One day of feeling unwell is too much for anybody, I have just endured six, and it is not fair. It started with my breathing getting even more difficult than normal and then was swiftly followed by ‘flu like symptoms. Of course it was not ‘flu, I still had the munchies, yes dieting in on my list, so not even that benefit accrued from the illness.
Time to think led me to reflect on just how wonderful the human body is. I often suffer a week or two’s illness at the start of the year, and although there are still lots of jobs to be done, the urgency and regularity of them are not as so in the season when I really need to be at work every day, so despite as I write feeling a bit lousy, thanks body! Still I would rather not be ill. I felt rotten, I will not describe my symptoms save to say the result is a huge amount of dirty handkerchiefs and sweat ridden bedding. I lolled listlessly in bed. When not sleeping which I did most of the time, I read on the Kindle, but books need to be good and able to transport the reader to a different and far off place, not all did. I caught up on some tv, depressingly it seems that British tv is heading down the same street that Italian tv has long gone, a dull sleazy uninteresting street, Netflix offers a mere smattering of films that attract my attention, I am resigned to listening to plays on the radio. To boot having lived in Italy for nine years I really am no longer interested in British politics so my much loved ‘Today’ programme on BBC radio 4 is rapidly losing my attention even if there is much current debate about Britain leaving the EU.
But what came to the fore the most was just how difficult living by oneself is. What will happen to me if the UK votes to leave the EU? I am here with permanent residence, I pay my taxes, use the health service, have an almost Italian driving licence, (there is another story there) and can vote in the local council elections – for all the good that does. All of this is because the UK is a member state. Now if they leave presumably my ‘security’ will also leave, I will be as expat residents from non EU countries subject to re-applying for residence and on an almost annual basis. This is a hugely significant move, do I apply for Italian citizenship? I can, and now it is puportedly simpler, instead of the five years processing time it can be done online and the time estimate is six months. But is this a step I want to take. I am proud of being British, why you may well ask, quite simply because I am of a generation when being British was great and I am reassured that when travelling on my British Passport that should anything go awry my sovereign will look after me. I have friends in similar situations, I could and do talk to them, but it would be so nice and reassuring to be able to discuss the ins and outs of this important decision with a partner. Like everything else I have done since arriving here and setting up my running and growing my business, do I buy double sunbeds or singles and where do I find them, complimentary flip flops or slippers or neither, what colour to repaint one of the suites, what menus to offer this summer, all are decisions at the moment and are decisions that rest firmly on my shoulders. I have no point of reference.
Before falling to the lurgies I managed to attend a meeting of fellow agriturismo owners who have formed a collective to market their bed and breakfasts. The invite was from a fellow agriturismo owner in the valley and I was keen to go along and see what was proposed. There are twenty of them and have each contributed to a website aimed at bringing visitors to their properties in Umbria, specifically to the Gubbio area, my local town. Of course I was the only ‘foreigner’ but they seemed very pleased to welcome me and listened attentively to my suggestions. The topic for discussion was a referral booking calendar that they want to put on each others’ websites. The theory being if one bed and breakfast is full an enquirer can use the link to check-out other b&b s in the area and book there. Now I love this idea, but am unable to participate. Naturally their clientèle is principally Italian families, and then some foreign families, but and this is a big but, I am marketing specifically to the gay guy market and I could see no opportunity for me to receive bookings via this joint calendar or for my enquirers on discovering Bellaugello is fully booked to click the link and choose an agriturismo nearby. Bellaugello is in one of the loveliest spots in Italy, I am so fortunate I wake up to marvellous views, today the Apennines are deeply covered in snow, the garden here is extensive, full of lavender and rosemary and elevated on a south facing slope, but I am not competing with this group, my guests choose to come to Italy or go to Spain, Greece, or the Caribbean. It became obvious that I was ‘on my own’, and much as I would like to forge links with fellow operators, it is a one way process. When Bellaugello is fully booked and I have requests I have two or three nice places I can recommend, but never in ll my years here have I received a referral booking from any of them…
When feeling lousy there is nobody to mop a fevered brow, to bring endless cups of herbal tea let alone take the dogs out, for yes they still expect their daily constitutional. The boiler still needs feeding with wood, daily chores abound. Nobody to take over the responsibility of replying to booking enquiries and keeping the day to day paperwork up to date, replying to emails and processing the million and one bureaucratic things that the Italian state requires. A trip to the doctor was out, I simply did not feel like driving, so I resorted to my bag of old medicines digging out some out of date pills and hoping for the best. But, it is more than that, it is the feeling of solitude that got to me most. It also got me thinking just how many people living abroad are in the same situation and how I admire them all (well mostly all).
I am very lucky, I have a great network of friends, but am finding it hard to make new ones. I guess I am well settled here but as a single guy I still find it hard to meet new people. Recently there has been an occasion, and a friend who had suggested meeting that same evening after the event cancelled because she said “I will not come because you are bound to meet somebody and crash out of our dinner – fine chance. Finally the Italian government has got round to (or been forced by Europe) to begin to debate the granting of equal rights to same sex couples and a raft of other rights aimed at the gay community, basically to being us into line with other EU countries. Living in Italy I really wanted to actively participate in this process. A couple of Saturdays ago in very major town in Italy there were marches organised by the gay community to show just how vital equal rights are for everybody. I joined in the march in our regional capital, Perugia, proud to be waving a flag. However it was soon apparent that I was one of the few ‘solitary’ marchers. The great majority of marchers were in couples or groups, they all seemed to know one another, I knew virtually nobody. The gay life in Italy has been ‘underground’ and is really difficult to enter unless sex is the only thought on your brain.. commitment and living together openly is a real rare occurrence. I need to get out and meet people. In Britain there is a great system of ‘evening classes’ some free others fee paying, occasions when you can learn something new, being pottery, woodworking, upholstery or computer skills. One a week and excuse to get out the house and learn a new craft, and meet people, but here in Italy this does not exist, but that is not a reason for me to return to the UK, a move which I have no intention at all to make.
Likewise there are no cafés or bars where gay guys can hang out together. I won’t go any further into the sordidity of gay dating but it would be nice to be able to meet in a friendly environment, to chat and make new friends, but alas! in Umbria no such place exists. Now I do not want to live my life in a ‘gay ghetto’ – I would run a mile from that, perhaps this is strange coming from a guy who owns and runs a gay guest house, my life expectations go beyond my sexuality. I am really fortunate in the job I do, I love it, and I get to meet great guys from all over the world, many return, and have become friends, but after their holidays at Bellaugello they return home and I am all alone! In all the planning and research I did when coming to Italy I never thought to research life for the single guy in a country area.