We are locked down. We are vaccinated, all once, some twice, yet our numbers are terrible. Our kids are home from work and school and life is somehow going on. Everyone is figuring out how to ‘make do’.
Outside my window, the window of my home office for the last 13 years, are the sounds of my grandchildren laughing. How lucky am I to live in the same town as my children, to have had my daughter Alona running a nursery school in my house and backyard for the last eight years. It was closed by COVID but now in lockdown, old staff and babysitters are here in a space made just for them, taking care of my young grandchildren, a few of their friends from the bubbles that they have formed. They are climbing in the castle, eating snack at the table, playing in the toy kitchen and talking about robots and dinosaurs! In these days of such uncertainty, it is for me the sound of normality and joy.
My oldest grandchild is in the living room in her zoom classroom. Her breaks with her young cousin and brother in the yard. And I, even though vaccinated twice, with my mask when I see them. But for the most part, I just listen to the sound of their play, the joy of the young and know I am blessed not only that they are so close, but that they too are able to have this bit of normality. And that we are all healthy.
Arpino seems so far away. A dream really…. It was always an alternative universe and with today’s world seems more so than ever.. And ironic that is now, during this period, I watch from afar as the Palazzo becomes Palazzo Leonessa with all the glory that I felt it could be when I first entered its doors six years ago.
As the passing of the paint store in Rome brought Cristiana into my life, staring at the back of a sweatshirt in a hardware store in Sora brought us G. For it was a chance meeting with the back of this sweatshirt advertising in English renovation services, and a storekeeper asking the sweatshirt to translate a request my dear friend was asking for a certain kind of sandpaper, that now this wonderful person is transforming the palazzo with his brush and his tools! Believe me, if he had not been wearing his sweatshirt that day, at that time, at that store, my life and that of the palazzo would be much poorer.
Before I even met the Palazzo or dreamed of owning a property in Italy, I happened upon a 3 day itinerary of Rome with wonderful places and secret cafes put together by an Italian designer. That little piece of writing became my bible for a few years.. always seeking out another one of the haunts when I was in Rome. I looked up the author on a whim, found her books and I discovered the vibrant colors that she was using on ancient properties and it filled me up. And I think they became a part of me, even subconsciously, living in me.
When I met the palazzo the colors of the ancient tiles shouted to me. They were overpowered at the time with the overriding color of Italian marrone – an awful brown – that was used on everything it could possibly be on – the fireplace, the walls, the borders, the doors.. but I saw past what was ugly in my eyes and knew there was another life after brown. Maybe I bought the palazzo because I wanted to free it from that brown, to give it vibrancy and happiness.
With the eventual structural problems lasting years, the colors were lost, drowned out by lintels, screed and concrete.
And then it was done (well 90%, we still have the roof terrace stairwell and stairs to complete). And over the last few months, under the vision and supervision of our dear devoted Cristiana, the rooms have been painted by G. or finished with a very specialized team of Italian art ‘decorators’ experienced in retaining the original color patina and history of the rooms.
Not explicitly explained to me, although I think understood by osmosis, each color Cristiana has recommended for the palazzo, whether for tile or paint, has been based entirely and solely on the colors of the original Majolica tiles that we found in the house. The tiles pictured above are all over 300 years old, each with a factory stamp testifying to its original status, where and by whom they were made. A research project waiting.
Cristiana chose each new color carefully to mirror the history and authenticity of the tiles to create a space that respects the past. She has designed and integrated all 21 rooms to reflect the continuity of the centuries while creating a beauty for today. I couldn’t respect her more.
Although we are still looking at only the beginning of the final room transformations, I can’t help but be overwhelmed with the joy these colors and design bring. Finally, the feeling of the vision that I had six years ago is coming to life.
These are rooms whose history needs to be preserved.
And a fresco who had first peeked out at me has now finally fully emerged.
And with the colors comes the textiles, the patterns, the richness and design of the furnishings that will in the end, make this palazzo not only a tribute to its past but a glory in the present.
