Wednesday, February 10, 2010

And So ....

Stefania called in March. The members of the family had agreed to converge in Siena sometime in early May, date undecided, for the sale and transfer of title. Until now, I'd had a very maybe-it-will-and-maybe-it-won't-happen attitude. Now it seemed all too real. To out Italian the Italians, we would go over at the beginning of May and give ourselves a whole month to arrange the transfer of money from the States, the sale, the buying of permits, everything. That seemed like plenty of time.

These are the first tools I packed in my suitcase. Note the blue machete and the red sledge hammer.
May 2, 2007. Arrived in Tuscany and went immediately to the property, jet-lag and all. Somehow I could see more clearly the work that was needed RIGHT NOW. It was a riot of vegetative chaos. More grapevines had fallen over and died, their support stakes and trellises rotten and snapped. Living trees had been used as trellis posts and many were being girdled with trellis wire. And then there were the clematis vines (vitalba) strangling and pulling whole peach and cherry trees to the ground. Many trees had branches broken under the weight of last season's untended fruit. And there was junk everywhere. If I was going to buy all this in 2 weeks, I needed to know what was here, and I needed a plan for discovering it. That plan was to begin quietly hacking my way through the vines right away.

May 3. The first thing we had to do if we were going to transact any business at all in Italy, was get a Codice Fiscale. It's like a social security number but for taxes to. Stefania took us to Siena to get it, and then to Montalcino to open a bank account so we could transfer the money and write checks at the time of the sale. When we got back to Villore, Sally went immediately to bed. Me? I had to know what was under all that vine. So I borrowed Russell's four-wheel Suburu and went over to the property to begin the triage of trees and vines. And began whacking away with the machete.

That day, I liberated 8 grapevines, 5 peach trees, a big cherry tree, and one plum tree from the smothering vines. All the while a solitary bird in a nearby tree mocked "Cuckoo. Cuckoo. Cuckoo."

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


The woman at the center of this picture, taken during a village chestnut roast on Monte Amiata, is Stefania Alboreti. She is an Irish ex-pat married to Antonio, the guy standing behind her. She helps stranieri (outsiders) find and maintain properties in the area. Because Momo would be traveling this winter, and because Sally and I have pitiful little Italian, Stefania would be our paid interpreter. And since her husband Antonio is a respected builder in the area, we'd get some good structural advice as well.

It turns out there were a few hitches in acquiring the property. For one, one of the owners of record had actually died in 1997, so her successor had to be officially registered. On top of that, there was a little issue of volume.

In Tuscany, restoration laws are strict. Basically, you cannot build where no structure has previously existed, and you can only restore the amount of volume that was originally there. In our case, Daniele said we'd be allowed to add the two chicken coops and the lean-to attached to the volume of little sharecropper's shack, plus we could dig an underground garage as long as it couldn't be seen from the road, for a total footprint of about 98 square meters. That would create a cottage of about 321 square feet. Not very big. But a nice livable love shack size if we ever got around to building. And besides, you don't go to Tuscany to stay inside.

The problem was that the chicken coops were not on the official platt registered in Siena. They would have to be added. There would be a fee to the commune of San Giovani d'Asso under whose jurisdiction the property falls. It would be about 6,000 Euro. 6,000 Euro no one in the selling family wanted to pay out of pocket before the sale.

After several months of round and round, I proposed that I would pay it and we could subtract it from the total paid at the time of sale. Everyone agreed. But there was a much harder issue to get them to agree to: When could all 10 owners the property converge from all corners of Italy in the notary's office for the sale?