The day after being introduced to Villa Marinelli, we returned to the search for a property that could be our home, but we now had the standard against which everything else would be measured. None of the eight we saw the next day came remotely close. Late that afternoon, we called Colleen and asked if we could visit the Marinelli property again that evening. I think that Jessica and I wanted to both confirm our affinity for the place and, on a very practical level, to see what work definitely had to be done and what it might cost to do it.
We arrived at the office of Real Estate Cisternino and, for the first time met Francesco, Colleen’s partner in life and in the business. Physically, he stands in sharp contrast to the blonde, tall and willowy Colleen. Francesco wears the dark swarthiness of the southern Italian and he cuts the figure of an athlete with broad shoulders and a narrow waist. His English was excellent so we sat a bit in the office and I asked the two of them what we should anticipate the costs to be were we to buy the villa in Marinelli, install a new kitchen, add a bathroom and update the existing one.
“I say, ” Francesco began, “maybe 12,000 euro for the kitchen and perhaps 5,000 euro for a second bathroom and maybe 3,000 to fix the one there.”
“So, for 20,000 euro we can do the work we would need to do,” I summarized, having done all the math in my head. I did so less to confirm what Francesco had said than to establish for Jessica that the difference between the house as it sat today and the one that we could enthusiastically call home was only 20,000 euro. She got it and I could see a bit of relief in her.
Francesco said something to Colleen in rapid-fire Italian to which she responded affirmatively and she picked up the phone and began to dial.
“Ciao, Vincenzo,” she said and then went off in Italian at a level exceeding my understanding. She hung up and turned to us. “Okay, we’re going to go now to the property and, on the way, we’ll pick up a man who can help us with the costs of what you want to do.” And, that’s exactly what we did. Just short of the turn off from the main road up to the village of Marinelli, we saw three men who appeared to be clearing large stones from a field. Colleen directed me to pull over just where they were and, when the car had stopped, she rolled down her window and called out to the oldest of the group. He issued some instructions to the other two and jumped into our car. Colleen introduced Vincenzo as a contractor with whom she and Francesco had worked on other projects and who had agreed to come with us to give us a better sense of the costs we might encounter to do the renovations we were considering.
“And how often do you stop along the road and pick up men?” Jessica asked Colleen. Only Vincenzo didn’t laugh.
Pietro was there to greet us once again and, since this was our second meeting, we had earned a kiss on each cheek from him. Again, as we had done the day before, we walked through the house, but this time there was Colleen telling Vincenzo what she understood us to want in the way of changes to the house. When she was finished, Vincenzo confirmed that the 20,000 euro number to do the kitchen, the new bathroom and fixing up the existing one was sufficient.
Francesco arrived just as we were finishing our talks with Vincenzo and it allowed me to ask another series of questions. One of the things I had noticed on this second visit was that the mechanical systems were very different from those we were used to. For example, where our water heaters are mostly cylindrical “silos,” the Italian version is one small tank in each room where hot water is required. Also, I’ve never lived in a place that did not have municipal water and sewage. This property had neither. I just wanted to understand how everything worked. By the time we left, I understood to a reasonable degree, how the systems functioned. One of the most discomfiting concepts was the idea that the only source of water to the house was rain that was collected in two large cisterns buried in the ground. One was for domestic use and the other for irrigation. This would take some getting used to.
As Francesco, Pietro and I were looking at the irrigation lines, I noticed a funnel made of sheet metal mounted on a tripod with the large opening at the top, perhaps ten inches across, and the small end, maybe two inches, at the bottom. There was a small, but very sharp knife in a slot on the side of the contraption. I asked Pietro, through, Francesco, what it was. I needed no more Italian than I had to understand his answer.
“You take the chicken,” he explained, “put it head-down into the funnel, take the knife and…” He simply made the motion.
I noticed another object propped up against one of the out-buildings. It appeared to be an old broom handle that was fitted at one end with a piece of metal in the shape of a hook. Pietro explained that he made it to help harvest the olives from the higher branches. He would use the hook to pull the branches down until he could reach them and take the olives off. Francesco commented, “So you waste nothing, eh?”
Pietro replied, “Tutto, tutto, tutto.” Everything, everything, everything. That night at dinner, Jessica and I named our new home and it has been, for us, Villa Tutto ever since.
The next day, our third of touring Pugliese properties, ended with a last visit to Marinelli. We had no real agenda for that stop and just ended up wandering among the olive trees. We had arranged to spend the next two days seeing properties but we decided then and there to cancel all of our appointments for the last day and concentrate on what we had to do to make Villa Tutto ours.
I called Colleen and told her that we had made the decision to move forward on the Marinelli villa. I also told her that we didn’t have a clue what came next. Fortunately, she did.
I hung up with Colleen and turned to Jessica. “Oh, crap,” I said. “I think this might happen.”
Next Up: The Italian Paper Chase