Il Divorzio and Villa Velina

I know, it’s like I fell off the face of the earth . . . Some of my loyal followers have written asking me about my current status, having noticed my absence from this blog or picked up on changes on Facebook, so . . . here’s my long overdue update. I have actually had a very busy year. Regular blogs about life in The Mezzogiorno will resume once again after a few transitional updates.

The Divorce. Yes, it happened. No, I never thought this would be something I would experience. But unfortunately, last year at this time I realized it needed to happen. A decision like this is not one you make lightly (troppo leggera), although to outsiders it may appear that this was the case or that it was all too “sudden” (improvviso). Well, let’s just say that not everyone drags all of their friends and relatives through drama, trauma and pain for many months or years before making this decision . . . some of us just deal with it swiftly once we admit to ourselves there is something amiss. The upside of talking about your impending divorce with everyone before doing it is that everyone else is prepared (rather than shocked). The fallacy here is that they are not the ones who need to be prepared. In fact, most of your friends become so sick and tired of hearing about your impending divorce that they actually beg you to get the dirty deed over with. The downside of having the knowledge of an impending divorce hanging over you for months or years before taking action, is the severe emotional toll it takes during that time and the fact that you are delaying moving on with your life and after all of that negativity, you still have to go through the actual divorce. And people say the court system is slow!

Look, in this marriage, fun was had and companionship and adventures were shared. If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve read about some of that. We enjoyed and appreciated many of the same things. But honestly, there were just some recurrent, underlying problems I would classify as communication differences and unconditional acceptance issues, which to me are two areas that carry a lot of weight as far as harmony and happiness go . . . I was actually attending therapy sessions alone specifically to address what, if anything, I could do to resolve these issues, but it really does take two . . . I respected that everyone doesn’t believe in or feel comfortable using therapy as an aid for relationship issues, but I was just tired of having the same disagreements over and over and never being able to work together to resolve them.

Since NO ONE (nessuno) was “in the know” in advance of my decision, that made me an easy target for all kinds of speculation the day I didn’t return home – had I gone “off my rocker”, was I having a “mid-life crisis”, or even speculation that perhaps there was some sort of mental diagnosis involved. I assure you, the only thing happening here was that I was securing my future happiness and perhaps my soon to be Ex’s future happiness (I sincerely hope that’s the case). I had, by then, already taken all possible steps needed to be sure this was the right decision for me (relationship therapy alone for almost a year, etc). The exercise of vacating my marriage without prior notice to any/everyone who may have wanted to know, provided me with a very clear picture of who “gets me” and appreciates me for who I truly am and also showed me very clearly who chose to judge me. Those who fall in the “gets me” category saw this coming before I did. These people all contacted me immediately upon becoming aware of the pending divorce to show their concern and make sure I was okay, but none of them were shocked. They knew me to the very core and innately understood why this wasn’t working for me. In fact, each of these dear friends provided encouragement, upon learning the news, commenting that I hadn’t been my normal happy self for a long time. Thankfully, I can count the dear friends category as the majority. On the other hand, it was eye-opening to me how a few people (who appeared close to me) to this day have not even concerned themselves enough to ask me “what happened, what went wrong?”, or offer any kind of support. Perhaps this is a tell-tale sign of a “judger”? Maybe they didn’t need to ask, as they had already decided how things were in my marriage. Or, in all fairness to them, maybe the appearance of suddenness shook them to the core, leaving them with a lingering concern about the destiny of their own marriage or relationship. After all, we looked like such a happy couple . . .

You see, I don’t just believe that marriage is something to endure. I believe it is something to treasure and enjoy. It is about a total give and take, ying and yang. It is about each person totally accepting and loving the other for who they really are and what they are really like, not who each wants the other to be. It is not about obeying . . . it is about sharing and cooperating. I knew what this felt like . . . I had that before and I wanted it again. Stay tuned for a love life update!

