Our base in Pavia, which we were renting until we found a house to buy, was a flat owned by Giorgio and Franco. It was a lucky find. In the summer of 2007, we visited Pavia for a week to find an apartment for my six months study abroad and Nico’s sabbatical. At first, that week seemed as if it would end in total failure because all the suitable apartments we found on the Internet in the Netherlands fell by the wayside one by one. In one case, for example, we were allowed to view our chosen flat but later it transpired that it wasn’t quite clear whether the present tenants were really going to leave. Why didn’t the owner tell us this earlier, we wondered feeling annoyed. What was the point in looking at a flat that wasn’t (yet) available? Did the owner worry that he would disappoint us and let us carry on with the viewing? But now we were even more disappointed. Maybe this is the Italian way of doing things, we thought, quite put out by the way things were handled.
We had nothing left but to hope that the last of the apartments we had selected was still available and that we would like it. Although our appointment for the viewing was later on, in the evening, we decided to have a quick look around the neighbourhood in daylight. We saw at the entrance, where the doorbells and tenants’ names were listed next to the apartment numbers, that the name plate next to our chosen apartment was empty. The flat was seemingly still free: that was at least a positive sign! We returned that evening, full of expectations, and rang the bell. But what on earth was that? We stood looking in disbelief at a name next to the number of our apartment! That could only mean one thing, we concluded crestfallen: the flat had been rented out today. But surely the owners wouldn’t let us make a wasted journey? Did we check properly this morning? Was it just the name of the previous tenant? We hoped for the best and pressed the button again.
The gate buzzed open and we entered with apprehension. The apartment door was opened by a young couple, with deadpan faces. They showed us around the whole apartment, explained its pros and cons and provided other useful information. It turned out to be a quite sparsely furnished, minimalistic and not too spacious dwelling, but because we had no other alternatives, we offered to rent the place at the end of the viewing. “Yeah,” said the girl a bit sheepishly, “there is a little problem.” The flat was indeed already rented out. This crucial bit of news had a devastating effect on us. What were we supposed to do now? We would never have enough time in the remainder of the week to find another place. The girl saw our desperation and took it to heart. Suddenly she remembered a friend who had a furnished apartment that he might be prepared to rent out. “Yes please, we are very interested,” we both shouted, clutching at straws. So she rang her friend, Giorgio, who agreed to meet us at Pavia train station and take us to his flat on Via Moruzzi.
Arriving at the station we couldn’t see any Italian who looked like they were there to meet someone. We decided to wait at the entrance. Before long my mobile was ringing. “Sono qui, I am here,” I heard a voice say, and at the same time saw a man approaching us: that must be Giorgio. He had been observing us from a distance to decide whether we were persone serie, serious people. Luckily he must have thought so and soon we were driving up behind him to the flat that was going be our salvation. To our great relief, his parents’ flat (because that’s what it was), was by far the best of all the accommodation we had viewed. Our trip was a success after all, not thanks to our careful preparations, but because of the quick thinking of an Italian, who knew someone, who… Was this a taster of our forthcoming experiences in Italy?