January, 2012… Year of the Dragon… Month of the Car

Right up front, this is going to be a little bit whiny.  You are warned.


All of this started probably in October.  That is when the remote to our DVD player died.  Okay, yeah, I can hear you now..’Oh, you poor thing..living in Italy and the remote to your DVD died.  This is sooooo tragic.’  Well, actually it was.  The functions that we used most on the DVD player could not be activated with the buttons on the front of the machine.  The only way to turn these functions on is with the remote.  We use the DVD player every night to watch something together on TV.  So I set about contacting the manufacturer.  This is about the same time when our internet connection started acting up making email to the manufacturer and repair shops all the more difficult. (see a separate post about internet connections, that is if I am ever able to publish it)  We made a trip to Arezzo to find a repair shop there.  Even though he was listed on the web site as an authorized repair shop he refused to even talk to me.  This, after it took 15 minutes of riding around trying to find him (thanks google maps for making it so easy)  (as Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory would say ‘Is that sarcasm?) Then we turned to a place in Siena.  Another 15 minutes of riding around trying to find the place.  As will many times happen here, there is one bit of the street name and then a mile or so away the other bit of the street.  Fortunately, a nice lady in a hotel who must be asked 100 times a week about where the other bit of the street is, knew exactly where to send us.  We managed to find the repair shop and arrive before he closed for lunch and he agreed to order a new remote for us.  Meanwhile we are still having internet problems.

November came and the usual fall weather, chilly temps, getting darker earlier.  Our friends that we hoped would visit us were not able to come.  We celebrated Thanksgiving with Tania and Keith in Cortona and on the way home the car was attacked by the wild boar. (see an earlier post about the wild boar attack) We had to start the whole process of emailing our insurance company and taking the car in to get fixed.  Did I mention we are having internet problems?  That it can sometimes take 3 or 4 attempts for me to send a simple email that only has words in it, much less one that has pictures or forms attached to it.  The place I am to take the car to get fixed is in the middle of no where, outside of Castiglion del Lago about an hour’s drive away.   On the first trip there we see signs on the main highway that snow tires or chains are mandatory from November 1 through March 31.  Oh well, I think, they can’t mean that I have to have chains on sunny, 50 degree days can they?  Oh yes they can.  I am assured by the owner of the repair shop and the ACI (Italian version of AAA) that yes, even if I am stopped for any other reason, the tires will be looked at or I need to show chains or it is an on the spot 150 Euro fine.  Oh Joy! 

I grew up in Kentucky, but if asked, I usually say that I am from North Carolina, that is where I still own property and where my driver’s license is from and just where I say I am from.  And in North Carolina, we have a sensible policy about snow.  That is ‘Don’t Mess with it!’  Stay home!  Prepare for it like we would for a hurricane.  Mass rush the grocery store.  Stock up.  Don’t forget the beer.  Use all that snow to chill the beer.  Make a fire and stay home and enjoy it.  That is my policy here for dealing with snow.  There are very few reasons that I need to be out driving in the snow.  But now it seems that I will need to have snow tires or chains even if I don’t plan to use them.  Because since spotting that first snow tire/chains sign on the highway to Castiglion del Lago we have also seen notices on the A-1 from Arezzo to Florence and for the whole city of Arezzo.  We are in Arezzo every week to go to the Esselunga.  We can’t stop going to the Esselunga just because we don’t have snow tires or chains.  So we started shopping for chains.

Back to getting the car fixed after the boar strike.  It took 2 trips in December, one to estimate the damage and another to fix the headlight so I could drive at night.  Meanwhile I am trying to fill out forms and send emails.  Did I mention that we are having internet problems?

Finally the replacement remote for the DVD player arrives.  Half a day trip over and back to pick it up. We have to drag the DVD player over so that he can make sure that the remote works. The guy plugs it all in, makes sure that the remote will turn on the player, then unplugs it all, hands me back the player so I can pack it all up again (I am rather proud of myself that I can produce the original box and packing material for the DVD’s field trip.  No one else seems to notice this however.) Asks for money, pops the remote in a bag and sends us on our way.  It is not until we get home that we get to see the remote.  YIKES!!! there is a whole other row of buttons on the new remote and no button with the same label as the one that we used so much on the old one. No documentation, no instruction book.  Oh please no, not another trip over there.  First, we sit down and just start pushing buttons.  Finally we find the one that we need.  Out comes the bright pink magic marker and the new button is circled. Happiness returns as we are now able to watch a full size TV together rather than the little screen on our laptops.

Still having internet problems.  And I have begun to adopt the attitude of ‘what is going to happen next?’, when one Saturday night half of the electrical outlets in the house go out.  Now I suppose I could have pitched a fit and tried to get the electrician out to get it fixed, but it was a weekend and it was only half the outlets.  So I strung up a collection of extension cords to keep the essential things, like the refrigerator and the stuffa (our heat) going.  But this really is not ideal.  There are cords everywhere and I am just waiting for either Ben or I to trip over them or for the dog to pull something off.  Sunday night I call the electrician and he promises to come Monday afternoon.  Monday afternoon comes but no electrician.  I phone again.  It is possible that I might have gotten a little desperate sounding so he agrees to come on Tuesday morning. 

