From My Tuscan Window

Chapter 7
Ruin with a View
Emilio took us to La Corte, a small piazza, where he thought a villager named Emanuela, might have a house for sale. She was a descendant of Pietro Barsanti. the famous martyr of the Risorgimento (19th Century reunification of Italy), La Corte was a square courtyard completely surrounded by houses from which, on the front sides, the only view would be of La Corte itself. Emilio introduced us to Emanuela’s son-in-law, Vittorio, who it turns out had just retired from military service and had moved to Gioviano with his wife Daria and their two daughters.

When I asked him if he knew of any houses that might be for sale in the village, he immediately said that his mother-in-law had at least three that she would be willing to sell. The houses were abandoned, and the money received from the sale could be used to complete the modernization of the large Barsanti family home facing La Corte where they would all be living

Then Vittorio led us toward the darkest corner of La Corte, down a narrow passageway toward a house that from the front was only four and a half feet wide, our hopes became even dimmer. He opened the decrepit door, and greeting us was a room full of ancient furniture, wine bottles, and assorted debris that had obviously not been touched in decades, if not centuries. The floor was made of chestnut planks with gaping holes. A fireplace was located on the windowless left wall. There was no window on the right hand side of the room either as it shared a common wall with the house next door, which was occupied by the cutest old woman ever seen outside a children’s book of fairy tales.

On the far end of the room, daylight could be seen through the only window. Awkwardly struggling to find my way through the accumulation of the centuries without falling through the shaky floor, I finally made it. The windowpanes were so covered with dust and dirt that it was impossible to see out, so when I finally opened the window I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was greeted by what I consider to be one of the most glorious views on the planet.

A great panorama unfolded, first spreading out over the valley below and then up the green slopes of the foothills of the Apennines. The view continued further upward to the high pastures above the tree line and on to the summits of the mountains and then upward to a dark blue sky that served as a backdrop which contrasted with the brilliant greens and grays of the mountains.

“Sue, hurry but be careful.” I exclaimed in wonder. “You’ve got to see this view! I called out to our Weimaraner, “Dog, stay outside. You’ll fall through the floor.”

Little did I know that the day would soon come when little Anna would tumble through a trapdoor in this same floor all the way to the dirt floor of the cantina (store room) far below. Even today, 32 years after the fall, the image of the fallen child still haunts me. What kind of father could be so negligent?

The next two children to arrive after Anna were kept on harnesses and leashes in dangerous places such as the unprotected tilting balconies on the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Leashing a child was something I said that I would never do. But Jane (Giovanna) and Karen (Carolina) didn’t seem to mind.

“Quanto volete per la casa?” (“How much do you want for the house?”) I asked Vittorio, just knowing that the price would be impossibly high.

“Aspetti, non ha vista le altre stanze ne la terrazza. E recordi che ci sono altri due case, più una terrazza grande e orti, terreni, e una capanna,” responded Vittorio.

(“Wait, you haven’t seen the other rooms or the terrace. And, remember that there are two other houses, a large terrace, a garden, land, and a cabin.”)

Turning from the open window, we saw to our left a steep ladder-like set of steps leading to an upper floor. I advised Sue to stay below with Anna as I wasn’t certain that the steps would hold up under my weight. Gradually I made my way to the top and discovered that the roof was half collapsed but there were two windows in the upstairs room. One had the same stupendous view, and the other looked down the narrow alley toward La Corte.

Snaking through the debris, I discovered a tiny room with a tiny window that also looked out across the Serchio Valley. Inside the room, there was a brick and stucco platform with a hole in it which turned out to be the toilet. Emerging from the gabinetto (toilet), I saw another even steeper ladder that led up to a small bedroom above me. This upper room had two windows, both looking out across rooftops, one facing the mountains and the other the backside of another Barsanti palazzo.

When I made it back to terra firma Vittorio led us into a dark tunnel that led down some very rough and slippery stone stairs. Straight ahead was a cantina and to the left once inside the cantina was an opening leading out onto a rough stone and rubble floored terrazza adjacent to a much larger one that served as a chicken yard.

“Dio buono!” I exclaimed, “Che veduta spettacolare!” (“Good God!” I exclaimed, “What a spectacular view!”)

I could envision myself sitting at an antique table shaded by a colorful umbrella, with a glass of Vino delle Colline Lucchese in hand, drinking in the beauty of the trees waving in the wind on the other side of the valley.

We wanted that house, but how much would Vittorio ask, sensing that we were really intrigued by the beauty of the views if not the unforeseen challenges of tackling the restoration of a ruin?

Revised March 3, 2008
Copyright 2005-2006 George H. Russell
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