Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sicko, and the [resulting] search for European real estate

Look at our new property! It's on the shores of Lake Trasimeno, one of Italy's largest lakes, and it's a former abbey. We bought it last night in our dreams while surfing for Italian real estate. Why were we doing that? It doesn't exactly make sense, but we were searching for Italian real estate because we saw the movie Sicko at last and realized we need to live in France. (I said it didn't make sense. But, see, the French real estate on the site was all modern apartments and not nearly as much fun to drool over.)

Have you seen Sicko? Especially if you are American, you really need to see it. Any non-Americans among you, you will just be horrified and feel lucky and probably a little superior. It deeply, deeply shocked me. That's not strong enough. It FREAKED ME OUT. I mean, I know a lot of that stuff, but really hearing account after account of the lives ruined (and lost) because of our "health care" system. . . It should really be called a "denial of health care" system. I could go on about it, but really it is so much more powerful, shocking, freaky, infuriating, and terrifying to just see it for yourself. Please do see it. I wish everyone in America could be made to see it. If they were, we might see some change. I don't know the details, but a Canadian in the film made reference to their system being basically the result of the efforts of one man, who is now considered to be the most important person in their entire history. I can see why. When you hear the story of the mother whose three year old died of complications of a high fever because Kaiser wouldn't pay for her to be treated at a non-Kaiser hospital (and the non-Kaiser hospital wouldn't treat her without Kaiser's approval, and kicked her out so that the little girl died on the way to Kaiser). . . And then think -- that could be your child. Easily. Anyway, see it.

So, France. Jee. Zus. They are so cared for. A dear friend of mine lives in the Netherlands and it's the same there. No worries about medical care! Can you imagine? I was so shaken up by it, I actually got to wondering. . . what's the deal, without EU citizenship, of living in Europe? If you are a writer and don't need to seek employment there, can you partake of the system? Can you pay taxes there and get what they get? That naturally led to looking at real estate, and we found this one on Lake Trasimeno. Our new -- har har -- home.

Here's the view of the lake from the property's tower:
And here's the courtyard:
The crypt. That's right. The crypt:
And here are some other rooms:

Are you wondering what this might cost? Ah, that's the best part. It costs. . . $700,000 dollars. And I'm not saying I have that, I'm just saying, here that doesn't buy you a medieval abbey on the lakeshore! (Okay, okay, actually, it's unclearly written, but I'm pretty sure that price is for an apartment within this building. But still.)

I camped at Lago Trasimeno years ago when I was a college student/travel writer. I was very lucky that during my years at UC Berkeley, the travel publisher Fodor's tried to start a student travel guide series to be competetive with Let's Go, which is written by Harvard students. This was the "Berkeley" take on travel. I was in the first batch of writers, and wrote three chapters of the first edition of the Italy book. I'll confess it wasn't the most fun travel I have ever experienced. I was on a crazy timeline, and so had no time to do the things I love, the loitering in cafes and museums, the swimming at the beach, etc. Rather, I had to track down the best and cheapest hotels and hostels, and jot down train info, etc. Tedious! I camped as often as I could, which led to one interesting night in the Apennine Mountains, a lovely, not-very-high mountain range that forms the "spine" of the boot of Italy. Well, I was nestled snugly in my little tent at the fringes of an out-of-season campground. I was the only tent camper there, and I felt very alone when I awakened in the night to the unmistakable roar of. . . a lion. Really. Even if you have never heard a lion roar in person, you know it when you hear it, and this was it. My mind worked frantically. There are no lions in Italy. I know this. I don't know if there are mountain lions, but this was a lion-lion. It didn't sound really close or anything, but that was little comfort. I felt suddenly about as safe as wonton filling is inside a wonton. I can't recall if I slept. . . but I survived the night, told no one I had heard a lion (crazy!), and noticed that morning that there was a circus in town!!! Ha ha.

