Friday, 14 October 2011

The Abruzzo Dream - My Story

Thanks to Vicky Loras's Blog Challenge, I would like to share this post, which presents a different angle to a part of my life. The reason why I moved from England to live in the heart of Abruzzo, Italy. Then soon after, an event which shattered me to the core..

Worlds apart yet a destiny foretold. My blood is 100% from Abruzzo, my heart is 100% British. Two countries forever intertwined from the moment of my birth. I was born and brought up in England by my parents, both from Abruzzo. Now I find myself living deep in the beautiful countryside of Abruzzo surrounded by olive groves and vineyards. Far From The Madding Crowd. I wrote about these two very different worlds in May this year and to read all about it, you can click the link Worlds Apart.

My parents had left Abruzzo in the 1950s during the depression to seek a new life and work in England. Both my parents have settled down in England forever, and they return to Abruzzo now for holidays and only accompanied by myself or my sisters. My beloved grandmother had also left Abruzzo at the grand age of 61 to begin a new life in England with my parents. I wrote about her life story here.

I have written about the unique love story of my parents in "1955: The Look of Love" here. I guess I owe my life to a certain mirror which played a pivotal role in their first encounter. Below is the anniversary card I made for my parents this year. They both loved it. A young, beautiful couple, their whole lives ahead of England in 1955.

What brought me to leave my country of birth after half a century?
Together with Karl my hubby, we decided we wanted to live in a more open, less hectic space. It was impossible to afford this in England in 2007. House prices had rocketed with the housing boom, and we were faced with properties costing up to half a million pounds. YES!! that is what it would have cost to buy the house of our dreams. At our advancing ages, we would have had a mortgage around our necks forever.

Time for a Change
At that time we were living in a tiny two-bedroom maisonette in an area only a bike ride away from the city centre of beautiful, historic Oxford. We had lived in the same place for 16 years. However, the area had changed considerably over the years. From friendly, peaceful neighbourhood to a busy, noisy and ever changing scene. People never stayed in the houses around us for long. Respect for the buildings and gardens was different from when we first arrived. Strangers coming and going. We had neighbours above us, next to us, across from us - every direction was covered. There was no peace, no quiet. It had become a living nightmare, if truth be told. It was time for a serious change. A change which led to the image below.

In the depths of the Abruzzo countryside

A Seachange
The change was about to become dramatic. We began looking at houses in the Oxfordshire area. We wanted a house with a bit of land around it, so we would not have the problem of noisy and unfriendly neighbours ever again.

We looked at lots of properties and we even put an offer in for a beautiful, charming, picture perfect cottage in the heart of a lovely village in Oxfordshire. The house cost a cool quarter of a million pounds!!! The bank had already agreed to lend us the money for a mortgage. Everything was set for paperwork to be signed. Then after a survey of the cottage was completed and everything was ready to go, we suddenly got cold feet and we pulled out. In hindsight, if we were meant to buy the house, we would have gone ahead with the deal. Nothing is impossible when you are determined and are passionate about something!

So we continued looking, but became disheartened. We both had excellent jobs and I suppose we were the epitome of DINKIES. Dual Income, No Kiddies, so we had quite a bit of disposable income at that time. Yet we still could not afford what we wanted without having to borrow a huge amount from the bank. That is when the idea came to our minds. Why not go to Abruzzo?

Why was Abruzzo chosen?
It was an area K and I both knew as we had visited for holidays many times. The pull of my family's roots played a part. The land where my parents were born. The land they had left to begin a new life in the 1950s.

The price of properties in Abruzzo was much lower compared to in England. Why not give it a go? The seed had been sown.

We could have chosen to go anywhere in the whole world, but Abruzzo held a special, magical attraction. The people, the lifestyle, the scenery, the food, the traditions...the glorious summers, the beaches, the mountains......what was there not to like about this region? Why not move lock stock and barrel to this stunning, quiet, unspoilt area?

We were advised by friends and family not to sell our little house, which was in a prime location.

"You should rent out your house in Oxford, get a mortgage, buy a property in Abruzzo then in the future if things don't work out, you can always come back to your house in Oxford."

My dear readers. I absolutely agree this was very sensible advice at the time. However, we followed our hearts and instincts. We did not follow this advice. We chose to risk everything for our chance to live the dream and walk the talk............even if it eventually turns out to be temporary.

Location, Location
So in 2007 we began looking on the Internet for properties in Abruzzo in earnest. We discovered so many breathtakingly reasonable prices. We registered with House Around Italy and they provided excellent assistance in all stages of the process. Within 5 weeks of viewing our property after a whirlwind weekend tour of properties, we had the keys to the house. It was a fast and painless process. Maybe we were lucky. We were so, so excited!!

What we got for a very reasonable price was a tumble down "casale" (old farmhouse) in great need of restoration and tender loving care. It was the perfect restoration project! The property was set in 12,000 square metres of land, with olive trees, an orchard and many other fruit trees. It also had a big open barn and outhouses. Two rooves were missing...... Undeterred, we fell in love with it at first sight.

