Getting To Know This Place

   The first few days of being in our new apartment–the top two floors of this house are ours while the owner’s daughter lives on the ground floor–were physically taxing.
     The kitchenette (it does not merit the title “kitchen”) has cabinet doors with sharp corners. It seems I am always stooping down to put one thing away in a lower cabinet, only to stand up and gash my head on the corner of the higher one.
     The house–or should I call it a villa?–was built in the 17th century. I’ve been told it was a hunting lodge for a pope and the family into which he was born. As such, it was built to cool in the summer and retain warmth in the winter. The windows are well-placed for air-circulation and the breeze from the hills, the Castelli Romani, is forever wafting through. So, air conditioning is not an option. The owners would never dream of ruining this prize structure with drilled holes in the wall and buzzing outdoor units. We rebelled against the system and bought a portable AC unit that can cool one room. But we rarely use it. Our fans hum all day and night.
   The open windows, however, have torn screens. I spoke with a plumber who also happens to be able to make and install window screens (I know because I asked him for a screen-guy recommendation when he was repairing our toilet and he said he would do it) but he is MIA. For all I know, his metric measurements of our windows scratched in pencil on a scrap of paper are probably still stuffed in his work-shirt pocket and thrown over a chair in his bedroom.
    Bug bites are thus the new normal. We are learning to divert, spray away, and outsmart them. But scratching my arm while I bump my head on a cabinet door is a daily occurrence.
    Little moments of intense pleasure, nevertheless, are begging to burst through.
    Basil. I planted two basil plants in a window box in our kitchenette. The fragrance coming from the luminously green leaves is a soothing balm for my nerves which still shout “I just moved to Italy.” Italian basil is stronger and sweeter than American basil.
    Yogurt. Organic, whole-cream, brimming with probiotics, made fresh here in our region called Lazio. Not sweet, but not sour either, it has a welcoming taste that a drizzle of local, raw honey brings out to its fullest. When I eat it with a peach, it is the first breakfast I have had in–I am guessing–twenty years for which I stop, close my eyes, linger in the taste, and bask in every spoonful.
    Breeze. While it is comfortable in our apartment, maybe 78 degrees F, I walk around with spaghetti straps, hair in a messy bun, and a light spray of sweat covering my face, neck and back most of the time. When a breeze gusts in, wanders through the tunnel of rooms and runs out the other side, it is a moment of rare delight.
    There are others, too. Homemade lasagna. Sunsets. A friendly neighbor. Children for my children to play with. A dog for my dog to be friends with. Driving through a round about without fear for the first time. Watching locals eat gelato–they really eat a lot of gelato–umbrella pines and cypress trees, cobblestone and cappuccinos. I am getting to know this place. I think I like it.