My Own Private Telenovela in Sadness and in Renovations

A strange title for a post but one that could not be more fitting for what has gone on in my life in Arpino since my last post so long ago.

Yes, you, my loyal readers, are owed pictures and explanations and now you will be able to get them in all the sadness they reflect and in all the beauty that has been revealed.

This week, my downstairs neighbor’s daughter passed away after being diagnosed in December with late stage breast cancer.  Yes, these are  TGG (the Gilda Gang) as I referred to them in my many posts. The daughter was the geometra’s wife, the sister of the architect in Rome and the sister-in-law of the wife of the brother who is the structural engineer and mother of two teenagers. These are the people that have been sometimes featured in my posts as it is them, my TGG, the mother, the son, the brother in law who are my partners in the massive structural work that must be done to make the house habitable (even though you will remember that it was certified habitable in all documentation in the commune – city hall-  or else I would not have bought it!).

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Gilda’s Garden as seen from my bedroom

It is Gilda who I say good morning to from my bedroom as she works tirelessly in her garden tending the fruit trees and the flowers. And it is her grandchildren who play with my grandchildren when they come in the summers.

During the first week last December I flew to Rome with my own private structural engineer from Israel who personally worked on the renovation of the ancient clock tower in Jaffa known as the Jaffa Clock. We had a meeting with Luigi, the Vatican structural engineer who had done the work preparing all the documentation on exactly what must be done to the property, Carlo (the son of Gilda, the architect), his wife Sabrina (a structural engineer in her own right), Fabio (Gilda’s son in law) and my fabulous and wonderful designer (FWD) who has been acting as my voice and translator with them and Luigi.

I took with me to Rome Inbar, the structural engineer from Israel, as you see from the line up we have 3 of “them” and one of me who wouldn’t know to say nay or yay to anything the TGG may say to the plans that Luigi is suggesting. And although FWD is well versed in all the building issues, she is not an engineer and I felt I needed a structural engineer who was just ‘mine’ telling me what they thought should be the way that we go about fixing all the issues that need to be fixed.

The meeting was amazing, lasting four hours as the professionals went back and forth on the best method to strengthen the house, how it should be done, which materials should be used and all the intricacies of a massive structural overall of a 300 year old palazzo whose walls need to be bound together with underfloor chains and a steel ring, whose roof must come off to accomplish all this with all the floors in my part totally lifted and then somehow put down again. Of course, the discussion all in Italian! Thank goodness for FWD who was constantly translating and making sure all was understood by everyone.

We left the meeting giving Luigi the mandate to rework the specifications (computo metrico) according to the decisions that had been made. And then it was holiday time! Christmas, New Year’s and I left everyone alone… who would have thought.. that in those 3 weeks, the life of so many of the people at the meeting changed forever. Fabio’s wife took sick and so did my FWD – my rock through all this, my translator culturally and language wise – the person who had put together this team – Luigi and was able to bring to the table TGG in peace with the joint productive goal of getting the house in shape. My lovely C. was sick. And everything stopped. Everything.

When I found out that both of these women were sick with the same disease, I think the irony of it happening as it happened, exactly at the same time was so unusual and so clearly unbelievable that I just didn’t know what to do.  Nothing could be done. There was nothing to do. Just hope and pray. And of course any work on anything concerning the house stopped.

I have been to Arpino several times since and in all honesty, the charm of the house after two years of really very little progress began to wane and all I felt being there, was that it is a huge empty space exceedingly inconvenient and very cold. I lost my motivation for doing anything. And seriously contemplated selling.

I thought a trip to my Tuscany might help. I found four days that included a visit to the Arezzo Antique Market and huge restoration places near Lucca. LLA (lovely lady from Australia) promised to come with me and we met in Florence for a four day road trip.  It was a lot of fun, but ended on a bad note as I dropped my phone and then it got stolen, there were petty arguments and in the end everything just felt too much and too complicated. I was too tired. Thinking about it, the real highlight was not even planned.. we happened on the flower show on the Lucca walls that was amazing.

 

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I did find some lovely items at the Arezzo Market which then were delivered to Arpino – a beautiful travertine table with six chairs for the courtyard and an ancient fresco painting which needs cleaning but might add a bit of scenery in the almost empty living room mostly likely paying way too much for everything….

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And found a light for the kitchen that I absolutely adore:

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My kids with the grandkids came for a week in April during Spring vacation. And although it was magical Arpino..

 

the house was empty, echoing, cold and just inconvenient. And to top it all off, there was, as my son in law so rightly predicted could happen when he first saw the house, an electrical fire in the kitchen when they were there!

The kids left after school vacation ended and I had gotten my flight ticket months before planning to go to the opera in Naples with LLA and another friend from Amsterdam, so staying on three extra weeks. Best laid plans of mice and men and of course it didn’t happen. I had plenty of other visitors, but the house just felt too big, too cold and I wasn’t happy.

Happening at the same time, was a sorry story of a stonemason who ended up having an ego and temperament that left me 100s of euros ‘fleeced’ and work half finished. Knowing that all work in the actual palazzo was on hold, meaning nothing could/should be done until the large structural work would happen, the one place I knew I could do some work was in the courtyard.

