Summer in the Langhe Hills
The fast turning days of our first Piemonte Spring passed us by with speed like the fresh breath of a morning, dew filled, day; quite quickly it became warm and sticky, with the leaden, heavy, breath of summer. No distinction, or gentle easing, this year at least, from one season to the next. The year had been preceded by El Nino and it is often said that the following year is the opposite, climatically, than the El Nino year weather had been before it. We hadn’t been following the Italian weather at all, until buying the house in Italy, so we had no idea what the opposite weather this year was to be. The Autumn we had visited Piemonte, in the year before had been unseasonally hot, with a lot of our new neighbours verifying this. Of course it had snowed in March, the first week with my Mother and a bare month after receiving the house keys. It hadn’t snowed in the preceding five years, according to the font of all local knowledge, our neighbouring farmer, Giovanni. Spring was a hotch potch of fog, a common occurrence in Spring, Autumn and Winter and some drizzly rain, with a few hot heated patches when the clouds cleared. Then in May, wham! Heat! Hot, hot, heat, all day and into the early evening, with a sudden drop when the sun dipped down to bed over the far Western hill. Our Irish skin was unaccustomed to doing any more than flat out sunbathing in our ‘prior’ life of vacationing in the heat, covered in factor 15. This was a very different experience. We had to get some of the land in to order, the first important step was my very necessary herb garden.
Working in the heat, at 35 degrees, with a sun hat and very little other protection, was extremely arduous. Sweat and sticky dirt trickled over my skin from head to toe, whilst pulling out the multitude of weeds from a waist high concrete bed, perfectly situated to the East of the house, and in reach of the kitchen for herbal recipe necessity, this bed a grand 15ft x 2ft, hadn’t, it appeared, been thought of in years. Every grain of dirt appeared to be attached to a weed, whether ready to sprout from it’s hibernation, or attached to the swaying weeds and sprawling ivy above ground. I hate to waste a good bit of dirt and rather than dig it all up and start again with new topsoil I decided to sieve it. Yes, sieve it, in 35 degrees of heat. A sucker for punishment, I went off to the local hardware shop and in my best broken Italian made the request and lo a sieve was produced, perfectly perfect for the job. I set to, and a good 5 days later had sieved at least ¾ of the bed. My biceps had toned and I felt like a Roman warrioress in the garden, no weed was left undefeated, all had vanished into the bin bag, along with an inch off my waistline, and off to the very handy local commune tip.
My first herbs, planted in Italy, were Rosemary, Thyme, Sage, Basil, Oregano, Chives, Parsley and Mint. Planted fresh, from locally sourced growing pots, straight into the earth, in the garden. The joy of it. After years of growing herbs in pots in our 4x2m decked yard in our city centre Dublin terrace you have no idea how wonderful it was for me to just dig a hole and plant a plant, letting it decide how big it wants to grow. Every day I waked, padded out to the herb garden and marvelled at it all, while sprinkling with some well water before the sun popped over the Eastern hill. The honey bees from the farmer in an upper terrace were, it seemed, equally delighted with this new arrival, buzzing around and scouting out a new pollen patch for later in the year, for now though, they were content with the huge lavender bush that arched it’s newly sprouting flowers over the Eastern end of the herb garden.
We bought some necessary garden furniture in June for lunches and dinner alfresco. We had inherited a round table that sat awkwardly, for now, under the portico but felt an additional eating area was required for more formal events and our own entertainment. We purchased an 8 seater and chairs and placed them under our only shade giving tree in the garden, a gigantic spruce that was well positioned for the midday sun, as it cast a cooling shadow, for a few hours anyway, from 12pm til 3pm, someone must have thought of this idea years before our arrival, I like to think that the plan had been for this to be the lunch tree. It is an interesting Spruce with drooping arms and needles, like long fingers pointing down to the earth, at least 60ft in height, it majestically towers over the South East section of the garden, near the house. On further research, we discovered it to be a rare ‘Brewer Spruce’ tree. Hence forth it has been referred to as Brewer, as in ‘shall we have lunch under Brewer?’.