And so Arpino awaits
Next time a story about our Ladies and the other magical finds who are making their way home to live their next life in Palazzo Leonessa
And let’s not talk about that country being Italy.. the first Western country to be overcome by COVID. The images coming out of Italy were devastating. We all held our breath and just watched. I had just come back from a trip to Venice – January 30th to February 4th. A short jaunt to look for chandeliers and lanterns and breathe Venice in the winter without too many tourists. I asked a girlfriend, Amalyah, if she would like to come. She answered with a hell yes, when the tickets from Tel Aviv were practically nothing and we were staying with a friend from Amsterdam who was house/cat-sitting at her friend’s apartment on a canal not far from Academia. And Cristiana even said she would join us from Rome. What could be bad?
As the date drew nearer and reports of the virus increased, one of my daughter’s became very concerned, urging us to cancel. We went to the pharmacy, masks were sold out – there certainly weren’t stocks of masks then.. the pharmacist said buy extra absorbent paper towels, fold them in quarters and wrap a scarf around your head – much better than masks. Were we really doing this? We got on the plane.. landed in an empty airport.. waited for the water bus, just the two of us and another crazy Israeli family taking advantage of the low airfares, winter.. so much was not known yet.. it was just the beginning …. I had my paper towels folded in my pockets, my alcohol gel in my bag and a scarf over my nose and mouth whenever we were in a public place. I felt fine. We slid in under the last days of this kind of freedom.
And I wouldn’t trade those four days now for anything! The memories of feeling and living Venice in its most magical winter mist and those few days devoted to looking for beauty (and bargains!) for our dear palazzo.
We were actually on a hunt for lights for the upstairs loggia and I, not really adoring the red/coral chandeliers in the living room, wanting to find something I WOULD adore, in order to replace/exchange them.
To refresh your memory, here is the loggia area with my then 2 year old grandson enjoying the run and the end door frame still needing its new coat of paint.. And of course.. the hanging light wires needing fixtures!
Back in Venice, my friend and I had been wandering the ‘streets’ – getting lost which is par for the course in this city, waiting for the others to arrive and finding ourselves in a lovely coffee shop.. now am I interested in the coffee or the cakes?.. not really. I just needed to sit down, but my eyes go immediately to the design mounting of the lights.. and my heart says.. yes.. this could do in our palazzo.. in the loggia with the right 4 lanterns… we had been looking for two large ones, but 4 smaller ones might be just fine and fit my budget better.
Cristiana had sent me pictures from a previous trip to Venice of very typical and peculiarly Venetian lanterns. I wasn’t in love – two different colors and pretty expensive .. I had told her to pass.. Then she found these at a market – also expensive. I told her to pass.. But the shape, the history, the glass started to grow on me as I did more research. Do you get the impression that we have been looking for lights for the loggia for years?? Well we have! My photo drive is filled with scores of pictures of potential lanterns for the loggia.
I liked the shape of the round ones better than the elongated so actually being in Venice we decided to look and scout for the store where Cristiana had seen them the summer before. Perhaps I would fall in love. Of course, we didn’t find that warehouse again and who knows…. they most likely didn’t have 4 that we needed. BUT we did find a small store with one hanging from the ceiling as their own light! We asked her if it would be for sale (what light fixture is not for sale on Murano??) and if she had more.. she brought this down from the storeroom.. Original glass.. perhaps 2 more?? I don’t know, she says.. really buy these two.. and we say ..no we need 4.. She said come back tomorrow..
As our other mission involved a very large warehouse of too many chandeliers and too many choices.. we knew we would be back the next day. And continued on our way.
Now we are back to the red chandeliers. Maybe I should take a poll of my loyal readers as does my uncomfortableness with them justify taking them down, wrapping them up, shipping them back for something I have not seen that I adore?
So here they are: in day light, at night, with some furniture and some not. Of course, there are no pictures on the walls aside from our 1700 Fresco and there are planned consoles and a coffee table made from our original tiles.. but I went to see what I could find that I would like better in that room.
You see my dilemma. Would gold work better? Blue? But which ones? A nice little red accent? A totally crazy Murano flower?? I actually gave up! I think it would have helped if my friends and my designer were more on my side – but they seem to think the red goes just fine!
After we exhausted ourselves thoroughly and totally never dreaming we would not be able to hop back in a few months, we headed back to the little tiny store with our two small lanterns hoping for a win.. maybe there would be 2 more. And yes! she did manage to find two more – the price of all four being a good deal less than one large hanging light made today! Give me history and hand blown glass any day!
And feeling a bit disillusioned at a totally not typical scenario for me of no decisions on the living room chandeliers, I said pack them up!
