The Ride of a Lifetime! After sixteen years of trying to live in Italy as "true Italians," we set out to write a book about our experiences. As it turns out, we ended up doing a lot more than just writing a book because we decided that to capture the essence, we really needed music, poetry, drawings, videos and more. So, that's exactly what we did. You can find our complete body of work at www.uncommonpromise.wordpress.com. We hope you can visit us from time to time—let us know what your personal adventure looks like. Perhaps we can all glean some inspiration to go out and write a new chapter in our own stories! Wishing you the best, Cheryl and Emerson

“Is there a more isolated house?” 

Climb aboard!

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. 

Arriving at the top of the mountain

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.

Barn In 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?

Overtaken by nature

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.

The peaceful valley

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. 

Decaton. Squeaker. Q-T Cat, Inspector General—the list of characters goes on.

Just A Few Of The Star Robots

Meet your new best friends and a few worst enemies inside this rollicking ROBOTS! card game brought to you by “Border Games.” If you like cards, robots, laughter, strategy, fun and a good mental challenge, you might just give it a whirl. For about $20, you too could get a few kicks from the Robots! Factory.

The idea for Robots! was born one summer afternoon when our son, Aaron, stopped by for a visit. We reminisced about how much we’ve always enjoyed playing Rummy, but lamented that winning is so dependent on the luck of the draw, rather than strategy. We imagined how much more fun it would be if you could change the outcome with a few new tactical maneuvers. Within days, our inventor-son started sending updates on the development of an advanced form of Rummy called “Robots!”

A Game To Test Your “Metal”

When the kids were younger, our family often played a variety of card games, ranging from Euchre, to multiple player Solitaire, to Kings in the Corner, to Uno, but mostly we played Rummy. Aaron was also fascinated with metal monsters and he loved the mechanical aspect of transformers. So, we imagine that his love for all the variations that card games offer, combined with his keen interest in building and dismantling mechanical things, would somehow blend. It was only a matter of time before we were hit with a creative card game tsunami.

We volunteered to be test subjects, as Aaron wrote and rewrote the rules of the game. He fine-tuned the graphics and learned the intricate art of marketing his new game. As of today, the final version of “Robots!” has been completely designed, produced and delivered. What began as a successful Kickstarter campaign has transformed into a presence on Amazon. Now, we look forward to our evening round of friendly combat on the field of Robots! rivalries. The rest of this story will be found in the future book called “Great Games of the World!”

Introduction To Robots!

How To Play The Game

What has a specific beginning and end, but no origin?

The labyrinth.

Rappite Labyrinth, New Harmony Indiana

Labyrinths have been discovered throughout the world for at least 4,000 years. But that doesn’t mean we know who invented the first one, or where. Was he/she as old as dirt? Who really knows? However, something timeless and mysterious seems to tie them all together as if by a grand plan, yet no obvious big plan exists. Each labyrinth is more like a symbolic representation of some primordial pattern. And, that idea seems to have been hardwired into every brain in every culture. The labyrinth represents a common shared experience of living, making a journey, meditating on the meaning of life, achieving a goal or simply following your personal path—one step at a time. It is a metaphor for life itself. Even if we don’t know the exact origin of the labyrinth, we can all agree that it’s a powerful idea that remains meaningful and fully embraced to this day.

Kitchen Jar Opener—A Necessity

Nobody thinks much about a labyrinth until you’re presented a mysterious and urgent need for one. They’re like that special jar-opening tool in the kitchen that you need RIGHT NOW! There must be one around here somewhere, but where is it? (freeing the stubborn lid from a jar is reminiscent of a labyrinth’s ability to ease the cross-threaded barriers to living our best life). Well, we found ourselves in need of a labyrinth one day. One of us had a vague recollection of something like that just down the street from our place. You know the feeling? You’ve seen it out of the corner of your eye, but didn’t really pay that much attention. There was something that looked more like a garden sculpture in the center of some hedges. But wait. Upon closer inspection, a bold discovery was revealed—a fantastic contemporary labyrinth “right there in our own backyard.”

