The next morning Liam is up at 7am writing check lists for Jurgen’s phone call at 8am … which does come at 8am on the dot. Jurgen is to tell the agent that he will be involved with us for a set fee decided by Jurgen. Stefan will be the go-between and will get all the papers from the agent and give them to us. Jurgen will meet with us either in Italy or in Hamburg – the UK is about to go on a baggage strike.
We breakfast on the terrace. We see Stefan and arrange to go to his house after packing. Stefan takes the first bag down and I pack the wheelies. He does not return so I, with two room cleaners, take the bags down. I’m smiling and laughing, trying Italian, and thinking … ‘Maybe you will help clean our house one day, it’s just down the hill from here.’ I wait in the garden and allow myself to dream. Perfect, rounded thoughts … family, children swimming, pools, loggias …
Can’t think, won’t think. What’s that? Won’t listen …
Liam is on the phone … ‘Yes, yes I quite understand Jurgen, and I wouldn’t expect anything else of you. Thank you for letting us know.’
We see Stefan raking up leaves on the tennis court. He cannot believe it. ’But’ he says in an impetuous burst, ‘It’s Jurgen’s decision, not the agents. I’ll phone him straight away.’
‘No Stefan,’ Liam says ‘You cannot do that. Jurgen is honour bound, and that I quite understand. Leave it alone. We have lost the house.’
We decide not to take the highway to Florence, but drive up the SS222. This ancient roadway, linking the main Chianti towns to Florence, is known as the Via Chiantigiana and is breath-taking. Simply everything I see confirms my dreams that we had the perfect location. Liam sees my stress and is so caring, so kind. I try to take myself in hand, what is the matter with me? It is, after all, only a house, and I am ashamed that I am so materialistic.
Jim and Laura are at already at Fiesole, which is just above Florence, and have checked into our hotel. The hotel is modern, belying the brochure, and our rooms are not ready. They have flown 23 hours from Sydney and are exhausted. It’s boiling hot and we sit on the terrace and trade news. They are fascinated by our near-buy. Laura looks at her twin. ‘Come on.’ she says to Liam ‘Tomorrow, take us there. Let’s see what caught your heart so.’ Laura knows her twin.
The next morning we set off to show Jim and Laura what we so nearly had. We drive back south down the SS222, stopping at Greve-in-Chianti to show them the piazza, and then head straight down the bumpy track to Stefan, who knows we are coming.
The big Alsatian bounds out and we watch him play with the cat. Takes her in his mouth and gently teases her. The kitten gets tired and makes for the tree, she’ll stay there until fetched down. We walk past the old Italian’s higgledy-piggeldy confusion of rusty cars, old tools and washing. The old one, old Cosimo, is sitting on the swing seat in amongst the vegetables today. Faded rheumy eyes watch us as we pass … nothing much misses him, I guess.
Jurgen’s house is simply stunning today. The views have put on an extra effort, and the house nestles in around them. We spend ages there, then at Margarethe’s, then back. Margarethe’s slope is gentler than I had thought – some-one would do good to garden and clear from her terrace down.
We ask Stefan to join us for lunch and he suggests a ‘workmens’ café’ in Greve-in-Chianti – away from the piazza and the tourist prices. It is called Casa del Popolo. Laura and I drive with him in his old green kombi, the Alsatian at our feet.
The café serves the best seafood soup I have ever had – tuna, octopus, calamari and shellfish in a thick tomato base. We swallow it down with a huge carafe of vino frizzante bianco – light and fizzy. Stefan tells us that he spoke to Jurgen last night. ‘Finally’ he says ‘It is up to Jurgen. The agent is not the sole agent, they have signed nothing, and no money has changed hands.’ But Liam is adamant – if Jurgen feels honour bound, then he must go through with it, and Liam is not prepared to ‘gazump’ or get into a bidding war.
And so we leave Stefan for the last time. He is still hoping to stay on with a better position at the hotel, but it is all too fragile. His wife is clearly pining to be back in Germany with the children near to family, friends and culture. Stefan’s dream will soon be sold too. But when? He has let us see half of it. It is not like Jurgen’s, and has a view of the messy complex below. From the sides the windows are small. The olives run up the hill behind the house. Yet all is free standing and it would be less of a nightmare for neighbours, noise and title deeds.
We explore a little further, deciding to show Jim and Laura the little church at the tiny hamlet of San Leolino. For a long time it stood lonely and derelict. Then a group of priests got permission from the diocese of Florence to restore the building and its community. Their brief is to reach the people through art and music. Throughout the summer there are small art exhibitions in the 11th century cloisters, and music recitals inside the church. Today it is quiet and peaceful, not like the buzz of the concert we attended last Sunday evening. I am not Catholic, but somehow I hang back and light a candle …
Finally we are back in London. Liam has phoned Jurgen from his office, just for a friendly chat. It seems that Stefan had got it wrong, and the agent is much further down the deal than he realised. The buyers have a bond approved, and Jurgen will meet them to sign the ‘compresso’ (the deal) next week.
So, although we ‘owned’ a small place in Italy for 12 hours, it probably, actually, was not for sale …
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