We celebrated with a walk to Fortuny the next day where I was introduced to a world of fabrics and luxury reserved for the rich and famous. I fell in love. And feeling particularly pleased with our lantern decision, let everyone talk me into a beautiful burgundy and silver velvet scarf which I have left hanging over a chair in my bedroom to remind me of our 4 days of bliss before the world became a different place.
And back in Arpino….
The lanterns arrived safely within the month and decisions made on the placing and height. Did they do a good job without me?
And so this is what it has become with COVID – no travel – others deciding and working on your project and you seeing the pictures.. watching the videos.. remembering the moments and keeping optimistic by being involved.. moving what you can forward and knowing that we will be back – enjoying the little victories and making sure the house stays safe and sound. And finally seeing a newly renovated front door that we will walk through one day soon!
I guess this of all days is the day to be thinking about writing a blog post about my Italian adventure.. This day of all days.. Five years ago, I got on a night flight to Rome. Knowing I wanted to enter Arpino in the day light, got a car, found the hotel in Fiumicino close to the airport, went to sleep and was up and on the road by 07.30. These romantic pictures from the internet ad fueling my imagination.
If I had only known then, what I know now.. would I have gotten on that plane, gotten in that car… made that drive… ?
I honestly don’t know the answer to that. Hindsight is 20/20 and I have about 0/10 these days.. so even with all I know now.. all the understanding and knowledge I have gained, all the lies I have uncovered and all the truths I have had the privilege to learn.. would I have gotten in the car, started this journey on my own, had I the vaguest idea of what I was in for?? I honestly can say, if I had known, I am not sure I would have made that drive….
But that is actually not relevant, is it? I got in that car and honestly never got out. I stayed on that journey, and perhaps coming into the home stretch (although this is Italy and I can not imagine there is a home stretch!). And if I had to put the columns of pros and cons against each other – again simply weighing the journey – not the house – not the south of Rome, but the journey.. I can say – Yes, it has definitely been worth it.
It has been what I said I wanted – out loud and to myself – when I first saw this 500 meter, 18 room property – a project for my 60s.. And that it has been! The most fantastic of all projects giving me insight in a way I never could have imagined into Italian life, culture, people, even law. The opportunity to see and experience a country in a way that no tourist ever could and at the same time testing me in more ways than one could imagine. It is a creative outlet, an education in ancient building engineering, heating, plumbing and electricity; a test of how to take life, a lesson on how to laugh, enjoy and appreciate the most basic necessities and see the tiniest detail, knowing every step that got that item into its correct place, 450 meters above sea level to an ancient Roman town, to a large old palazzo, up a street barely a meter wide that has two way traffic! The stories there are to tell….
But what has absolutely made this journey worthwhile – is the people that I have met directly or indirectly because of the house and the adventures we have. Memories that we have made and the experiences we have had, could fill a book and each one different, full of life and passion and every emotion in between – from fields of tiles, to the outlet store of curtain materials to charades in the living room with friends from 5 different countries to the antique market in Arezzo to the paint store in Sora to the old man who made the fireplace in his youth…
And along the way and perhaps this is JUST the way and the point… bringing an ancient palazzo that had experienced years of neglect, back to some kind of beauty.. not its original, not what it was.. but a new beauty … the result of many talented people who add their love, passion, dedication, art and vision to create a place to experience the best of life.
Let’s face it. I am a perfectionist. Not the kind of perfectionist that needs everything to be perfect by someone else’s standard but the kind of perfectionist that needs everything to be exactly as I think it should be, planned it to be and paid for it to be! And when that doesn’t happen.. all hell breaks loose!! Let’s just say, I am not a nice person.
And then we have Italy! And we have, as I like to put it ‘people who sit on the other side of the desk’. I learned a bit of tolerance (I am being large here!) when running big commercial law firms. I knew there was a reason I was sitting on one side of the desk and the person opposite me, on the other. I was the CEO and the person sitting opposite me was not. I tried to remember that when solving problems. I seem to have forgotten that over the last three months!!
Not that it would have done me any good. Maybe just in my level of angst. Over the last few months, I kept telling myself this is a project I took for my sixth decade, I have enjoyed most of the ride and with one or two emails, I can put this monstrosity of a house right where I found it, on the sale market. BUT as a LEGAL house, structurally sound, renovated and every bedroom (all six) en-suite as well as a guest powder room! And that is an achievement right there! So buck up!
