Monday, July 30, 2012

Cianciana Life: Saturday Morning – Visit to Santo Stefano di Quisquina

On Friday morning, just as we were thinking about calling Joe, our phone rang shrilly. (It always rings shrilly – I have to figure out how to change the ring tone!).  It was Joe asking us to come down to the My House office.  When we arrived Joe had a counter offer for us.  The owner was willing to settle on €27,000.  We agreed to that so the official contractual offer was made and signed, complete with a list of everything we wanted from the interior of the house (the main thing is the fridge) and we handed over a deposit of €1000 for My House to hold.  And now, again, we wait.  The owner lives in England and so he must agree to our list of what we want him to leave and the closing date and sign the contractual offer by July 26th.  Then comes a whirlwind of paperwork and visits to the municipal office and their notary, and our bank for bank drafts to pay.  Then, on August 8th the final signing is done and we fly home the next day, the owners of a home in Sicily.  But, in the meantime, we wait.

While we wait, I thought I would tell you about a typical day for us here in Cianciana.

Saturday morning I wake to the sound of voices – people calling to each other “Buon giorno!” and “Oggi e’ molto caldo (today is very hot!)” from their balconies – and the sound of the town clock ringing eight times – 8:00.  I can see the sun shining, already white hot, on the wall outside our bedroom window and the shadow of pigeons fluttering outside.  We climb out of bed.  Normally at this time we would be getting ready to head off to My House to do something or another about the house, but it is Saturday and they are closed.  So, instead we have decided to go to Santo Stefano di Quisquina to visit the grotto of Santa Rosalia, a very beloved saint in these parts and the muse for my second novel, which is nearing the completion of the first draft. (If you are interested in my first novel, Greenwich List, you can find it as an eBook on 

Washed and dressed, we stop at the Frutta e Verdura (fruit and vegetable) shop to pick up some peaches and a cucumber that doesn’t look like any cucumber I have ever seen.  It is the size and shape of a large lemon but is pale green in colour and it is sweeter than any of the standard cukes we can find back home.  

We carry our purchases along with a bottle of water (absolutely necessary in Sicily in the summer) and walk down the street to where we parked our car.  Santo Stefano di Quisquina is about 30 minutes from Cianciana and is a lovely, clean little town as is Alessandro della Rocca, which we pass through on our way.  Jaczck, one of our new expat friends who lives off and on in Cianciana, has told us that the towns in the Platani Valley (the Platani River runs nearby) have taken their cue from Cianciana as our newly adopted little town has found some great success with foreign tourists and investors due to the cleanliness and friendliness of the town.  We drive out of Santo Stefano and turn off onto a road that runs through an indigenous pine forest.  We garner curious stares from some workers clearing underbrush from the trees, presumably to prevent fires in this extreme dry heat, and wind our way up the road to a parking lot at the top of the hill.  At one end of the deserted parking lot we find a lovely, demure statue of Santa Rosalia. 

The story of La Santuzza, the affectionately given nickname for Santa Rosalia, meaning the little saint, is a fascinating one.  She was born in the 11th century in Palermo, the daughter of Sinabaldi, a Norman nobleman.  She was, in her early teens, to be married to another rich nobleman most probably to consolidate her father’s wealth and power.  Instead of consenting to marry, she ran away to the forest of Quisquina where she ensconced herself in a tiny cave.  She lived in this cave, eating what she could gather from the forest around her, for several years after which she returned to Palermo where she lived and then died in a cave on the nearby Mount Peregrino.  Approximately 500 years later, Palermo was in the grip of the Black Death. Rosalia appeared in a dream to a woman living in Palermo, telling the woman where her bones could be found.  The woman shared her dream and Rosalia’s bones were collected and carried through the streets of Palermo.  No sooner had that been accomplished then the Black Death completely disappeared from Palermo. 