“Eureka!” We found it!

Labyrinth Tower—San Diego California

Twenty-five years ago, three artists were commissioned to create a piece of sculpture to commemorate the beginning of the “Martin Luther King Jr. Promenade” in downtown San Diego. Their idea was to create a labyrinth with messages set into concrete bordering a stone path. The series of phrases prompts the meditative walker to consider the ways we can grow by “shedding” that which is limiting and/or no longer useful. When we shed negative attributes, we create space to “don” positive qualities. The short walk culminates at an incredible bronze tower, apparently built from transformed scraps of metal, which may symbolize that “shedding/donning” process—soaring upward into the beautiful blue Southern California sky. The sculpture is impressive yet unfinished—much like our own life’s work. True transformation seems to require examining the negative to glean the positive. Which is the dismantling and which is the building? Hmm. Perhaps they’re one and the same.

In either case, there’s definitely important solitary work to be done . . . one step at a time!

Labyrinth Messages

Stepping into the labyrinth, there’s a concrete border on each side of the gravel path. Alternating from one side to the other as you walk are messages engraved in the borders—with “shedding” on one side and “Donning” on the other, as follows:

Shedding the cloak of Oppression”—”Donning the cloak of Reconciliation”
Shedding the cloak of Fear—Donning the cloak of Trust
Shedding the cloak of Prejudice—Donning the cloak of Respect
Shedding the cloak of Malice—Donning the cloak of Compassion
Shedding the cloak of Bitterness—Donning the cloak of Forgiveness
Shedding the cloak of Despair—Donning the cloak of Hope
Shedding the cloak of Weariness—Donning the cloak of Courage
Shedding the cloak of Ignorance—Donning the cloak of Wisdom
Shedding the cloak of Darkness—Donning the cloak of Light

Gallery

Etruscan Wall – Fiesole

The farmers of Tuscany have faithfully tended this rocky Italian soil for many hundreds of years—even millennia. Perhaps that seems like an over-statement, but it’s true. The name Tuscany actually derives from the earliest settlers of the region in pre-Roman times, namely the Etruscans. They developed an advanced culture and were known for their peaceful nature. They created transportation systems, mining, art, and of course agriculture. Masters at working the land, their adept hands were the first to fell the trees and pull countless stones from the terra firma. That was 900 BC, which makes for nearly 3000 years of commitment to the land, as of this writing.

Tuscan Farmhouse

When we first came to Tuscany in the year 2000, we were captivated by the natural beauty. But, even more, we were mesmerized by the impeccable instinct to “design with nature.” Especially in the countryside, the villas, landscaping, colors, materials, the reflection of the sun, all worked together to create this seamless tapestry called Tuscany. We were fortunate enough to find our own piece of that landscape. From our simple hillside farmhouse, overlooking the valley, we’ve developed a deep appreciation as well as an obligation to maintain and preserve that which has come before us—for those who will come after.

Fiesole Today

The name of our farmhouse, which we share with two other Italian families, is Casale Pretena, which simply means, Pretena Farmhouse. But, there’s a twist. It turns out that the name isn’t exactly Italian, and that Pretena is most likely an Etruscan word that has been handed down through the generations. The local lore suggests that this land may very well have been part of an Etruscan settlement on the outskirts of the nearby famous Etruscan town of Fiesole, just three miles down the road. Many generations of farmers who tended this land over the centuries left their indelible mark and name. Just imagine: countless families were raised here; animals provided sustenance; healthy crops fed the young families and animals. Surely artists and artisans were among the early inhabitants, facing life’s many day-to-day challenges. Doubtless, tragedies occurred. but the hard-working people persevered. Because they did, we consider this a sacred site, where that collective soulful energy is still felt today.

Ancient Garden Spade

Indeed, this place has always been special to us, and we’re humbled by the opportunity to momentarily “tend the soil” in that long line of caretakers. We decided to use the beautiful garden as a canvas of sorts, to honor the memory of those families who came before. As a symbol of their labor, we have planted various ancient farming implements throughout the garden. These are tools that were essential to their lives—held in their hands. Each iron piece peeks out from the lush greenery to remind us that, ” This sacred place belongs to all of us. Take good care!”