(9) Cortilla looking into (6) steps into (6) August 2016

I hired the ‘artist’ to replace the grey cement tiles you see around the large urn in the middle with stone to match what you see and to remove the awful brown paint from the front door

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to bring back its natural chestnut

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We had a clear agreement on what he must do which among other items, was to replace the grey cement tiles with the Arpino stone

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It turns out that even though there was an agreement written and some money (thank goodness not all!) had changed hands, the guy decided that x, y, z of the agreement couldn’t be carried out.

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He left the courtyard a mess, the door half done and believe me, I NEVER will do anything in Arpino without my LLA and her wonderful husband AGAIN!

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As the story continues at my neighbors, I know that I don’t know whether it will be months or years until the structural work can be done.

I am ‘lost’ without my WFD who is undergoing difficult treatments and I don’t know when and if she will be well enough to continue to help me… and although LLA and her husband MIMGH (Macho Italian Man with the Golden Heart) are there by my side, they have other clients, other work and none us know how things are going to play out with the neighbors. We just know we need to tread lightly.

At some point during this time of – Where am I with all this – what/can I do… what do I want to do?.. maybe even just sell! Suddenly and I don’t exactly know how it happened… perhaps needing to bring my fabulous builder in to see what he suggested to fix the courtyard fiasco! I got a building and renovation quote on the only part of the house that I knew would be the least affected by the structural repairs – The downstairs apartment suite and the courtyard. And yes, I do realize that when the house is ‘bound’ together from the roof, that will cause cracks and those cracks may show up in this part, but at least I will be moving forward, doing something constructive that when done, gives me the ability to rent the space AND will have new wiring, new heat, new bathroom, FURNITURE and be much more pleasant to live in!

Of course, the Israeli structural engineer said it was a risk to do anything BEFORE the structural work, but she also said, that no matter what happened, anything that did happen could be fixed. Just I may be doing things twice, which is why I wasn’t going to do anything upstairs including redoing the electricity which of course had been my priority and what I thought I would do a year ago before the ceiling collapsed!

But in my present state of mind.. which is .. should I sell and just be done with it all.. fixing up the downstairs apartment suite would only make the house more attractive  to buyers and maybe it would make me feel better!! And I had the funds I was hoarding for the big structural work…. SO .. I gave the go ahead and the renovation work on the downstairs apartment began. AND under the plaster ceiling in what will be the bedroom of the suite and in the entrance hall to the big house, we found original walnut ceilings and in other places beautiful stone arches which of course we have restored. And this is what it is has always been about for me – .. finding the beauty  and discovering the secrets of my 16th century palazzo.

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The month was drawing to a close and my kids had already bought flight tickets for a 3 week stay in August. I knew, as they did, that if I didn’t put some furniture, modern conveniences and rugs upstairs, their summer vacation might not be ideal.

So.. thank goodness my WFD is feeling better!!! she meets me in Rome and we go sofa and LIGHT shopping for the courtyard! And she has energy and is feeling better and my mood improves with her improvement in health! She is cancer free and just doing what needs to be done to insure that she will stay that way the rest of her life!!!!

I left Italy. I have not returned since, but left everything in the hands of LLA, MIMGH, my Master Builder Bruno and thank goodness FWD who even felt well enough to go down to Arpino, check all the work of the electrician and make sure from her designer eye that all is how it should be.  Floors were dug out and ancient terracotta found to match what there is in the living room. I even designed the pattern of the floor in the days when FWD was not well. Here we have it in pictures:

 

 

The kitchen is being built using original black and white tiles that LLA found on the Amalfi coast and FWD now feeling better designing the space. You can get an idea how it will be:

 

CUCINA SPACCAMELAAnd look at the courtyard floor now:

 

And putting electricity lines for the courtyard lights:

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And as in ALL builds .. there is always one thing that you think wouldn’t have happened if YOU had been there, on site, vigilant…  our beautiful ancient jasmine was taken down.. by an overzealous workman needing to do whatever needed to get done. We ranted and raved and cried a little. But the builder also feeling absolutely terrible has replaced it with two 6 meter bushes from Tuscany that are waiting now at a nursery near Arpino to go in when the courtyard has stopped being a building site.

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Look at what at my fabulous builder did with the flower bed and the steps. He will add new steps that will come out from the kitchen to the courtyard.. and we can just begin to get a feel of what it will be when there will be new doors and windows and the new jasmine plants are in.

So today: FWD, my lovely designer, is slowly gaining all her strength back, beside me now as we go forward to finish the downstairs suite and courtyard. TGG will mourn and their loss is really horrific. A mother of teenage children and the only daughter of my neighbor. Their life will never be the same. And I wait patiently for whenever they are ready they will let me know for sure to go forward with the huge building job, once again turning the palazzo into a building site.

I did have the electrician rewire the upstairs kitchen at least. I had to do that after the fire this spring, but the rest of the house upstairs will stay with copper wires and wiring from 1910 until the time we do all the structural work.