After the miracle of La Santuzza, a hermitage was built and an order of hermits was established to live there.  We were able to tour the hermitage but sadly, pictures were not permitted inside.  The hermitage is a large stone building and once we left the hot midday sun on the outside and entered the hermitage, it felt like we had entered an air-conditioned building, but this was not the case.  The stone in summer holds in the cool air, making it a very comfortable temperature.  Our guide, however, explained that this stone insulation continues to hold in the cold in the winter making it a very cold building.  The hermits each had a narrow cell to themselves with a bed made up of an iron and wire frame and a straw mattress.  The windows faced north and had no covering over it – no glass, no shutters.  Very cold in the wintertime.  The hermitage was filled with artifacts, some dating back to the 1700s when the hermitage was established.  The order of hermits was ended in the 1920s and the last of the hermits lived out their lives there.  The very last hermit, Fillipo Cacciatore, lived probably 20 years on his own and died at the age of 96 in 1985.  It was at that time that the hermitage was made into a museum with the exception of a small chapel and a small but very lovely church, which is being prepared for a wedding the day as our tour guide explains the artwork to us. 

The last place she takes us to is the small mausoleum.  We enter from the heat outside to a cool dark room and we find ourselves surrounded by skeletons and bones with skulls peering down at us from above.  Our guide explains that these are the bones and skeletons of the hermits that died while living at the hermitage.  The hermits would lower the bodies through a trap door in the floor of the church and then carry them to this room.  At one end of the room is an oven large enough to lay a body in.  The hermits would burn the bodies with aromatic herbs just long enough to dry them out without burning away the ligaments and sinew that held the bones together.  The bodies would then be placed upright in a depression in the wall.  Those that were not still held together were placed in a crypt below the floor.  The skulls were removed and placed along a shelf perhaps two – three feet above eye level.  In doing this, the hermits were reminded every day that death faced them and how important it was to live a pious life in order to reap their rewards after death.

At this point we make ready to leave our guide and visit Santa Rosalia’s cave, but before we leave I ask her how researchers concluded that this particular grotto, or cave, was the one where Santa Rosalia lived for so many years.  She tells us that inside the cave one can see where she carved “EGO ROSALIA SINIBALDI QUISQUINÆ ET ROSARUM DOMINI FILIA AMORE DOMINI MEI JESU CHRISTI INI HOC ANTRO HABITARI DECREVI”.  Or in English, “I am Rosalia, Sinabaldo’s daughter, landlord of Quisquina and of the Mountain of the Roses, and I decided to live in this cave for the love of my Lord, Jesus Christ.” 

Nick and I approach the entrance to the cave.  It is abundantly clear that the statue in the parking lot of a very diminutive Santa Rosalia must be correct because the cave is truly tiny.  I can’t get farther in than the mouth of the second part of the cave and Nick has to crawl on his hands and knees to get in and see what is inside.  What a cold and difficult life she must have led here.

Eating Out in Cianciana – Cortile Halykos

One of the really welcome surprises in this tiny mountain village is the great choice in restaurants.  On our very first day in Cianciana, after a busy morning looking at houses, Nick and I wanted to find a place to get some food and talk about what we had seen.  After a couple of unsuccessful attempts at finding an open restaurant we asked two fellows just standing in the street.  They motioned for us to follow them in their car.  A short 6 or 7 blocks away, we found ourselves on Via Siracusa in front of Cortile Halykos, a restaurant and pizzeria owned by Andrea Giannone. 

His restaurant, like every other in town, was only open for dinner, but he welcomed us in and said he would make lunch for us even though he was closed.  From the outside, you would not realize that there was a restaurant behind the doors but inside!  Old stonewalls and a stone floor lead you uphill to an entrance marked by an ancient stone well.  Walking past the well you find yourself in an open-air garden courtyard.  Half a dozen tables sit here.  To the side is a stone archway, which leads to a covered area, again with half a dozen tables and the kitchen through a doorway on the side.  Again, through another archway and you find yourself in the last garden courtyard, surrounded by the omnipresent stonewalls.  Andrea served us wonderful spaghetti that day.  We were so surprised at his kindness and his desire to welcome us and also at the wonderful flavours of the spaghetti, I completely forgot to take notes.  Nick and I did, however, return a few days later, in order to try his pizza and deserts, which we had been told, were excellent.