Music

We wrote this song 20 years ago when we first found Pretena , conjuring the magic and mystery that surrounds this place. After all these years, this land continues to provide awe and inspiration for us! If you want to read the original story along with the lyrics, you can find them by clicking this link: “My Treasured Heart.”

Photos

Following is a photo gallery of the Pretena flower garden. We don’t tend crops and animals anymore like they did over the centuries, but we have done everything we can to create a special sense of the natural beauty of the place in honor of those who preceded us.

Etruscan Wall – Fiesole

Tenuta Monteloro—Antinori Vineyards

We are surrounded by vineyards of Antinori. Fortunately, they are one of the oldest wine-making families in the world and have learned quite a few things over the past 600 years. As a result, everything they do is precise, immaculate and beautiful. Perfect neighbors.

The vineyards are irresistible. They change constantly with each season, daily and even hourly.  The meticulous rows mesmerize us, forming the perfect backdrop for far-off-gazing, solitary contemplation or soulful conversation. But, beyond distant admiration, it’s even better to traipse silently into them. Walking through their alluring geometry has become an important morning ritual—with dawn’s crisp air, the natural cadence of muffled footsteps, the sight of an occasional leaping deer, darting rabbits, and the sun peeking over the distant mountain ridge. Nature’s wholesome aroma gently fills my lungs to the brim. Day after day I honor the beauty of the vineyards.

Purple Wildflower

This morning was even more delightful than usual. In summer, the paths surrounding the vineyards are dotted with purple wild flowers. They are hearty varietals indeed, because when I bent down to pick one for Cheryl, it was difficult to break the stem. They grow in the toughest conditions, so durability is required for survival. With persistence, I freed the tiny flower and held it close. It was even more beautiful than I expected—strong yet delicate. I carried it home as a present for my true love, like a naive schoolboy with my first girlfriend (nearly 50 years after our first encounter).

Then came the surprise. My focus on the purple flowers caused me to look closer still toward the ground-covering wildflowers. First, I saw the most colorful ones. Then, I started to see other less obvious flowers nearby. There was an obscure yellow bloom, then I noticed an unlikely tiny white-lace canopy that I had previously seen as a weed. Each blossom was now more interesting than before. I found myself standing in an abundant garden of everyday, unassuming flowers. Upon closer inspection, even the brown-red spiky thistle I always avoided became one of the most unique of the bunch. I plucked it from the dry earth, adding to my collection.

Wildflowers for my Love

What a wonderful metaphor for life! Incredible beauty is literally everywhere. We wander obliviously through a veritable garden, side-stepping that which we haven’t yet learned to appreciate. Value appears only when we have a shift of perspective. Certainly, everything is inherently valuable. Then suddenly, we simply decide to see it.

The tiny vase of wild flowers took its rightful place at the center of our table and our lives where we could be reminded daily of simple overlooked joys—those that await an aware gaze. Our eyes open, and a tiny new panorama is freshly taken in. Exhilarating!

 

Red Hot Designs

Tuscany would not exist without iron.

Hand-wrought iron, that most elemental art form—forging endlessly creative objects from the earth’s ore, grew as civilizations needed a multitude of durable tools for agriculture, domestic chores, waging wars and simply making life more beautiful. Florence was one of the great European cities where the craft of blacksmithing made its mark on the world, growing into powerful guilds of artisans wielding an iron hand at both the anvil and the body politic.

Iron Bed Post Detail

When we first came to Italy, we were drawn to the innovative use of iron in every aspect of life. The built environment is intricately laced with the art of unseen hands—practical solutions to everyday problems. The craft completely surrounds life with nearly indestructible objects in hues from black to gray, to rusted and worn. Our imaginations were captured by the endless subtle signatures from the rhythmic taps and blows of the hammer, a tireless trail of style, strength and determination. Each blacksmith coerced and cajoled the stubborn ore into the shape of their dreams. Every visible piece of iron is a testament to the will of man over material. We too, longed to immerse ourselves in the artistry of everyday forms that characterized the ancient Tuscan culture.

