Tales from Italy – The Disgruntled Count

When you’ve been born with a silver spoon in your mouth and taught to believe that anything is possible for a handsome, privileged young thing, perhaps disappointment is inevitable…….

The disgruntled aristocrat
The disgruntled aristocrat

Alberto is the son of the local aristocrat. He is tall and thin and was probably rather handsome in his youth. He did quite well in the late 1990s. He managed to sell several abandoned and ruined country houses to various foreigners desperate to re-create their version of the ‘Mediterranean Idyll’. Before the ink was even dry on the complicated and incomprehensible Italian land registration documents, several of the proud new owners realised, with a sinking feeling, that they had bitten off more than they could chew.

Alberto appeared at their door, or what one day would be a door, rather than a gapping hole in the masonry, without them even summoning him. They always wondered how he did that. He announced his skills as a Project Manager and then decisively accepted the job he had not yet been offered. At its peak Alberto’s little business employed two Italians, three Sicilians and a couple of transient types from Bulgaria. There was a strict pecking order and the poor old Bulgarians were at the bottom. Even though they were the best workers and the only ones that spoke vaguely understandable Italian. Consequently the proud new owners, who by now were feeling a little less proud, liked and trusted the Bulgarians.

With two or three projects on the go at any one time Alberto had the perfect excuse to never be where he was needed or indeed where there was any actual work to be done. It also gave him the flexibility to pop down to the coast, where he frequented a very respectable private hotel, that offered rooms by the hour. By complete chance some lovely young ladies from the Ukraine frequented the very same hotel (what a coincidence) and in no time at all Alberto was doing his bit for international relations. Meanwhile the renovation projects in the hills proceeded at a snail’s pace. The proud new owners worried that they would pass on from this world before their beloved ‘idyll’ was complete. One of them even thought he heard thunder at the annual village ‘festa’ and was reminded of WH Auden’s famous line ‘Death is the sound of distant thunder at a picnic’.

Against the odds, several of Alberto’s projects were eventually completed. Always massively over-budget and with no attention to detail whatsoever. One unfortunate customer had a swimming pool installed three times; the first one had a hole in the bottom (honestly), the second did not fit the hole that had been dug, the third was damaged during installation and wasn’t horizontal. In the case of the last the shallow end was 3 centimeters and the deep end was four meters. The owners were not happy, not happy at all. Alberto looked back on these years as happy times. He loved a challenge and wasn’t in the least concerned when a customer aggressively asked him to justify his bill. He’d explain to them patiently, over a bottle of his own home-produced Cabernet that this was Italy and prices were variable, nothing could be confirmed in advance. Even though, of course, at all times, he personally was doing his very best for his clients. Sometimes two bottles of wine were required – it really depended on the client.

Tragically the economic crash of 2008 affected everyone, including the affable Alberto. He still lived at home in the family’s crumbling pile. Much to his annoyance his elderly parents still lived there too. He’d tried to persuade them to move into town to a comfortable little apartment, but they weren’t having any of it.  So Alberto had the top floor and his parents had the ‘piano nobile’ the principle floor. They also had a maid, whom they referred to as the house-keeper. The maid was required to wear a black and white uniform and white gloves when serving food and drink. Over the years this had caused many unfortunate accidents, since the maid had no professional training and was very clumsy. It’s hard to know which Alberto finds more irritating; the presence of the maid, the presence of the parents or the fact that the parents occupy the best rooms in the house.

Consequently Alberto is disgruntled, his business is languishing, he has no cash and he’s rapidly approaching his 45th birthday. Even in today’s Italy where people put off marriage until the absolute last minute he really needs to find himself a wife. But where do you find a wife when you live in the middle of nowhere down a stone and earth single track road that is impassable in winter without a four wheel drive. Everyone knows that the Italians want to live in towns these days, ideally just off the main shopping street and close to cafes and bars. By some miracle he manages to snare Stefania, a moderately attractive dyed-blond from Naples, who seems to only wear clothes with glitter on them (even during the day). She also wears a very large amount of make-up and low-cut tops that are usually just a little bit too tight. As a result of divine intervention Stefania produces twin babies for the now perpetually disgruntled Alberto. But horror of horror, they are both girls, no son and heir to continue the family line. Stefania makes it quite clear that she has more than done her duty and when the girls are starting school, she moves into a separate apartment in the basement of the crumbling pile.

Alberto spends more and more time with the friendly Ukrainians down on the coast. They are such nice girls. His parents are in fantastically good health for a couple in their late eighties. Alberto praises the Lord for this particular gift of longevity every day. It gives him the possibility to hatch new plans. Let’s face it who knows what tomorrow will bring. He saw a helicopter overhead earlier in the week, maybe they are developers from Milan or Rome. The family own at least one hundred hectares locally – now he just needs to find out from the guys in the local bar who was in that helicopter. He turns up the collar on his jacket, smiles to himself and takes a gigantic puff on his E-cigarette. The rest will be a piece of cake. He’s just got a gift – he’s always known it…………….


  • To read more about the Disgruntled Count check out When Alberto met Shirley
  • Photo is of Marcello Mastroianni star of the 1961 movie ‘Divorce Italian Style’
  • A masterpiece in my humble opinion.
  • Don’t forget to share your views – e-mail janet@educated-traveller.com
  • Thank you for reading!



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