It didn’t work. I have been miserable in the mistakes others made, resulting in legal proceedings (still hoping to avoid), non-professional cleaning of a construction site, non professionals doing jobs they have no business attempting (but of course said they could), jobs still unfinished or not done well and things I don’t absolutely adore.
The glass has been half empty, not half full. And who likes to feel like that? Certainly not me or my normal state of being. So let me take you through a journey that will make us both feel better.
Exit the structural works building team. VERY sorry to see them go, but the price they wanted to complete the internal restoration was so much more than the local teams that I reluctantly said goodbye. MISTAKE! but hindsight is 20/20.
The work they did was phenomenal. Take a look at this before and after:
If you zoom in you can see the quality of the work. My part of the palazzo that you view here is the upper floor. I paid for the restoration of these outside walls in addition to the structural work cost that I shared with my neighbors (they own the garden – I get the courtyard). I hope you agree that this a builder who knows what he is doing and a designer who knows how to pick colors!
In all fairness to the builder that took over, they did do the floors well and when the tradespeople themselves were doing the work most went well – until it didn’t. However, they didn’t seem to be able to follow a plan. Cristiana had to physically be there telling them exactly what to do at all times. And when she wasn’t there (who can be at one job site ALL the time??) mistakes were constantly made and then needed to be corrected.
You might remember that all the floor tiles had to be pulled up, steel added for structural safety. Then I needed (again at cost only to me – Italian law!) to increase the height of the floor and put all the floor tiles back AND then adjust and shorten ALL the doors (35 of them!) and hardware in order to be able to put them back and have working doors and windows.
So this was the opportunity to redesign the floor patterns to exactly what we wanted. And the idea was to have the ancient tiles mix with compatible new tiles giving the palazzo an integrated look and feel that had been missing. The feeling was not of one flowing space. So we sought to correct this. This was not easy either design wise or logistically because the tiles are not the same thickness.
And the result is something that now feels more like one home
The floors could not be laid until the plumbing and heating pipes were laid. And until the floors were done, other things couldn’t be done.. and so it went on for several months. The plumber and heating crew turning out to be the most professional and up to date with modern communication and technology (yes, they answer email and have WhatsApp!!) which is wonderful except they don’t run the gas company.
If I tell you that I have been waiting for a connection to the city gas line that runs right outside my house (read HOT WATER) for over two years, would you believe me?? Not likely, but I do not lie.. Fingers crossed before the winter I will have heat and hot water. I am not confident!
None the less, I have six beautiful bathrooms and a guest powder room.. and no, you can’t have a hot water shower in any of them yet except the one in the downstairs apartment which is connected to a gas balloon in the courtyard in the meantime! In August, nine people, one shower. Do the math. We managed!
The en-suites and spectacular powder room being created.
The best part of this adventure (aside from having a fabulous vacation house in ITALY to share with family and friends and an upstairs and downstairs kitchen!) has been the friendships I have made along the way, the trips to the markets and the second hand antique stores.. the picking out each piece with care and love.
So let’s get back to this perfectionist thing. Are we finished? Far far from it.
Did I want to throw in the towel at several points during this process particularly recently? Yep.
Am I ready to move forward now? Yes, but maybe a bit more carefully, paying for high quality tradesmen as I can (we still have the steps and rooftop terrace to tackle building wise!). And taking our time to get things done. At this point there is no hurry. No August deadline of children and grandchildren coming. And we had a lovely and very happy time.
And I will start posting before and after pictures as the rooms get more finished. And yes, they are and will be phenomenal! To my perfect! I won’t have it any other way, would I? So stayed tuned…
My loyal readers, my friends and well wishers… I have been absent not so much on purpose but more afraid to jinx what is going so well!
Of course, there have been the normal telenovelas in Arpino (they do like their dramas!) and more Stateside with terribly sad stories of after months of planning for my 92 year old mother to join me, her granddaughters and great grandchildren in a land full of family, warmth and sunshine, she is trying to be stopped for reasons beyond anyone’s rational understanding. But that is another story, not one for these happy pages.
On September 17 and only on that day, did we actually know for sure that the renovations would begin as the public area that the crane needed to stand had been lent to Telecom and of course Telecom didn’t answer the commune whether they agreed that we use this space… But magically by the end of the day (I suspect our builder waved a wand of some sort!), the crane was standing where it needed to … by the way.. if the crane couldn’t stand there, the whole renovation project as approved would have needed to be scraped! No wonder I didn’t want to even speak about it out loud!