Stair Rail

As we assembled our little studio in the Tuscan Hills, we took special care to bring as much iron to the forefront as possible. For us, we could hardly get enough of the soulful stuff. Wherever the artistry of iron could be applied . . . it was. Looking back, we’re amazed at how many different places it appears, assuming its humble functional role. However, there isn’t a day that goes by without sincere appreciation for the craft. For example: a palm glides effortlessly down a smooth iron stair rail; the hand-forged latch on the door gets a quick release; an iron window grille frames the rolling hills; wrought tools are easily grasped to stoke the warming fire; there’s a familiar straight handle that opens the cantina; a decorative iron chair by the front door offers an inviting stop to tighten a shoelace; a graceful iron and glass canopy at the front entrance protects us from a sudden downpour; and daily, we enjoy an ancient fire-front shield which hangs as artwork over our Tuscan fireplace.

Ancient Fire Front

Countless moments of contact with the works of the artisans grace our lives each day. The Tuscan experience would not be complete without them. The very soul of this place moves within those nearly invisible, habitual iron-ore-encounters. With each simple touch or glance, we’re instantly connected to the unnamed craftsmen who helped build this magical place. Their presence is felt around us in unassuming ways, surrounding our routines like strong hands support a child. We are honored to be among those who have shared this experience—a secure form of life that’s truly “ironclad.”

Following are some images from around our house, both ancient hand-wrought and cast objects from the blacksmith’s forge. Also included are some contemporary forms inspired from the ancient craft that still carry the energy of the original art forward. We hope you enjoy them.  Maybe one will inspire you to add some trusty iron into your own environment, as a reminder of the sturdy handmade world that was forged so many years ago.

 

 

What does it mean to become a grandparent? Hmm. Could be a question for the Magic 8 Ball.

We Won!

We don’t remember being asked if we wanted to be grandparents, nor did we ever try to influence the process with pressure or even subtle hints. For us, our children have always been gifts of a lifetime. For them to become parents is their choice, not ours. We maintained an attitude that it would either happen, or it wouldn’t happen—surprise us! That’s part of what makes becoming grandparents so special. We were bystanders, observing the realization of someone else’s dream, not ours. Having a baby once removed is something bestowed, rather than requested—offered rather than sought. It’s a lifetime achievement award  granted when you least expect it. We keep our heads down, push forward and focus on our own life. And just when you look away for a second, “Ta-da!” That’s exactly what happened to us, an almost magical “Abbracadabbra! and Poof”! It turns out to be much more than a lifetime achievement award. It’s more like we just won the lottery of life!

We Got it Covered

As the due date crept closer, we asked Em’s sister and her husband what advice they would offer to would-be GPs since they already had nearly a decade of experience on us. She said, “It’s all about time. Make sure you give them quality time and lot’s of it. Presence.” He said, “It’s all about back-up. Make sure you’re always there to help out when they need it.” For us, those were great responses that fit together hand-in-glove. Creating time is a sharing, proactive and generous gift that gets filled to the brim with surprises—whatever they want, and plenty of it. Providing back-up is a responsive and action-oriented stance, encouraging us to remain at-the-ready, poised to supply custom-made solutions where timing is everything. Their responses were so poignant for us, reflecting each of their personalities perfectly, but also representing two sides of the same GP coin—active and passive. That’s why partnerships are so powerful when we complement each other.

The Official Cups

Weeks later, after the little bundle of All Things Good had arrived, it dawned on us that we needed to name these new “active and passive” roles we were now assuming. What would be our new monikers? What grandparent names could be unique for us? They had to be playful and spontaneous, not too serious since we would be learning on the job. Little did we know that those questions had already been considered by our daughter and son-in-law. We received our new names, emblazoned on coffee cups, announcing  that we would henceforth be Moops and Goops. PERFECT!

