The next morning we breakfast on the terrace of our hotel. It’s my Dad’s birthday today, he is 86. We telephone him in faraway Cape Town; tell him about the excitement of yesterday. He sounds as thrilled as we are. ‘We are going to Castellina-in-Chianti nearby, to a swimming pool place, Dad’, I say, ‘We just hope that we can get permission to put in a pool. Then we will drive on to Siena for lunch.’
‘There’s a little café on the upper side of the Campo, on the left.’ he says, ‘Have a cappuccino for me.’
‘How do you know about that cafe?’ I ask him.
‘I was in the Campo on Armistice Day’ he replies.
I never knew that. He must have been about 27 years old. He has never spoken about the War. Only about me. ‘Don’t think that just because the War ended on 8 May 1945, we all went home,’ he would say. ‘I was part of the mopping up operations in Italy and stayed on for many months. Then, when I finally got back to your beautiful mother, why there you were in your cot! At first I couldn’t get used to you at all … just thought you were in the way …’
Liam and I have talked practically all night. Apparently the owner, Jurgen, is on holiday and Stefan had promised to try and track him down. Will Jurgen really contact us? Will it be today?
What are the plusses? The house is in perfect condition with nothing to do. Most of the furniture goes with it and an old car too. The views are great. It is one hour to Florence by bus. It is under an hour and a half to Pisa Airport. It is in a cul-de-sac and, importantly, it has not had a burglary for twenty years. From what I could see any burglar would practically have to drive over old Cosimo’s feet to get to our front door … his place on his plastic chair is as good a look-out as you can get. There you go! We would have ADT onsite in the guise of an ancient and curious nosey-parker!
What are the hitches? It is deep down the valley, not on top – but the views are pretty spectacular. Also, the access road is a shocker. Margarethe’s place, directly abutting, is for sale and who might we get as such a close neighbour? There is a division of the land directly in front, between Jurgen and Margarethe, so the slope on the downside would not be ours, but this land would be directly in front of us. Will the tight building restrictions mean that any form of swimming pool, other than a ‘portapool’ will be forbidden?
We head off for Castellina-in-Chianti and the ‘Big Blu’ pool company. The receptionist is friendly and helpful. ‘You need to go to the Municipal Office at Greve-in-Chianti’ she says. ‘Basically the minute you dig, you need approval. If you get approval then we do everything … we submit the plans and landscape the surrounds.’ Their brochure is stunning. I watch Liam discussing various pool options and he is in his element … we would have such fun!
There is a ring on Liam’s mobile phone. It is Stefan. He has got hold of Jurgen who said ‘Go through the agent’. The agent apparently has an Italian buyer, but there is no fixed agreement yet. Liam tells Stefan to go to the agent and tell him to firm his buyer up as there is another buyer willing to do a straight, clean deal.
Stefan wants us to come to the agent with him, but Liam says no. That will tempt the agent to play one buyer up against the other. Stefan goes off to the agent and rings us back: ‘The arrangement now is that Jurgen will ring the agent in two days’ time. Then either the agent’s buyer will formally meet with Jurgen to sign the compresso (the deal) or there is no sale.’
We then take a much needed ‘tourist break’ and do a 3 hour circuit from Castellina-in-Chianti … on to Radda … and then running up the SS69 to Figline and straight across through Lucolena to Greve-in-Chianti.
It is wonderful country, but a lot of it is wooded and I am glad to get back to the more open fields of Greve and Panzano. It’s 4pm, boiling hot, and we go down to Stefan again. The hammock is empty, but the black Alsatian runs out barking. We walk down to Jurgen’s house, waving to Pasquale on the way.
We sit on the steps in the shade and Stefan comes along. He was to show us his house today, but won’t as he has still not washed the dishes. I do not want to see it – it is also for sale, but only at the end of the summer, when he will have to leave. I feel so sorry for him. His work has not worked out and his wife is homesick for Germany. It is clear that he loves this place passionately. His house is a free standing house, set above the big old stone house, and another possibility, but oh! Hope! We trudge slowly back up the hill in the evening heat, chatting as we go …
Basically all now hangs on Jurgen, the agent and his buyer. There is not much we can do. In Greve and in Castellina, just to do our homework, we had looked at agencies selling properties in the area. In Greve Liam was cross, telling me that I was sullen, as I would not even look at what they had to offer … but it was rubbish at twice the price. We liked the agent in Castellina though, Daisy O’Molony from Ireland, but she offered us a two bed flat with a communal pool for a ridiculous price. Go to hell! I’m dreaming olive groves …
Once more we are sitting on a terrace, but this time at a restaurant high in the hills above Greve called Ristoro di Lamole. From where I am sitting the evening light seems to be having a game of hide and seek with the tall cypress trees – long thin finger-like rays reach out, bend a little, twist a bit around a branch, then suddenly pop out on the other side. All around there is silence, and I feel as if I am being slowly and deliciously hypnotised.
We do not get these long evenings in South Africa, and I wonder if my children, who are so far away across the world, could learn to love these clear demarcations of the seasons as much as I do …
Suddenly the silence is shattered by the shrill ring of the mobile phone. It is a phone call from Jurgen. We’re there! We have a ‘small place in Italy’! Jurgen has grown tired of the buyer introduced through the agent and has decided to drop them because of all the procrastination. He will fax Liam the plans tomorrow at our hotel in Florence, and from there move on to a mutual meeting – essential in Italian property transactions. He says that he is retired, and he can come to London, or we can meet him in Hamburg. Meanwhile he will ring Liam at 8am tomorrow to discuss immediate details.
Ristoro di Lamole’s meal is lovely – some sort of cheese and antipasti, the Chianti rabbit for me … will we need to return here annually? Drink champagne?
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