And here we are, three months to the day, with the structural renovations virtually finished!
Going up the street
Crane waiting to go up the street
And so it began.
The crane’s first reach
Then the scaffolding
When I went for my site visit, it was quite unbelievable to see that this scaffolding is put up within 10 cm. of the wall of the house! The commune would not allow it to be built any further out because of the narrowness of the street!
Then all my gorgeous tiles were unceremoniously removed
I am actually glad I was not there when this was done. I know that it would have broken my heart, not to mention what I would have felt as a tile was broken as inevitably happened, more than once.
All the tiles were then removed to a cantina (garage) up the street where good people are cleaning them, counting them and preparing them for being set back again into the floor
And the work on the roof begins
And on rainy days this happens to the floors
The now finished roof!
But the palazzo still looks like this:
However, this story is not all about a building site… See those concrete floors.. we have to put back tiles, no? Create something magnificent… a background on which to build the ‘wow’ of each room. Many stores, more versions of ceramic stone tiles than you could even imagine existed, even fields of tiles!!!
But yes, eventually we have found and agreed upon (!!) the perfect tile.. now for the calculations of how many, which sizes, which hew of the various shades … ??
Here is Cristiana planning it all.. Of course, I am there adding my two cents… we are both drinking spritz’s… knowing that having fun, enjoying each step along the way, appreciating the joy in creating this piece of history is what it is all about!
The last two months have seen REAL progress in my alternative universe! The most important being that the regional permission for the major structural works was finally applied for and GRANTED this week.
Of course there is a back story.. some of which you already know… but finally our THIRD engineer (in two years) produced a structural work plan that all parties agreed to, stuck to deadlines, moved quickly, produced all the documentation, submitted everything even creating a password for me to get into the region’s website so I could follow the progress (like a fed ex tracking number! very cool).
Of course, it was helped along by me getting on a plane to have the necessary meetings with the necessary people and just keep everyone moving in the right direction. And again, I have said it before.. and I say it again.. without Google Translate.. I don’t think I would survive because none of the people speak English! I prepared for the meeting extensively beforehand with many emails to everyone (using of course GT!).. and during the meeting my cohorts are patience enough and respect me enough to use it when necessary so I follow everything.
Italians are SO not Israeli or American in mentality.. they just aren’t.. and even if I may be frowned upon for going directly, CONSISTENTLY to the BOTTOM LINE.. well.. So be it! At least for now.. with all the delays, we seem to be finally progressing in a forward motion.
The construction proposal is out for builder bids. The builders have been given a deadline to submit their proposal. We have multiple builder bids out, so anyone who doesn’t adhere to the deadline will be out automatically. I leave for Italy mid-July and if a decision is not reached before then, during my first few days there, we will meet to make a decision. And all the builders have been given a start date of construction September 1. If you can’t start then.. don’t bid!
I know I may be being overly optimistic, but I think it may actually happen. We need September and October without big rains to remove the roof tiles, do the necessary enforcement and put the roof back. So fingers crossed everything will keep on moving…
In the meantime, remember my recipe for keeping myself moving forward and sane during this time? Working on the downstairs … creating a courtyard and downstairs suite to rival the nicest 5 star hotel.. and making sure we have somewhere to stay during the renovations upstairs.. you do remember they have to bring up EVERY tile on EVERY floor in order to strengthen the ceilings downstairs and my own floors…. but I am diverting!
One day looking at one of my magazines I found this picture….
Believe it or not this is a renovated house somewhere in Italy. The person looking like a priest I think was added for atmosphere. And I thought.. hey.. the bottom part of my house supposedly dates from 1250.. wouldn’t it be cool to have some kind of painting on the wall itself…
I mentioned it to Cristiana, my designer, friend by now (!!) and she loved the idea so much that she came up with this:
In her former life, Cris studied art restoration in university and then went on to a design career, but she has painted and of course, Gaincarlo, whom you have met, came on board with this and the idea was born, refined and in early spring began!!
We started with this:
Discovering the beautiful stone under the white plaster
Notice the “new” fireplace
And Now Enter Giancarlo, Cristiana and their team
Starting at the very beginning .. a very good place to start.