Villa Velina. Okay, now for the important part of this blog. I’m sure you’re all wondering what the fate of Villa Velina is as a result of the divorce. After doing much soul searching, I realized that I did not wish to give up Villa Velina. I am just not finished with my adventures as an albeit part-time resident of Castelnuovo Cilento. I love the people and the geography of that particular area along the Cilento Coast and I have much more living to do there! I have so many really good friends there now and I really feel grounded and at home there. And so I retained sole ownership of Villa Velina in the divorce settlement. New adventures coming!

Ciao,

Jo (Oxley)

 

Beach Time – Tempo di Spiaggia

As I awoke on this first morning in Villa Velina this trip, I did what I do every morning – open all the shutters and take in the view of Monte Stella and the sea. There, below us was the magnificent scenery I would soon be part of as I experienced my very first beach day at Marina di Casalvelino!

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But, it was still to early to park myself on the beach – so, first things first. Down to the Marina I went for some breakfast (colazione) and my Wifi fix for the day. As I approached my favorite beachfront bar, Isola Verde, I could tell instantly that it was a whole different experience in August, abuzz with the increased influx of vacationers.

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People were everywhere and finding a place to park was certainly not the easy task it was off-season. But I loved seeing the activity and people. I managed to get the last open table outside and ordered breakfast.  I relaxed and made plans for the day and then took a stroll down the street along the beach. The private beach clubs were all getting set up for the day. I choose one that looked fun, called Lido Azurro, and made a reservation for the afternoon.  This may only be rural southern Campania, but the Italians here know how to live. Not only would my reservation come with a beach chair, an umbrella and music, but also with wifi and the ability to enjoy a glass of prosecco, wine, beer . . . basically your beverage of choice. No silly rules like no alcohol on the beach like in the U.S. – after all we’re all adults!

I returned to Villa Velina to get ready for my afternoon at the beach. I packed extra beach towels from home, but I didn’t have a beach tote, no problem, I would pick one up on the way into town. As I arrived at the packed beach club, I was so happy I had made a reservation.

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The chairs and umbrellas were lined up neatly in rows with just enough space for a lounge chair with umbrella (for the prosecco) and a small aisle for walking around their chairs. Everyone was so friendly. The couple immediately in front of me heard me speaking in English on my cell phone and began speaking to me. I did my best to communicate in very broken Italian and some charades. In less than a minute, I heard a voice from a few chairs over “perhaps I can be of assistance”.  As I looked up, I saw a beautiful woman on her way over. This is how I met my friend, Sandra. Before I knew it, Sandra came to my rescue and became my personal translator. I learned the couple lived in Naples and their niece, who also spoke very good English was at the beach with them along with her friend, also a great English-speaker.  I met them both later.  Sandra speaks an amazing number of languages in multiple dialects – at least English, German and Italian as far as I know. I was absolutely amazed to learn that Sandra lived in the states (so far she is the only one I have met there who does) and visits a friend in Casalvelino a few times a year. In fact, she told me about her friend’s pasticceria and invited me to stop by one day. She was truly an angel sent to help me that day.

I totally enjoyed my day at the beach in the thick of the native Italian vacation season and the vistas I had in all directions. Looking southwest, I could see all the way to Capo Palinuro.

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Looking to the north, I could see the boat marina and tower of Marina di Casalvelino.

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As beach day came to  an end, I reluctantly gathered my belongings and headed home. I took one last look back at the beach from the sidewalk, thinking it may be a while before I am back during the busy beach season and saved this snapshot in my memory.

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Ciao!

Giò

Amo Cilento in Estate! (I Love Cilento in the Summer)

My Italia-influenced move to a simpler (smaller) U.S. habitat kept me occupied (occupato) until it was time, once again to escape to Villa D’Amore. Before I knew it, I was at Philly International waiting to board my flight. Since i had not ever been to my area of Italy during the summer when the population was at its peak, I was excited to see Marina di Casalvelino in full swing.

In my mountain-surrounded valley leading to the Tyrrhenian Sea (the part of the Mediterranean Sea off the western coast of Italy bordered by Sardinia and Corsica), the population dwindles to only locals in all but the months of July and August. Don’t get me wrong, the population gradually swells leading up to those months, but by August, all of the Italians are on vacation for the month. When added to all of the Germans and Brits who also vacation in Marina di Casalvelino, this normally sleepy little beach town instantly turns into a whir of activity from crowded beach clubs to volleyball tournaments to nightclubs.

