While I felt an immediate affinity to the villa in Marinelli, Jessica was less than unconvinced that this place could ever be our home. Her reaction struck me hard, as rarely before had we not instantly been in tune on such an important matter. Our tastes, priorities, goals and dreams had always been so in synch that, when later that evening she told me that she was not impressed with the property, I began to question my own take on it. But, as we talked further, it became clear that her concerns were negative reactions to things that could be remedied. All that would be required were (1) a willingness to violate the rule that we would not take on a renovation project; (2) a great deal more money than we had any intention of spending; and (3) such trust in people we hardly knew that it bordered on foolhardiness. Sounded fine to me.
We were accompanied on the tour of the property by Pietro, the proud owner of the villa. He had built it himself, and he and his wife had raised their three children in it. By all indications, the villa was his fourth child. Though he and his wife had moved out of the home nearly ten years ago and into another place just up the road, he continued to tend the land as he had done for a generation. Now in his late-sixties, Pietro had a bum hip and could not get around the way he’d have liked to, but he is quick to smile and he loves this place.
I think that what took Jessica’s breath away as we entered the villa, was the kitchen. The floor was covered by old-style Italian tiles laid-out in a square pattern of almost a fleur-de-lis motif. They were a medium brown color and, to my mind, very appropriate for an Italian kitchen. The problem was more that the walls were also covered by tiles that, neither by their colors nor their patterns, were remotely consonant with the floor. In fact, they two clashed quite violently. For Jessica, that set the tone.
We visited the large living room next and found it to be full of natural light and high-ceilinged, quite to the contrary of many of the places we had seen earlier in the day. We walked down the hallway with its beautifully-crafted chestnut arch and walked into each of the three generous bedrooms and a fourth room between the master bedroom and the kitchen that might have been a pantry. Strike two for Jessica was thrown when we saw the one bathroom in the house. Once again, tiles covered the floor and the walls, but this time, the tiles were the same giving us a sense that the room was small, round and featureless. The bathroom fixtures were of a similar color to the background of the tiles which almost made them disappear. The shower, such as it was, was an Italian version and something that we might think of as half of a bathtub with a shower head. Too small to bathe in, but taking up too much room to simply be a shower. I could see what Jessica was thinking from the look on her face. “I don’t think so.”
We left the living quarters and toured the other parts of the villa: the cantina, where the canning was done and wine was stored; the forno, the wood-fired pizza and bread oven; the external bathroom for use after working in the fields; three large storage areas where equipment was kept. Finally, there were three small buildings that were attached to each other but separate from the main house. I asked Pietro what they were for.
He pointed to the first enclosure, part stone, part wire fence, mostly stench. “Per i polli,” he said. For the chickens. Referring to the second building, he said, “Per i conigli.” For the rabbits. The last shack, “Per i cani.” For the dogs. At this point, Jessica was ready to leave.
Fortunately for our story, we walked out of the compound to an area that overlooked the olive grove. There were about eighty trees in all, though it didn’t occur to us to count them that day. We were much too busy looking at the beauty of them and dreaming of the time that we might tend to them and actually see olives hanging on their branches. I looked at Jessica and saw that we were back on the same frequency. The tiles on the kitchen walls could be removed; the bathroom could be re-done; the animal enclosures could be removed. All that we found objectionable could go away and we would be left with, well, our dream.
Next Up: Let’s Make a Deal