We had been in the right place at the right time and the moment we sold our flat in Oxford was the highest point in the property boom. It crashed a few months shortly afterwards. By that time, we had spotted the house of our dreams in Abruzzo and with the proceeds of the sale of our property, we were able to buy the house outright and have money left over to start the long renovation process....That was in August 2007. The move to Abruzzo wasn't complete until mid 2008. Within months of the dream move, however, my life and that of K's changed completely.

February 25th 2009
My mother suffered a devastating accident on her bicycle on the way to church one bright, sunny, beautiful, calm and peaceful day. In just one second her life and all the family's life changed forever.

I returned on the first plane to London to be told by the consultants to brace ourselves for the worst possible scenario. My mother had suffered a catrastrophic brain injury and it was touch and go whether she would pull through. The idea of abandoning our new home in Abruzzo was something we considered privately. I spent more time in England than in Abruzzo during these turbulent and stressful days, weeks and months.

Amazingly, my mother did pull through!!! She spent over 5 months in hospital and rehabilitation. The day she came home was the most fantastic day ever. We celebrated her birthday in style, and then I finally returned to Karl and furkids in Abruzzo.

I have written about this miracle many times on my blog and so will not dwell on it in this post. I would just like to say that as a result of this event, my heart has been in 2 places. My family need my help and moral support. For this reason I travel back to England quite often. I am half here, half there. The dream move did not come at the right time, in all honesty. I have not been able to seriously contemplate a full time position in Abruzzo, because of the need to return to England at a moment's notice to deal with my mother's affairs, and also to give my sisters a well-deserved break. Maybe one day, a fresh decision will have to be made about where to spend the rest of our lifetime.....

K and I agreed that a margin of 10 years to do up our house would be realistic. 4 years have passed since we actually signed the paperwork. We are only a third of the way there! Now we have become LILOPs. Limited Income, Lots of Pets! We are currently actually living like the proverbial church mice, but it is a new experience and we shall see how long we can last.........

How have my two lives fared?
They have fared well so far, but it hasn't really been easy. Dividing my life between the 2 countries, and the pull of family commitments tugging at the heart strings is something which is difficult to get to grips with. I am faced with the eternal dilemma. I would like to be in two places at once, but that is of course unrealistic.

What is my future destiny?
The simple answer is I don't know. My life is still an open book waiting for the next page to unfold. Yes, this is a bit scary sometimes, but I don't dwell on this, as I am living in the present. In the past, I used to live with my head in the future. All I know now for sure is that nothing is permanent. Life can change in one second, that is all it takes. My family in England is very dear to me. I love Abruzzo and I feel at home here. I love England and feel at home there, too.

Together with K, we feel comfortable in both worlds. I would like to say that K has been my rock and has supported me and my family with great understanding and devotion.

Abruzzo Scenes Today with the Menagerie

With Kelly and chicks.

With naughty Fluffy and more chicks.

With new kitten on her first outing in the garden today.

More new kittens relaxing indoors.....

Due to a special request by @ David Warr, here are some more cat images!

Kitty's looking at you, David.

A pensative Fluffy. She is a brilliant big sister to the 4 kittens.

Below, in the early days in our new home in Abruzzo. You can see me de-weeding an area which had no roof, so weeds had reached to the ceiling! This room now has a roof, and it needs considerable more work done to it before it is finished.......


Fiona said...

Hi Janet
Thanks so much for sharing such a very interesting and incredibly moving part of your life, and thank goodness for 'rocks'. I'll have to read your other blog posts now!
Thanks again

Tara Benwell said...

Beautiful story, Janet! I love the pictures, too! I totally get that feeling of wanting to be in two places at once. I met my hubby in Vancouver and we started our family in the west of Canada. My extended family remained in the east. Even though it's the same country, it's still close to a 4+ hour plane ride with a large price tag (I can fly to England for less). We moved to the east (for my turn) a few years ago, but our hearts are still on the west coast. My husband still has an older son on that side and we miss the mountains and lakes. It's far too expensive to drag the whole family every time we want to go back and forth. When my mom was ill I went through exactly what you went through. It was the most difficult time of my life. Thanks for sharing your story!

Anonymous said...

Hi Janet!

Forst of all, a big thank you for writing this post as part of the What's Your Story? blog challenge. A great honour to have you aboard!

Your story is beautiful and thank you so much for sharing things, that as you said, are sharing for the first time. I am very happpy everything is going well for you after some difficulties. Very happy your mama came out a winner as well!

I absolutely love the photos at the end!

Mille grazie Janet,

Janet Bianchini said...

Hi Fiona

Thank you so much for visiting my blog post here. It took a bit longer to write than usual, because I wasn't sure about posting my innermost thoughts. I haven't really delved into the "church mice" bit, as that would be another story for another day :-)



Janet Bianchini said...

Hi Tara

Thank you for your kind words and for sharing your experience of what living apart from loved ones is like.

I have read your incredibly moving words about your beloved mother, and understand exactly the high emotions and feelings you went through during those difficult times. I am sure your presence was greatly appreciated and provided a lot of comfort.

