The sun is already beating down in Rome early that July morning in 1989 when we arrived to claim what was ours. The smell of Italy is intoxicating. In the airport at Rome the aroma of strong coffee draws us to the nearest bar once through the collection of Immigration and Customs officials. There are many mysteries in Italy and one must surely be the role of the Immigration Officials who do not give even a cursory glance at our Australian passports: instead they smile and usher us in. Although this particular mystery escalates in duration and importance when we decide to have a year in Tuscany, it is sufficient that on this day, two Aussies with a mountain of baggage are welcomed into Italy, feeling proud and excited that they own just a little bit of it.
We make our way to the bus that goes to the main railway station in central Rome remembering to be alert to the zingari (gypsies) who inhabit this place with our 200 kilos of baggage in 8 duffel bags from the adventure travel company, World Expeditions, of which I am the CEO. And we finally arrive, exhausted, in Florence. Two days later, hire car laden we drive to a store on the outskirts of Florence to start equipping the villa. When I look in my shelves now, 27 years later, I am delighted so much of what we bought that day survives: simple white porcelain plates, platters and bowls. We load up three huge trolleys of household goods and with difficulty add them to the already laden car. We buy wine: red and white and food that will become some way or another, dinner that night and we head for the hills.
What strikes us as bizarre is that we are driving ‘home’ and we don’t even know the way! Finally on the north side of Lucca our progress grinds to a halt as hundreds of serious cyclists pedal in our direction. We stop and wait, wondering why these folk are not at work this week day.
Eventually they pass and we wind our way up the valley, past the paper manufacturers that contribute to the wealth of this area. Lucca was known for its silk weaving many years ago, now it is paper. It is lunchtime and the businesses along the main road are closed, leaving large displays of merchandise outside their shops. We wonder how long this stuff would last in Melbourne before it was pinched. Driving slowly up the valley, neither wanting to miss anything nor wanting to dawdle too long and delay our arrival we are full of excited apprehension. Will we get there and find it not as expected? Is it too daunting a task? Will our arrival commence another journey worth making or will it not? Will the dream surpass the reality?
The villages get smaller and smaller, the hills closer and the roads more and more windy. The towns have gone and we are now in the countryside. There is no obvious industry and it is enchanting. Blue hills surround us with villages perched at an alarming angle on the tops. A river runs silently beside the road. We pass a trout farm. Fields of wheat wave in the slight breeze, elsewhere brilliant emerald green vines are hiding small red and green grapes beneath their leaves.
Eventually a sign to our village appears on a stone wall and we turn off the main road knowing we are but 6 kilometres away. There is just one more village to pass through before we arrive at ours. The siesta is over and road workers are there before us. The road, barely more than a single car’s width at the best of times, is totally blocked. We can go no further.
The only thing to do is turn the engine off and wait. We have no confidence that going back and looking for an alternative route to our new home will meet with success. We wait, and we wait.
We are 4 kms from home and stopped in our tracks.
The workers have no idea of our impatience and our excitement. To them it is just another job, another day, another village, another bit of road that needs fixing before winter. For us it is interminable. To think we have waited ten months, or for me, twenty years, and now, in sight of the prize, we are thwarted once more. “Is this to be the eternal pattern in Italy?” we ask ourselves and are too naïve to know the answer; yet.
And for the curious who keep asking….the reason for the delay in purchasing this place: the owner a Signor Mannolini, had died without having had children. Under Napoleonic Law, all relatives inherit, so instead of going downwards, inheritance goes sideways. When our sale was disrupted and Nino started offering us a free trip to Tuscany to find another house and we refused, the vendors were located. I just found the original document down in my cellar…there were 11 owners of the property, mostly living in Caprignana, or nearby, a couple in Livorno. Probably most of them did not even know they were the new owners and certainly most people did not believe houses would be sold out of the family as I have explained in an earlier blog. In any event, Nino’s action resulted in a Power of Attorney being created so that one person could sign off on the sale. That process took about 9 months.
Until next time, ciao amici
The state of the house when we arrived…..those red duffel bags being loaded out of the hire care onto the weed-covered terrace that I spent the next two weeks, night and day, cleaning.It was not very inviting!