Another interesting camping experience came in Assisi. There was an absolute stunner of a campground in the hills just outside the city, maybe a mile walk, and worth it. The whole of Umbria seemed to roll away in a valley from the hill on which Assisi sits. Again, I had the place almost entirely to myself. I chose the perfect spot, set up my little tent, looked around contentedly, then walked into town to do my tedious research thing. Late that evening I returned to a very changed campground. You see, a horde of Slovenian pilgrims had arrived for some religious holiday, and they had set up a city of World War II-era tents around my little tent. A city. And their tents were so huge and ungainly they literally had their stakes and tethers stretching over my tent, crisscrossing it. It was horrible!

Anyway, Lago Trasimeno. I had no camping adventures there, just a run-of-the-mill campground to return to after spending the days taking boats to the lake's various islands. On one island was an ancient ramshackle abbey, right at the shore, filled with marvelous things -- it was open as a poorly maintained museum. My imagination set to work at once imagining sneaking there to camp illegally, but I didn't attempt it, because I noticed a group of unwashed types had the same idea, and they looked a little surly. So I stayed where I was. But the property above reminded me of that daydreamy ramble around the grounds of a falling-down medieval abbey on the lakeshore. It was kind of like a Miss Havisham house, but in Italy. Imagine!

Sigh. Here's another one. This is in Tuscany, and the whole 16th-Century villa legitimately does cost under $600,000, including gardens originally planted by the freaking Medici family!!! Here:

Sigh again. Well, Sicko didn't even mention Italy, but I found my way here anyway. It is a big dream of mine to one day own a villa in Italy. When Jim and I have traveled there, we like to play the game of "where will our villa be" and we've provisionally decided on the Amalfi Coast. But Tuscany doesn't sound SO bad! ha ha!

Happy Oscar night, movie lovers. My mom is making an amazing spread of food, including crab-stuffed mushrooms and something about chicken in pastry. I am providing fixings for "tropical banana splits," ie mango and coconut sorbet, toasted coconut and macadamia nuts, and very likely some decadent lavender-infused hot fudge from Alma Chocolate, where I find myself mysteriously compelled to go today. . . I think they had ginger caramel sauce too. . .


Tone said...

I know what you mean, Laini. Michael Moore came to Scandinavia to do research for this film, too, but decided not to include any of the material, as American viewers "probably wouldn't believe any of it". I had to have surgery twice last fall, and pretty complicated stuff, too, and it cost, including the emergency room, oh, about 25 dollars. And that's without insurance, we don't need that here, everybody has the same rights.

We do miss out on excellence with our system, though. If you have, say, inoperable cancer, and need the best surgeon there is to give it a shot anyway, you'd probably find her in the US. But the system does work, and I'd much rather have most people safe and taken care of.

I got married in Tuscany - and I'm pretty sure you'll love it. Go for the less known south, though, or even Umbria, less touristy, less expensive, more sleepy, dusty, old and wonderful.

Oh, and come and see me in Norway for vacations. We'll have coffee and walk the cat :)

Disco Mermaids said...

I had my very first minor surgery last week (for a hernia) and, for the first time, I got why people gripe about our health care system. The doctors were wonderful! It was the middlemen who made it a nightmare.

So I'm comin' with ya! I'll even live in the crypt!!!

- Jay

Linda said...

Hi Laini,

There is so much variety in so-called health care in the world that it boggles me! I lived in France and Japan and met with a wide variety of care and services in each country...but all of it was very VERY low cost. My husband and I just asked for those fun (and dentist-recommended) buzzy toothbrushes for Christmas...because we had suddenly realized that our dental insurance didn't cover very much and was costing us $1200 a year. Yikes!
But I had a visit to the ER in a Japanese hospital...and never paid a thing. (It was a little stressful to try and look up "fainting" on my electronic dictionary in the lobby...but all in all I got pretty good care...).
I agree. Let's all move abroad! Are there enough castles to go around?

Linda said...

...and the dentist told my husband that (among people who go to the dentist anyway), those who don't have insurance tend to take better care of their teeth than do those with insurance...I guess because insurance makes us feel more complacent about self-care. Interesting, no?

NM real estate said...

Sicko is a real eye opener. My husband works from home and I stay home with our 2 1/2 year old and 1 1/2 year old. We are obviously a young family (I'm 24 and he's 25) and because he works from home insurance is nearly impossible to get. As much as I hate to admit it, we are insured through the state right now. I'd love to be able to get a policy, but if you work for yourself, it costs an arm and a leg for a "good" policy.