I have ordered the appliances for the kitchen downstairs and what was missing upstairs, couches and arm chairs for the living room, some rugs and bunk beds for the kids. Hopefully there will even be a closet or two. And when the structural work begins I will just have to move it all. That’s just the way it happened.

When you are doing a work like this, in a place you don’t live, with all the various unknowns that can happen – just ask me! I think I have had more unexpected turns than most, but hey this is Italy so I wouldn’t bet on it, you must have local people you can trust and talk to (meaning speak your language). If not, it certainly would almost be impossible to pull off. So I am either lucky or smart. For without LLA and MIMGH, I certainly think I might have given up by now.

 

 

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Crossing the Border: From the Land of the Medici’s to the Kingdom of Naples

It has happened. It took over a year, a singularly small amount of time in perspective, seeming forever but no matter. I have crossed the border.

My love of Italy, its beauty, landscape, architecture, towns centered on Rome and a few hours north through Tuscany including the areas around Florence, Sienna, Pitigliano.  This is what I knew. This is what kept drawing me back year after year. The rolling hills, the cypress trees, the Tuscan farm houses, Saturnia.

I have yet to visit the northern lakes, Lake Como or Puglia with its white washed towns or Piedmont with the Alps. What I knew was Rome, Tuscany and Venice. I haven’t even been to Verona. I know. Shame on me.

And then part instinct, part wow this is what my little bit of money can buy in Italy, part I don’t believe I could really buy an actual historic palazzo, part vision of what it could be for me and my family, part what a project for my 60s! part my sense of adventure and yes, part craziness- I actually, honest to god, bought a palazzo in Italy in a small town I had never heard of, in an area I had NEVER been to before and whose landscape was foreign.

There are hills, scraggly ones dotted with red modern roofs among the occasional farm house and olive grove, but not my rolling hills of Tuscany. There are mountains, snow covered in the winter, but not my rolling hills of Tuscany. There are towns, but not my Tuscan towns. There are festivals, but not my flag throwing, Renaissance costume extravagances.

For a while, I was overwhelmed with all the first steps that needed to be taken to make the house livable last summer. I hadn’t even walked the entire town yet. I concentrated on making sure that the house was safe for 2 year olds, that there was a decent shower for my son in law, a phone connection so there could be WiFi! and a kitchen that worked.. And a sofa!! Who had time to discover the town….

The family spent weeks there last summer, loved everything from house to town to countryside and mountains – there were pottys and booster chairs, plastic dishes and elegant ones, a stove and fridge that worked, enough beds and enough hot water! .. and I felt delighted in the space and in the town…but was I in love with the area the way I was with Tuscany? Did I feel the same when I drove into the town? I wasn’t yet in love.

And then the ceiling collapsed, the hidden truths coming out about the actual state of the property – a new fact even coming to light recently – that my house was one of several in town that because of the pride of certain noble families refused to take government help that was offered in 1989 to shore up properties against earthquake damage, when many others did.

And now needing to put together a team to deal with the structural problems not to mention the financial side and the years this is adding to my ability to create my vision. I felt overwhelmed and mired in, if not quite doubt, then unease . And this wasn’t my Tuscany. This wasn’t my Italy. Maybe the naysayers were right.

But then it began to happen. I put in place a summer month of friends, Italian study, a week in Rome and trips from Arpino in order to discover my new area of Italy – the place I had actually bought a property – not the vision of Italy in my mind of rolling hills and cypress trees, but My Italy now, My Italian Town and my area of Italy.

And now I have finally crossed that border from the Medici’s to the Kingdom of Naples and I am truly in love. Not that I have abandoned my first love. We all know how that first love will always be special, but then things happen.. and although we may doubt it will ever happen again, we fall in love a second time. It may be different, perhaps the next love being based more on reality and less on fantasy, but hopefully even a deeper and richer love.

I drove with a friend to Naples. It was teeming with rain on a summer day, but TEEMING. A drive of one hour and a half from Arpino and we were at the port. It was not easy to figure out exactly where we needed to be and to exchange our internet reservation for an actual ticket but I DID IT and we were on a ferry with the car below us also traveling to Ischia – a fairy island full of fabulous of activities for families including diving! – a great overnight or two – and wonderful thermal waters which are my Italian necessity! What a discovery!

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And it was so easy to get to.. an easy highway drive and then a ferry with wonderful views of other islands

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We had a great time. It was just lovely, the views spectacular, the thermal waters glorious. And it was then and in Ischia that my heart began to open to my new Italian home, to the Kingdom of Naples and all of its wonders, to SOUTH of Rome, not north of Rome.. different definitely but no less beautiful in its own way.

In Arpino, I began walking for an hour every morning in the hills and began to understand

 

why Arpino was so strategic to the Romans and others. You can see from the heights for miles and miles away. You could see your enemies on the move. The area has begun to become alive for me with its history and its particular beauty.

One day we went to the clear mountain fresh water lake an hour away and swam in the cold clear waterslake-Barrea-National-Park-Abruzzo-Italy

To get there you need to go through this amazing birch forest another magical place.

And don’t forget the beach. Sperlonga one of the most magnificent beaches in Italy is an hour and a quarter from the house. I went for the first time and it was amazing and so beautiful!

