From where we started…

The consequence of meeting Our German Blog Fans/Friends and seeing their hill-perched house & acreage, plus the ongoing adventure of rustico hunting with Our American Friend has caused me to Pause & Reflect upon our finding, buying and re-building Il Poggiolo.

We needed all the umph-pah available. The search for a house in the Lunigiana was not particularly fun. The hope of finding something charming which would click kept the two of us going. Mostly me. You was along for the ride. So many houses were a God-awful waste of time, ugly, expensive too… why people think they have La Reggia di Caserta instead, offering a shit-hole and asking a shit-load of money for it, was amazingly annoying to me… and full of defects of one sort or another… Yes… it’s… um… charming… but… it’s on a highway! Naturally, the photos avoided that detail.

Casa Castiglione del TerziereLike Our American Friend, we too had suffered the delusion of falling head-over-heels in love with an amazing house in Castiglione del Terziere, an historic village above Villafranca in Lunigiana, and its failed acquisition. The house? Imagine Frank Lloyd Wright collaborating with Giacomo il Falegname. Did FLW ever collaborate? Our offer collided head-on with a lunatic American-Italian owner and his equally quixotic Italian-only real-estate agent… AND his dumb Italian wife! Sorry, but she was. The A-I owner was asking Euro 650,000!!! He had clipped Euro 150,000 from the original price in the months prior to our arrival on the scene. Our Notary Public, an expert in property values, said not to offer more than Euro 350,000. It was rejected as an insult. The owner’s best offer was to sell the house to us for Euro 600,000 and the closing in 5 years, so he could avoid a capital gains tax. Oh, really? We countered. He rejected. We countered. He rejected. The final collapse of negotiations weeks later… I was walking Moses in small park in Genoa in a sunny day’s wind storm talking on a cellphone with the recalcitrant real-estate agent… made me ill. Literally. I took to my bed with bronchitis for a week. Then, came the depression. I do not mope well. Too big. A burden to the world and to You too. I moved on. By the way, the house is still for sale in 2014 and below the price the owner rejected as an insult. Just looking at the above photo makes me sad. We could envision living in it!!! Yep, that bad. It stings.

Il Poggiolo 4Destiny lead us to Il Poggiolo months later. Not anything like the house in Castiglione. Good that we kept an open mind to be so struck by serendipity. The rest is History. Il Poggiolo a CodiponteGads.

Physical proof…

IMG_3954One of the shards given to me by The Sweet Couple as an example of the demolished wall-stencils from their house just off the Piazza Civico in Codiponte. Pretty, no? If you study the two blues in the Fleur de lis design, the darker of the two is nearly on the same street as Our Blue-blue in La Casa Grande. Gads.

Going, going, gone…

On September 7, 1920, there was an earthquake which was centered in the Garfagnana region, the Colorado-like mountainous area sharing the northwest corner of Tuscany with the Lunigiana. The extent of destruction was immense… from the Big City of Aulla past all the towns & villages climbing along the Aulella River Valley to the Carpinelli Pass and all of the towns & villages of the Garfagnana to nearly Lucca. Much of Codiponte was destroyed. Il Poggiolo was a different looking farm-house on evening of September 6th… for instance, there was a high stone wall surrounding what was the vineyard, the Loggia and the terrace to L’Appartamento Azzurro were rooms of La Casa Grande, there were many more windows on the vineyard-side of the house and a good bit of Il Poggiolo was stucco-ed. We know because we have photocopies of photographs taken in 1916 of Il Poggiolo. All gone after 5:55AM on September 7th.

Most folk had little money to re-build. Earthquake chains were a known item, and at the time, any old iron forge could make & install them fairly cheaply. Roof cordoli, sub-floorings, low-center-of-gravity bricks or picking & re-stucco-ing the stone walls of a house were either too expensive or yet-to-be-specified. Most just patched up walls, dismantled & modified sections of houses & out-buildings and what was not tumble-down piles of rubble was re-plastered & painted, as quickly and as inexpensively as possible to erase the traces of the tragedy. The tell-tale signs of structural damage from the earthquake were often ignored… covered-over & forgotten.