Q said...

I'm not one for socialized medicine. While it is "less expensive", the people who pay for it the most (through taxes) use it the least. Somehow, that does not seem right to me. I don't think it is fair to charge someone (through increased taxes) for something they may or may not use, because while it seems less expensive, it only causes more tax money to go into a system that may not (probably won't) work--like many of the other inefficient programs in the US made ineffective by the government.

But that's just my two cents.

I am really liking the looks of those villas. I want one. Even if the garden was planted by the Medici.

Enna Isilee said...

Hold up. You bought that place? Or did I read it wrong? It looks absolutely amazing!

Wenda said...

I love that first property. Reminds me of my childhood home. Especially the crypt, yes crypt.

Not really, but I live in Canada, so I could easily buy the place with what I save on health care.


Wenda said...

But here's the real story:

though I'm not sure how many Canadians would agree that Tommy Douglas was the most important man in our entire history, he's the one who fought and won the health care battles in the 1960's.

Alexandra S said...

Chicken in pastry? It was called a Chicken Kiss and easily the tastiest chicken-ey thing I have ever eaten ever. It was better than my chili lime chicken extravaganza even! How will I sleep now with the memory of that sorbet? And stay here in the US and lets get a national health care system! People who say it will be just like the UK's or Canada's and can't work don't know what they are talking about. We can do it better than both with a genuine commitment and people can still have private insurance as well if they want. I haven't seen SICKO yet but know I need to. My sister's meds are more than $1000 a month for M.S. Again, health care in one of the wealthiest countries in the world needs to be a right, not a priviliege. If we can find billions to kill thousands and thousands of innocent people overseas, we can find the money to have a health care system.

chest of drawers said...

Don´t forget, you have a friend here in Austria and we have a great medical care system aswell as some pretty old and amazing villas.And since Austria just won an Oscar where else would you want to be?!*

Laini Taylor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laini Taylor said...

tone -- I'd love to come to Norway some day, and walk the cat with you! And I know Italy well. Lived there four years as a child and have been back many times. LOVE it.

jay -- hope the surgery went well! You're always welcom in our crypt!

linda -- let's all buy castles and villas in different countries and then swap them around so we get to experience them all!

nm real estate -- I know. Jim and I are both self-employed and pay almost as much monthly for our health insurance as we do for our mortgage! AND it still doesn't cover that much! Jim's is especially expensive because he had melanoma while uninsured. Just try getting a reasonable policy after that.

q -- I wonder if seeing Sicko might change your mind at all? Even if not, I would urge you to see it and see what you think. After all, a lot of the people who can't pay their own way and are hence left to die are children. And anyway, the focus of the movie is not on the uninsured, but on the way the insurance industry is structured to defraud its own customers of the care they should be receiving. The uninsured is a whole other matter. Personally, I DO think it's fair to "charge" people taxes according to their means to pay for a system that provides a healthy society for all. I think that's a big component of the line between a civilized society and a barbaric one. Seeing the movie, I felt like our country, for all its greatness, has this barbaric underbelly to it, and it made me feel awful -- and frightened, for myself, and my family and friends. Insured or not, we are not safe. We are not cared for.

enna isilee -- we only bought it in our dreams. Sigh.

wenda -- thanks. I'll check out the link!

alexandra -- I'll be posting your glamour shots any moment. stay tuned.

claudia -- Yes! Would love to come to Austria too! Your old house was pretty dreamy!

megg said...

Hey!! Come see me! All you have to do to use the UKs system is come here and get a job. That's it. You start paying into the system when you work. Then you apply for an NHS card and then you get to go to the Dr. They EVEN have DENTISTS on the NHS. they complain about it here, but it's amazing. Not only that, but once you have the card you are covered FOREVER - even if you leave and then come back! Come here! Come here!!

love to you all -

Liz B said...

My only concern with changing health care in the US is that the gov't would find a way to mess it up. And if we're going to do it, do it completely and do it right. Instead, I'm afraid of something that is so much compromise that the end result is just a shift in evil middlemen and a wacky economic model that is unfair and disproportionate.