We settled into a new routine, quite, startlingly for anyone who knows me, distinct from our Irish pattern, in Piemonte we rise at 7am, water the garden, have a herbal tea in my case, coffee for Andrew and then some writing and emails for our own businesses and a swim for an hour in the local pool, then more work emails or calls, lunch under ‘Brewer’, gardening, emails, calls and then aperitivo at 5.30pm and dinner at 7pm, finally listening to an audible book for an hour before bed at 10pm. We have made the conscious decision to forego a television, we inherited one with the house but have put it in the attic. There doesn’t seem time to watch television here, there is always something to do outside during the day and in the evenings we ease our tired limbs and eyes on the couch, while sipping a glass of Dolcetto and listening in comfort to a book (via Audible), this quaint pastime has become something I find both rewarding and relaxing. Are we getting old? Who knows. We may end up getting a television installed with Sky by Christmas but at this moment in time I can’t see why.
Read all about our garden surprises next.
Happy to know we had a place to come and go to in Piemonte, Italy, without having to make bookings, bar flights and car hire, is extremely liberating. The first trip I planned back to this wonderful place in the Langhe Hills, was with my Mother, an equal lover of Italy, as myself, and like a mother can only be, a tirelessly enthusiastic champion of the Italian project. You see, she had been more than depressed at the idea of our prior French blip and though, admirably, had marched round viewing all the French houses, she couldn't bring herself to tell us that she really rather hoped that we wouldn't move to France and would by some twist of fate return to our default Italian position. Well, all I can say is she was damned lucky! In fact, the number of people who breathed sighs of relief at our Italian decision was staggering, why are people not brave enough to speak up before such a doomed experiment, such as moving to France (thank goodness we didn't), they are all lucky, as am I, that we somehow managed, without any prodding, to return to our original idea of Italy.
Mum and I booked to come out to Piemonte in March 2016 for 5 days. Our expectation for this trip was to see a lovely early spring awakening of the land with the early bulbs popping up in shy explosions of colour in this verdant land. In fact, the day we arrived sitting outside the house sipping our first glass of wine, was a balmy 35 degrees in the sun! This is the thing about being 450 metres above sea level, the sun is very hot when it is out, regardless of the time of year, the thermometer would sprint up and down it's mercury line faster than Usain Bolt, the sun in was 3 degrees, sun out 35 degrees, and all within minutes - bizarre! We had brought, fortunately, a medley of clothes for the occasion, having myself experienced this change in temperatures in February. So heavy blankets were at the ready to toast our boney knee caps outside and inside the fire was on and the radiators full on in the evening. Whilst, during the day, our tops were rolled up our arms and we basked like lizards in the early spring.
Our first night, passed relatively easily, for me; I like to wear ear plugs, a hangover from living in a terrace in the city, Mum goes without. I woke to the usual peace and quiet and pitch darkness, as we had closed the wooden shutters to keep the heat in, and Mum was quicker than she usually is, to start talking, as normally a cup of coffee is required first, "Did you hear all that thunder and lightning in the night?" "No" said I, curious, but then thunderstorms are common in the Langhe hills. She said it had woken her and she had slept little, as it had been so very loud and extremely scary, while her eldest child, me, had deeply slept through the whole display of lightning and cannon booms across the sky. Wow, these ear plugs are the bees knees, I thought. Poor Mum, she hadn't wanted to wake me, even though she had been terrified! I thought I would get up first and make her a nice cup of coffee. Padding out of the bedroom we had shared, we only have one bedroom at the moment, but room for two more to be converted soon, in the attic, I thought it a nice idea to open the front door, en route to the kitchen, and take in the view, a sight I don't think I will ever get bored of. Unlocking the door, I pulled it open, and nearly shrieked, I couldn't see a thing! There had been a snow storm, and not one of those drizzly, feeble, Irish efforts of one inch but a good 10 inches had fallen and it was still falling. I couldn't see far with the snow haze before me. I got Mum to get up and see and she too was horrified. We hadn't seen this on the weather forecast! Our dreams of day trips to Barolo and Alba vanished before our staggered, blinking eyes.