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There are many more hurdles to overcome. My team meets next week at the house to get the specifications of the repairs defined for the authorizations that are needed by the municipality before actual work can begin. If the work isn’t done this October, it will need to wait perhaps even another year as the whole roof must come off to put in the strengthening iron beam tightening the whole structure of the house.

Do I trust the team I have in place to do the best possible job in order to make the house as safe as it can be against future earthquakes? A question quite relevant after the tragic events of last month. The team is as excellent as I think I could put together. Is it the best? I don’t know. I have an engineer from the Vatican who is number 2 on the Vatican team of structural engineers responsible for all Vatican structures defining what needs to be done and the ultimate person responsible for the project. I have someone unrelated to him or the builder responsible for checking the work at each stage. Both the Vatican engineer and the engineer from the municipality need to give final signatures that all the work is done to code. I have my designer looking over everyone’s shoulder and translating everything for me – representing my interests solely – and of course I have dear LLA and MIMGH (lovely lady from Australia and Macho Italian Man with the Golden Heart) my neighbors and my friends in Arpino who only want the best for me and my house… so all in all I need to trust the rest in God or the ghosts in the house!!

September will prove busy and pivotal. If all can happen on time including choosing a builder then maybe the work can commence in October. Fingers crossed! But this is Italy as we know!

However, now having crossed the border, opened my heart to the Kingdom of Naples and begun to fall in love not only with the house and the town but all the area, I have the energy needed to ‘face the music’ and ‘keep on trucking!’

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The Good, The Bad, The Ugly and The Amazing

It’s been awhile since you have seen me and there have been so many goings on with the palazzo that it is really time for a catch up!

Needless to say, the collapse of the ceiling

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the bringing down of the other ancient plaster ceilings revealing the original wood walnut ceilings from the 16th Century or thereabouts!,

the structural engineers report and all the subsequent consequences have left me spinning emotionally and financially to such an extent that it is only now, almost four months down the line that I can write about it.

 

As it turns out, the house has some serious structural issues that must be dealt with sooner than later. In Italy, this is done with all the owners of the property (as in a condo) so my downstairs neighbors, we will call them The Gilda Gang, TGG,  are responsible for half of the costs of what needs to be done. And thank goodness, they are aboard with all of this!! And I have partners in getting the work done.

However, getting anything done in Italy, we all know, is a challenge. Italians love their paperwork and there is LOTS of it when connected with needing to do work on a ancient structure in the middle of a designated historic area. The TGG is made up of an architect (the son), his wife, a structural engineer and a geometra (son in law) so they are going to draw up the necessary documentation. BUT still waiting…. and waiting… and yes, still waiting….

With all this, my lovely home has been prodded and poked,

and a complete structural analysis and report issued. When we finally have the documentation promised by TGG, my engineer from the Vatican will oversee all the paperwork, including approving the lists of actual works that need to be specified to the builders in order to get cost proposals from at least three, choose one, agree on whom, and then eventually begin repairs.

In the meantime all my plans for my budget this year of rewiring the property and then painting has been put on hold… seemingly now indefinitely as getting a date and time when the TGG is going to come up with what the documentation needed seems to be an impossible task. Italian Time!!

However, the first thing the structural engineer told me was that the plaster ceiling in my bedroom although not cracked was completely unsafe as it was being held up by several wires – you can see them if you look closely at the below picture! He recommended closing the entire ‘wing’ of my bedroom and bathroom and declared it unsafe for habitation!

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I was planning to be there in April with guests! (I know.. believe it or not! – it had been planned months ago!) so no way could the only second bathroom available be cut off, so scrambling LLA and MIMGH (Lovely lady from Australia and Macho Italian Man with the Golden Heart), got the builder back to the house after ALL the rubble from the other downed ceilings was finally OUT of the house and we made another HUGE mess by bringing down the bedroom ceiling and then putting up a new wood ceiling.

It turns out this was the ONLY room in the house that did not have above the plaster, the original ceiling. I am sure it was there and was taken down when the Sangermanos somehow gave TGG permission to close in the terrazzo of the house giving TGG an extra room. They put on a new roof over my bedroom, blocking the fireplace (I need to restore the chimney) and putting on new modern roof tiles that don’t match the rest of the house anyway! But hey, there is a new roof over the bedroom.

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And it the end this is what I have with a good chunk missing from what was my perfect marble fireplace.. I know I know.. these things happen, but it still upsets me.. chunks out of a marble fireplace will always be a chunk out of the fireplace …. That perfect fireplace was one of the reasons I fell in love with the house… oh well…

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I paid an extra Euros 1600 to have the wood cut in different widths so that it would match the authenticity of the other wood ceilings. Looking at it now and a lot of other photos of similarly redone ceilings, it was probably a bad call and I shouldn’t have spent the money.. but when doing things under pressure and piece meal.. well, it has it costs!

So ..not cheap and putting up a new ceiling in my bedroom was something that I neither wanted to do nor thought my bedroom would look like or have a wood ceiling.. BUT the workmanship is excellent and I know when finished and with a ‘total look’ I will most likely be very happy. Fingers crossed.

