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)

 

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

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

In our mountain-contained 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 we saw Villa Velina just days before purchasing it, in the beginning of June, the Marina was empty other then ourselves, our realtor and three to four others strolling by the sea. Now, we couldn’t wait to see August in the Marina! We 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 we get a cute hatchback Lancia rental at the airport. We quickly speed down the autostrada. I just love the interesting views as we get close to our destination.

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

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

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Buona Notte,

Giovanna e Giorgio

Con Te Partirò (Time to Say Goodbye)

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

We decided to have our “last supper” at La Campagnola, one of our favorite local restaurants. We couldn’t decide which of our favorite things to have, so we ordered and shared many items including salad, swordfish (spada), mixed seafood grill (grigliata mista di pesce), pizza AND tiramisu! This was quite a feast and cost us only €32 for both of us, including vino!

As we dined, we reminisced about our wonderful first visit to Villa Velina and all that we had seen and done and all the fun we had:

Stopping in our beloved Positano to pick up our dishes; our first trip to the supermercato and meeting the nice ladies there; our morning visits to Isola Verde for cafè to get our 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 us 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 us welcome cookies, wine and olive oil (all homemade); how we 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 we 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 we discussed 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 think George was seriously thinking at this point that he may have trouble getting me back on the plane. . .

We talked about our long-term plans to spend more time at Villa Velina and said “arrivederci” to our town, for the next morning we would leave to take the 4.5 hour drive to Roma to spend the night to catch our flight the following morning. The only reason I decided to leave was so I could return . . .

Ciao!

Giovanna

 

 

 

 

 

Cilento Life

So, here we were, waking up in Italy in our very own home for the first time! This would be our first full day in Villa Velina since we settled on the property the last day of our honeymoon, six months prior. Other than the hour that we viewed the property three days before buying it back in June we had never visited Italy south of Naples.

Under the Tuscan Sun has always been one of our favorite movies, due to our love of Italy, but it was never our 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. We often giggle to ourselves that Hollywood would not have to alter our story, since we just do what is the unthinkable for most normal (normale) people.

Since it was Thanksgiving week, it was well into November and we had the chance to witness the winter weather patterns for the very first time. We have incredibly indescribable views from Villa Velina, which is why we 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!

Jo (Giovanna)

 

Innamorarsi di Villa Velina (Falling in Love) – Part I

It had been five months, one week and five days since we stepped back on US soil holding the keys to Villa Velina, and finally time to return and stay there for our first time. We would spend Thanksgiving week in Italy! Our only prior visit was three days before settlement and for less than an hour. During the wait, we were like children with an Advent Calendar counting down to Christmas!

Villa Velina 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 we would cook. Other than this short list of furnishings, Villa Velina 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 our return, we made lists of everything we would need to comfortably furnish our love nest (nido d’amore).

During our stay in Positano, one of our three honeymoon destinations, we fell in love with this magical town and its beautiful ceramics. Our 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. Our rental had beautiful multi-color plates with a chicken design. Since we are pescatarian, chickens weren’t exactly what we had in mind, but maybe fish or lemons. After previewing the many options, I choose a beautiful lemon pattern. I decided to do one in each color since we would only have one set of dishes, at least that way it would feel like four different sets. Then, I sold George on the idea that we could stop in Positano on our way down, spend a night and pick up the dishes.

George wrote an email to the store and than called them and placed the order. Lucky for us, we were planning months ahead, because they make their dishes to order. The store owner assumed that we would want our order shipped to America. When George explained that we wanted to personally pick them up because they were for our home in Casalvelino, he could feel the man smile over the phone. George explained that in 3 months when we arrived, we would have a small window of one afternoon to come pick up the dishes. Since we were picking them up in person, they did not want any money at all up front. We were told we could pay when we came. George arranged for us to pick them up in the afternoon of our 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. We crossed our fingers that this would actually work out.

After flying into Rome and grabbing a rental car, we arrived in Positano by noon and checked into Hotel Villa delle Palme right in town on Viale Pasitea. We then quickly drove into the center of town to the ceramic shop to pick up the wonderful ceramic dishes. Since there was no where to park, George stayed up the street in a hotel parking area, while I walked down to the store to preview the dishes and pay for them.

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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 us that day! I handed him my credit card and he told me my husband also needed to see the dishes . . . I guess since George was his contact remotely throughout this transaction, he wanted to meet him and also make sure that he also approved! So, I sent George down and he returned with a smile on his face and we both had a new friend!

Virtually Furnishing Villa Velina

During the five months between receiving the keys to Villa Velina and our return over Thanksgiving 2013, we kept busy researching the area and purchasing and arranging for the installation of our 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 we attempt to speak Italian, we say equally interesting things!

We could never have done this without the help of Maria, whose family sold us the condo. It all started when we asked Maria where she would suggest we buy our kitchen.  She suggested Mobili Oranges in Casal Velino Marina and “Facebooked” pictures of some styles. We immediately fell in love with one and Maria said she would negotiate a better price for us!! 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). George and I decided against a dishwasher. We were going to have a 10 foot kitchen and did not want to sacrifice the extra cabinet space. Also, we were only planning to have tableware for 4, so we would never fill a dishwasher before we would need the dishes for the next meal. After all, the whole point of Italy for us 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 our Big Fat American Lives were really beginning to sink in  as we planned what we would need and how we would furnish Villa Velina.

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

Maria’s husband, Alessandro also helped us tremendously. For example, the oven came with a cord that needed to be hard-wired, and there was a plug there. This is just a small detail that Alessandro corrected for us. We truly couldn’t have done it without them!

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Planes, Cars, Ferries and Buying Villa Velina

Continuing from The Big Decision . . .

So, we did it! On May 25th, 2013, we tied the knot! Of course our wedding reception was Italian-themed. I’m sure if all of our friends and relatives could have made the trip to Italy, we would have had a destination wedding. But the the day just wouldn’t have been complete without everyone.

Before we knew it, we were on our way to catch our flight to Rome to begin our two week Southern Italian honeymoon. As we cleared customs and were reunited with our luggage, we instantly spotted our driver holding a sign with our name. Antonio took us just across the road to his Mercedes (illegally parked, of course) and whisked us down the autostrada to the Naples ferry port and our 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!