Along with this rather rude awakening, we quickly realised the electricity was down. I immediately turned into the best of my brownie guide days and Duke of Edinburgh training persona and went into automatic 'Bear Gryllis' survival mode. First stop, as the electricity was required for the water pump to work, we collected as much water as needed for a few days, in case the pipe from the well in the garden froze. Using all the 'Giovanni' inherited pots and pans I ran out to the side yard and filled these from the garden tap, placing them, with blessed relief, on our wonderful gas oven, thanking God and Giovanni for the good fortune of having a gas hob! Next, we brought the log boxes in from under the veranda, to keep them dry and close to the wood fire burner. Trying to use the loo was a revelation, again because of the out of action water pump we couldn't flush it and the top wouldn't come off the cistern, buckets primed next to the loo were ready to manually flush. A food inventory was done, we had by sheer luck gone to the supermarket the day we had arrived and indulged ourselves with all sort of goodies, enough to last us the weekend, with rationing! Though we had enough wine to last a few weeks, naturally.
Peeking, with a grimace, outside the snow was still relentlessly falling and was at about 13 inches high, then my thoughts turned to our hire car, I had to dig it out to get the snow chains on, if we had any chance of getting out of this mess. I waded through the snow to the garage and looking, really for the first time, at all the legacy gardening instruments to avail of, fortunately noticed a proper 'official' snow shovel, bit of a clue that one, and a couple of other metal spades. Dragging all three along the veranda I arrived at the snowed in car - up to the alloys in snow. I began digging. 1 hour later and still digging, it was like 2 steps forward one step back, with the relentless snow, I was sweating from every cell of my skin and mildly panicking, my mother, meanwhile, highly amused at her 'city' daughter in full on survival action, took as many pictures of me 'heave hoing' at the snow, while not really containing her amusement, love you Mum!
Breaking for a quick hot chocolate we sat on the veranda, sheltered from the snow, and took it all in, in a kind of hypnotic, glazed eye, state. So much for the relaxing, wine tasting, pottering about weekend. Then, out of nowhere, we could here a whirring, crunching sound coming our way on the snow bedecked road below. And out of the foggy snow, a figure clothed in head to toe black, pushing what looked like a large lawn mower, was trudging with athletic enthusiasm up the road on the hill. Then turned off and up our steep driveway. Closer now, we could see this contraption was collecting the snow and spurting it out the sides, like a real ski slope snow machine. it made its way through the gates and towards us, it was Giovanni! 75 years of age, and as fit as a fiddle, he whirred his way towards us leaving a metre wide clearing of ground behind him. Never had we been so grateful to see him, we hugged and kissed him and with shouts of 'nieve' from him, a new word for me, aka 'snow', we bundled him inside and made him have some of our precious bottled water. He explained the snow was indeed unexpected, in fact there hadn't been snow for 5 years here. We showed him the electricity was off but he just shrugged his Sardinian shoulders and said it would be fixed soon enough for sure. We pointed at the shortage of wood and he said he would fix that and be back later in his tractor with some, oh the joys of self sufficiency, note to self - must buy in a lot of firewood for future winters and a snow machine. Then he was off in a snow flourish. What a man.
Two days later, and with many electricity on/off moments, we had finally dug our way out of the lane, all 150 metres of it and down to the main road. We took off on our last day to see the sights of the village and have a very necessary drink of Prosecco in the local bar. What a welcome to Piemonte for my mother, and many a good lesson was learnt in being prepared; roll on the next snow, I'm ready for you this time!
Warm up with our first Summer in Piemonte post here.
Our house purchasing experience in Italy.