Rosie June

The way each of us steps into the big grandparent shoes is totally different, with a style uniquely our own expression. Therefore, Moops and Goops—one-of-a-kind names. Perhaps Rosie June will update those descriptors as the years pass to suit her particular age and stage. In the meantime, we are hopefully on our way to becoming the best Moops and Goops possible, head over heels in love with our little sweetie. We offer time and back-up to this growing family—knowing full well that there will come a day when it’s time to back-up, make room, and give way to untold possibilities. And we will cheerfully follow her lead!

Without-Words-Graphic
Listen. . .Shhhhh!

Poetry and music are powerful forces, actively shaping our world whether we realize it or not.  The poets and troubadours are those sensitive souls venturing out into the inexplicable, teasing, coaxing it into our consciousness. This glimpse provides us with the faint outlines of who we are beneath the familiar trappings of culture. Preoccupied with the drone of the ordinary, the mundane, the every-day, we sometimes need a nudge from a visionary to stop us in our tracks, suddenly catching our undivided attention—as if taking our face in both hands and saying shhhhh! We listen intently. We hear the message for the first time. Something stirs within. We may unexpectedly and suddenly feel deeply. Perhaps we are taken aback with innocence and a penetrating honesty. And sometimes, we spontaneously weep at a sobering revelation.

Brandi

This type of awakening recently happened for us. We must admit that we were predisposed, already poised to find meaning, both obvious and hidden within music. For years we have admired the music, lyrics and irresistible poetry of Brandi Carlile, the talented singer, poet and prophet in this age of accountability. In the middle of our tumultuous 2017, she stepped forward with a new musical story to tell, called The Joke.

As we read the lyrics and watched her video, we were struck by the musical message. Afterwards, we talked about its meaning. The song is powerful, poignant and spellbinding. There is a lingering sadness in the realization that within our society and extending to the world, we have hurt each other countless times over the years through the relentless priority given to masculine energy. For decades (maybe even centuries) we have pushed forward at the expense of others.

Screen Shot 2018-01-21 at 4.37.23 PM
Seeking Balance

Brandi speaks of the symbolically shy and sensitive “boy,” and the under-appreciated, suppressed “girl” that live within each of us, no matter who we pretend to be or what face we decide to show the world. That image makes us sad because we recognize the painful truth of her descriptions. But she pivots in the chorus, to remind us that she has “been to the movies” and knows how it ends. Her vision and faith in the wholeness of humanity comes through, delivering an overwhelming sense of hope for the much needed emergence of the feminine energy as the under-appreciated equal and balancing partner to the forceful masculine energy. This balanced being, melding both halves, represents who we are deep within—or at least strive to be.

Throughout 2017, we have all witnessed the destructive power of excessive masculine energy run-amok. It has finally been exposed, laid bare, open for the world to see. The reality of imbalance has been made visible right in front of our eyes, never to be forgotten. We interpret Brandi’s message to be that this overtly masculine phase of humanity is coming to an end as it finally “spins, and scatters in the wind.” “Let ’em laugh while they can,” because “the joke is on them.”

We invite you to read the lyrics, share them with someone, and have a conversation about Brandi’s beautiful message. You may want to listen to the music and watch the video again. The vision Brandi shares here is of course her own, but we too feel a special connection and resonance. We’d like to know your interpretation!

Brandi’s “Joke” is really not a joke after all! This post was written on January 22, 2018, the date of the second great Women’s March.