All we can do is make the most of time spent with loved ones when we get to see them periodically, and try to enjoy each moment to the full.



Janet Bianchini said...

Hi Vicky

It is a huge honour to include my story in your fabulous collection of life-changing moments and incredible stories on your blog.

You have inspired so many people to open up about their experiences as a result of your honestly written and very personal account of what you went through after the difficult decision to close your school and move countries.

You have come through it all to lead a fulfilling and enjoyable life in Switzerland. That certainly takes a huge amount of courage...

I asked my hubby to take these new photos of me and some of the menagerie specially for this blog post. I am so glad you like them!!

The cute kitten is one of 4 adorable kittens. We will have to make a decision soon re which one to keep!!



Anonymous said...

Buongiorno Janet,

Mille grazie for your blog. I was born in Abbruzzo in 1959. My father left 3 months before I was born to find work and a house for my mother and I. My mother and I sailed to Canada from Napoli to Halifax, then wetook a train, stopped in Montreal and finally made our home in Guelph. I have not been back to bella Italia yet. But it is my ultimo dream. I married my husband Frank (who is from Cosenza, Calabria) we have two young teenage sons, Luigi and Anthony. I started my own at home business inside of my garage 7 years ago and I bake biscotti,pizzelle, etc. Originally, my plan was to save my pennies for a trip to Abbruzzo(my Zio Gino lives in a beautiful house in Francaville)but my money just keeps going back into the business so far. It is called "Biscotti Di Notte" because I bake in the evening when my children are sleeping...I hope that you will keep writing because I will keep reading. Where exactly in Abbruzzo is your home? Ciao for now, Mirella

renee said...

What a wonderful story. Thank you for that.
I am half Italian and half Lebanese (although we think our maternal grandma might be part Jewish!) My father's family were from Abruzzo. Their name was DiLuigi. My dad was born in Philadelphia. My mom's parents were from Beirut and Turkey. They met at the opera because mom was an opera singer and dad loved the opera:). I was one of 6 children but born in Michigan. I now live in California (and have met another DiLuigi Family out here!) but most of my family still lives in MI and PA.
It's my dream to visit one day, and to learn to speak Italian. I could see myself living there. But first I need to visit. God bless.

Janet Bianchini said...

Hi Mirella

It is lovely to meet you and thank you very much for commenting on this post. I love the idea of your "Biscotti di Notte". I have only just started baking my own biscuits using fresh eggs from the chicks and it's a really enjoyable activity and something to look forward to eating. I bet you get a lot of satisfied customers after sampling your delicious Abruzzo biscuits!

Do you have a website with recipes or pictures of your biscotti? I'd be interested in collecting some good recipes! Thanks!

The area I live in is near Civitaquana, which is the URL of this blog:-)It lies on the edge of a beautiful National Park.



Janet Bianchini said...

Hi Renee

What a lovely story about your Abruzzo origins mixed with such a diverse range of other nationalities. Your parents meeting at the opera sounds like an interesting encounter, too.

Hopefully one day yours and Mirella's dream of visiting Abruzzo will come true. I can assure you it will be a wonderful experience!

Thank you for visiting my blog :-)



Lesley said...

Hi Janet,
You are such a natural storyteller! Your writing is so lovely to read, and evokes a feeling of beauty even without the accompanying photographs.
And judging from the comments so far, you have evoked memories for others who have 'Abruzzo dreams'.
Thanks for sharing your story.

Janet Bianchini said...

Hi Lesley

Thank you so much for your kind comments. I appreciate them truly. Thank you for all your support :-)))

Ciao, ciao! Janet

David Warr said...

Hi Janet, a moving story indeed. I only ask one thing: more kitten pictures please!!!

Janet Bianchini said...

Hi David

Your special request has been granted. I've just added 2 more kitty photos. Hope you like them :-)))

popps said...

I have to ask, though i think you have maybe covered it all - any regrets?

Janet Bianchini said...

Hi Chris

Maybe the fact that I didn't move here when I was a bit younger! However, saying this, I don't feel old really, so maybe this is irrelevant. So no regrets, actually :-)



David Warr said...

Thanks! Made my day.

Torn Halves said...

Janet, We are in a similar situation in Greece, and are also looking after a fair number of stray animals along with the chickens. One problem in our little corner of the Greek countryside is the ease with which some of our neighbours kill other people's pets (although I don't think they really see them as pets - for them animals are either useful in one way or another or they are an annoyance). We have had a long series of dogs and cats that have either been poisoned or shot. I wonder if you have a similar problem on the other side of the Adriatic.

Janet Bianchini said...

Hi (Torn Halves)

Thank you for dropping by. I haven't heard of such awful things happening here in particular, and I'm sorry to hear about what has happened to some of your pets. I have to say that cats and dogs seem to be very well looked after here in Abruzzo.

However, our Kelly (stray dog) was abandoned and came to us in a terrible state. We have nurtured him over the years and he is having the time of his life now.

Abruzzo white wines Italy said...

It is a pleasure to see someone that loves animals so much. Thanks for the positive mood.