It would be a long 4 months until we would set eyes on the 'little white house' again. Buying a house in Piemonte, Italy, is straight forward, mostly. The offer had been accepted in November after paying a 10% deposit of the house price directly to the vendor, Giovanni, and the closing, after some delays, was in February. The whole process was painless and extremely straightforward. I can say that, without doubt, this smoothness is due to the wonderful advantage of not having to hire a solicitor/lawyer to handle each side of the proceedings. Quite a relief with a tight budget and a conveyancing system that I think would be an asset in Ireland and in the UK, the wonderful Notario (notary) takes care of everything in Italy. The notary is one person, who handles both sides in a property purchase. A notary is considered legally qualified in Italy to handle conveyancing. I was a bit perturbed initially on discovering this, as, with a law degree myself, and multiple house purchasing history, this seemed a big risk. I even flirted with the idea of hiring a lawyer, just in case, and got some extortionate quotes, one helpful solicitor said the value of the property was too low for them to take on and kindly pointed out that it was unnecessary to hire a solicitor anyway, as the Notario takes care of exactly the same conveyancing work that a solicitor would do in Italy, so it would only double up the effort. It seems, from my research, that if the property involves very large parcels, or multiple parcels of land, or buildings, then a solicitor may be useful, particularly if there are land disputes etc. In a straightforward house and land purchase, without disputes, and with all property legal search documents coming up clean, just the notary is used to close the transaction. Happy days! We did, pragmatically, organise a surveyor to look at the structure of the house and the walls, which produced a positive report. After that we left it all to the notary and sat back, expecting this to be closed in time for Christmas 2015 and envisaging ourselves sipping hot chocolate wrapped in blankets taking in the sunshine. Not! Of course this Christmas treat didn't occur, as the whole of the notary system shuts down for 5 weeks over the Christmas holiday festivities. Our purchase expectations of 6 weeks, normal for most times of the year, particularly with empty houses, became 3 months, then the translator was away skiing and another one wasn't available until February. Eventually, what seemed like a far off date, loomed up very fast.
The next step was the pre-contract meeting at the notary office, about a month before the final date. I had to fly over for the day and attend the meeting with the Notario. I absolutely love this legal process, how efficient. Accompanied by my fantastically helpful Immobiliare, Natascia and Marco, for a bit of translating help, we attended the formal meeting in the grand settings of the Notario's office in Acqui Terme, Piemonte. A wonderful dark mahogany strewn office with gargantuan desk and heaps of paperwork and a mustached, silver haired, Notario, which made me sit up a little taller, as we were placed before him to examine the paperwork. I presented my codice fiscale, a necessary tax code, which was ordered back in November, you can't get far in Italy without one in any contract situation, including getting a mobile phone, which was another necessity and the number was entered into the documentation for this meeting, I had a SIM only Italian phone number conveniently purchased round the corner from the Notario's office. He went through every document carefully, making sure nothing was amiss. Then, out of nowhere, he banged the desk and looked incredulously at Natascia, quizzing her in fast Italian something about 'vini culture' and the parcellette of land Andrew had superbly negotiated with Giovanni to buy, as we required some more land to grow our agri business plans on. A keen investment and purchased at a normal price for scrubbed land in the region. Natascia kept calm and was explaining something to him about this, but he still seemed apoplectic, eventually he stopped his rapid dialogue and motioned to Natascia to explain to me what was being said. Apparently, he thought the land price too low for the value of the land, as the land was designated for vini culture only, vine growing. We knew this, but there wasn't actually any vines growing on the land, so we had got it at the regular price. In the end, after a lot of huffing and puffing on his part, all was settled and we carried on with the document checks. This 'vini culture' designation would come to haunt us in the future but not in a bad way fortunately.
