29 January 2016

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This morning I went up to town with one house. This afternoon I came back with two. Money has been burning a hole in my deposit account since I sold the Rome flat in the summer of 2014.

I prefer bricks and mortar to liquidity: that’s the Irish peasant in me I think. Property trumps everything.

My new possession (and this one is mine: I have told L that he can express his thoughts and opinions but the final decision in all cases rests with me; I wonder how long that will last…) is in the centro storico, has a little garden built into the town walls, is three big spaces one on top of the other and is in need of quite a bit of rejigging. Not that it’s not habitable: it could be, except for a ropey window or two and a tiny patch of roof in need of seeing to. It was once almost double the size it now is, running not only from cellar to roof but from town walls to street behind. But it was divided at a certain point; both halves were for sale. I could only stretch to one. My half runs from town walls to more or less halfway through the breadth of the structure, though I get the garden, the cellar and the attic, which makes it feel so much larger. In my wildest dreams the owners won’t sell that other half until the day when I win the lottery and can snap it up to reunite it with my section. They seem remarkably keen on that solution too. I’m not counting my chickens though.

Now what I need to do is get my act together and get the whole thing restored. I want to create three spaces that I can rent. That involves rearranging the stairs in such a way that you don’t have to pass through one room to reach the next which is how it is now. This work needs to be done quickly, and as cheaply as doing it well permits. My budget is far from generous.

It’s funny, the accommodation scene in this neck of the woods. CdP has (or had) a selection of large middle-market/middle-of-the-road, rather old-fashioned large-ish establishments dotted about. With the exception of the Vannucci that is a cut above the rest, and the Logge del Perugino which at this point in time seems to be limping on thanks to one large coach-load of Chinese tourists – presumably drawn by the convenience of a cheap option half way between Rome and Florence – which pulls in every evening about 7.30 and out again at 7.30 the next morning, they’re all for sale… and not finding buyers. The things that do seem to be proliferating and keeping their heads well above water are the tiny places – the two- and three-roomers – most of which, however, offer a friendly welcome (important) and décor which is not entirely sophisticated.

So my idea is to start something a little different, something small, chic and – when/if other people follow suit – collaborative. Though of course I’m not holding my breath too much, because collaboration is not really an Italian thing.

A couple of months ago, L was asked to review Palio, Cosima Spender’s docu about that historic horse race in Siena. As we watched the trafficking and back-stabbing, we decided that the Palio was a perfect metaphor for Italy and the way things (finance, administration, competition – anything that the country depends on for success) are run here.

The competition between able people is stymied by assigning them mediocre animals that they have to manoeuvre without any kind of familiarity them; the person assigned to set the race running is in fact a kind of unsettling presence who is at once decoy and spoiler; there are hours – often quite literally – of milling, manoeuvring and false starts before a 40-second dash after which even a horse that has long unseated its rider can be the winner; everyone harbours Mariana-trench-deep suspicions about everyone else; and rightly so because the vicious circle of betting, counter-betting and skulduggery means that nothing is undecided and in fact the whole thing turns into an absurdly negative form of fairness, in the sense that everyone has bribed and corrupted everyone else to such an extent that the immense sums that change hands probably balance each other out in the end. (There were many more similarities with Italian wheeler-dealering but I can’t remember them at this distance.)

So I laughed out loud – and wondered whether our conversation had been bugged – listening to the news on the car radio yesterday when I heard that the research institute Euripes, in its 2016 report, had pinpointed ‘La Sindrome del Palio’ as the greatest problem besetting Italy today. Italians, they say, are so busy trying to thrust spokes in the wheels of the competition, that they fail to pay any attention to trying to get ahead themselves. It’s so overwhelmingly true. And it’s such a relief to hear Italians saying of themselves what I’ve been attempting to tell them for years.

This evening when I discussed my flat-renting idea with another adoptive CdP-er – a Roman in this case, who is a recent immigrant – he said he was thinking of doing something similar.

“I’m the competition,” he said, instinctively.
“No,” I said, “you’re another part of the network.”

I hope I can make people work like that.


The weather gods made a short and most unconvincing stab at sending us some proper seasonal chill last week but soon gave up the struggle. Today we were back at 14° which is completely outrageous for the end of January. I have daffodils which are about to burst out, a sprinkling of blossom on the apricot tree and poor confused roses which still have drab flowers and mottled leaves from last year among the intensely coloured this-season leaves which are coming out in abundance. And I haven’t even pruned them properly yet!

About Gardens, Food & Umbria

I am a garden and landscape designer, working throughout central Italy and beyond. I have lived in Italy for over 35 years – first in Rome but now in Città della Pieve, Umbria, where I have restored my country home and transformed a medieval townhouse into three rental suites. To relax, I tinker endlessly with two and a half hectares of land, some of which is my garden.
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4 Responses to 29 January 2016

  1. Pingback: 11 November 2017 | La Verzura

  2. Auguri! I want to visit and lend a hand (I’m great at painting)! xoxox

  3. LEsley says:

    Congrats!…And I love the sindrome di Palio. Lx

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