By the time we got to Puglia on that Sunday, our heads were spinning. There were so many things we had to get done and only five days in which to do them.
The closing was scheduled for the following evening at the office of the notaio in Fasano, a drive of about twenty minutes from Cisternino. We used the earlier part of Monday to begin planning the work that needed to be done to the villa. Once again, Colleen and Francesco were our guide and counsel. We met them at the Real Estate Cisternino office in the morning and talked about how we could get the project done while we sat 5,000 miles away. When Jessica and I worked through the design of a kitchen and two bathrooms in our Pittsburgh home, it took us three months to review all of the options and make all of the decisions. For Villa Tutto, we had less than five days to work through all of that.
The kitchen, we learned, could be relatively easy to do: we simply go to a kitchen/appliance store, pick appliances and cabinets, do a lay-out of the space and, once we commit to it, the store has the units built and installs the whole package. Colleen would go with us the next day to a place with which she had had good experiences.
For the rest of the works, she and Francesco recommended a contractor named Michele DiCesare. They had done some work with him in the past and were currently working with his company on some other projects. Being babes-in-the-wood when it came to the subject of contractors in Puglia, we readily relied on the advice and agreed to meet with Michele at the property on Wednesday and go over the plans.
Though we still had much to do, at least now we had a plan: Monday, open a bank account and close on the property; Tuesday, buy the kitchen; Wednesday, go over the rest of the project with the contractor so that we could get a price by the end of the week; Thursday, select all of the fixtures for the two bathrooms; Friday, finalize everything, sign the construction contracts and deal with any extraneous items; Saturday, drive back to Rome for the flight home on Sunday. Surprisingly, that is pretty much just how the week actually went.
The closing went smoothly, though the requirement that the final deeds had to be read aloud, first in Italian by the notaio and then in English by the official translator (Colleen) made it a long evening. Colleen and Francesco took us out afterwards to celebrate which we did with luscious salice salentino, the deep red wine of central Puglia. Bar Pacific on Via Roma in Cisternino was the venue and the wine was accompanied by a variety of small plates of antipasti. It was the perfect end to a day that changed our lives.
Late the next morning, Jessica and I left our bed & breakfast, picked up Colleen at her office, and drove to the nearby town of Locorotondo to visit Euromobili, a furniture and appliance store. Colleen introduced us to Mimmo, a gentlemen with whom she had worked on previous kitchen projects. The first thing we did was to meander through the store’s impressive showroom. The sample kitchens we saw, perhaps thirty of them, exhibited some of the highest of Italian design and were stunning in their beauty and use of space. It was hard to imagine a anything so sleek in the room that would be our kitchen. Francesco then joined us and the four of us sat for the next couple of hours with Mimmo making all of the decisions necessary to enable him to put a final quote together. What kind of counter-top did we want? What about the cabinets? How many? What material? Do you want a dishwasher? How about a back splash? And, since everything had to be translated by Colleen in both directions, the session seemed to last even longer.
After some time, the lights in the store went out and Mimmo had to go turn them back on. It seems that we were violating the mid-day break that normally begins at 1:30 and ends at 4:30. Mimmo made a phone call to his wife, explaining to her that he would not be home for lunch today. Apparently, the message did not sit well with Mrs. Mimmo since the phone call lasted quite a bit longer than it should have. In any case, we all went back to work on the kitchen.
Finally, Mimmo hit the button on his computer that gave us the total cost of the kitchen we had selected. The figure showed 21,000 euro, 9,000 over budget. Back to the drawing board we went, cutting here, compromising there. Finally, after some conciliation and some hard negotiating by Francesco, we got the number down to 18,000. “We’ll just have less money to spend on the bathrooms,” I said to Jessica on our way out of the store. Yeah, right!
The next day, Wednesday, we met Michele. The first impression one gets of Michele is that he is happy. Except when he talks, which admittedly is frequently and rapidly, he smiles. Against the olive complexion typical of southern Italy, his red cheeks scream for a pinch and he has a creative side that became apparent as he advised us on how the project should be done. “All we really need,” I said in vain, “is a bathroom added next to the master bedroom and the other bathroom upgraded with new fixtures.” Michele had other ideas. Our budget of 5,000 for the new bathroom and 3,000 for the existing one disappeared in a puff of reality.
Michele explained, through Colleen, that, in order to put the new bathroom in, he would have to run a trench through the floor the entire width of the house so that the drain could connect to the septic tank, which, by the way, had to be replaced since it does not meet current EU standards. Oh, and the electrics are very old and probably not safe, so the house should be re-wired and a new service put in. And, as long as we’re cutting through the plaster walls to re-wire, don’t you want air conditioning put in. It would be a great time to do that since the boiler is as old as the house and has to be replaced. The new boiler, now that I think about it, won’t be compatible with the existing radiators, so they have to go. The new convection ones are very efficient though. And on and on.
By the time we were done, we had commissioned Michele to do 40,000 euros worth of work on the villa and we haven’t regreted it for a second.
Next: Waking Up in Villa Tutto