My sister's family paid for their own insurance for several years; one of the reasons for her recent job change was to get paid benefits.

Which makes me wonder; what would the US look like if health care was removed from the equation? Would we have more people following their dream careers or lives without that hanging over their head? Would we have happier people? Would there be a shift in what jobs are (or are not) easy to fill? What, then, would employers offer to attract people, and keep people?

It's a bit mind boggling to think of all positive impact of a better health care system; but this is one of those areas where I just don't have the faith or trust that it will be fixed (and fixed the right way) anytime soon.

Meanwhile -- wow. Awesome real estate.

Lori's Lens said...

You are FINALLY beginning to see the light!

You want to move to Europe? I will MAKE it happen! I will sponsor you or arrange a visa. You see, I am an EU citizen..and I can go ANYWHERE.

So, when do we get the keys to the villa?


Lori Lee

Tone said...

Well, q, I think most people will find themselves in need of medical care at some point.

It's true that some spend more time in a hospital than others, but I certainly think that the ones blessed with good health throughout their lives are incredibly lucky rather than exploited by those who spend years surrounded by test tubes and chemo. If you could choose: taxes or illness, what would it be?

Now, we cannot choose, even people who eat healthy and take good care of their bodies get sick. And I think it's part of what it means to be human to give help to those who need it - whether they have the money to pay for insurance or not.

I do realise that I come from Norway, one of the richest and also (or yet, perhaps) one the most liberal countries in the world. The right to medical care seems self evident to me, but what would we do if we didn't have all the money? I don't know, but I have to say I hope it wouldn't be what America does today. Hillary seems to think you guys can afford universal medical care though - at least you can afford to be hopeful about the future.

davesap said...

That lion story is amazing. Traveling alone always enhances the experience for good and for bad, but to hear a lion roaring while camping alone, that would qualify as terrifying. Reminds me of the opening scene from Werewolves of London from 20 years ago.

Laini Taylor said...

Dave -- I loved that movie. I was probably only 12 or 13 when I saw it, but I've been a fan of horror movies for as long as I can remember!

Calandria said...

beautiful!! When I vacationed in Europe last summer I was dying to move there. Northern Spain is incredibly beautiful. The only thing that keeps me from doing it is I have four kids. Housing and school costs would be prohibitive. As far as the Americans being able to use the health care system--I'm not sure. That's something to look into.

It was an interesting reaction I got from our European friends when I told them I wanted to move there. They were like, Why would you do that? Why would you not love living in the U.S.? You are so lucky to live there, etc. I assumed from things I saw in the news that Europeans looked down on the U.S., but we didn't see that there. Of course, this is all aside from the issue of health care, which is what you were talking about in the first place.

Enna Isilee said...

Oh! Now I see. I only had time to skim the post at first and it seemed to me as if you had a dream about the property and then bought it (actually bought it).

Luckily I'm not unused to making a fool of myself.

Heather said...

I'll meet you in France. Because that is where I intend to live. Very. Soon. In the meantime, here is a place you can stay that is VERY baby friendly (so you can take the gummy bear!) We stayed here when my middle daughter was only 6 months old. Loved it!

Anonymous said...

May I repeat? In your dreams. Heh heh.

Annie Donwerth Chikamatsu said...

Love the pictures and the topic!!

I've lived in Japan almost 20 years. Medical expenses are low. I may have complained in years past about crumbling facilities, but even that's changing (at least in my area.) We pay a set fee for national "insurance". If you have a job, I believe the employer pays for it.

We all need medical attention at some point in our lives. Even if you take care of yourselves something could come up that will devastate your future. My sister and brother-in-law were in that big snowstorm accident outside Amarillo, TX around Christmas. They are extremely fortunate to be alive, but they are left with 100,000s of dollars of medical bills. If you look at individual expenses it's incredible! I don't remember the actual cost of a CAT scan in the U.S. but I can tell you that I have paid under 100 dollars for one here in Japan. I think the only ones complaining about medical costs here could be doctors--they work really hard but do not make the big bucks.