The Chiave to Happiness – Part 2

The decision to hold the party celebrating the completion of the renovations to Villa Tutto meant that we would be spending the next few days preparing for it.  Francesco took us to Stefano, the wine merchant, who provided us with cases of all variety of local wines, plenty to sate the thirst of the twenty people we were told to expect.  The afternoon before the party, Michele, who would be manning the grill, accompanied Colleen, Francesco, Jessica and me to the supermercato to buy the food and the disposable plates and utensils.  We were a bit surprised when Francesco put five packages of disposable plates, each with 20 plates, into the cart.  “This should be enough,” he said.  Jessica and I just looked at each other and shrugged.

With the most recent work to the property, we now had three large outdoor dining areas–two new concrete decks in the back overlooking the olive grove and the veranda just outside of the kitchen.  What we did not have is furniture for these spaces.  For the veranda, we had envisioned a heavy old wood table, rustic and solid.  Fortune smiled on us as we walked past an antique shop just off of Via Roma in Cisternino.  The entrance to the shop was a clutter of odds and ends, pieces of things, and parts of others.  A large number of those items were piled on top of (You guessed it!) an old wood table, just the kind we had in mind.  We didn’t even bother to bargain with the elderly gentlemen who owned the shop.  With his help, we moved the multitude of dusty antiques from atop the table and into the shop, took the table apart, loaded the pieces into our rental car and, with the end of the table top dangling from the back of the station wagon, drove gingerly home.

The antique table would seat eight, but we were expecting twenty people.  We decided to go visit our friend, Mimmo, at Euromobili in Locorotondo to solve the dilemma.  Sure enough, with Colleen’s help, we found an extendable metal table and eight matching chairs.  The rest of the seating, we could borrow for the evening.

“Damn,” Jessica said toward the end of the day before the party, “we forgot to stop and have the key made.”  Of course, she was talking about the key to the house, of which we only had one.  There were three of them altogether.  Michele had one, Colleen and Francesco had one, and we had ours.

But I have a confession to make, one that I didn’t share with Jessica at the time.  Actually, I didn’t forget to have the copy of the key made; nor did I not have an opportunity to do it.  I put off doing it because of fear.  Yes, stark fear.  You see, the Italian word for “key” is “chiave”.  The Italian word “chiava” translates into English as “fucks.”  I had nightmarish visions of walking into the hardware store and up to some burly guy behind the counter and, instead of saying, “I need a key,” well, you get the idea.  My reputation in our new town, without ever having been given a chance, would be forever sullied.  My lingual faux pas would be the subject of bar stories for generations.  So now you understand why I never had the key copy made.  I feel better having come clean.

The night before the party, as planned, we all–Francesco & Colleen, Michele & Marisa and their two teenaged children.  The restaurant was called Capriccio’s and, though it was our first time there, it was certainly not our last.  The decor is plain and simple and the space is open and exposed.  What is different about Capriccio’s is what goes on inside its four walls.  Pierino, the owner, executive chef, chief ambassador and, sometimes hunter/gatherer of the establishment wants only one thing: that his guests are happy.  Not on the menu?  No problem.  Pierino will find it or something close enough.  The smiling elder man strolling around the room with an accordion is there to put smiles on faces and, while he appreciates the euro or two that he gets from the table, he does not seem to expect it.

We had a wonderful dinner, filled with laughter, voluminous portions of seafood, sausages, fresh meats, pastas and sweets.  Oh, and wine.  It was 1:30 in the morning when we finally pushed away from the table and headed to the gravel parking lot and our cars.

The drive to Villa Tutto was a short one and we pulled into the driveway, exhausted, more than a little drunk, and anxious to crawl into bed.  We walked from the car, around the back of the house as I reached into my jacket pocket for the door key.  “Hmm,” I thought when I discovered no key in my pocket.  By the time we actually got to the door, I had checked all of my pockets.  Still no key.

It was then that I uttered the five most difficult words I have ever spoken to Jessica: “I can’t find the key.”

For the sake of my marriage, I will not describe the look that I received in response.  Suffice it to say that I never want to see it again.

We went back to the car and did a thorough search.  Nothing.  We looked all around the car.  Nope.  We drove back to the now-dark Capriccio’s and used the car’s headlights to search the parking lot.  Nada.  I texted Colleen.  No response.  We decided to break in to the house and were rewarded with the comfort of knowing that our house cannot be broken into.  Finally, with nothing left to do, we “decided” to spend the night in the car.

As the perpetrator of the events that resulted in our predicament, I (literally) curled up on the front seat while Jessica (literally) stretched out on the back.  Fortunately, we had left the two u-shaped neck pillows that we use on airplanes in the car.  Jessica appreciated both of them.

We didn’t talk much that night, I think because we were tired, or maybe not.  Anyway, at now nearly 2:30 in the morning, there wasn’t much else we could do but get some rest and wait for Michele to arrive.  He was coming by at 9:00 to drop off the grill that he would use for the party.

At about 6 o’clock, Jessica woke me from a not-so-sound sleep and announced that she had to pee.  Not wanting to make things worse, I avoided the suggestion that she use a small piece of the land we owned for her needs, and offered to drive into town.  We went to a bar looking much like what you would imagine we would like, ordered two cappucini and then two more, killing time before getting back into our sleeping bag on wheels.  As we sat there, groups of young people just returning to town from a night at the beach would come in, pour an espresso down their throats and head home for some rest before repeating the process.

Once back in the driveway, we began counting the minutes until Michele’s arrival.  Finally, a little past 10:30, Michele’s van pulled into the driveway.  I could see a perplexed expression on his face as he and I exited our respective vehicles. I’m sure that my expression was sheepish.

The car at the top of the driveway where Michele found us in the morning

“Ho perso la chiave della casa,” I said.  I lost the key to the house.

“No!” he responded, incredulous.

By this time, Jessica was getting out of the car.  “Abbiamo dormito in macchina,” I said.  We slept in the car.  Michele looked at Jessica and wisely decided not to do or say anything that might even hint at the idea that there could be something humorous here.

“Hai la sua chiave?” I asked him.  Do you have your key.


I was glad that we had a few hours before it was party time.

Next:  La Nostra Prima Festa





Laura Hobbs

30 June , 2012 at 12:52 pm

Absolutely hysterical! Can ask Jessica to show me the face she made when you told her you didn't have the key? Still chuckling...!


30 June , 2012 at 3:19 pm

Oh, Laura, trust me. You don't want to see that face. Glad you're enjoying the blog. See you next week.

Colleen Boot

29 June , 2012 at 3:26 pm

I am so glad I was not the one to greet you both on that illicit morning!! Did I ever tell you the story about my experience with 3 burley men in a trullo big enough for a child as I used that blessed word for "key" in Italian. I have got to say that after 8 years I still have a complex for the word "chiave" and one of the accomplices in that trullo reminds me to this day of what I had literally suggested!! I can understand your avoidance totally 100% and in my job re. real estate, it's a hard word to avoid. I must really stop smiling when I use it!! Forza Italia!!!


29 June , 2012 at 4:43 pm

You never told me the details, but you did make mention of the fact that the word frightened you. I think your experience made me all the more sensitive to the prospect of mispronouncing the word for key. And, yes, Forza Italia!

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