We were not disappointed.  Nick ordered Eclissi di Luna (Eclipse of the Moon) – a pizza that came in three parts: one third was encased in pizza dough like a calzone, one third was pizza and one third was salad made of the vegetables, cheese and fish on the pizza.  This is a house specialty and was delicious (yes, I made Nick share a little!).  Its toppings included tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, parmesan, arugula, cilantro, bresaolo and flakes of a fish for which I don’t know the name.  I ordered the Madrilena.  It was a full pizza covered with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, wild mushrooms, smoked meat, sausage, and scamorza.  Again, delicious.  

The pizzas were large and filling but when we were tempted with the desert menu and were told by the smiling young man who served us that there were two desert specialties of the house, Nick and I gave in and tried them.  I had Cannolo con Ricottadi Pecolla – a cream puff filled with homemade cream made with ricotta that is a local treat.  The cream puff was then rolled in chocolate gelato and covered with chocolate sprinkles.  This was as close to rapture as I think a non-Catholic can come. 

Nick had the Crostata ai Frutti di Bosco, a cake covered with fresh berries. Between the layers of cake was the light and luscious cream filling.  Scrumptious doesn’t even start to describe it. 

The service is wonderful.  Apart from the pleasant young man who tempted us with the deserts, we were also served by Andrea’s wife whose name (please forgive me) has escaped my peri-menopausal mind.  She is a strikingly lovely woman who was very friendly, particularly when she discovered that we were renting an apartment from her aunt, Rosalia, another very friendly and helpful Ciancianese. 

If you make your way to Cianciana – or even close to Cianciana – Cortile Halykos is well worth a visit.  You will not be disappointed.

Cortile Halykos Ristorante e Pizzeria di Giannone Andrea
Via Siracusa, 20, Cianciana (AG)
338-314-2813 or 328-915-2784

Friday, July 20, 2012

Casa Giordano

We have made an offer on a house!  Joe Guida, our British-Ciancianese realtor, very patiently drove us around Cianciana on a dizzying tour of at least a dozen houses here and one in the nearby town of Burgio over the space of two days.  All of the houses blended together with the exception of three. 

Casa Stephano (asking price €28,000)

Casa Stephano is situated right next to one of the 4 churches in Cianciana and is on the main street of Corso Cinquemano Arcuri.  Three stories tall, it has perhaps the largest garage in the old part of Cianciana.  Two bedrooms and one bathroom – it has the potential to be made into a three bedroom two full bathroom home.  It has some lovely detail in the house however it has two downsides:
1.     While it does have a balcony, the view is limited – in a town with such a spectacular view, it does seem to be a waste to buy something that doesn’t make the most of it.
2.     Because it is on the main street and only 2 blocks from the main piazza, it is very noisy.  Cars, trucks and tractors go by at all hours of the day and night.  I should explain what I mean by tractors.  Imagine a typical John Deere type tractor from about 50 years ago.  Now, strip everything off it except the internal workings, the seat and the wheels.  Oh, and the muffler, especially strip off the muffler.  These tractors drive along this main street with regularity sounding much like how I would imagine a tank would sound travelling down the same street.  And the people.  Sicilians, it seems to me, have two volumes when they speak – normal and loud.  Certainly this is an exaggeration but not much of one.  As they walk back and forth along this main road to the piazza at night, they call “Buona sera!” to each other and have conversations that may be between someone on the street and another person on a balcony two stories up.  Loud is a necessity, especially when a tractor goes by.  Also, did I mention the church?  Twice a day, the bells chime insistently, calling the faithful to mass.  Each time the bell does not ring just once but several times at 9am and 9:15 and then again at 5:30 and 5:45pm.  You would imagine the sound of church bells to be musical and lovely – and they are, the first two or three times you hear them.  After several days of church bells they become somewhat less appealing (pun absolutely and entirely intended.)