The final meeting to exchange and sign the deeds over was organised and we booked 5 days off work for it. Giovanni, our vendor, offered us the use of the 'little white house' for our stay, saying it would be ours 2 days into the trip, so it made no sense to stay elsewhere. I was getting very used to saying, 'where would you get it'? The hospitality of this Italian region was transcending my lifetime of travelling experiences, they just are not caught up on the vicious ownership trappings of our Western homeland. Can you imagine staying in the house you are buying before you have closed on it, certainly I can't imagine this happening in Ireland, or the UK, it's quite unthinkable. So we moved into the 'little white house'; again Giovanni had prepared the fire for us and the place was toasty in the cold depths of winter. We were invited to a pre-closing dinner at his Langhe Hills farm down the road, with his family, again 'where would you get it'? Sipping on his homemade red wine we ate a casserole of rabbit and bathed in the warmth of his family. Getting by in very broken Italian and becoming more and more tipsy with the wine and the new world we had entered. To top the night off Giovanni broke into 'cantare', into song, singing songs in a wonderful singing voice from his childhood in Sardinia and a few romantic ballads. Fantastico!
The next day, Giovanni had arranged to pick us up and to have breakfast at his before we all drove to the Notario's together. Arriving at the Notary's office I was introduced to the translator, an extremely impressive English speaking lady who would be sat next to me, on my left, during the closing and would translate everything said, this is a necessity and one the non Italian speaker pays for. It was a very formal meeting, a bit like a registry office wedding. Giovanni was sat to the right me, both of us sat one side of the mahogany desk, facing the notary. Our guests, Andrew and Giovanni's family and of course our trusty immobiliare, Natascia and Marco were sat behind us and to the sides. The Notary had the local Notary from the 'little white house's closest notary office in to officiate and there were multiple assistants bustling around. This time all went smoothly, until the bank drafts. Earlier that day, I had visited the bank, having set this account up in a bank close to the Notary, on the pre-contract visit day. I had all the bank drafts, one for the notary, the translator, the immobiliare and Giovanni and his wife Anna but one of the invoices was incorrect by a few euro's and the proceedings were interrupted, while I and Natascia legged it, in our high heels, to the bank to fix this and run back, as the Notary was under time pressure. All the financial payments have to be paid to the notary in draft form and then he passes them to the respective people in the room, keeping everything clean and above board. A very important point when buying a house in Italy, make sure to have a bank account set up in the bank near the notary's office that is handling the transaction.
Eventually, the signing took place and after signing my signature about 100 times on all the duplicated contracts it was done. The house was bought. We all hugged and clapped, just like a wedding and for good measure, I kid you not, we had a group photo taken of all of us in the room, including the notary and his team, before we all headed off for a celebratory lunch. Bizarrely amazing.
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions on buying a house in Piemonte.
Next chapter in our Piemonte adventure
Racing to the estate agents to put the offer in to buy the house, was of course completely out of proportion to the urgency of house buying in the Piedmont region of Italy. There probably was no need to see the agent for weeks into the future, there was no race against time, as houses move so slowly here, the locals preferring to live in the towns and the, holiday home buying, tourists thin on the ground. But as an agent myself, albeit in recruitment, if I get a whiff of a competitor closing in on one of my clients, I up my game, determined not to lose out. I half expected the local town agent to be doing exactly this, calling everyone he knows to find a buyer for the beautiful, Langhe Hills, ‘little white house’, to make it up to his Mama and get back in her good books, or at least that is what I would do in his shoes. Looking back on it, with some distance, I think this was unlikely, after all, our house was one of the cheapest on his books, most of his houses were 3 or 4 times the value, would he really be bothering, or just write it off to complacency, who knows. We, competitive sales people that we are, were not taking the risk and we arranged to meet at Natascia’s Casa Futura’s office at 3pm, an agonising 6 hour wait, as she was busy until then, my creative imagination imagined her showing our house to other prospective buyers, (which she wasn't). After this painful wait, we eventually set off for Acqui Terme, pedal to the metal, as fast as the country roads would allow and the frustrating, 50kmph speed camera restriction, villages along the way would permit.
