off. We drove south for around three hours through the beautiful southern Italy mountains and valleys. I got sleepy about half way and Geri drove the rest of the way. We exited at Battipaglia and found that our GPS device wasn’t quite perfect for the smaller city streets. After driving down an extremely narrow alley and making a few wrong turns, we finally found Via Fiorignano which we recognized from looking at Google Earth before we left the US. We then telephoned the Elders – Elder Vitali, from Hacienda Heights, CA and Elder Taylor from Idaho Falls. (We had also received a cell phone from the mission office – all the comforts of home.) It turned out we were 50 yards from the church and about the same from our apartment. Our apartment complex is gated, so they opened the gate for us and we had arrived.

Our apartment had been occupied by the Elders’ Landlords. She is 70 and he, a retired fireman, is 74 and both are still fit as a fiddle. She is the boss. When I heard we were to live in their apartment, I was immediately worried that it would contain a lot of knick knacks and other junk. We had heard that there were three bedrooms and that they wanted to store some of their things in one of the rooms. My worries were confirmed in spades. The apartment was literally filled with tons of knick knacks, family photos, clothes, and just plain junk. We had only a couple of drawers and a bit of closet space. Everything else was filled to the brim with their things. I asked if we could relocate a few things and maybe even throw a few things away such as a hair dryer which didn’t work. I received a definite “no” to both questions.

Elders Vitali (L) & Taylor (R). We ate most of four pizzas...Very tasty!
Once our landlords had left, we started discussing our options. The Elders had also had a bit of trouble getting them to fix things. In the meantime, Sister Scherbel wanted to stop by a couple of stores and purchase some essentials. The two most important things were a hair dryer and a hair straightener. Toilet paper also seemed important even though the toilets had no seats.  We then asked the Elders where we could find a good pizzeria. After looking for one they really liked, but couldn’t find, we went to Franco’s Pizza. I was unbelievable. Besides pizza we tried arancini, which are rice balls stuffed with peas and cheese, fritatini, which are balls of macaroni with cheese inside, and something else whose name I can’t remember but are essentially breaded mashed potato sticks.  All three were very good. The pizza was amazing (Each one had a golf ball size dollop of fresh mozzarella cheese made from water buffalo milk in the center.) and we were able to get to know the Elders quite well as we ate with them.

Returning to the apartment (the Elders live right across the hall) we went to bed wondering how to get the apartment situation resolved. Brother Calabrese, a much loved Patriarch, coordinates apartments from Rome. He has an amazing reputation for keeping things organized and under control. I thought we would just have to give him a call and see if he could help us resolve the situation. We could hardly sleep with worry. Our landlady had said she had washed and ironed the sheets, but the mattresses, blankets, and pillows looked old and very used. I was imagining armies of dust mites attacking us in the night. The whole apartment had a strong odor of human bad breath. I couldn’t sleep and got up around 2:30 a.m. and made a list of my concerns so that I could talk to brother Calabrese in the morning. Here are my notes:

We understand from the Elders that our landlady has really worked hard to clean up this apartment. However, notwithstanding her progress, it still has some serious concerns:


1. Strong odor from previous occupants -- Landlords of the Elders' apartment - hopefully this will go away as we live here and remove some of their stuff.

Knick knacks covered every horizontal surface
2. Lots of personal stuff:

   a. Master Bedroom: large pile of stuff behind make-shift curtain, pile on chair, letters/books/bills on dresser, large armadio (free standing closet – schrank in German) brim full

   b. Living Room: Tons of knick-knacks, pictures, junk around TV, two hutches completely full, buffet full and surface covered with knick-knacks

   c. Guest Bedroom: too much furniture

Kitchen drawer full of dried bay leaves
   d. Kitchen: cupboards and drawers full of stuff we can't use, i.e. wine, chamomile, a drawer completely full of chamomile, another drawer full of bay leaves, decorative sugar/coffee/salt/pepper holders, and all drawers and cupboards are full of junk in general, i.e. plastic bags, string, etc.

   e. laundry: junk behind door, old mops, old broom, old plastic buckets

   f. hall: pictures, marble stand, knick-knacks, spare keys, three old vacuums, a bunch of junk (plastic bags full of light bulbs, a length of braided hair, metal rods, etc.) on top of armadio – every horizontal surface is covered with pictures or knick knacks.

3. Showers:
Nice bathroom - no shower curtain, no toilet seat

   a. Bathroom: tub/shower - no shower curtain, tub slick to stand on

   b. Laundry/half bath: very small shower - never been used - wooden window will get wet, no shower curtain (not sure this one is usable.)