Casa Cusumano (asking price €28,000)

It took us a couple of days to get into Casa Cusumano as the renters were in the process of moving out.  It sits at the top of the hill on the road to Palermo.  It is a three-story house with the back facing the hills and with a view of the sea from the top floor window and with the front facing the town.  As I mentioned, the house had been rented out and, sadly, had been looked after neither by the tenants nor the landlord, yet we could see so much potential in this house.  With some work (or rather a great deal of work as our British contractor Scott told us) it could be phenomenal.  A rooftop terrace added on would give 360-degree views.  It has a massive master bedroom with a balcony but the ensuite (could you really call the hole that is the bathroom an ensuite?) needed to be completely ripped out and started over.  The first floor has a double sized bedroom and a sitting room also with a balcony.  The kitchen would have to be ripped out and redone.  This, actually, isn’t really all that uncommon in Italy.  Homes are often sold with absolutely nothing left in them short of bathroom fixtures.  All kitchen appliances, countertops, cabinets, etc. are taken and the buyer is required to fit a new kitchen.  This is not such a costly undertaking as it would be in Canada as a new kitchen in Cianciana including appliances could cost as little as €2000.  It is a lot of work – about €27,000 including the VAT (value added tax).  The house itself would be stunning when finished but we would have paid probably €10,000 more than the house would be worth in the end.  Still, this house has caught our attention and we can’t completely dismiss it.

Casa Giordano (asking price €30,000)

Casa Giordano is a 4-story (5 if you include the top terrace) house in the old part of Cianciana about 4 blocks from the main piazza.  Even though it is close to the piazza, it is on a quiet street and, much to our delight, we found that a very kindly older couple live next door.  The ground floor is not officially a garage, but the neighbours have told us that the current owner has used it that way, albeit with a very small car.  Once the car is inside the ground floor, it goes back far enough that another very small car could likely fit in behind it.  This house has bedrooms and sitting rooms and full bathrooms on the first and second floors and a huge kitchen on the third floor.  (Keep in mind that in Italy the floors are counted from the bottom as ground, first, second, third whereas in Canada we would say first, second, third, fourth).  There is some structural work that would have to be done but Scott assures us that it is not an expensive or difficult repair.  A kitchen would again have to be added and the roof on the storage room on the top terrazza would have to be replaced immediately as it is made of asbestos.  In fact, there is very little work that would have to be done as the house is in quite good shape.  What truly sells this house, however, are the two terrazza.  Yes, two.  There is a medium sized terrazza off the kitchen with a lovely view and some shade so even in the heat of the summer, it will be possible to sit outside and eat our meals.  From the kitchen’s terrazza there is a metal spiral staircase that goes up to the top terrazza.  Joe could not have orchestrated a better way to show this house if he had planned it himself.  The house itself has many nice features: high ceilings with lovely detailing, large bedrooms each with its own sitting room, bathrooms on every floor, garage, and massive kitchen with a terrazza.  All of these things make the house a nice choice, but climbing that last spiral staircase to the jaw-dropping 200-degree vista of Cianciana nestled in the surrounding green and golden hills gives this house something truly special.  Scott came through this house with us, as he did with the others, and gave us a rough estimate of about €8500 to complete all the work needing to be done.