The first time I saw Villa D’Amore just days before purchasing it, in the beginning of June, the Marina was empty other then myself, my realtor and three to four others strolling by the sea. Now, I couldn’t wait to see August in the Marina! I tried to get some shut-eye, if not sleep on the way over. Soon, the sun was rising. This is the part of our flights to Rome I love the best, because it means 1) I get to see my “funny island” (Monte Argentario) connected to mainland Italy by two strips of land, and 2) we will be landing soon!

This time I get a cute hatchback Lancia rental at the airport. I quickly speed down the autostrada. I just love the interesting views as we get close to our destination.

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As I arrive at Villa D’Amore as the sun is on the downturn. I quickly remove the plastic coverings from the furniture and clean (after all, it is siesta and no shops are open). Then I pick up some tasty snacks from the Supermercato and prepare for happy hour.

As I chill on my balcony, enjoying the ever-changing vista of Monte Stella, I look forward to the beach day I have planned for tomorrow!

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Buona Notte,

Giò

Con Te Partirò (Time to Say Goodbye)

Before I knew it, the time had come to leave my beloved Villa D’Amore and The Cilento. I had done and seen so much and enjoyed the food, beautiful scenery, friendly people and all of my experiences so very much. I truly felt “at home” in my new Italian home. All of us at one time or another may have lived in a place that never really felt like “home”, but here I just felt instantly like I belonged. Even though there was a language barrier, this did not make me feel uncomfortable . . . everyone I met truly made me feel welcome with open arms!

I decided to have my “last supper” at La Campagnola, one of my favorite local restaurants. I couldn’t decide which of my favorite dishes to have, so I ordered too many items including salad, swordfish (spade), mixed seafood grill (grigliata mista di pesce), pizza AND tiramisu! This was quite a feast and cost me only €22, including vino!

As I dined, I reminisced about my wonderful first visit to Villa D’Amore and all that I had seen and done and all the fun I had:

Stopping in my beloved Positano to pick up my custom dishes; my first trip to the supermercato and meeting the nice ladies there; morning visits to Isola Verde for cafè to get my wifi fix; meeting Rafaele (who worked at the store that delivered and installed our kitchen) and how he was so quick to close his store and take me across the street for cafè to celebrate; how sweet it was for Maria and Alessandro to drive all the way from near Rome to bring me welcome cookies, wine and olive oil (all homemade); how I had managed to buy furniture  and otherwise totally furnish a new condo, with everything needed for survival (think: corkscrew), that had nothing in it before I arrived other than a kitchen, table and chairs and a bed; the overwhelming kindness of the people and the beautiful scenery.

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As I recalled these wonderful memories, I felt warm salt-water tears begin to flow down my cheeks. I didn’t want it to end. I believe I could have just stayed and left all of my earthly belongings back in the states. I was seriously thinking at this point that perhaps I just wouldn’t get back on the plane. . .

I thought about my long-term plans to spend more time at Villa D’Amore and said “arrivederci” to our town, for the next morning I would leave to take the 4.5 hour drive to Roma to spend the night before catching my flight the following morning. The only reason I decided to leave was so I could return . . .

Ciao!

Giò

Thanksgiving in Italy

So, here I am, beginning to feel quite at home in Italy and preparing to celebrate my first American holiday here. As I awoke two days prior, I gasped with excitement to see the surprise Monte Stella had in store for me – She was adorned with a light, glistening frosting of snow!! Snow is extremely rare in Southern Italy and rarely ever happens, but I was lucky enough to witness this rare event.

Monte Stella stands at a majestic 3,711 feet above sea level right by the sea, so this just further emphasizes her stature! There is truly no way to capture her majesty with a lens. You must be physically present to take in the full effect, which in case you haven’t gathered by now, I would be more than ready and willing to do 24/365. In Italy, I always rise early every morning and practically run to the window and balcony to check out the view. This often leads to yet another photo shoot of the coastline and Monte Stella, because it’s never the same picture twice. Yes, God is the most amazing artist! And in Casalvelino, He has a big sky, huge Monte Stella and the sea to work with, all at once . . . in my opinion, it doesn’t get better!