We, composing ourselves, entered her building, a lovely older, typical Acqui Terme office building, with ornate doors and, climbing, marble stairs, into her very large office. Herself and Marco, her husband greeted us warmly and we hurriedly explained that we wanted to make an offer on the house, so much for playing it cool! They were absolutely delighted, naturally, but genuinely seemed really excited for us. In Italy, it is important to know that a verbal offer is binding, you can’t play around with this process, we knew the house’s advertised price, but had read, via blogs, that 10% was the usual discount off the advertised price. We decided to put in an offer of 15% discount off the asking price, as a starting point, expecting negotiations to occur, particularly with our astute and wiley Giovanni, no fool he. Also, as much as we were tempted to go in with a cheeky 20% discount, Andrew made it clear that we didn’t want to be offensive, as Giovanni would be our neighbour, one we expected to be friendly with. Giovanni reminded me of the time I sold my first house, in my early twenties, I would put bread in the oven, half an hour before viewers came around, to make the place smell welcoming and inviting. Giovanni, had used his own little tricks with us, like demonstrating the freshness of the spring water out of the garden tap by cupping his hand under it and drinking it with lip smacking enticement, let alone the spotless presentation and unnecessarily warming wood fire he had lit that hot, autumn, day of our first viewing, we had spotted one of our own that day and loved him for it.
Marco, a friend, it turns out, of Giovanni, hence them getting the house on the books, rang Giovanni and started the proceedings off, as we sat rigid in the office chairs, tense with nerves and excitement. Marco paced this way and that, rapidly in Italian presenting the facts to Giovanni, strolling into an anti-chamber office and continuing the discussion, Natascia tried to engage us in conversation but we were so distracted, our minimal Italian was failing to recall with all the nerves. Eventually, after about 15 minutes, Marco came back in and said that Giovanni would accept a price at 10% discount, of course; we agreed but bizarrely and I really don’t know where this moment of inspiration came from, I agreed to the 10% discount, as long as we could have all the furniture, fixtures and fittings, the house was fully set up as a liveable house, with beds a plenty, rustic, wooden dining table and chairs and cupboards full of crockery, all of the vintage style that I adore. I had read, that Italians are notorious at stripping their houses of everything removable when they sell, including the lightbulbs! This must have made a big impression in my subconscious mind to pipe up with this request at the last second. Just in case you think I was being a 'meanie' by taking all of poor Giovanni's furniture and family heirlooms, fear not, the place was set up as a home but hadn't been lived in for 20 years (more on this strange story in future posts), though it looked spick and span, all the furniture and crockery belonged to the previous owner, before Giovanni had bought it. Marco went back on the phone and another 5 minutes, of fast Italian dialogue, passed, finally hanging up and coming back to tell us, happily, that Giovanni had agreed to include everything already in situ at the house. It was ours.
The excitement, and thrill of it all, sent all four of us out into the cool, Autumn night, aired town to celebrate, my mind a whir and every fibre of my being on an adrenaline and serotonin surge of joy. We headed to a little favourite bar of theirs and, just in time for aperitivo, opened a bottle of prosecco and we toasted the day. Where would you get this. I had never toasted anything with an estate agent before, it was a whole new and very pleasurable experience. We ate titbits from the platters spread out for aperitivo, all free, while we sipped our cool Prosecco and rambled incoherently to Natascia and Marco. Marco told us how happy Giovanni was to sell us the house, as we were a young couple and would be a great addition to the town. Giovanni had also promised to help us settle in and would show us the workings of the land. As we got ready to leave Marco presented us with a present, a white truffle the size of a large walnut shell that he had bought at the front deli part of the bar, how wonderful. Leaving them, high on life, with multiple kisses and promising to get the paperwork started on returning to Dublin, we knew we had made the right decision and relaxed into the last couple of days of our Piemonte trip, in our soon to be new world.