Just a note on Joe and Scott: 
Nick and I feel we really have fallen on our feet here.  We met Joe, electronically at first, by searching for real estate in Sicily.  Joe has done such a good job at advertising Ciancianese real estate on English language websites, that when you search in English for inexpensive houses in Sicily you find, almost exclusively, property in Cianciana.  We contacted Joe about one of the houses he had listed (interestingly, it turned out to be not one of our top three).  We emailed back and forth a few times and I began to check to see if I could find information on Joe and the agency he works for, My House.  With just a little searching I discovered that My House is licensed and that every comment about Joe and My House on every expat forum I read was glowing and referred to how honest Joe is.  Finding a licensed realtor is extremely important when buying property in Italy as the unlicensed ones may not actually know the ins and outs of buying real estate when you are not a resident of Italy or not proficient in Italian.  Purchasing property in Italy can be fraught with pitfalls – houses may have numerous owners as they may have been passed down from the grandparents to the children and then to the grandchildren.  Every owner has to sign either in person or by proxy to agree to the sale.  If even one has not signed, the sale is not legal.   Yikes!   Joe has been wonderful so far.  He is knowledgeable and patient and has answered every question we have had.  He has also put us in touch with other Canadians in town, a nice perk.  His Sicilian is impeccable (or at least sounds so to my very untrained ears) and moves smoothly back and forth between English and Sicilian. 

Scott is a licensed and British trained tradesman/project manager.  He came to Cianciana five years ago to buy a house in order to renovate and then sell it.  He fell in love with Cianciana and has never left.  His work is done according to British standards, which is a real bonus as the Sicilian tradesmen here work according to Sicilian regulations.   These regulations are considerable more lax that one would find in Canada or northern Europe.  Scott introduced us to Thomas and Lillian, a Danish couple who plan to retire here for good.  They kindly invited us into their home to see the work Scott had done.  It was absolutely impeccable.  Their house, bright and airy, is the stuff of Better Homes and Gardens.  Thomas assured us that we couldn’t find a more trustworthy person to work on our home than Scott and this is certainly the impression he has given us.  After looking at these three houses, Scott sat down with us at Bar Antico Trieste for an espresso and to discuss our options.  Casa Stephano we discounted right away because of the noise.  Scott walked us through the work and costs and the pros and cons of the final two houses.  He did not at all try to steer us towards the house that would give him the most work.  Instead he gave us a very unbiased look at both. 

Our Decision

We were truly torn between Casa Giordano and Casa Cusumano.  Finally, we decided to make an offer on Casa Giordano with the plan that if we couldn’t get Casa Giordano then we would try for Casa Cusumano.  Thus, yesterday morning we went to Joe’s office and made an offer of €25,000.  And now we wait.

Road to Cianciana

“To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything.” Goethe, Italian Journey.

We spent four days with Marilena and Giovanna before we left Delia for Cianciana and our search for our Sicilian home.  Delia lies about 30 minutes north of Agrigento or as much as an hour and a half if roadwork sends you off through a labyrinth of narrow country roads.  It is a city that rises suddenly off the hillside and rolls quickly down to the sea.  The high-rises, mimicking the colours of the surrounding hills, oddly echo the Greek ruins that sit, ironically, on a hilltop called the Valley of Temples.  As one moves away from Agrigento and into the interior, the economic downturn becomes more and more apparent.  Two years ago, the vehicles we saw on the roads here were new-ish if not actually new, and were well taken care of.  Now we see older cars, dented, rusted, and not nearly so well kept.  Poverty makes the “bella figura” more difficult to maintain.  The closest small city to Delia is Canicatti’.  I did not much like Canicatti’ two years ago, and I like it less even now. 
The roads are busy and strewn with litter and garbage.  Drivers are impatient – in my experience more there than anywhere else I have driven in Sicily.  In our two small forays into Canicatti’ this time we saw easily a dozen stray and starving dogs and cats.  We did not see this two years ago.  I suppose that as it becomes more and more difficult to simply put food on the table for one’s children, feeding the dog or cat becomes less important.  Even in the tiny village of Delia, we came across three stray dogs that picked through garbage to keep themselves alive.  One evening, when we were out walking with Marilena, she spotted a small, Siamese kitten hiding next to her building.  While the kitten didn’t appear to be starving, it was young enough that its mother’s milk must have been keeping it fed.  Marilena took it in and it became one of the farm cats on her brother’s farm.  A working cat, but fed and happy nonetheless. 