Before I knew it, it was Thanksgiving and I awoke to find quite a different view. The atmosphere had become a bit unstable, perhaps due to the cold air that caused the snow to fall on Monte Stella. My weather app told me to expect a stormy day for Thanksgiving, and the skies certainly supported that forecast, so I hurried out to the shops before afternoon siesta set in to grab everything I would need for my Cilentano-style Thanksgiving Feast.

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So, off I went to the pescheria (fish store), pasticceria (pastry shop) and frutta e verdure (fruit and vegetables) to gather everything needed for my feast.

Then to go home and enjoy preparing my “catch”. The tiny clams were simply dilizioso! Everything had such a fresh taste and smell, unlike the watery tasting fruit we often are stuck buying back in the states, unless you are lucky enough to be located close to a produce source so you can buy fresh directly.

The day was filled with back to back thunderstorms and I enjoyed watching the spectacular cloud formations over the sea and around Monte Stella from my hilltop perch across the valley.

After about twelve back to back dramatic storms, clearing seemed to be coming from the sea. Red sky at night, sailors delight!

Ciao!

Giò

Innamorarsi di Villa D’Amore (Falling in Love) – Part I

It had been five months, one week and five days since I stepped back on US soil holding the keys to Villa D’Amore, and finally time to return and stay there for my first time. I would spend Thanksgiving week in Italy! My only prior visit was three days before settlement and for less than an hour. During the wait, I behaved like a child with an Advent Calendar counting down to Christmas!

Villa D’Amore now had the basic necessities – a bed to sleep in, a cucina to cook in and chairs and a table for eating the delicious fresh local foods I would cook. Other than this short list of furnishings, Villa D’Amore was empty – not a wine glass, not a dish, not a fork, not a toilet seat, not a shower surround or shower curtain rod. One thing it did have was lighting in every room; albeit that lighting consisted of black electrical wires with a light bulb attached at the end! While eagerly awaiting my return, I made lists of everything needed to comfortably furnish my beloved Italian home.

During my stay in Positano, one of my three destinations on that particular trip to Italy, I fell in love with this magical town and its beautiful ceramics. My rental villa there had beautiful dishes and after returning home, I attempted to find which store made them – yes, they make their beautiful dishes right there! I was pleasantly surprised when I located the store online – Ceramica Assunta (http://www.ceramicassunta.it/). Their designs were quite distinctive. My rental had beautiful multi-color plates with a chicken design. After previewing the many options, I choose a beautiful lemon pattern. I decided to do one in each color since I would only have one set of dishes, at least that way it would feel like four different sets. Then, I decided it would make sense to stop in Positano on my way down, spend a night and pick up the dishes.

I wrote an email to the store and than called them and placed the order. Lucky for me, I was planning months ahead, because they make their dishes to order. The store owner assumed that I would want the order shipped to America. When I explained that I wanted to personally pick them up because they were for our home in Castelnuovo Cilento, I could feel the man smile over the phone. I explained that in 3 months when I arrived, I would have a small window of one afternoon to come pick up the dishes. Since I were picking them up in person, they did not want any money at all up front. I was told I could pay when I picked them up. I arranged to pick them up in the afternoon of my first day there. Since November is off-season for Positano, and the shops have limited hours, he actually made an appointment to pick them up. I crossed my fingers that this would actually work out.

After flying into Rome and grabbing a rental car, I arrived in Positano by noon and checked into Hotel Villa delle Palme right in town on Viale Pasitea. I then quickly drove into the center of town to the ceramic shop to pick up the wonderful ceramic dishes. Since there was no place to park, I just hugged the side of the road.

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I walked into the ceramics store and the friendly owner greeted me. He had everything ready; all in the same lemon pattern, but 4 different color schemes: 4 dinner dishes, 4 salad plates, 4 bowls, 4 mugs.  All were perfect. I smiled and thanked the owner profusely, especially for opening up the closed store just for me that day.

