Monday, March 2, 2009

All In

In poker there is a term “all in,” meaning that the player has put all his chips into the ante. With respect to our move to Italy, we are now “all in.” When we came here we still owned a house and all the stuff in it. Although we did not intend to go back unless the operation here was a total failure, and although we had the house on the market and wanted desperately to sell it, it was still there just the way we left it, and we could return and pick up as though nothing had happened. That has all changed. The house has sold, we have emptied it, and now there is no fall-back position. Some of our belongings we have shipped to Italy at no small expense. Most of them, however, have been sold for a song, or simply hauled away for not even a song. This causes one mixed feelings.

If we were going to live in Italy, then we needed to sell the house, pronto, and if I may use the subjunctive voice, I shit you not. We had it on the market for a year, supporting all the expenses that go with it, while at the same time living in Italy and paying dearly for that honor. This arrangement was about to become unviable when suddenly we got a contract on the house. We were very happy to have the contract. Although the terms were not particularly good, we could not afford to lose the sale, and a few grand was not going to ruin us. Keeping the house would. So we swallowed the fact that the house sold for quite a bit less than we had anticipated when doing the math as to whether we could afford to live in Italy, and went ahead with the contract.

To make things worse, we sold our things for about a third of what we had originally calculated they would bring, and the cost of shipping what we wanted to keep was more than double our original estimate.

All of these things, i.e., the substantial decline in the real estate market, the low prices we got for our things, and the high cost of shipping our stuff to Italy, are only further reminders that the gods have their heels on my neck. They giveth with one hand, and taketh with the other. This time, however, at least the balance sheet netted out in my favor.

As to our things, we made the decision to move to Italy for a number of reasons. One of the reasons was that we looked around at a house occupied by two people and two dogs, with ten rooms full of stuff. We had a few things that had some actual monetary value, and a few things that had sentimental value, but most of it was crap. We were slaving to support a house full of crap. We were also slaving to support insurance companies, car companies, mortgage companies, and credit card companies. We were not destitute, and between the two of us brought in more than the vast majority of people of this Earth, but we were being bled dry to live in what a professor of mine called the “Fordism Paradigm.” Basically, with the invention of mass production, there had to be a way for people to buy things that cost a lot of money. Enter easy credit - living on love and buying on time. Consequently, the idea of chucking in all, which would have to be done in order to live in Italy, had a certain appeal, and was a fundamental part of the plan.

It is easy to talk about doing a thing, but not so easy to actually do it. This reminds me of a line in a move, the title of which escapes me presently, but the hero (if such he be) wanted to have relations with a girl who always talked about sex. But at the crucial moment, she declined the invitation. Our hero observed: “She could say f___, but she could not do it.” The question was, then, could we say get rid of the crap, and also do it?

With a house full of stuff there are a couple of ways to go about getting rid of it. For example, one could have a yard sale, sell the stuff on eBay, or advertise in the paper. One could also have an estate sale. As we were limited in time and energy, we opted for the only thing that made any sense: an estate sale.

Prior to the sale we arranged for an international mover to come and take what we wanted to keep. This called for some hard decisions. We knew that the more we brought, the more it would cost to ship ($12 per cubic foot, plus $35 for the box). We also knew that whatever we left would sell cheaply, or not at all. If not at all, it would likely end up in a dump, or at best given to charity. We were deer looking into headlights.

Although I was not there (Karen had deemed me incapable of doing the job, so she went to the U.S. and took care of the whole thing herself, God bless her soul) I found the estate sale to be a bit sad and depressing. They put a big sign on our house like we had died. We were getting rid of stuff that took us years to accumulate. Most of my books (collected over 35 years); pictures of Beethoven bought in Bonn and framed at no small expense; paintings I had done; my records, etc., etc. I could say it, but could I do it? I did it.

Reader, dry your eyes. I am writing this sitting in my apartment in Venice (which I have already filled with new paintings). Our Sleep Number bed is on the way, as are some of my books and some of my pictures of Beethoven, as well as a large bust of Beethoven (whom I consider to be an incarnation of Jesus Christ) that Karen bought me for my birthday several years ago. The other stuff? Simply a payment to the gods for the privilege of sitting here telling you the story. The cost was low.

If I felt like it, I could get out of my chair and walk to St. Mark’s basilica. I could go to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, or to have coffee at Campo Santa Margherita. Look in any guidebook of Venice, and everything in there is within a 15 minute walk of my apartment. Florence is three hours by train, Rome about five. I can fly to Paris in about an hour and a half at little cost. So, while the gods have taken a fee, they have left me with some legal tender, and the prospect of spending it here.

4 comments:

Peter Byrne said...

Michael!! Writing in haste. I have a "Google Alert" in place, so that every time a particular word or person appears on the Internet anywhere, I receive an alert. My Google Alert is "Beethoven". I understand, just as you do, that Beethoven is, indeed, an incarnation of Jesus Christ, or, to risk a charge of blasphemy, some higher deity! Apart from Ludwig van, however, my other great love is...VENICE! So it was with a breathtakingly exquisite sense of excitement that I came across first, your blog, then your website. In 2007 I combined my 2 great loves. After visiting the grave of the Great Man in Vienna, with my iPod, and experiencing his 9th Symphony right there at his side (truly the finest hour and 10 minutes I have spent in this lifetime), I hopped the train to Venice, to which I hadn't been for 30 years. I came away from my few days there with a resolve to visit Venice another 40 times this life. In 2008, I returned. In 2009 I arrive on Monday, October 5. When I create a little more time - am presently in the throes of preparing and packing for a quick visit to the US this weekend - I will explore your site. And I look forward to meeting you in October, when I'll call upon your professional skills and get you guys to enhance not only my appreciation but also my (currently scant) knowledge of bella Venezia. Best wishes from Melbourne, Australia. Peter Byrne.

Michael Henderson said...

Peter, thanks for your comments - look forward to meeting you in October.

garret said...

Ciao Michael,
I just discovered your blog and it will be your fault that I will be worthless at work tomorrow. Aside from keeping me up reading your adventures , I will feel the envy( and admiration) for your ability to make "the decision". The choice to chuck it all, leave the rat race and start over....in Italy! Thanks for sharing your experience to a total stranger, who's dreaming of La Serissima from a far(Chicago).

Garret

Michael Henderson said...

Thanks, Garrett. I hope you were able to do some work today. Maybe you can come visit us sometime.