This Side of the Pond – May 25

By Sarah Pridgeon

I decided during my twenties that I would one day retire to Tuscany. I loved the idea of wafting through the deep green countryside in floaty dresses and a headscarf, tending to my olive trees while drinking flutes of red wine and tossing handfuls of fresh herbs into bowls of pasta.

The allure was chiefly in the cuisine, I’ll admit, and the tranquil way of life. I’d be rich and famous by the time I went house-hunting, I told myself, so I would probably be able afford an entire olive grove of my own and a gruff old farmer to harvest it.

While I did briefly alter the plan to base my retirement around the romance of Rome, it didn’t stick for long – the country life was already calling my name. After moving from a crowded city to the open spaces of Wyoming, I now have even less desire to relocate myself into the middle of a traffic jam, surrounded by passionately displeased Italians. The beauty of the Pantheon can only make up for so much.

My original daydream reared its head again last week when I came across a tempting offer from the mayor of a small village. It would seem all the younglings have moved away to the big city and his population numbers are dwindling by the day.

Mayor Galliano settled on a most ambitious plan: to entice anyone and everyone from anywhere in the world to come to the tiny town of Bormida and receive a cash sum in return. He hadn’t actually checked with the council, but he was sure they were bound to agree.

As you might imagine, his offer pinged across the planet in milliseconds. The mayor’s inbox was flooded within a matter of days with an estimated 17,000 enquiries, which would certainly have boosted his population number from its current 394.

It also would have cost him €34,000, or about $37,500 in real money, because Mayor Galliano had proposed offering €2000 to anyone who rented or bought a home in the village. That would have been only the start, as he also pledged to set rental prices at just €50 per month.

It’s early still for my retirement, and it’s not quite the Tuscan olive grove I was thinking of, but it was worth some checking into. At prices like that, maybe I could buy my future vacation villa and pay for a caretaker with the associated windfall.

It’s a gorgeous village in the mountains, hundreds of years old with a river running through it and brick buildings in beautiful Mediterranean colors. It’s a place of agriculture and farming, where cheese is made and cows are put to pasture.

By all accounts, Bormida is a quiet place without much in the way of nightclubs and theaters, but what does that matter when you have the perfect plate of antipasti to prepare? Why worry about sports stadiums and music concerts when there are goats and forests and good food?

It might just do, I thought to myself. Unfortunately, I was jumping the gun – as were the thousands of people already asking about job opportunities and infrastructure.

The poor mayor had only meant his proposal to be a suggestion for the regional government of Liguria. It was intended as an idea for them to ponder as they tried to find an answer to the problem of one in seven people leaking out of the villages and into the cities of Italy.

The mayor begged people to stop calling. He no doubt did so with eyes as round as saucers, shocked to discover that almost anything posted on social media can find a worldwide audience in seconds.

For me, it was the moment when my youthful dream finally died. It was also the moment I realized that I’d been living that dream for years.

Tuscany appealed to me for its rural calm and the stress-free existence it offered. The version of me that commuted through the busy, rain-soaked city every day fell in love with the idea of getting back to the countryside, with its sights, sounds and fresh air, and the relaxation that comes with empty streets and queue-less grocery stores. I dreamed of a little community where those gruff old farmers doffed their hats at my passing and the ladies always stopped to share a nugget of gossip.

Which, if you think about it, is exactly what I found in Wyoming – only I didn’t need to improve my grasp of the Italian language before I could appreciate it. I’ve been telling my in-laws since the day I arrived that living in Crook County is like being permanently on vacation.

Sure, I still have to work and do my chores, but these things are less tiring when you’re surrounded by green grass and mountains or the sparkle of snow. It’s hard to dread the commute to work when it’s a five-minute drive through the canyon with a whole town of people whose company I enjoy at the other end.

Perhaps Liguria’s government will take heed of the overwhelming interest and decide that offering a purse of money to newcomers is a great way to breathe new life into its villages. I hope they do and I hope it works, it’s sad to see these wonderful places slowly dying.

If they do, it’s safe to say that I won’t be putting my hand out for one of the mayor’s checks now I’ve realized I have what he’s offering. I still haven’t progressed past the basics of Italian and I’d really miss the cheeseburgers.