Virtually Furnishing Villa D’Amore

During the five months between receiving the keys to Villa D’Amore and my return over Thanksgiving 2013, I kept busy researching the area and purchasing and arranging for the installation of a kitchen (cucina). Interestingly, the word for kitchen and cook is the same, which explains why you will sometimes hear someone Italian say “you are a good kitchen”.  I can assure you that when I attempt to speak Italian, I say equally interesting things!

I could never have done this without the help of Maria, whose family sold me the condo. It all started when I asked Maria where she would suggest we buy our kitchen.  She suggested Mobili Oranges in Casal Velino Marina and “Facebooked” pictures of some styles. When I immediately fell in love with one, Maria said she would negotiate a better price for me!! She did a great job and got a matching table and chairs for free! It is customary to sell “sets” like this in Italy.

Most kitchens are modular (think Ikea) and you can buy different configurations to fit your needs. The configurations include sinks, stoves, ovens, refrigerators and dishwashers (if desired). I decided against a dishwasher. If I was going to have a 10 foot kitchen, I did not want to sacrifice the extra cabinet space. Also, I were only planning to have tableware for 4, so I would never fill a dishwasher before I would need the dishes for the next meal. After all, the whole point of Italy for me was to go back to a simpler time – not to buy extra sets of dishes so we could store the dirty ones in the dishwasher until the full load was ready to run! The excesses of my Big Fat American Life were really beginning to sink in as I planned what I would need and how I would furnish Villa Velina.

While there in the summer with her family, Maria also arranged for and oversaw the installation of my kitchen. I wired the funds to Mobili Oranges just prior to installation. I learned that Mobili Oranges also sold other furniture, so I inquired about a bed. Once again, Maria came to the rescue and chose a (very comfortable) bed. This was the last item I couldn’t do without for my first visit. Mobili actually delivered the bed before receiving payment for it!! When would that ever happen here? They simply trusted me to wire the funds, as I had for the cucina.

Maria’s husband, Alessandro also helped me tremendously. For example, the connection in the wall was set up for a hard-wired connection and the oven came with a cord with a plug. This is just a small detail that Alessandro corrected for me. I truly couldn’t have done it without them!

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Planes, Cars, Ferries and Buying Villa Velina

Continuing from The Big Decision . . .

Before I knew it, I was on my way to catch my flight to Rome to begin my two week Southern Italian vacation. As I cleared customs and was reunited with my luggage, I instantly spotted my driver holding a sign with my name. Antonio took me just across the road to his Mercedes (illegally parked, of course) and whisked me down the autostrada to the Naples ferry port and my hydrofoil to Capri.

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We had much anticipation as we embarked on the official beginning of our honeymoon. As the hydrofoil departed, George and I reflected on our fun wedding and quickly turned to the events ahead of us: three magical nights in Capri, followed by two in Sorrento and a week in Positano. While in Positano, we had a little business to take care of – we needed to open a bank account at Banco di Napoli. Property Organizers had made arrangements with the local branch so we could conveniently handle this while in Positano. Property Organizers had already secured a Codice Fiscale for each of us, so securing an Italian bank account so we could transfer our money in to cover the purchase, was the last detail left. Oh, did I forget the most important thing? The other piece of business while in Positano was to meet our realtor and travel down to actually physically see Villa Velina, a detail most normal (normale) people would have handled before (prima) sending all those Euros for a deposit.

