From My Tuscan Window

Chapter 36
Casa Giorgio Enters the 20th Century

Visitors to old folks' homes are amazed at the total recall of events of the distant past by the residents, who may not recall what happened an hour before, much less the day before. At age 60, I feel trapped in a time warp between being able to recall the distant past or recent past.

Sue and I find ourselves asking one another such questions as, "Did we eat at the Valle Verde yesterday, or was it the Milano? No, don't you remember, we went to Lucca yesterday to buy a pair of sandals. No we didn't. Yesterday we drove up into the mountains so that you could climb to the top of the Bargiglio and take pictures of Gioviano down below."

Fortunately, my mother wrote daily memos describing the events of the past as they occurred. Without these memos and the other scraps of documentation I discovered in my father's office in Palazzo Margherita, I would be unable to write this story of our adventures in Gioviano over the course of 32 years. In rummaging through a stack of papers in the late 17th-century built-in cabinet in which my parents stored their archives, I ran across the following handwritten message that I believe, based on the style, may have been written by my niece, Mary Katherine Nolan, who felt that modern plumbing would ruin the original aura of Casa Giorgio.

To the Next Visitors of Casa Giorgio

“You have entered one of the only hovels in Gioviano with the amazing 'Sears Port-A-Poti' (sic). The instructions are attached. We found that one flush per #1 and two flushes per #2 are sufficient. Use the paper sparingly!

DO NOT EMPTY THE POTI down the original tile toilet. It Will Stink. Empty the 'Poti' outside in the cesspool. (outside the pig sty door)

Sheets, towels, and Blankets are in Plastic bags upstairs. Paper to Burn is next to the Fireplace. Some wood in trunk to the right of the fireplace and in the cellar.

A gas stove is near the sink. Do not take Plastic off of the Materasso (mattress). It is for protection. Have an enjoyable time."

As I was writing this piece, Daria walked past my window and up to the front door with a cardboard box in her hands and called out "Giorgio, viene." (“George come here.”). When I got to the door, she handed me the box and showed me the contents: a dozen radishes, four heads of lettuce of two types, and a cucumber. The other day, as I was walking past Dina's house, Pietro jumped out the door with a huge head of lettuce in his hands and thrust it into mine. It made a delicious salad, so big we could hardly eat it at a single sitting.

In June of 1979 my parents returned to Gioviano to check on the work in progress at Casa Giorgio. They arrived on June 11.

My mother wrote: "Gioviano has never looked lovelier. The June light was superb, and the little hill town is charming. The Lottis welcomed us and Mrs. Lotti cooked pasta in brodo (pasta in broth) and steaks for us with salad and fruit for dessert. The work on the house is fine. The floors, windows and stairs are really nice, but the place is a wreck with all the junk piled high. We worked a good part of the afternoon, and it is a bit more presentable."

The house was still not ready for occupancy, so they stayed at the Hotel Milano just outside Borgo a Mozzano, where Maria would prepare marvelous meals for them which they would eat on the large terrace.

"It is a delightful setting for unsurpassable food. Maria is wearing a cook's cap now, and the two young men who wait the tables are getting smoother all the time. They're on their way up, and there is a good feel about the place." my mother wrote.

I am pausing now, 26 years and a few days after my mother penned those lines, to close the windows, and go to the Milano for lunch. We had heard that Maria had been hospitalized recently, and so we are anxious to find out how she is doing and to visit with friends from Cardoso, whom we had met there many years ago.

June 12, 1979 "We slept late and ate fruit in the car for breakfast. We could see Gioviano bright and clear at about 9:45 a.m. We worked the rest of the morning, Kenneth scrubbing with his makeshift mop, and me washing furniture. Kenneth drug the two worst mattresses outside and piled the others up together, making more room. The little house has amazing possibilities, and our love for it grows as we work on it."

Here we are five years after my parents told me I was crazy for wanting to borrow $1,700 to purchase Casa Giorgio, and my mother is practically waxing poetic about it. The next day they went to Pisa, which is the province where daughter Anne had been born.

"Oh, how the memories flood in this part of Italy. Ghosts of memories of good times, first alone, and later with George and Sue. I caught myself looking for a young soldier, his wife and baby, and large silver dog with pale eyes!" my mother reminisced. "The Leaning Tower seemed to slant even more today, so we stopped for a picture."

My mother, the artist, has a very keen eye. The tower in the last few years had begun to lean more severely, and there was a danger that if the tower leaned much more, it might fall. Sometime thereafter it was closed for extensive foundation work that corrected the problems. It is once again open to the public.

About Tirrenia, and the street where we had lived for the three years I was stationed at Camp Darby, she wrote:

"I looked out on the umbrella pines and listened to the birds, reveling in my love for Italy. Afterwards we went to Marina di Pisa and picnicked on the rocks by the sea. We could see all the way to Livorno."

Back in Gioviano, "While Kenneth cleaned, I walked about the town. A neighbor invited me in to see her house, especially the view from her loggia and her bathroom." The neighbor was Costanza whose pride and joy was her bathroom with running water and a flush toilet.

"Sig. Lotti and a man with a tractor came, and we got the trash hauled off which was a big help. By evening, after having bought three expensive mattresses ($200 worth) and a pair of sheets and after having put up the beds and spread the carpet it was very pleasant upstairs."

Now we are about to learn why Costanza was so proud of her running water and flush toilet, which gave her significant status in a village where an entire house could be purchased for as little as $250.00 if it didn't come with a view.

"Kenneth met with Sig. Lotti and a contractor and learned it would cost $2,000 to have water and toilet put in. We can't seem to convince our amico (friend) that we don't want it done."

"We slept well in Casa Giorgio loving the experiences. We got up feeling fit as a fiddle. I, as usual, was the first out of bed. After using the 'porta-potty' and having my sponge bath I enjoyed looking out the window at the unsurpassed scenery and also watching Gioviano come to life in our courtyard. The next evening, we lit the lamp and built a fire in the fireplace, and we felt relaxed and cozy. I slept like a log."

June 21st would be their last evening in 1979 in the cozy little house that my parents had learned to love, with its modern porta-potty.

"We cooked potatoes in the fireplace, had cheese, fruit, and raisin bread at our table by the fire."

I can't remember if we were able to visit Gioviano or not that year. In those days, I was working 16-hour days, seven days a week back in Texas, to produce enough cash flow to feed our two families.

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