Like so many others who visit Italy, I fell in love with the sound of the language, the landscape, the cobblestones, the moons, the melodies, the buildings that rise up from the there of history to the here of now. I fell in love with the romance of it all. Having a house here would mean that I belonged in Italy. It would buy me belonging.
That desire to belong in Italy started…well, when? Maybe it started in Florence 18 years ago, when I took an eight-week crash course in Italian grammar. Or maybe it started in Milan, where I first set foot on Italian soil more than 30 years ago; or with my subsequent, albeit ill-fated, marriage to a handsome Calabrese I’d met there. Or when I first clapped eyes on Venice and just started to cry on the vaporetto. Or maybe it started with my father’s enduring love of Italy and trove of stories about my parents’ many trips there.
Anyway, it started. And I started looking for real estate. Florence I ruled out because of the mosquitoes. Venice was out because of the water. Milan I never really liked — too Austrian, too much butter where olive oil should have been. So my hunt started in Rome, and stopped pretty quickly when I saw how high the prices were. New York seemed a bargain by comparison. One comically small place (and living in Manhattan, I’m no stranger to small spaces) in the Trastevere neighborhood didn’t even have an indoor bathroom and cost half a million euro — in 2007. It was so small (how small was it?) that it had been outfitted nautically, with bed and drawers and cabinets that pulled down, folded back up, and disappeared into the walls. You walked out the front door of the apartment to a little bathroom — albeit your own — in the hall. Being a bit neurotic, I immediately thought how awful it would be to have a stomach bug there. I never did get around to asking where you showered. Maybe there was a hose that folded down from the fold-down kitchen cabinet and a drainage system in the floor I hadn’t noticed. It didn’t matter. I wasn’t going to be showering there. I gave up on Rome.
I wound up looking in Abruzzo because it came cheap and because I was at least passingly familiar with it, thanks to a longtime friendship with a Pescara native.
For a while, some family members and friends considered buying something out in the countryside with me. But that got complicated. There were so many possible permutations depending on who was in and who was out. We looked at property that was land-only on which we could build; property with houses that would need to be torn down entirely or in part; property with vineyards and olive trees. Apart from the fact that different people wanted different things, there were real issues with how large a house or houses one could build on how many hectares of land. Italian law, and perhaps more specifically local zoning, is rigid about this. (Abruzzo doesn’t run the risk of being over-crowded anytime soon.) And, of course, our little cadre all had different levels of commitment. In the end, I thought I was the only one ready to spring. When I saw this particular house in the seaside town of Fossacesia, I did.