“Is there a more isolated house?”
It seemed a simple question to pose to two Italian realtors. Without hesitation, we soon had our answer. Almost immediately, the more practical of the pair, feisty Inga, was at the wheel, maneuvering the old Jeep up the steep terrain. Her associate, Patrizia, stunning in her white knit pants, fitted shirt and lavender scarf tied stylishly around her neck, occupied the passenger seat. As Inga revved the engine, Patrizia turned and smiled to reassure us that everything was okay. Just after we turned off of the main road, Inga immediately threw her weight into the steering wheel for a hard left and we continued a steep climb. At one point, all we could see from the back seat was the dashboard because the road was completely obscured from view, due to the car’s jolting angle. Surely, this must be the top, we thought, as the grade leveled out a bit and we found ourselves passing between enormous old vacant barns and rusted grain silos. Inga paused only momentarily, grimacing as she engaged a stubborn gear, and then yanked the steering wheel hard to the right and away we went into the woods.
Surprised, we continued to climb up the rugged hillside, while brush and bushes slapped both sides of the Jeep. Rocks rolled down the hill while others crunched beneath the spinning tires as we bounced and jostled our way along. We felt a sudden lurch as Inga course-corrected after unintentionally dropping a tire into a huge pothole. Patrizia turned once again to offer another cautious, silent smile of reassurance. A few hundred feet further, Inga nearly stood on the brake pedal, bringing the Jeep to an abrupt halt. She then shifted into neutral, cut the engine and with a sharp tug, engaged the parking brake. Just for good measure, she kicked a large stone under the back tire. Then, as if nothing unusual had just happened, Patrizia smoothed her hair, adjusted her scarf and said with a gracious smile, “Andiamo, let’s go!” We emerged from the back seat to see—ruins. Not just something in need of minor repairs—serious ruins.
There before us, was a small, dilapidated stucco, terra cotta and stone barn with a 3-inch wide diagonal crack running from its fallen roof all the way down past its dirt floor. Near the barn stood the delicately balanced pile of stones that once was a large house, as evidenced by a remaining 10-foot high stone corner. One wall jutted up far enough to hold the crumbling remnants of an old stone window opening. The adjacent partial wall was completely overgrown with vines that had surely gone unchecked for at least—umm, maybe 100 years?
We couldn’t get too close to either the barn or the house, since brambles and weeds obstructed our way, completely covering the lower levels. We heard wild pheasants warbling in the nearby meadow. With nimble fingers, we lifted thorny branches and edged cautiously closer, remembering that in the undisturbed, abandoned parts of Tuscany there were undoubtedly many resident snakes—vipers among them—watching our every move.
We stood, staring from the ruins into the magnificent valley below. From that perch at the top of the hill we saw multiple layers of blue and gray mountains receding into the distance. Directly below us was an intimate valley in various shades of lush green vegetation. The landscape was broken with the occasional yellow stucco farmhouse, a castle tower and a couple of grand old villas. Silvery grey olive groves dotted the hillsides. Vineyards followed the contours, rolling like gentle green waves. On our far left, nestled within a distant pine grove stood a centuries-old monastery, Madonna del Sasso, with its own commanding view of the amazing valley. We were mesmerized, taking it all in, gazing into the distant past, smitten by the current breath-taking view—lovestruck.
Patrizia casually mentioned that Dante Alighieri, had a country home just down the hill in the late 1200s. She went on to say that he even penned his famous Divine Comedy while staying there. We were lost in thought. Then, after several minutes of silence, she said, “Allora, che pensate, so, what do you think?”
Her question snapped us back to reality. With a quick glance and subtle nod to each other, we answered, curiously at the same time, “Perfetto, perfect!” Inga and Patrizia locked eyes and slightly raised their eyebrows. We’re sure we heard one of them utter to the other, “Pazzi Americani, crazy Americans!” Yet, we knew better. These RUINS would be the source of our inspiration. To rebuild the fallen stone walls was the perfect metaphor we needed to begin building our own dreams.
This story is a true “Italian Moment” that took place in the spring of 2000.