Video – The Joke (live studio recording session)

Video – The Joke (official video)

“The Joke” Lyrics by Brandi Carlile

You’re feeling nervous, aren’t you, boy?
With your quiet voice and impeccable style
Don’t ever let them steal your joy
And your gentle ways, to keep ’em from running wild
They can kick dirt in your face
Dress you down, and tell you that your place
Is in the middle, when they hate the way you shine
I see you tugging on your shirt
Trying to hide inside of it and hide how much it hurts

Let ’em laugh while they can
Let ’em spin, let ’em scatter in the wind
I have been to the movies, I’ve seen how it ends
And the joke’s on them

You get discouraged, don’t you, girl?
It’s your brother’s world for a while longer
We gotta dance with the devil on a river
To beat the stream
Call it living the dream, call it kicking the ladder
They come to kick dirt in your face
To call you weak and then displace you
After carrying your baby on your back across the desert
I saw your eyes behind your hair
And you’re looking tired, but you don’t look scared

Let ’em laugh while they can
Let ’em spin, let ’em scatter in the wind
I have been to the movies, I’ve seen how it ends
And the joke’s on them

Pratomagno View

The Pratomagno mountains near Florence are full of wonderful moderate hiking trails. Many of them are anelli (rings) that are relatively easy half-day treks, perfect for a cool early-morning start that finishes before the summer day heats-up. The trails wander through the dense wooded hills, crossing small villages with charming farm houses, ruins, villas, country churches and castles. Everything is picturesque so there are photo-ops at every turn.

Ferrano Castle Tower

One especially interesting circular hike is called the Borselli-Ferrano anello, where you will find the beautiful Castello di Ferrano and Chiesa di Santa Maria (1574), along with interesting country farmhouses and knock-your-socks-off panoramas that are sure to slow you down for a prolonged gander. Following are some photos we took that will give you a feel for the historic buildings, terrain and scenery.

We have written two other related stories about similar hikes, in the same area that you might want to check out: the ruins of Lavacchio and the Nippozzano castle. Both hikes, guarantee a delightful morning in nature, with significant Tuscan scenery in which to contemplate. We’re definitely not in Kansas anymore!

The ancient proverb “Seeing is believing” has been around since 1639, and means that only tangible evidence is truly convincing. However, living in Italy has shown us that just the opposite can also be true—”believing is seeing.” Thus begins a short tale about a window.

Our First Attempt

We live in an old Italian farmhouse in the hills north of Florence. The Italians take tradition and culture very seriously, so the look of the buildings and the landscape are guarded like gold. Construction formulas have been around seemingly forever, so details can rarely change—if ever. In a farmhouse, for example, there’s a formula for natural light-to-interior space. But there is also a formula limiting openings in exterior walls. It was not unusual to have a large blank wall, punctuated with only a single small window and a door. So if you want a second window, for more light or to balance the facade—well, that’s just too bad. There’s no way the formula can be altered. But in our case, the aesthetic sensibilities outweigh the formula. We are bothered by a large bleak, blank wall. Okay, we know that the formula was derived long ago when too many windows meant heat loss. But central heating is all the rage now, right? So what to do?

Inside Window

We decided that we could hang an old metal grille on the outside wall. Of course, we’d paint a soft gray border around it to suggest a typical Tuscan window, traditionally framed with pietra serena (stone). So that’s what we did. No wall was pierced in the placement of the “art” as we call it, and everything we’ve done is “temporary,” which means “removable” to the authorities. We could simply paint over our faux window one day, as if nothing ever changed. Our first try was to use wood shutters, but they didn’t weather well. So we moved on to an iron solution which would last a lifetime. Our eventual imaginary window solution was pretty doggone convincing, but we weren’t quite finished yet. No. We realized that we needed a corresponding window on the inside as well. So, we went to the nearby town of Sieci, to a Mercato di Usato (the market for old, used things), where we found a sweet little wood window with beveled glass. After cleaning and refinishing, up it went, behind the mosquito net over the bed in the guest room. Voilà!

The Old Iron Grille

As you can see, our collective imaginations took a slight detour when the real window was vietato (forbidden). Now, we have the window that we thought the blank wall yearned for, some 18 years later, with one little missing caveat—you can’t actually see through it. But that doesn’t really matter. We turned a “No!” into a definite “Yes!” and nobody got hurt or did anything too drastic in the process. Seeing the window is almost believing it. But for us, the notion of believing it first provided the possibility, which ultimately made artistic expression possible. We may not have an actual opening onto the nearby moody valley, but sometimes a vision is better than a view!