Now I need to decide how I want to ‘paint’, ‘treat’, or otherwise deal not only with my bedroom ceiling BUT all the wood ceilings now throughout the house.

They can’t be left like the are, can they?!

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I know, I know anyone buying a home that was first built in 1250 and then added to over the years, KNOWS that you NEVER KNOW what can happen, but when it actually happens and the plans you thought you had are now put on hold until you do the work that MUST be done.. well, I must admit, it does take a bit of the fun out of it!

Yes. Structure must come first. And safety is the most important thing. The house must be structurally sound and then we can make it functional and pretty, but I certainly didn’t think that the entire roof would need to come off for a cement ring to strengthen the whole house. That is also the reason I needed to put a wood ceiling in my bedroom and not gyp-rock, as people need to get up there and walk around!! But, I had really thought that I had knew the major works that needed to be done before I decided to buy it and I HATE SURPRISES… so yes, yes, I know, I know deep breathes and I do OWN a palazzo so what can be that bad!!

Maybe once I have an actual time line.. well.. let’s be realistic – an Italian timeline! – I will probably feel better and more in control. But one thing is absolutely clear to me.. if all this money needs to be going into this project, then I better start putting into gear, an income producing plan for the palazzo.

As it is, the house is, what two of my friends who came with me in June to see the house, give me moral support and ideas… well they say, that the house will soon be ready for what they termed.. rent-able to friends of friends – not Airbnb or Booking.com but with a bit of upgrade of the bathrooms and the electricity taken care of, it can be quite a retreat for people wanting to part of a historic palazzo renovation…

Really, it doesn’t look too bad… the living room is painted, not in the final color scheme, but livable that is for sure 1465980162188

1465979920526And be part of this historic palazzo bedroom look IMG-20160415-WA0011IMG-20160416-WA0019

And even a bit of design in the kitchen 1461569753909

So once we have figured out what the structural issues will cost to repair, I can start putting in a actual costing of the rest of the project.. Although getting building costs out of anyone in Arpino is a MAJOR big deal – no one wants to give estimates until they know the work is going to be ordered and I want to know more or less what I have to have in order to do x, y or z… so that is another frustrating part of all this… Even if I had the cash to throw at doing the whole project right now, I still don’t know what the actual costs would be. And since I need to keep any cash I have for the eventual structural repairs and I have no idea yet how much they are going to be! then it means that there is NOTHING substantial I can do now… And treading water, is not exactly my strong point as you may have gathered by now.. so …

Enter back Mr. Wonderful Solo Sergio… WSS, you remember him the pictures of stripping wallpaper.. well he was back, did the preparing of the walls and ceilings in the living room and painting… and I am taking him now, day by day, to do small works that will AT LEAST make me feel better!! 🙂 and keep the line on the chart on an upward curve!

When I was in Arpino last time, I discovered what I thought MIGHT be beautiful stone in the ingresso (the entrance with a beautiful vaulted ceiling) and I asked him to take a look to see what he thought and this is what he uncovered.  Look at this!!

 

And now this is my AMAZING

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The rest of the brown will go.. until it is going going ALL GONE!!! .. it’s days of sanding and then plastering over and in the end Bruno, my fabulous builder will have to re-plaster when we tackle the larger works which OF COURSE can’t be done until the major structural work is done…

But in the meantime, the Palazzo is slowly recovering a beauty I knew it had.. and I am slowly recovering .. the keyword being SLOWLY.. rewiring my head as to timelines, what needs to be done and the scope of the project! It hasn’t helped of course, that the timing has been bad and my girls and their families can’t be there this summer.. .BUT next summer.. 2017!! Awaits us already! and hopefully.. but WHO KNOWS???.. we will be ready for tons of family and friends to descend on the palazzo in Arpino… our alternative universe.

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A Little Like a Secret Lover

I saw someone this week, a person I really didn’t know in a shop, who had seen a smile on my face a few months ago and asked me what I smiling about. In my enthusiasm I had told her about my palazzo purchase and seeing me again, she asked me how things were coming with my renovations. A slow smile crept over my face, but I felt as if she asked me about a very secret part of my life and I was reluctant to answer .. as if this amazing project of mine is only to be shared with a very select few.. certainly not to a stranger in the middle of a busy shop.

I realized that instance that my project has taken on a different hue – one that is even closer to my heart and one that is to be guarded…like a secret lover… giving me enormous pleasure with secret smiles. In retrospect, I think that my feelings are a combination of people’s reactions to someone like me having bought a palazzo in Italy and the visions I have for the property that are slowly forming in my soul.

I think that the average person who hears that someone has bought a second property in Italy conjures up dollar signs and extravagance; someone who has a lot of money and nothing to do with it. In my case, that can not be further than the truth. I support myself and if I don’t earn money, I don’t have it.

This was a deliberate decision to take pension funds that were hard-earned when I was in my 40’s and 50’s  and now produce very little in the way of interest and that on reaching the age of 60 was available to me tax free. It was so little money that even if I was to have left it there for the next 10 years, the amount would not be able to sustain me for a year…well maybe a year… . But this scenario is not what people hear when you say “I bought a fixer upper in Italy.”