Our time in Italy felt leisurely. The Monday after arriving in Positano, we made it a priority to get to the Banco to get our account opened. Our contact there was Paolo and he immediately greeted us and invited us into his office. Once in, we could see he had a stack of account-opening documents in front of him. We exchanged greetings and small talk and Paolo asked us about the location of the property we were buying. We replied that it was in the Caselvelino area, about 1.5 hours to the south. Paolo began to shuffle the papers nervously and asked us why we were opening the account in Positano, rather than closer to where our home would be. He spoke very good English. We explained that Property Organizers had arranged for this in Positano for our convenience because we were on our honeymoon. Paolo then continued to play with the papers and looked up at us and said “I have never opened an account for people who do not live in Positano and I don’t feel comfortable doing this”. We tried everything, including getting Property Organizers involved, but Paolo wouldn’t budge. This was a huge concern, because we had to get the funds transferred in time to clear and be available for settlement and we understood in Italy even though you may wire-transfer, it could take a couple of days to be recognized by the bank. Once the funds were available, we had to go back and get the equivalent of a cashiers check for settlement! (How we managed to get the funds in cyberspace awaiting the opening of the Italian account is a topic for another story)

So, Property Organizers came up with Plan B. When Luisa picked us up on Wednesday, we would go first to the branch in Agropoli (a town one hour to the south) to open the account. We realized we were going to be cutting this close. Wednesday came quickly and we had the pleasure of meeting Luisa and driving down the remainder of the incredible Amalfi Coast for the first time as we traveled first to the bank and then to Villa Velina.

We arrived in Agropoli at 1:30 pm, excited to be finally getting this done and found the doors of the Banco locked! “Oh, no”, I thought, “this is siesta”. This did not fluster Luisa, she just pounded on the door until someone came and opened it for us! We were taken upstairs and met with our banker, who spoke only Italian. Fortunately, we were there with Luisa. The account got opened, the funds got transferred and we crossed our fingers that on either Thursday or Friday the funds would be available when we went back to the Positano branch to get the checks for settlement.

Now, on to Villa Velina! As we neared the area, it became clear that we were not quite in the right location, so Luisa called the owner’s son and he agreed to meet us at a gas station. We followed him up the hill to the property and there it was gleaming in the sunshine with views and interior exactly as expected and yet better.

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After taking all of the requisite photos, Luisa drove us down to the nearby beach town that we could see from our balcony and we had lunch and gelato as we walked the beach promenade. As we drove out of town, there Villa Velina was glowing in the sun on the hillside across the valley! The only thing that could have made it better was a rainbow!

Back in Positano for Thursday, we enjoyed our last two days so much – we really could live there. Below is a picture of me on our balcony and one of our many shots of this Bella Città!

 

On Friday, we successfully extracted our funds for settlement, on Saturday we traveled up to Rome and met up with Luisa to go to settlement. All went smoothly.  After settlement, we went out for caffè with our wonderful new friends.

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When we hopped on the flight home the next morning with Italian house keys in our hands, I can’t begin to express how wrong that felt. Shouldn’t we be staying????  We must be certainly crazy . . .siamo certamente pazzo!

 

Villa D’Amore just happened

Ciao Amici!

Well, this is my first official blog on Mezzogiorno Living! At first, I am going to tell a multi-part story about how I came to be where I am in Italy and love The Cilento and Mezzogiorno as I do! Thanks for joining me and I hope you stay for the journey!

There is much romanticized about Italy in movies and the stories we have all heard, but how much of it is really true?

Well, I can tell you that the movie Under the Tuscan Sun is definitely a romanticized version of a true story. Apparently, Hollywood didn’t think the cool things Frances Mayes did were interesting enough to sell without changing her marital status. Also, Frances didn’t just jump off the bus, like in the movie, and buy a house in Italy; she and her husband had vacationed in the area for 20 years before taking the plunge.

While planning my vacation and looking for vacation villas, I inadvertently happened upon a site that was not a rental site, but rather properties for purchase.  All of a sudden, these pictures were in front of my face for an unbelievable price.

I kept staring at “my find”, thinking “I know I am only looking for a rental and there is no way I will do this, but just look at this price – it must be a timeshare. Should I just write the realtor and ask?” I thought that when I learned it was a timeshare (which I am very against), that would be the end of it.

Already, my mind was working overtime about the possibility of doing the impossible. i had perhaps, watched one too many episodes of House Hunters International, and if you have already read my “About” page, you know that my love for Italy had me set up for adventure. Luisa (the realtor) answered back almost immediately, telling mw that this property was not a timeshare, but simply an outright purchase and ownership.

Stay tuned for the next episode . . .