4. Toilets: no seats

5. Internet: none

6. Mattresses, pillows, blankets: Old, used

7. Can we use the heat?  Quinto sternly warned about using too much electricity, and said they never used the heat because it was always warm in Battipaglia. (We were cold our first night, but I tested the heat [old radiators] and it seemed to work fine.)

8. Microwave: none

9. Refrigerator: needs cleaning

10. Gas Range: burners need cleaning

11. Need multiple trash cans – Italy has recently decided that all residents must separate their trash into five categories. Each day a different kind of trash is picked up – one day paper, one day plastic, one day food related garbage, one day miscellaneous. We are trying to learn exactly what the rules are.

I went back to bed around 4:30 and must have fallen asleep because the next thing I knew the door buzzer was sounding from the ground floor. I didn’t have time to answer it before someone was pounding on theapartment door.  It was nearly 9:30! I answered the door in bare feet and my pajamas, still bleary-eyed. It was our landlady. She wanted to know if everything was all right. She had indicated that they were leaving for Reggio Calabria that morning, so I decided that I needed to express my concerns while she was still here. I had wanted to phone Brother Calabrese to get a little bit more prepared, but since we had slept in, this was not going to be possible.

So, I started expressing my concerns as gently as possible. She wanted to hear none of it and couldn’t understand why we needed so much space. I said, well, since we can only use about one fourth of the space, maybe we should pay only one fourth of the rent. She definitely didn’t like that idea. I offered to move their things into one of the bedrooms which we wouldn’t use. She didn’t like that idea either. Then her husband started lecturing me about not using too much electricity again. I told them I had had enough of this conversation and we would have to call Brother Calabrese and see if we could work something out, because we couldn’t stay in this apartment under the current conditions. As soon as I started to actually telephone Brother Calabrese, her tone completely changed. She said, “OK, we will move anything you want us to.” She said she would be embarrassed by calling Brother Calabrese.

This started a very long morning. We had to point out each group of items in each area which we felt needed to be cleaned out. She would point to each item and ask can I leave it or must I take it away. We would say as kindly as possible, please take it away. This went on for about three hours. She didn’t want us touching anything, but started putting her things in boxes and plastic bags. It turns out they own another apartment on the second floor where they took all their stuff. I can only imagine what this apartment must look like. As we agonizingly went from room to room, we finally were able to convince them to remove enough of their things that we could live fairly comfortably and not be too embarrassed if someone came to visit us. There are still plenty of their things in the apartment, but it is much better than it was initially. Wouldn't you know it, in all the excitement, her husband accidentally picked up Sister Scherbel's new $80 hair straightener and a hair dryer she had borrowed from Sister Kelly.

Once the landlords had left, we started organizing. Sister Scherbel sent me shopping while she cleaned and organized. The missionaries introduced me to the Maximall about six kilometers (3.5 miles) away. Wow! What an amazing, modern mall! One of the stores is a huge Walmart type of store called Carrefour. It seems to be part of an organization called SpesAmica (Spending Friend). It had absolutely everything include all kinds of groceries. We picked up the cleaning products on Geri’s list and some electric multiple plugs. The hairdryer we had purchased the night before had a plug that was too large for our outlets. We tried to find an adapter. The adapters all say Max 1500 Watt. The hairdryer uses 2100 Watts. We were worried burn out a fuse or trip a circuit breaker, so we kept searching.

Then the Elders took me to IKEA. What a wonderful surprise to find an IKEA store relatively nearby. We purchased hangers, pillows, plastic trash cans, toilet seats, toilet brushes, bathroom rugs, etc. We also grabbed some lunch – a tiny pizza for one euro and a lingon berry drink for one euro. By the time we got back, Sister Scherbel had things pretty well organized. I then took her back to the Maximall for some more shopping. We bought a little microwave oven, an HP 6510 printer for 49 euros, and a bunch more food. We then came home and made Caprese salads, ravioli, and leftover pizza for dinner. Dinner was wonderful. The day ended much better than it had begun. We were able to unpack, hang things in our closets, put a few things on shelves, and sleep on new pillows. We had decided that the blankets and sheets were probably ok. We are still thinking about getting new mattresses.

We love the Battipaglia area. It is a little bit run down for a European town -- probably not so unusual for a town in southern Italy. There are a few vacant/derelict buildings and quite a bit of trash around, but all in all it is a beautiful area. We are anxious to meet the members in church today. It is Fast Sunday. We understand only around fifteen people attend church, so we will probably be bearing our testimonies…

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