So my decision to take that money and to use it for this incredible adventure, a project for my 60’s; to give me happiness in renovating a 500 year old huge palazzo – with all its surprises and secrets – to create an amazing space that can be enjoyed and shared with whomever I please, well, that is the decision of a woman who has earned that right to do just that! And to have her secret smiles full of happiness that comes from her alternative universe that is Arpino.

And this month, well, we have had our surprises!

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For whatever reasons, and believe me we have examined all of them, the ceiling in one of the front rooms decided to collapse two weeks ago! In its defense, the ceiling was 300 years old, a false ceiling at that, put up when the style changed and the owners most likely thought and hoped it might help keep the house warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. They put up a frame under the original GORGEOUS walnut wood ceilings that they then piled straw, iron, rocks, rumble seemingly all and any of the above onto that frame in order to make a ceiling. The frame seems to have been made out of a cheaper wood, the kind that paper is made from and the nails holding that frame together not of the most expensive metal. And so after its 300 or so year run, the ceiling decided it had enough!

And with its collapse, the only thing I see is blessings. The first of course, that no one was in the house and no one was hurt. The second.. take a look at the beautiful original ceilings 12674514_10207629326884146_27652393_n

And look at all that additional room height we gained! Don’t you think it will just look majestic when it is all restored?

And last but certainly not least, the house has told me where to begin restoring it.. and how.

I have struggled for months on exactly how to proceed with the renovations.

When I first bought the house, there was some very basic structural things that needed to be fixed. a8389a3a-6ac4-4233-ada9-c837470bd4f5

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All necessary lintels added

I added two double lintels above doorways that needed to braced, fixing all the internal cracks, re-plastered and painting where most necessary.

Here are a few before and after pictures of the first renovation phase last June:

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Kitchen April 2015
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Kitchen in the renovation process

 

Kitchen Today
Kitchen August 2015

And we here is the little room off of the kitchen called the sofita “attic” because of it’s low ceilings

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When I bought the house
Mud room all replastered!
Here pictured Antonio and BBB my Brilliant Builder Bruno

 

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The Upstairs Loggia when I bought the house
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In the process
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Beautifully Done!! All white and bight, but in no way finished.. just the beginning…

I painted the upstairs loggia, removed a wall to make the dining room and put in a shower, hot water heater. I have for the last year done what was needed to be done to make the house more presentable and livable.

Now, remember that I had the house checked out before I bought it by three builders and what in Italy is called a geometra – in fact two geometra’s.. they are not architects and not engineers but close to both of them! The geometra and the builders had told me about certain problems that needed to be dealt with.. some I already have and and others planning to do, but all had assured me that the house was livable and I even have a paper from the city council stating so.

In all fairness, I bought the house at the price I did because I bought it “AS IS”. And I never had a structural engineer give me a formal report. So… are you thinking what I am? Now is certainly the time to get that formal report!

The collapse of the ceiling was such brilliant timing, I can’t tell you. I had been thinking that the next phase was to get an electricity plan so that I could redo the wiring (as my son-in-law says – it IS from the beginning of the last century!) and then after that start painting.  Can you imagine if I had done all the rewiring and the painting and THEN the ceiling had collapsed.!!!

So instead of rewiring, during the last two weeks ALL the false ceilings in the house have come down, a structural engineer’s report as been ordered.. and get this… the HEAD Engineer of the VATICAN structures will be writing that formal report! How cool is that??

I will get two or three cost proposals from reputable professionals – how did I find them?that is for the next installment –  on how much a complete renovation PLAN of the house would cost including the recommendations from the engineer and the order of importance in which they must be done. Then I can break down the projects into a time line and do them as I can afford them… with correct professional consultants knowing that I am doing right by my house, preserving her in the way she deserves while continuing to have the adventure and journey of a life time.. renovating and restoring the honor of my Italian Palazzo in my alternate universe where time stands still.

 

 

Restoring an Old Building is An Affair of the Heart

“Restoring an old building is essentially an affair of the heart…Understanding and listening to old buildings is part of the responsibility in accepting to care for them, their stories waiting to be heard by those willing to take the time to listen.” Chateau Gudanes Captain’s Log.

From the moment I stepped into Palazzo Sangermano I felt its untold stories waiting for me to uncover them, a history waiting to be written, characters needing names, stories of mothers and wives, husbands and brothers.

What I have been told is that the property began its life as a convent built in approximately 1250. In the 1700’s the property was purchased by the Sangermano family from the church. It is clear from the interior of the courtyard, with its various stone outlines of doors and windows not matching any levels of the current structure, that the physical structure of the building changed many times as a result of the different needs and desires of the occupants. My longing to know the reasons behind each transformation, each layer of paint, each outline of what might have been this or might have been that, is perhaps as great as my desire to make it all fabulous again and my own.

I have yet to tackle the Arpino council archives which I fully intend to do, but in the meantime what I know is that in 1947 Rafello Sangermano passed away leaving the property to his two sons, Augusto and Aldo. In those days, there wasn’t one son buying the other out or any of the modern ways around inheritance we are familiar with – they simply divided the property – one brother was willed the top half and the other  the bottom.

