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

Sono Tornato! (I’m Back!)

Buon Giorno!

It’s great to be back! My apologies that it took me twice as long to “return to blogging” than I thought . . .my truck “landed” in Florida on February 22nd and life has been a whirlwind of activity ever since. It was really took much more time and elbow grease than originally anticipated. While I have totally modified my last two homes from a design perspective, this time, the home is vintage 1985 and all modifications, including major changes, like kitchen and bathrooms are being done WHILE I reside in it. Add to that the fact that this is the smallest home and the oldest home I have ever owned in the United States. My home in Italy is THE smallest home I have ever owned. Very soon, in an upcoming blog, I will share with you how buying Villa D’Amore has been the single factor that has impacted my view on home ownership ever since!!

Here’s my Villa di Mare progress so far:

Back to Italy, thoughts of Italy and writing about my beloved Cilento!

Giò

Cilento Life

So, here I was, waking up in Italy in my very own home for the first time! This would be my first full day in Villa D’Amore since I settled on the property early in June, six months prior. Other than the hour that I viewed the property three days before buying it back in June I had never visited Italy south of Naples.

Under the Tuscan Sun has always been one of my favorite movies, due to my love of Italy, but it was never my intention to impulsively buy a property in Italy or anywhere else. In reality, that only happened in the movie version of Frances Mayes story. In real life, she had rationally purchased a home in Cortona only after spending about 20 summers there. I often giggle to myself that Hollywood would not have to alter my story, since I just do what is the unthinkable for most normal (normale) people.

Since it was Thanksgiving week, it was well into November and I had the chance to witness the winter weather patterns for the very first time. I have incredibly indescribable views from Villa D’Amore, which is why I decided to buy it sight unseen after one email conversation with Luisa from Property Organizers.

The very first thing I did upon waking on this first morning was walk out on the balcony and view my “new empire”. From the far right, I could see the valley, some farms and olive groves.

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As I panned to the left, directly in front of me stood Monte Stella, a 3,711 foot high reportedly extinct (hopefully true) volcano. I just stared at “her”, my jaw dropped in childlike wonder. This was just the beginning of a morning ritual for me. The clouds were so dramatic.

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Then, continuing to pan further to the left was our perfect slice of the Tyrrhenian Sea!

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I knew one thing for sure, there would be much sky gazing during my days at Villa Velina!

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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