Village Life in Italy— The Mosaic Clock — Italians and Time — Part 3

Ancient clocks still in use in Italy.

I thought about titling this article, “If the fish doesn’t die”, a reference to be explained later, but it seemed a bit oblique. In fact, it is the absolute truth.

In the business world, time agreements are a means of establishing professionalism, respecting others’ time, and honoring commitments. Yet, many of us have lived in places where time is more…squishy, malleable, not to mention expansive. It’s mañana in Mexico. In Kuwait, where I lived for several years, they actually call it Kuwaiti Time. Domani, of song and life lyrics, covers certain types of delays in Italy. In fact, a month of close observation has unearthed distinct time elements operating in the small town of Civitella d’Agliano where I live during the summer.


Ikea lives and thrives in Italy for all the same reasons that it is a staple among renters and new home buyers. Clean designs and quality finishes from this international vendor have transformed my medieval home, with its scant four windows and 15" thick stone walls into a comfortable haven. What startled me about Ikea Italia was that delivery was scheduled two weeks out, a shockingly long time when someone is desperate to move out of an airbnb-type rental and into something permanent, and when the three Rome Ikea stores are just over 90 minutes away. The Wells Fargo Wagon could have gotten everything here much soon. (Those of you over 45 will know what I mean.) Then, when the truck arrived, all the items had to be ferried from a cobblestone lane a quarter mile away in a small pickup due to the strade strette e archi, very narrow streets and low arches, near the house. On the plus side, Ikea was absolutely on time, so I count my blessings.


In order for a house to be considered habitable in this modern age, basics such as electricity, water, and gas are essential. Good directions from my realtor took me to the right man in the municipality to arrange the account transfer for electricity and water. Meanwhile, both were in place and working, but the account was still in the name of the seller.

Gas however, was more elusive, like the substance itself. Paperwork needed to be signed. I did that. The paperwork needed to be submitted. My realtor did that. Then, apparently, time had to pass. It did. Several checks with ENEL, the gas folks, revealed that…nothing. It was in process. Additional checks indicated that yes, nothing was complete. Finally, my steadfast real estate agent convinced an anonymous representative of gas to set a date for the switch on. Watching the clock, I waited. No one came. A call to ENEL confirmed that yes…the serviceman did not show. Another appointment, another wait. Nothing. Italian bureaucracies are not fussy about their employees following through on a set schedule.

In the end, on yet another appointed day after two more wasted days of waiting, the ENEL service man did arrive, a seeming bundle of energy who spoke as fast as the Fed Ex man from long ago, regardless of repeated “non capisco”s on my part. Fortunately, he was quite eloquent with his hands, so I understood the big stuff, like how not to blow myself up. As he talked, he swapped out the meter for a new one, set it to zero, switched on the gas, and had me sign off on the document, which was noticeably bare of any script except my name.


Almost before an Italian acquaintance or friend says “Buena sera” or “Ciao”, he or she will hold forth with why their arrival was delayed…because it always is. “The traffic, it was …” “My cat, she …”, “The weather, it make me…”, “At work I…” (As a linguist, I appreciate the structural rhythm here, if not the tardiness.) It appears there is no circumstance in which life goes smoothly enough to achieve punctuality. There may be only one God in Italy, He of the Catholic Church, Vatican and all points north, east, south, and west, but a retinue of lesser deities are dedicated to helping Italians manifest humility through obstacles.

A new friend and I were talking about this, when he had been held up by a talkative neighbor, groceries to put away, a shower, and an unexpected and large wasp circling the living room. Paolo had gotten rid of the neighbor, put the groceries away, only to discover the wasp. Extreme dislike of wasps led him to grab the spray and follow the wasp around the room, releasing more toxins at every step.

When Paolo arrived at the meeting place, he was harried and coughing from the bug spray. “The wasp, it…”

A day later, I learned that the gold fish had suffered a critical reversal of health, due to the fallout of insecticide. The tiny sea creature was lying supine (Can a fish be supine?) at the bottom of the fish bowl. It was in fish distress, and Paolo, being tender hearted, reached in, gently picked up the fish, and transferred it to another bowl so he could change the water. The fish, whose name is Fish, is recovering, but his future is not assured. Thus, when Paolo and I made another appointment, he wanted to reassure me that he would be on time. “If the fish doesn’t die…”


Dear Amazon, (Translated into Italian via Google Translate. Simple language for that reason.)

I have been a faithful customer of Amazon since 1998. I bought a small house in Civitella d’Agliano and I am staying there for the summer. I have ordered several items from Amazon since I came to Italy in June, a few on my real estate agent’s account since I hadn’t created an Italian Amazon account. However, the delivery service, which is done through B****** courier, has been very poor. The drivers who serve this area refuse to walk a package to my house which is a couple hundred yards into the old town where street lanes are narrow. They maintain the trucks can’t get through.

Here is what happened when my realtor ordered 3 mattresses to be delivered to me. The B****** courier stopped the truck in the lane about a quarter of a mile away. He wanted to leave them there for me to manage. I refused to sign until he put one of them on the dollie and wheeled it to the house, about 7 minutes along cobbled streets. He put the big mattress on the dollie and I dragged the other two myself.

Later, when I ordered health supplements and a bed sheet, I had my real estate agent check with the courier company about delivery. Apparently, the driver said he tried to deliver the items but I wasn’t home. Not true. I had been home all day. On that occasion, the realtor picked the packages up and brought them to me herself.

Finally, on July 20th, the order # 402–0754996–******* was supposed to be delivered. I waited 9 hours, from 8:00am to 5:30pm so that I could sign for the package. The package never came. When I contacted B******, they said the driver left the package at a coffee bar in the town.

I pay for delivery and a coffee bar in town does not constitute delivery. This is unacceptable. Many people live in the old town, including the mayor, a large hotel and winery, and business people. Their packages are delivered to the proper location. My packages should receive the same treatment.

In sum, B****** is not doing Amazon’s reputation any good, and it is certainly lessening any desire I might have to order from you.

I am sorry that I had to use Google Translate for this note.


Michelangelo is reputed to have said, “There is no greater harm than that of time wasted.”

Writer, ESL instructor, editor, traveler, seasonal ex-pat— my life is both an intentional and serendipitous circumstance. Motto — “Buy the ticket, and go!”

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store