I wrote earlier about the importance of the piazza in Italian life.  In Delia, this is changing.  Just as in Canada we import migrant workers from places such as Mexico and the Philippines, in Italy there are many such labourers from Eastern Europe – Romania, Poland, etc.  Delia has many such Romanian workers – young men and women who have come to the Sicilian farm country to make money and then return home.  It is these people who sit in the piazza in the evening in Delia and the Sicilians more and more, stay home or sit in small groups outside their homes to catch any kind of breeze in this summer heat that does not abate with the sinking of the sun.  Marilena explained the changing life in Delia and, while she did not say this to us directly, I suspect that the underlying threads that hold the community together are being pulled apart as a result. 

We drive the south road past Agrigento and the stunning sandy beaches of La Scala dei Turchi (The Turkish Steps) and Eraclea Minoa that rim the Mediterranean before turning north towards Ribera.  On Thursdays there is a big market in Ribera and it is our plan to visit it at least once before we return to Canada.  From Ribera, our GPS takes us over a narrow mountain road filled with pot holes and cracks, past fields with goats and cows shaking their horns at us as we go by.  We see only the very occasional car travelling in the opposite direction and most houses that we see in the fields are stone ruins lacking walls and roofs.  The view here is of some of the most spectacular mountains and rocky crags thrusting up haphazardly in farmers’ fields.  The members of the rock climbing academy at my school back in Canada would be drooling if they could see what I see as we drive this mountain pass.  Of course the view here is different than back in Canada.  We certainly have spectacular vistas.  What makes this different for me is the ability to see for miles even though the land is mountainous.  At one time Sicily was covered with forest, much like Vancouver Island, but the Romans harvested huge swathes of trees.   Today, there are patches of forest, mainly in the north east of the island, but where we are, in the southwest, most of the forests are gone.  While this may not be of good ecological benefit for the island, it does make for unparalleled views.

In the midst of appreciating the vista before us, we quite suddenly round a bend and see a village perched on a hilltop.  This is Cianciana.  Old stone buildings cling to the mountain and at the centre, right at the top, stands a large cross – the town’s Calvary and the start of the Passion play and the Easter procession every year.  There is a peaceful feeling that radiates from this place.  Perhaps it is from the lonely countryside that surrounds it.  Perhaps it is from the lack of traffic as we drive into the town.  Whatever it is, we feel glad to be here.  We have, I believe, found our Sicilian home.

Sicilian Dicotomy

It is 6:30 am on July 13th and we are in Sicily.  Nick and I have quite fortunately landed in the home of Marilena and her mother, Giovanna.  We met Marilena two years ago when we couchsurfed around Italy.  In both Marilena and her mother I see the face of Sicily.  At 85, Giovanna easily remembers the days of Mussolini – in fact, she and her late husband married on the same day Italy became a republic in 19??.  Her olive skin blends with the colours that we see in the fields – amber, sienna, tan, gold – and the deep lines in her face are a road map of the history of her family just as the crags and cracks we see in the rock faces surrounding their village of Delia mark the history of this ancient land.  Marilena, on the other hand, is everything that is modern Sicily.  Tied inexorably to her family and anchored to her land, she holds the traditional in the core of her heart, yet she is much more than this.   She is bright, well educated and funny.  An architect by education, she, like so many others on this island, cannot find work in her chosen profession so, instead, she teaches school and works hard to inspire the children from the very difficult neighbourhood in which she finds her school in Catania.  Her students face a multitude of issues that can be seen in many urban settings around the world – drug and alcohol addiction, poverty, incarcerated parents, abusive or neglectful or absent parents. But ask her about the change in the architecture of the Sicilian landscape and you will find her passion for architecture has not ebbed even a little.