Tuesday morning arrives and I am up and dressed and waiting for the electrician while Ben is walking the dog.  Look out the door and there is Ben on the ground.  He has hurt his knee and can’t get up.  And can’t put enough weight on his knee to get up with my help.  Fortunately the electrician arrives and helps Ben to his feet and we get him in the house.  Electrician fixes the outlets and leaves.  I get Ben in bed to rest and start trying to email our neighbor, the doctor, to see if he will drop by this evening to check on Ben.  Did I mention that we are having internet problems?  Oh yeah and this is one of those days when I can’t get a simple 3 sentence email to go anywhere.  So I try to phone.  While I can phone out to our cell phones, I can’t phone our neighbor on either side or even down to the restaurant.  Finally I write a note and get in the car and drive to our neighbor’s house to leave it. 

That evening our neighbor shows up.  And he has brought drugs with him.  Nothing broken but he suggests that Ben will do best in bed for several days.  That certainly doesn’t break Ben’s heart.  So for  5 days he is virtually immobile while I wait on him hand and foot and do almost everything for him.  In the middle of this I have to leave him for the 3 hour round trip to get the headlight fixed on the car.  He wisely decides to nap.

Ben survives and slowly gets better.  Christmas comes and goes.  New Years comes and goes.  I begin to think that the string of things going wrong might be over.  Finally, in the New Year,  the car is scheduled for repairs that will take 3 days to complete.  The insurance company will pay $30 a day for a rental car.  The problems are that the repair shop is absolutely in the middle of no where and I am being quoted prices of 50 Euros a day for car rental if I could get from the repair shop to the car rental place.  Did I mention that we are having internet problems and how hard it is to try to find a rental car online when the connection keeps dropping?  Finally I find a rental car in Arezzo for $40 a day and put together an itinerary of train and taxi connections that will get me to the car rental place before it closes for lunch.  Then I hear there are to be train strikes.  It turns out that the strike is the day before and over with by the time I start my 5 hour round trip to drop off the car and pick up the rental car.  The rental car has so much residual cigarette smoke smell in it that I have a headache by the time I get home.  The car does not move again until 4 days later when it is time for me to repeat the journey in reverse and pick up our car.  Our car looks so good because they have washed it and cleaned inside and out.  But they say I need to have the engine checked and I know it is time to change the oil and I am thinking that I might need to replace 2 of the less than one year old tires. 

First the oil change then the tires and chains.  I ask the guys at the tire shop to show me how to put the chains on.  It is a sunny, 55 degree day and we are in a quiet parking lot.  The tire guy takes 15 minutes and still can’t get the chains on.  The owner of the tire shop comes over and takes 10 minutes more before he figures it out.  All the while they are telling me how easy this is.   Oh yeah..this is going to be so easy for me to do when snow is pouring down and it is freezing, probably on the side of the road not in a nice quiet parking lot.  Like I said, I’m not going anywhere if it snows!


So the totals for the month of the car:

Deductible for having the wild boar strike repaired                                                        $125

Oil Change                                                                                                                        120 Euros ($158)

2 new tires and chains                                                                                                     300 Euros ($396)

Yearly insurance                                                                                                               $1800

Engine repair                                                                                                                   Oh, wait, we still don’t know this figure.  Last Friday, after

elaborate planning I take the car for its day long appointment in Arezzo.  My first plan for the day is that I will go to Florence for the day.  I mean, why not.  Make arrangements to meet my friend Teri there.  We both have been hearing rumors and the day before it is confirmed a train strike for sure, this time.  So I change my plans to spending the day in Arezzo by myself.  There is a bus stop across from the auto dealership.  I will take a bus into town, walk around, visit the nice library, have lunch, walk around more and bus or cab back to the dealership.  I arrive at the dealership at an unholy hour.  And there is my bud, Nicola. 

Nicola is a Boninsegni, a son and grandson(?) of the owners of the Boninsegni Fiat Dealership.  And he is one of the nicest young men in the world.  His Momma totally raised him right.  (For those who don’t remember, we bought our first car here in Italy from Boninsegni because the sales manager’s reasoning was ‘well she has an Italian passport and she knows my friend Marino, when she gets the paperwork she needs she will bring it to me.  I’m selling her a car’.  (this was after 8 other dealers had turned down the cash we were waving at them)  And a few months later, when Ben had his unfortunate accident in that car and totaled it, the next day, when we walked into the dealership, it was Nicola standing there saying, ‘Marta, I heard of the accident, what can we do to help you?’)  But back to the present… here is Nicola, ‘Marta, what are you doing today?  I will take you to Arezzo.’  And off we go.

I spend a wonderful, cold, but doing exactly what I want to do day in Arezzo.  For lunch a very good hamburger and French Fries at Crispi in town.  And here is Nicola on the phone.  ‘We can not fix the car today.  I come get you and you can pick it up.  We will work out how you are to bring it back.’  So that is what we have done.  Now, it is off still being looked at.  This time a I have a rental from Boninsegni which matches the price that Auto Europe would charge me.  (no taxi, train, bus connections) And when they figure out what is wrong, Nicola will call me. 

Today, January 31, it is snowing.  It is supposed to snow for several days.  I have no plans to go anywhere but, as my neighbor in Virginia, Jane will be happy to know, the car is in ’snow position’  at the street end of the drive so that I only need to release the hand brake to let gravity work and get it down to the street.  I guess the month of the car will carry on in to February.  I have decided to stop obsessing about how much all of this is going to cost.  I mean, there’s nothing I can do about it, is there?  We are warm, safe, dry, so far, not in debt.  We have each other and Nerone, the good dog.  That is so much more than many others have.  I am finished whining now… for a little while.  Ohhh, did I mention we are having internet problems????? Life doesn’t stop does it? 


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