Shadows and movement are still to be added to the painting, lights, furniture.. but I thought time to share with the world!
A few months ago I got an email from a university mate who asked if I was going to be in Italy over New Year’s… ummm I thought.. I could be.. so arrangements were made and I decided to try Ryanair as they just were beginning to fly from Tel Aviv to Rome directly.
In the meantime, I had decided that the wise thing would be to be IN Arpino when the most expensive single purchase aside from the house was being installed finally.. mainly the doors and windows downstairs.. so off I flew in November for 5 days to be ‘in residence’ when THE installation was to happen. I thought to myself.. what if they are hideous or don’t work.. I will just send them back, not accept them.. I must be there. Well, thank goodness nothing as dramatic happened but it was the wise choice as I needed to be on site to decide exactly where the large arched door should be placed, what it meant if there or there (having to do with the arch and how far the door would open etc) and other minor/major decisions. As a learning curve note, it really is best to be on site as much as possible during the renovations as only then you can make the decisions in real time, with the builders or tradespeople present. But as we all know, we don’t live in an ideal world so a lot of the time I need to leave things to others. This is the choice I make and I need to live with the consequences although I find I have much more fun with the whole project if I am there. And this was just too big an item to leave to anyone else! So off I went… And documented this with a great deal of pleasure!
And here are some other more dramatic shots… one could say, I feel quite pleased with myself, my team and the results! 🙂
Although perhaps hard to see here, in August I had ordered the cushions to go on the stone bench and the chairs. The color of the windows and doors was not picked yet, but making me ever so happy and most likely just because I like what I like.. not only do the cushions match the doors and windows, there is the exact color in the piping of what I eventually chose for the windows and doors.
Probably not of much interest to my audience, but just as an insight into the thought processes one must go through when picking colors and how it is done from long distance – I so much wanted that the whole feel of the courtyard would remain soft and truly not disturb or jolt one as you enter the house yet be modern and sophisticated and not ‘anemic’. The color needed to be decided upon suddenly of course and within a few hours! I ran to a hardware store in Ramat Hasharon getting the RAL color chart .. pretending I was needing paint for here.. looking a pictures.. sending choices.. my friend Kylie ran up to the property with her color charts.. and then my designer chiming in with what she thinks after I give her my top two.. and in the end .. just ‘going for it’ with a lot of prayers! AND seriously I think we all did a great job.. there is a little purple in the gray.. soft and goes with the pink painted wall and the stone in the courtyard.. not being too anemic and not making too much of a statement.. I guess in the summer when we are out in the courtyard enjoying a leisurely supper we will see really how it all feels…
In the same visit in November, my designer came down to also be there for the first day of installation of the windows and doors. These were her suppliers from Rome and she had designed the doors.. top to bottom.. after she and I had agreed on what we wanted.. but the design of these wood doors was not your ‘usual’ wood doors and she worked many hard hours explaining and making sure we got what we wanted. So of course she was there! 🙂 And she brought her friend, Giancarlo,who is now my art restorer and will be doing an amazing ‘restoration’ of the walls in the downstairs suite. (Stay tuned!) Here he is starting to clean the fresco that I bought in Arezzo last spring. He confirmed it was originally part of a larger room fresco painted on canvas. He dates it from the late 1700s.
We had a lively time.. and seriously one of the best visits in a long time… until the next one.
I made my plane reservations and then unexpectedly Alona and Matan and the kids wanted to come for Christmas week as Matan’s office was closed.. so they got their tickets, I changed mine and flew over a day earlier then them to get things ready… because what is the most important thing of all in the winter in our Arpino house??.. of course HEAT!
Upstairs, as we have determined, is large and without the bathrooms all being done, the logistics of being there with three kids under the age of 7 can be quite daunting. So Alona was determined with the installation of the windows and doors to be downstairs this visit… the question is would there be heat?? Without heat, I wouldn’t let them come. In November with the help of my designer and Antonio, I had ordered the gas heaters and boiler system for the downstairs suite. The restoration work involved all the laying of the gas pipes etc.. and we had asked in July for the property to be connected with the town gas which had a pipe ready exactly outside of my house.. HAH! December 20th and still no gas. Antonio calling every day.. no connection.. no gas… All the heaters finally arrived just a few days before I did.. the plumber being there on Tuesday to put it all in place. I arrived on Wednesday.. and STILL no gas connection.. so down to the corner store we go.. Antonio gets two bottles delivered and they hook the system up to the free standing bottles.. will it work?? Remember the kids are arriving Thursday night at midnight to freezing weather.. well.. believe it or not .. it all worked.. we needed to change the bottle of gas every 24 hours at Euros 30 a pop.. but THERE WAS HEAT.. The kids said it was like staying at a 5 star hotel.. YES! You know that is what I am going for.. 🙂 Here a few pictures of Christmas time in Arpino, Santa’s village, the mountains.. and OK, this IS why I bought the house!