The pigeons woke me this morning.  Delia, like so many other towns and villages from here in the dry and golden south, to the green, mountains of the north, are suffering the economic downturn after years of rule by Berlusconi and the beginnings of austerity now imposed by Monti in the hopes to pull the country back into the prosperity of the past.  Across the street from Marilena and Giovanna’s home stands an apartment building half finished.  The structure is complete, yet on each floor above the little electronics shop on the ground floor, the windows have yet to have frame and glass installed and the doorways to nonexistent balconies are open and doorless.  I can see into each floor – piles of bricks and rusted scaffolding poles lie in between heaps of pigeon droppings.  In fact, the pigeons have made this building their home.  Dozens of pigeons sit on the windowsills and strut across the floors.  If people will not, or cannot, inhabit the building, there are many other residents of Delia who will.

Marilena and Giovanna have given us free reign of the extra apartment at the top of their townhouse.  A marble staircase has taken us to the top floor.  A kitchen (that we will not use as Giovanna and Marilena insist that we dine with them), bathroom and bedroom almost, but not quite complete this space.  It is the terrazza that turns this simple apartment into a spectacular one.  The front of the house, as I mentioned faces the village, with the empty building, pigeons, and traffic rushing through on its way to the next village or town, yet at the back, the terrazza overlooks miles of golden fields, green olive orchards and land blackened buy the fires farmers set after the crops are gathered in order to fertilize their fields with ash.  The sun, at 6:30, is just rising and the land glows in the morning light.  This home is a metaphor for all that is Sicily.

We rise and have breakfast with Marilena.  Today we will drive to Cianciana (pronounced chan-chana), the mountain village where we have decided to focus our search for our Sicilian home.  Marilena will join us as she has friends in the mountain village.  After a few false starts (do we have the camera? map? GPS? notebook?) we are finally ready to leave.  As we climb into the car, I thank the car-rental gods that we have a car with air conditioning.  Yesterday the temperature hit 43 degrees, and even with the low humidity in this part of Sicily, 43 degrees is still freaking hot.  I start the car, Nick sets the GPS, Marilena gets out her map and we pull out onto the road, one step closer to finding our house.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Poison IVIE

“Tax laws are like sexual positions.  You can bend them in all kinds of directions but you still end up getting screwed in the end.” – Nicola (Nick) Cacciato

Nick, the philosopher in the family

As we prepare for our adventure in Sicilian house-hunting, Nick and I have been reading and researching and talking to anyone who may be able to add to our growing understanding (or lack thereof) of the tangled labyrinth that is Italian tax law.  After Silvio Berlusconi (the previous prime minister) drove Italy into the ground economically, the EU offered a bail-out package however one of the strings was the resignation of Berlusconi.  Considering he was a mafia connected crook who changed the laws whenever he was close to being charged with anything, this was a good thing.  The replacement, Mario Monti, has built a government of technocrats.  I think that, considering the state in which Berlusconi left the country, a government of technocrats might just be the answer.  After decades of corrupt rule, Monti seems to be trying to reign in those who are trying to bend the rules to their own advantage and not in support of the country.  Many wealthy Italians have centred their wealth off shore in bank accounts and property, etc..  The new Decreto Salva Italia (Save Italy Decree) now taxes any residents with off shore accounts and property.  There is a tax on each account and each piece of property, based on the value of the property at  .76%.  Since we live in one of the most expensive areas of Canada, the tax on our Canadian home would be significant – in fact, more than we currently pay in property tax to our local municipality.

On top of the almost $2500 the “IVIE” tax would put on our Canadian home, there is also tax on all bank accounts – and Nick and I haven’t even yet discovered how this tax is calculated!

The Decreto Salva Italia has also changed the property tax on homes owned in Italy although we are less concerned about this particular property tax.  Prior to the Salva Italia law, there was no property tax on first homes – only if you purchased a second or third home would the tax kick in.  With the homes that we are interested in looking at, property tax would only be about $300 compared with the $2000+CAD that we just paid for our Canadian home.  So, the dilemma that we thought we were facing once we retire: resident or non-resident, seems to have become a big non-issue.  Non-resident it is!  The only thing that will have to be figured out at that point is medical insurance.  But we have seven years before that particular bugaboo has to be faced.