Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Deal Is Off!

In Siena we park beside a spinning carousel, unaware of how apt it is as a metaphor.

Stefania asks what we intend to do. In Italy it's illegal to write a bad check, so our choices are really only one. We can sign the checks and find ourselves in jail, or we can tell the truth and hope the notary, Mr. Kopini, will do everything but transfer legal ownership to us.

This is disconcerting because we would not have driven to Siena if this was the only option. Why didn't we discuss this before traveling all the way here? Because Stefania and her husband Antonio were buying a second small parcel from the same family and it was convenient for them to transact the sale at the same time.

As we walk, Stefania warns us about something she calls "Italian bluster." She says not to be alarmed if we experience it at the meeting. But we don't have to wait that long.

On a quaint street before a quaint door outside the surprisingly modern Notaio's office, we converge with Daniele and the family of sellers. When Stefania pulls Daniele aside and explains the money situation in hushed tones, Daniele's face turns bright red and he speaks rapidly. "The truth must be told!"

We enter the office and stand in the waiting room. Mr. Kopini enters and greets us. Stefania pulls him aside and has a word with him while the rest of go into the meeting room.

At the long boardroom table, the family arranges itself while Sally, Daniele and I sit at the Notary's end of the table, leaving a chair for Stefania between us. At the far end of the table sits a dignified, immediately likable, English speaking man, a Florentine banker here to represent his recently indisposed wife. Beside him is a regal looking older woman and another well-heeled man in a suit (a power attorney from Grossetto). There is also a doctor and his pretty wife. This is the Bracciali clan, the elegant, educated part of the family. They hold one-half of the property shares and are the ones who took the trouble to introduce themselves to us in the foyer.

From the middle of the table down sit the members of the Manzi clan, owners of the other half. These include the aging car mechanic of Montisi and his brother, as well as a tightly wound, 40-something woman with witchy black hair that has in it, the more I look, seed pods of some kind, as though she's just crawled out from under a bush. She sits directly across from Sally and glares. Beside her, across from me, is a man I assume is her brother. He is wearing sunglasses, and a baseball cap pulled low over his eyes, and several gold chains around his thick neck, and a tee-shirt. He is slouching in his chair, arms folded (I'm not kidding) like James Gandolfini. Did I say he's wearing sunglasses inside? Sunglasses and a cap that he will leave on all through the meeting?

Stefania comes in and explains in English that the Mr. Kopini refuses to do anything at all until we have the money in hand, and that we need to explain the situation to the family. Sally and I are mortified, of course. And when Stefania explains in Italian the reaction is palpable and dramatic.

"If I’d known, I wouldn’t have driven all the way from Grossetto," says the lawyer. Sally pleads that we are sincerly sorry and Stefania even shows the bank memo explaining that the money was wrongly returned. But this is where the division in the family becomes clear. the seed pod coiffed woman and her shady brother erupt in machine-gun Italian too rapid and simultaneous for me understand or recount here. Finally, the elegant banker at the far end of the table injects a voice of calm: "We know you are honest. It is just a mistake." The black sheep go quiet for a moment.

Seizing the moment, the notary asks Sally and me to excuse ourselves and tell Antonio to come in so he and Stefania can at least go through with their own purchase. But seed pod woman slams her fist to the table. “I am mad," she says to Stefania. "I was in an institution!” Then she points to Sally and me. "Without their money, no deal." The pair of shades beside her nods agreement. Now everyone is talking, including Mr. Kopini, trying to convince the two black sheep that Stefania is only our translator and the land sales have nothing to do with each other. But they won't listen. Everything is off unless all the money is here. Period.

Embarrassed and feeling bad for Stefania and Antonio, I'm tempted to take this as a sign and forget the whole deal. But the Notaio, all business, invites the sellers, if they still want to sell, to give power of attorney to one or two representatives, making it easier when the money is is in the bank. Everyone does except the black sheep, who immediately leave in a huff.

And that is why I have no picture of the family to show.

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