The grandfather Sangermano
Rafello Sangermano

In 1989 Augusto sold his bottom half to my present neighbor but before doing so gave a portion of his “half” to his nephew who he knew was very much favored by his father. I bought my “half” of the Palazzo including this section from the widow of Aldo who is 94, still alive and lived in the Palazzo until 2013, her son Aldo Jr and two other grand nephews of Rafello, all of whom were owners.

It is an honor and I feel a privilege that they sold the property to me, a property that had been in their family for more than 300 years.

I have gotten a few pictures of these years.. the years after 1947 ..

Sangermano's in kitchen in front of fireplace
In the kitchen in front of the fireplace. I found one of these chairs still in the house! The same sink still in the kitchen is peeking out on the right.
Kitchen Today
Kitchen Today Summer 2015
Sangermano's in front of the fireplace
In front of the fireplace which was then the formal room including formal dining.
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Notice the wallpaper which I have now spent days removing!
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The mantel now and the wallpaper being stripped and you can see the brackets that held the mirror in the picture above

When stripping the wallpaper we discovered that the tradesman feeling very proud to be putting wallpaper on the formal room for the Sangermano’s, signed his name in the corner with the date  year 1968 and Sergio knows him! I will track him down hopefully with my MMI (Macho Male Italian) to ask questions about what was there before. He will no doubt think I am absolutely crazy, but I would so love to know what the walls were like almost 50 years ago.. We know that whatever was there was not in particularly good shape as we discovered under the wall paper that the whole room was re plastered. Disappointing for me but I am sure the right decision when the family decided to ‘modernize.’

In the adjoining rooms, I found color and traces of borders, even a lapis blue,  and as I go on I will do my best to recreate the beauty of these walls as what I fantasize them to have been in the 1700 and 1800’s.

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See the blue?
Walls stripped and door
You see the borders? I will restore them! I promise.

I am not sure how I will ever find out in its entirety who lived in the palazzo during all its glorious life, but I can tell you I will do my best to find the characters and to write their story. And to fill its rooms with glory of the past, modernization of today and beauty representing all the centuries: past, present and future.

And I am on my way.. stay tuned…

 

 

 

Piano Piano Slowly Slowly

So are you all wondering if I made the grade when meeting the nobility of Arpino?? And how was New Year’s Eve? And truly, how did it really go down when actually buying this property??

Let’s start with New Year’s Eve and in the old adage of a picture is worth a thousand words.. behold!The salon ready for the dinner party!Kylie's Xmas Tree

Need I say more? It was a magical night and here I am with LLA (Lovely Lady from Australia) and we are giggling and gossiping like teenagers! Kim and Kylie New Year's Eve 2016 2

Kim and Kylie New Year's Eve 2016Yes, those frescoes are real and the living room is actually 100 meters square. And the house is really from the mid 12th century! It was a FANTASTIC evening full of laughter, singing, dancing, and course upon course as only the Italians know how to do it! And yes, the nobility of Arpino were just that NOBLE! from the core – you could feel it, you could see it and yes, I felt honored to be among them.

And no, I didn’t understand a word! But there were a few who spoke English and I am adapt at making myself understood with a host of smiles, hand gestures and an occasional look at Google Translate! my new best friend! But it didn’t really matter. There is a universal language of food and dance. And bringing in the new year! It was lovely to hear and see how this Italian town, my Italian town, rings in the New Year. And for the first time in years, I really did get home in the wee hours of the morning and slept half the next day away!

And in the spirit of the season, I had bought a small gift to the Sangermano’s who of course were in attendance that evening and in whose house, I now sit writing this entry, surrounded by warmth of a fire in the fireplace (read MAJOR ACHIEVEMENT!) and a lovely workman working with me stripping 50 year old wallpaper off the walls to discover the layers of the past. First fire in living room

Sergio stripping wallpaper

A late afternoon last January – almost a year ago from today – I had sat around that very same living room you see decorated for the holiday above – the Cossa’s living room -but the circumstances were very different. It had been a week of lawyers, and due diligence and non disclosures. It was late Friday afternoon and I was determined if I was to sign this deal it must be before the beginning of Shabbat. I know.. perhaps silly.. but I would not sign after the sun had set and I would not be there the next day! So it was do or die..as they say.. and wow! What a week it had been.

Italians love their paperwork and as we know this house was ‘iffy’ when it came to the actual state of the house. There had been an earthquake, there was damage in the house – the question was the extent of the damage and how much would it cost to repair it (read getting THREE builders to give me estimates) – getting the actual papers stating that the property was indeed livable from the council. Although there was the legal livable classification A2  on some of the documents, it turns out that there are also papers from the fire department, being the department in the city responsible for declaring after an earthquake what is inhabitable and what is not – that needed to be found to see what exactly those papers said. And then there was the issue of who was telling me what and who should I believe and whose interests were being served by whom!! THAT had been my week!!