I used to be an interior designer. I even taught it. One item of My Personal Design Philosophy with which I tried to inspire clients & students alike was this… often, humble means can bear more creative fruit than all the gold, glass & Glory of say, a Versailles. Unavoidably, many still yearned for what could be had by a Louis XIV… or any other rich person about. An irresistible & expensive look of early 20th Century Italian interiors was flocked wallpaper. I love the idea of such wall-covering… or, carta da parati, but who today would want to feel they are living inside a lined box? Not back then. Responding to the market… in grotesque americanese… painters of the day concocted huge rollers with stencil patterns chiseled on them. And, off they rolled simulated flocking…

IMG_3942Ecco… of the Florentine symbol, Fleur de lis, in an innocent Copenhagen Blue. And a what? IMG_3938A lotus seed pod in sepia. Such quaint & recognizable designs sprouted across umpteen quickly plastered interior walls in the houses of the earthquake struck area. The above examples are from a house just off the Piazza Civico in Codiponte belonging to a couple… two of the sweetest folk in town… tackling the job themselves with its reconstruction. They had inherited the sins of the previous owners… fast & clever plaster & paint job disguising gaping seismic cracks in the house’s stone walls from the 1920 earthquake… when they were revealed by falling plaster from the 2013 one. I had caught them loading up a tractor at the bottom of the stairs to the re-do filled with shards of the now demolished stencil work. I said how sorry I was that this vestige had to be sacrificed to structure but, they were justified in doing so. I suggest they leave at least a portrait painting size panel to commemorate the house’s history. They said they had already thought to do so. Good. They gave me a few shards as a souvenir.

I may be guilty of the pot calling the kettle black but, not really. Though L’Appartamento Azzurro had broad boarders of applied stencils where the walls met the ceilings and around doors & windows in a nearly French tri-color flag combo of red, white & blue, there was little to save. All had practically faded away from salvation after 25+ years of abandonment to the elements of wind, rain & sun through long shattered windows & doors. Not such a big shame this loss of a bit of Il Poggiolo’s history. Too late. For the couple it is. Gone. Really gone some of the best examples of decorative stenciling I have laid eyes upon. Ever. Gads.

La Loggia series…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the coming weeks, while I recuperate from a hip operation scheduled for this coming Tuesday morning, the 24th of September 2013… so,  please, make a note of it… I will post articles on what You & I call La Loggia. It is decidedly our favorite spot of the 7,000 square feet of possibilities of Il Poggiolo’s houses & garden. I believe this somewhat minor rectangle, squeezed in between La Casetta & La Casa Padronale, does have some mighty special stories to sketch out for you. So, please stop by. FcS

Guest Group #4… Family bosoms

IMG_1002Last year, while disgracing myself with some task in The Garden, a Local Fellow of Codiponte popped-up to what might be referred to in America as My Backyard Fence… in Truth, it is the stone wall tumbled-down in the 1922 earthquake… dragging a smiling yet, seemingly embarrassed looking woman with him. He had her by the arm, gripped, as if she might escape. The gist of the sudden visit was a stall in communication: neither spoke the other’s language. They were in desperate need of My Translation Services. I was happy to oblige. Turned out the Embarrassed Looking Woman was an American relative of the Local Fellow’s wife and was visiting Codiponte to re-stitch to her family roots here.

This Spring, I received an email from the Embarrassed Looking Woman. She queried to learn if I might rent-out all of Il Poggiolo to her & her family for another foray to Codiponte towards the 1st of June. After an exchange of emails, a booking was confirm. Last Saturday, two wide tread rented Hundais crawled across the asphalt to park at the head of old bridge and out spilled six Americans. Here is what I discovered…

relatives were stone masons from Casciana above Codiponte who migrated to Maine to work in the mines & quarries inland from Bar Harbor in the 30s. Dispite being keen on Work & Life in America, many returned to find a husband or wife back home before hastily returning to indoor plumbing & canned vegetables & steady employment! A son of one of those stone masons… the Embarrassed Woman’s father… returned to Codiponte & Casciana, while serving with the US military in Germany in the late 50s, to pick up with those who had stayed behind in Italy. An Air Force photographer, he clicked away at everyone he encountered. His archive seen on a 15″ MacBook are photographic masterpieces… lush, dense KodaChrome colors nearly non-existent today beyond what PRADA pays for the same tints & hues… ridiculous yet charming group shots, the posing participants captured along a stone wall of a scenic overlook of the Apuane Mtns… and black & white shots of cows lumbering down the lane behind Il Poggiolo guided by cousins… etc. These photos were il ponte between the American visitors and their local relatives. But not always… I have never been so delightfully assualted than to simultaneously translate for eight to ten folk at a dinner table piled with pasta, etc.!!!

Now, everyone has gone but… they may be back together in September!!! Gads.