Actually, I don’t really know what the key to happiness is (“chiave” being Italian for “key”). I do know, though, that making one’s wife sleep in one’s rental car is a quick way to unhappiness. I learned that lesson when we returned to Puglia after our delightful visit with the Angelinis in Spello.
The six-hour drive south from Umbria to Puglia along the Adriatic coast was relatively uneventful. We did get quite lost early on when the normally-reliable GPS directed us into a field covered in fuschia poppies. Somehow, by instinct, we made our way back to the highway and headed south. The Apennines were on our right, to the west, and we were surprised that even in late-May, some of the peaks were snow-capped. The range runs for 750 miles, the entire length of the peninsula, from the Swiss Alps in the north to the tip of the toe of the boot. A branch of the chain turns east in the northern part of Puglia and forms the Gargano Promontory, an area familiar to hikers who are rewarded for their efforts with panoramic vistas of the Adriatic Sea.
It was mid-afternoon when we arrived to find Villa Tutto looking like a very different place from the one we left just a few months earlier. Michele and his crew had painted the every vertical surface with a white paint that seemed to luminesce in the sunlight. The two new concrete decks overlooking the olive grove would be places to enjoy cappucini in the morning and wine at all other times of day. The metal doors on the out-buildings, the front gate and all of the railing had been scraped, sanded and painted black. Everything looked new, fresh and clean.
And so, it was with light hearts that we lugged our heavy suitcases around the back of the house to enter the door into the kitchen. As arranged, Michele, who had changed all of the locks at our request, left us a key next to the cistern pump.
“Let’s remember to have a copy of that key made so that we both have one,” Jessica suggested.
“Absolutely,” I responded.
One by one the cases went into the kitchen. We unpacked and sorted all of the items according to their final destinations and delivered them to their assigned locations. By the time we were finished, we had everything we needed to live comfortably, having brought pots & pans, dishes, silverware and glassware, bathroom necessities and clothing for all occasions in four oversized pieces of luggage. Last to be taken from the car were the four cases of wine that we had purchased in Spello from Roberto. With the chores done, there was nothing left to do but select which of the bottles to open.
The next day, Monday, we slept a bit late, but arose with three things on our agenda: (1) stop at the offices of Real Estate Cisternino to see our dear friends, Colleen and Francesco; (2) buy a cappuccino machine; and (3), have a copy of the door key to the villa made. Colleen and Francesco were our lifelines between our old lives and the new ones we were going to. They took care of us, as though they had some responsibility to do so, and we had come to rely on them. My biggest worry was that someday, they would tire of the burden that was us and decide to no longer bear it. Amazingly, there was never a moment when a word, a deed or an expression from either of them suggested that they even noticed how much we depended on them or how much they were doing for us. Seeing Colleen and Francesco after a time away is always the highlight of our trip back to Puglia.
During our reunion chat with Colleen, she told us that Michele wanted to have the traditional “end of construction” festa to celebrate the completion of the project. As was the rite, all of the workers and their families were invited. We were elated at the idea and we all decided that we would have it at Villa Tutto on Sunday afternoon. Colleen called Michele to confirm and, after a longer conversation than I would have thought was required, Colleen informed us that the party would have to be held later since the guys would be sleeping well into Sunday afternoon after just getting home from a night at the beach. We laughed at the images we had of these young men dragging themselves home following an all-night party, sobering a bit, and starting all over again. And so it was on for Sunday night.
While Colleen had Michele on the phone, we arranged a smaller dinner out with Colleen and Francesco, Michele and his wife, Marisa, and their children, and Andrea and Anna, Francesco’s parents. The week was shaping up nicely as far as parties were concerned.
Off we went to find our new cappuccino maker. Please don’t misunderstand. We’re not talking about a convenience here. I put this appliance in the same category as, say, a dialysis machine or a pacemaker. In fact, a cappuccino machine, for me, serves the functions of both of those pieces of equipment and being without one poses the same risks as being without, what some people think of as, medical devices.
First we went to Conforama, a France-based department store reminiscent of KMart located in the nearby town of Fasano. They had a large selection of inferior, plastic amateur models. We went back to Cisternino, to a small appliance store on Via Roma. More sub-par equipment. Desperate to ensure that we had what we needed for our morning cappuccini, we went back to Conforama and bought the most expensive unit they had. Now to buy coffee.
Colleen suggested a small coffee shop just down the street from her offices. On the way there, we passed a hardware store where we had gotten keys made before.
“Do you want to stop now and get the key made?” Jessica asked.
“Nah. We’ll do it later,” I wisely said.
The coffee shop was called Moka d’Oro. It was only a matter of moments before I knew we were in trouble. The woman behind the counter knew from my “buon giorno” that I did not speak Italian and, when I asked for 300 grams of coffee for espresso, that confirmed it for her. “La mia figlia parla inglese. Aspetta qui.” “My daughter speaks English. Wait here.” When a younger version of the woman behind the counter arrived, I told her, in English, that I wanted 300 grams of ground coffee. Her blank stare told me, better than she could have, that I knew more Italian than she knew English.
“Where do you drink this coffee?” she asked. I contemplated this question. Is there a particular roast for drinking on the veranda, I wondered. What if I want to stay inside? A more coarse grind, perhaps? Oh, crap! What about having coffee in the car?
Much sign language later, we were able to acquire a bag of coffee beans. The mere thought of trying to convince them to grind them left me terror-stricken. Back to Conforama we went to buy a coffee grinder.
Somehow the day slipped away from us without our every having gotten around to having the key copied.
Next: The Chiave to Happiness – Part 2