In the end LL and LLA – Lovely LAWYER and Lovely Lady from Australia interpreting things to MMIGH (Macho Male Italian with Golden Heart) who then spoke to ALL four owners and lawyers and councilmen.. were able to put all the pieces together that needed to be pulled together and I will never forget – Paulo or Marco – one of the young Sangermano’s who owned part of this house – running up the stairs of the Cossa’s 12th century palazzo waving a piece of paper.. A piece of paper that without which my lawyer told me NOT to sign.. .and so, a few minutes before the sun set on Arpino that January day.. the piece of paper arrived, my lawyer gave her go ahead and I signed the contract. Not that SCF (sleazy cold fish) was happy and in the end EVERYONE told her to just shut up because for whatever reason she seemed to be determined to make this deal fall apart.. she eventually shrunk away.. and I have never wanted to speak to her again.

I signed – minutes before the sun set – but what about the signatures of the 4 owners of the Palazzo, one of whom is 93 years old? As I boarded my plane to Tel Aviv the next day, I had a message that three of the four owners had signed the contract.. but not the 93 year old widow.. What if she was to die in the meantime?.. I know.. what a terrible thought.. but all I could think about was what if??

I landed in Tel Aviv, one daughter picked me up.. and we drove to the other’s and just at that moment I received a text that the 93 year old woman HAD SIGNED and Palazzo Sangermano had for all intent and purposes changed hands to me and by default to my two daughters! The Lindy women and our families! We owned a Palazzo in Italy! OMG!!! What had I done??? And we danced and danced around my eldest daughter’s living room with my granddaughter singing we own a palace, we own a palace and we did!! and We do.. and it is still OMG!!

And now I sit, in this grand living room with a fire blazing (Yes, read again MAJOR ACHIEVEMENT!) with WiFi and a computer… typing away as a lovely workman named Sergio carefully removes 50 year old wallpaper to reveal the colors of the past walls and the frescoes underneath. So slowly, slowly, piano, piano we begin to rebuild this ancient house to honor its past and give life to its future.

 

Arpino, My Happy Place

I have to tell you.. It’s New Year’s Eve.. I am writing this post, a Bailey’s Cream in one hand, about to get dressed up and head off to meet The Society of Arpino at a New Year’s Eve Ball held in the fresco-ed  100 meter ball room of my dear friend’s palazzo. This is quite a night for me.. being introduced to THE GROUP.. the nobility of My Italian Town… it’s all quite fun.. not to be taken too seriously and to be truly enjoyed as only an outsider can enjoy looking in at a 300 year old society of inbred nobility taking themselves way too seriously I am sure!! BUT WHAT FUN!! I will put faces to names.. I have my little notebook full of Italian phrases talking about the weather and other inane topics.. and I am sure I will only smile politely and pretend to understand what I totally DON’T understand.

Arpino is decked out for the holiday season in glory done very tastefully.arpino christmas tree

And it feels so right that I am here celebrating the secular holiday with my Italian house and in this town.

It’s been a year, this 2015, no? The purchase of my Italian Palazzo … just waiting for me to renovate it and breathe beauty into its old regal bones. The start is slow, but I am not going anywhere and either is the house. It has waited this long, it will wait a little longer for new coats of paint the exact right color and the exact right piece of furniture for this room or that and the light fixtures and original stone flooring that I need to find from somewhere.

My morning walks are now an integral part of my Arpino routine. Every day finding new paths in this alternative universe that speak of the past and leave me feeling like I am intruding the present on the ancient stones. street old for my storyThe cold air hits me hard as I shut my huge wood doors in the morning. And yet, like a diving into a cold pool, I warm up as I walk. Walking up closer to the mountains, it is even colder so I turn around and break into a run as I head down hoping it will be a bit warmer as I head towards the edge of town going towards the valley. But I don’t go too far down.. the town calling me back. See the word Arpino in Latin.. one of the ancient gates into the town.arpino gate collearpino street calling meArpino (2)

I can’t tell you how lucky and blessed I feel that this is the house that I bought.. from such little things as realizing that thank goodness that light fixture is JUST above my door so I can see where to put my key in at night light above my door

to radiators that work! and a garage to pull into with my groceries! A three minute walk to the Piazza for anything I might need.Arpino (5)

Arpino has become my happy place, my truly happy place where I can breathe in fresh mountain air, sink into a routine of the slow life, cooking only what is bought fresh that day at the markets and letting the sun dictate when I get up and when I go to bed. Every day I am busy with something or the other. .. deciding on a new color for that room or driving to a new mountain town or planning a trip to a new village not far away.

I walk to the piazza and am greeted with good mornings and smiles and nods as people start to recognize this crazy lone American Israeli woman who shows up every once in a while in their town. I am welcomed with warmth, hugs and kisses on both cheeks. The coffee bar owner knows how I take my coffee at the end of my morning walk.. without me even needing to say a word, it waits for me within a second of him seeing me. And so you see, I am truly blessed to have found my little piece of peace in my Italian town. A place where I can recharge my run down batteries as one’s battery does tend to wear down living in Israel. And it waits for you. It is a palace meant to be shared – for you to find your favorite corner and to discover secrets that only you will be able to find in this wonderful house and in this magical town.

Welcome 2016!! Let’s see what you have in store !!2016 2