From My Tuscan Window

Chapter 65
Contemplating Patricide or Saved by Tourette’s
My father is one of those rare geniuses who can do almost anything from rewiring an ancient palazzo, to knitting, doing needlepoint, building furniture, and following a thousand other pursuits which utilize skills that I could never seem to master. Without him and without my mother’s tenacity, I could not be here writing this book, because it was my parents who were largely responsible for the restoration of Casa Giorgio-Rosina, Capanna Susanna, and Palazzo Margherita. This work took place over a quarter of a century with diligent and oftentimes frustrating efforts.

When the workmen would fail to show up for a couple of days, my mother would tell my father to get in the car and take her down to the valley where she would make him drive by bar after bar until she saw the contractor’s truck outside. At that point, she would tell my father to park the car so that she could go into the bar and tell the workmen to get back to work. This didn’t happen just once, but many times over the course of the years. Since my parents spent up to six months every year in Gioviano, they had ample opportunity to track down the workmen to make sure the work was completed

When we bought the Emilio wing three years ago, the contractor promised to do some work in the cantina during the winter months. He would be ready to start building the two new bathrooms for which we had already purchased the toilets and sinks on the day we arrived. That would have been two summers ago. Last week we passed his truck, and the contractor sort of ducked and sheepishly waved. Were my mother here, she, like a bloodhound, would have tracked him down, and we would already be enjoying a restored Emilio wing.

My father is also skilled at doing things that cause me to contemplate patricide. Even at age 95, he is still able to spend hours on end at his computers, writing letters to the editor, sending out Op-Ed pieces, and editing the chapters of this book as they are completed--after I have e-mailed them to him in rough draft form. His instructions were to correct the many misspellings, both English and Italian, as well as the grammatical errors in both languages, not to rewrite and shuffle things about.

Yesterday, he proudly returned my section on “Where to Stay” stating that he had saved hours of staff work back at the office with his masterful editing skills. I didn’t even recognize the section as having been written by me. I was so mad that I developed “Tourette’s,” a syndrome that only seemed to overcome me when either he or my mother made me crazy, usually the first day after arriving in Gioviano each year.

(I don’t mean to offend anyone who has been cursed with the very real and cruel ailment called Tourette’s. My sympathies truly lie with those who have this dreaded syndrome.)

After our hard drive down from Paris the day before, my mother would trigger a case of Tourette’s by waking me up around 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. the morning after our arrival in Gioviano. She would have a list of about a million things that she wanted accomplished that day. My father has a habit of “working on it,” whenever she asks him to do something for her. So, after a couple of months of him “working on it” but only accomplishing what he wanted to do, the list would be very long, and she would be very frustrated.

The day we got to Gioviano this year, for example, I called him and asked him to e-mail me his “Strange Convergence” story about the hogs eating his baby brother. It took 17 days and numerous e-mails before it finally arrived, yet it took him only 24 hours to “edit” to death my “Where to Stay” chapter.

Over the years, whenever my frustration with my parents would reach the boiling point, I would tell the children, “Go down to the parcheggio and get in the car. I feel an attack of Tourette’s coming on.” Off we would go, with me using the most vile vocabulary of English bestemie (curse words) that I could conjure up. Then after my fit of the Tourette’s was over, which usually took no more than five minutes, we would laugh all the way to the gelateria before returning to Gioviano.

One of the worst cases of Tourette’s occurred after our first return trip to Gioviano since having left the military and returned to Texas It happened when I failed to locate a large part of my prized antique collection. During my three-year tour of duty in Italy back in the early 1970s, it was possible to make great discoveries. Hand blown glass demijohns and other discarded treasures were lying by the side of the road or in abandoned houses. Once we found a beautiful 19th-century chest of drawers by a trash bin with the marble top missing. A week later, we found a discarded marble top that fit the chest perfectly. I discovered an ancient wine press in a farmer’s barn, and the farmer said that it had $3.00 worth of firewood in it, which is what I paid him. The chest now graces the living room of Jane’s home in Dallas, and the wine press serves as Anne’s coffee table in California.

Back in Huntsville, my socks, undershirts, sandals, and flowery silk boxers are laid out on shelves in a cabinet that I discovered in an abandoned farmhouse with a collapsed roof. The stone portal had the date “1584” inscribed on it, and the wooden cabinet that replicated the doorway had been built into the wall at the time the house was built. The farmer gladly got rid of the “firewood” for 100,000 lire ($175). The piece appeared to be beyond redemption, but you should see it now with its polished cherry, walnut, poplar, and chestnut woods and hand forged nails. Had I left it in Casa Giorgio… Well, read the rest of the story.

Since our Italian collection of furniture exceeded the 10,000-pound limit of goods that the U.S. Military would pay to be shipped back to Texas, we left many treasures in the cantina of Casa Giorgio. Some were quite priceless, such as an 18th-century chestnut piattaia (plate rack), and a madia (bread bin) of the same era plus a myriad of other antiques awaiting restoration. Casa Giorgio’s only source of heat in the days that my parent’s were staying there was the fireplace. This was before the other houses had been purchased and central heat added. You can guess the rest of the story.

Needless to say, when we got to Gioviano, I moseyed on down to the cantina to admire our many antique treasures and was overcome with Tourette’s. I couldn’t even make it down to the car or down the road before seriously contemplating patricide. My father was totally surprised at my psychotic episode that was brought on by his heating of the house with the “junk in the basement.” His response was, “When I was a boy, we always burned up old rotten junk like that.”

On our way to Gioviano from Paris this year, we passed through the town of Tourettes. We laughed and laughed, reminiscing about my many attacks over the years when I was younger before my testosterone level and “Type A” personality had been subdued by the onslaught of old age. While passing through Tourettes, I even cursed a little for old time’s sake.

When I sent in the chapter about “Playing in the Pigpen,” my father wrote back and told me that there were actually two trapdoors in the kitchen of the Palazzo before he supervised its restoration. A large one was in the corner above the pigpen, and a smaller one was over the chicken pen. That’s the kind of editing he was supposed to do. However, until I wrote the story, I was unaware that he failed to have the two trapdoors reinstalled as a fun part of the history of the Palazzo. In the old days, this probably would have brought on a case of the Tourette’s and thoughts of patricide.

Fortunately, at this stage in my life, I can only chuckle and reminisce about the many times that I got mad at my dear old father for doing things the way they were done back in Chilhowee, Missouri in 1925--when he was 14 years old and stoked the fires on cold winter’s nights with the junk in the basement.

Updated December 22, 2009
Copyright 2005-2009 George H. Russell
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