The kids left.. and my friend Janis from Montreal arrived AND then Marly and Mariska from Amsterdam and Robbie and James from Israel.. and yes, time for Kim’s first dinner party in Arpino! With Janis and Marly to help and Robbie bringing half of Rome with her to make sure we had the best of the best…. a dinner terrific party was had!
With an after-party the next day!
Now.. who can beat this?
And then we all went to get prepared for our New Year’s Party.. but that is another story!
Yes, some time has passed since we are back and everyone returned to work and school routines, but looking over the last post written before we arrived for August vacation, you haven’t really been caught up on the actual renovations and the difference a few couches and rugs can make here and there!
Now don’t get too excited. This all looks OK now.. and there is a lovely rug between the couches and it certainly has served its purpose to make the house more livable, but the electricity in this room has not been touched, being still from the early 1900s. Furthermore, when the structural work begins this room will again become a building site, with the floor tiles removed for the strengthening chains to come across the entire room. Then concrete will be poured between the floor layer and a new floor to be picked and laid. You might notice an interesting design feature in this floor pattern that does not sit right with me (although the floor is from the early 1900s and the sign at that time was not Nazi.) However, it still is not something I wish to have in the house so the floor always needed to be replaced. We are just waiting until the floor is all brought up and then we will laid a new floor. Any suggestions??
And at the same time new electricity will be wired.. so now you know why there is just a light bulb hanging there! 🙂
However, as hinted to in the last blog post, there is the makings of a beautiful apartment downstairs and the courtyard almost finished. Is it possible to think that I might be able use this space, even to begin renting? And we all the know the answer to that.. maybe, yes…maybe, no… this is Italy!!
And the courtyard is almost done .. and yes, it is beautiful. I do concede! But finished? No!
So you see the empty wonderful ancient urn? well, it just needs to stay empty and no fountain either or anything breakable like a pair of wonderful lions I have my eye on.. why?? Because most likely when the structural works begin and it will begin one day.. the courtyard will be used as the store room for all the building materials and the place where the cement will be made!! Can you imagine putting in an ancient olive tree (which I think will look gorgeous) and then the builders coming in? No. I don’t think so. And the same for the imaginary fountain beside it and the lions I want to stand guard when I am not in residence.
You might remember the story of all that gorgeous ancient jasmine being chopped down by an overzealous workman and an absentee owner – me! -… well there is a lovely silver lining to that story.
Do you see that dark rectangular box? Well according to an art restorer who I managed to bribe to come down from Rome, the best friend of my FWD, he says that masks the original ‘stemma’ family emblem of the first owners. I haven’t yet made it to Caserta with Italian speakers to help me negotiate the bureaucracy of the records department.. but from what local legend says, the house was first a convent (although some say monastery) and then was bought by the family Sagneri who was or then married a Cossa (yes an ancestor of our very own MIMGH!) and then the property was sold or given as part of a dowry or trade to the Sangermanos.
So whatever turns out to be the real history the house, within a few months, we will have revealed what is behind that dark patch AND we would not have known it was there, if the jasmine had not been mistakenly chopped down! Agree, that is what silver linings are about? I certainly do!
In a few weeks the windows and doors of the courtyard are supposed to be installed and I am going over for the event! I can’t imagine such an important item (not to mention big ticket one) should happen without me being there. Stay tuned for more pictures!
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!).
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.
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….
And found a light for the kitchen that I absolutely adore:
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.
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
to bring back its natural chestnut
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
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.
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!
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.
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:
And look at the courtyard floor now:
And putting electricity lines for the courtyard lights:
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.
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.
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!
And it was so easy to get to.. an easy highway drive and then a ferry with wonderful views of other islands
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 waters
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!
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!’