Next chapter about buying a house in Italy
We had whittled the shortlist down to a couple of the Piedmont houses the ‘small house’ with lots of land and the ‘little white house’ with a more moderate amount of land. What to do about it, that was the question. We decided the only course of action that made rational sense, which was to test each house out at different times of the day to see what occurs in the beautiful Langhe Hills region of Piemonte. In Dublin, when we bought our city house, 12 years ago, we spent a lot of time parking outside the house and observing the neighbours, making sure that we weren’t heading to a disaster of some sort, it served us very well. This time, there were no neighbours, we had to make do with listening to the sounds of the day instead. At the ‘small house’ we visited in the afternoon, all was quiet surrounding the house but we did hear a lot of noise from a distant road, winding down the valley, even though we are not talking about a motorway, just the 10, or so, cars an hour, the way that the valley had set itself up, in the distant ice age, was almost basin like and the noise was bouncing off the high wrap around valley behind the house. On the other hand, visiting the ‘little white house’, an hour later, was tranquillity itself and I noticed to my absolute delight the sound of tinkling bells off nearby sheep. When I write in Spain, at the retreat, there are distant goat herds with the same dream like, wind chime, sounds, I had always found this very soothing on my frayed city nerves, how wonderful it was to hear them here.
The next visit was at night, at 10pm, the road up to the ‘small house’ was even more perilous and scary than during the day, on this pitch black night, it was becoming clear, ironically, through our lack of vision of what lay ahead on the road, that this was starting to look like house number 2 on the list. Arriving outside the house we stood looking out over the valley, beautiful though it was for 99% of that wonderful view, there was though, at the bottom of the valley, a factory, all lit up, like one of those city 5 aside football pitches at night, with big industrial lights taking away from the darkness of the hills. There was, however, something more disturbing emanating from the factory and it was an industrial buzzing sound, very clearly audible and at a tone that was not restful in any way, it was very strange indeed, as in this Langhe Hills town we had found the regular 8-7pm activity of a working town and this sound was at 10pm. It wasn’t going to work for us. House number 2 took a dive to house ‘no way’, it was struck off the list. We drove on to the only house left on the list, the ‘little white house’. Standing there on the veranda looking out at the majestic shadows of the sleeping giant hills, all we could hear was nothing mechanical, or industrial, just little chirping night crickets and the only movements were little bats, flitting here and there, amongst a very deep, restful, peace.
The next morning, we jumped out of bed early for the final test of the ‘little white house’, making it there for rush hour, 8am, driving up to the house gave the answer of the test away, we had only passed one car on the drive up the 5 km winding road. Rush hour, this was not. Arriving, the sun hadn’t quite popped its head over the Eastern, tall, fir trees and the place was dusted in an almost pale violet glow, as it waited expectantly for the sun’s warming rays to give it some welcome, November, golden heat. The sheep were tinkling along, on their morning munch of the land. The road was empty. We headed tentatively into the house, the door still very much unlocked, as Giovanni had promised it would be, though we still felt like trespassers, even with his kind invite to view, as often as we like, we crept in quietly, and had a last look around. We were both quiet, taking in each room carefully and both nervous of each other, we both wanted to buy this house, yet we hadn’t said this out loud yet, or confirmed it. We went outside took one last look at the view, soaking it all in, both of us making unsaid wishes that this view would become common place to us. Then Andrew broke the nervous mood by giving one of the portico pillars a big hug! We both laughed and I joined in the hug, saying very clearly,” Don’t worry ‘little house’ we will be back soon”, with little tears of joy in my eyes, we got on the phone to the estate agents in Acqui Terme.
Next see if we get the house.
Have you ever read the inspiring book ‘How to win friends and influence people’ by Dale Carnegie? I have, back in my late teens, I sped read the book and thought I had learnt a few big tips to help me in life, I even recommend it to some of my clients in my business, particularly if they are struggling to influence people in the workplace. I really ought to have read the book in the last few years though, as what follows, in our Piemonte house search, was definitely in the ‘how not to win friends and influence people’ chapter.
