Thursday, December 16, 2010

Scoundrels & Honest Men

Apologies, again, for being slow to post, but this time it’s because we’ve been ripped-off. Not by an Italian, but an Englishman. In fact in all our dealings getting the house built and the farm restored, we can only point to one person who has taken money from us dishonestly. In this case, it’s the man we paid $2500 to provide us with internet service that was crappy and slow at best, and is now non-existent. And now he’s trying to extort another $1500 from us to get it running again. Because this was the worst service by the most unprofessional person we have ever experienced, and because he does business in Tuscany and Italy, I am worried there will be other victims. It would be irresponsible of me not to offer FAIR WARNING to anybody in Tuscany or Italy, or anywhere else in the world, to think thrice before doing business with this man and to offer more detail to anyone who asks.

What I'd rather talk about is the kind of simple everyday honesty Sally and I have found all around us here in Tuscany. This door is a symbol of it to me. It is the front door to the old sharecropper’s shack whose lower walls are still intact outside our kitchen. I saved it from demolition because it is beautiful and has wabi-sabi, the patina of life lived about it. I’ve tried to find a use for it, but when Gianni Marriotti -- the first Tuscan to befriend us when Sally taught her first photo workshop here 15 years ago -- said he liked it, I offered it to him.

Like me, Gianni is a pack rat of rustic things. He knows where to find valuable discards and can see the aesthetic appeal and usefulness of junk with no apparent life left in it. He reads the story in patinas, dings and scars -- past and future. He calls it a game, but he is an artist. For him it’s the story that counts.

For instance, we now have a door for our downstairs closet. It has a notch out of the bottom corner that made Sally want to reject when he first showed it to us. Then he pointed to the tooth marks, the tiny gratings of a hungry Italian country mouse during the winter famine of ’44 that everyone blamed on Mussolini. “We’ll take it! I said.

We’ve received many gifts from Gianni, and paid for a few. That’s because he has engaged us in his barter system. I now have a beautiful contadino’s knife for my belt. A friend of his, an artisanal saddle maker, created this beautiful robber’s bag for me out of a bit of wool army horse blanket from the first World War, a silk pillow case from a palazzo in Siena, bits of horse tack once used by butteri (the famous Maremma cowboys), and an old military grain sack. It was a steal. So was this table that a friend of his made years ago. And so were the set of handmade contadino farmhouse chairs that go much better with our kitchen table than the plastic IKEA things we were using last week.

So here we were, standing before the door I was going to trade Gianni for many of the wonderful things and stories he has brought into our lives. He looked at the door longingly, taking time to point out the details, the small repairs of tin patched over the years, the amazing red color, each item an unspoken anecdote attached. He asked if I was sure I wanted to give away so much storia. I said yes and started to lift the heavy chestnut slab to take it to his truck. That’s when he stopped me and said, all in Italian of course: “If you ask me, it’s a crime to remove this door from this property. You must find a way to use it here. The only way I could take it from here is if you have absolutely no doubt that there is not some way to use it as a table, a foot board for your bed, or even as a door or a decoration."

Suffice it to say he had cast the doubt and had cast it like a man of principal. He drove away with the bed of his pick-up truck empty that night and our house all the fuller of treasures he had brought, material and not. Gianni Marriotti is an honest man.


  1. Mr. Stephens:

    We are renovating a house in the Val d'Orcia and had considered using a wifi service being offered from Montisi. I would appreciate any information that you can share about your negative experience with the intern provider.

    Even just the company name or person's name would suffice because it would tip me off to any potential issues.

    Thank you in advance,

  2. Dear Carlos,

    I am happy to share the information to keep others by being hurt, but I can't broadcast the information here because things have gotten legal. I am trying to find the right consumer protection agency to also share our experience with for the same reason.

    Meanwhile, I will respond to your email address. As I will for anyone else who forwards one.