We had arranged to see yet another house in this great Piemonte, Langhe Hills, town, with a third estate agent, this one was actually based in the town, next to the bar we had already met the prior agents in. But, unlike the other two, who were out of town agents, these, naturally, being the town’s agent, had a large shop window of properties and big offices to meet them in, which we did. They were very professional, I might say ‘old school’, the middle aged proprietor and his gracefully older mother, in their best office attire, were in the office to greet us, and with her sharp hawk eyes, she looked us up and down and, I guess, calculated our spending ability in her career long, estimating mind calculator, and gave us a bemused smile, if not slightly worried smile, that we may be one of those tourists who indulges in property viewings for the hell of it. We assured them both that we were very eager to find a property and that we were real buyers, more bemusement, I knew I should have dressed up in a more Italian business outfit, I had on my old jeans, hiking boots and jumper, expecting, correctly, that we would have to ramble over more overgrown land and up and down neck breaking slopes.
Moving on from their initial doubtful appraisal, they opened a giant, black, ring binder and leafing through it, pulled out and laid the details of the property, in hard copy, with graceful precision, on the large, polished, desk. Carlo, the proprietor, explained the particulars of the property we had booked to see and then spread out a few more properties, all in wide ranging prices, we had to instantly dismiss most of them, as they were way out of our price league, though we had been very clear on the price points at the beginning of the conversation. Signora then pulled out another property detail from the giant ring binder and neatly laid it on the desk in front of us, it was the little white house that we had just finished viewing, with Natascia and Marco, an hour ago. We didn’t think too much of this, after all most agents in the UK and Ireland seem to use multiple agents, so we made our apologies and said no, unfortunately we had already viewed the house, however, this apology was lost in translation, I think. Signora then started explaining the little white house to us and we had to say no, again, it was impossible, as we had already seen it with another agency, Carlo then, with a small wince, got the gist of what we were saying and in fast Italian explained this to his mother, whose face, instantly, turned into a picture of dark fury, she glared at us, and at him, and arms in the air, her voice escalating at her son, began directing verbal missiles at him in Italian, which we think were along the lines of, “how could you have let this happen”, we also kept hearing Giovanni’s name mentioned, over and over again, and with dawning realisation, us stupid, foreign, city dwellers woke up to the fact that this very small Piemonte town would of course be protective of their own property book, with so few houses to sell and being so remote, us ‘tourists’ had viewed one of their properties with a competing agency, who were not even in the town! She looked at us and demandingly asked us the name of the vendor who had shown us the property and we had to say, timidly, in a very small voice, the one betraying word, “Giovanni”. We felt like naughty school children, knees trembling, standing in front of the Head Mistress waiting for our punishment. She was then certain of the fact that we had betrayed her business and she, with a wave of dismissal, bid us "Arrivederci" and left us with Carlo, who probably, predicting more motherly wrath, decided this was an opportune time to go and view the original property we had arranged to see and he hurried us out of the office and off to view the house.
What a valuable lesson, a first, I am sure, of many in our Italian Piedmont adventures. We hadn’t given this predicament any thought in our property search, when we had seen these properties online, through various estate agent portals, some houses were listed with multiple agents. I couldn’t remember if Carlo had been advertising the little white house, we hadn’t thought of it anyway and had just gone with the first agent we had seen viewing it and hadn’t thought how insensitive it could be to not use the local agent. I do remember thinking it was important to have multiple estate agents from a wide area, so that if other houses in other locations had arisen we were covered. But, I'm not sure, if we had our time again, we would have checked the local estate agent, immobiliare, website to see if they too had it listed and booked the viewing with them, it's a hard one to say. Though to this day we haven’t been able to look Carlo in the eye and he hasn’t recognised us, or, has chosen not to recognise us, and for a little town where everyone knows everyone we had already upset the apple cart with two local business people. Not a great start; hopefully, one day we can make it up to them.
Next chapter in our Piedmont property buying story
Share our stories with your friends.