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My Home May Not Be Your Home
But we can probably still agree on what home IS
“La mia casa ė la tua casa.” I’ve been saying this quite a bit in the last week. I’m sure you know this phrase in Spanish, mi casa es tu casa: my home is your home. This is the ultimate offer of hospitality, yes? Please, regard my home as your own. Be comfortable here. Come and go as you please. Eat from the fridge. Use whatever you like.
We purchased the old train stop home in Sicily. Yes (YAY!) That’s a bigger story and I have lots to tell you but if you have no idea what I’m talking about, see Purchasing Property in Italy, Part 6. I promise to show you photos and videos soon—this has been a whirlwind two weeks—but first, I need to tell you about Vincenzo, my neighbor, whom everyone calls Enzo.
Enzo lives just down the road, about two hundred meters, what we might call a half block. He can see our house better than we can see his. What everyone can see from the road is his large “Agritourismo” sign. His home, it turns out, is Masseria Anni Trenta - a bed and breakfast without the breakfast. Honestly, I have no idea what a masseria is because it doesn’t translate into English on Google. But his property is lovely, filled with olive and fruit trees, including persimmon, and what can only be described as art: the placement of beautiful things. The room I stayed in this weekend was very comfortable, complete with its own little porch. And bonus: he has a big fluffy white dog named Talco. (Note: In an extremely kind gesture, Enzo has offered me to stay there as much as I like for no cost while I am working on the house. I am also staying gratis at a friend’s home in Balestrate, which is 45 minutes away. Not a long drive but when I’m filthy and sweaty from working, staying with Enzo is truly a gift.)
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Enzo has lived in Selinunte his whole life and oversaw every aspect of the renovation on the train stop property. He personally chipped away the plaster to reveal the bricks over each window. He stained each door and window. He put in each window screen. He picked out the toilets, bidets, and sinks. He even hand-painted the words “ANTICA FERMATA LATOMIE” on the front, just as they appeared originally. He made sure that every bit of the restoration twenty-one years ago mimics the original property. Over the years, he has cared for our new home, driven by it several times daily, and attended to its every need. This place is his baby.
So, on the same day I received the keys, I asked him to make another set for himself. Please, I said, “La mia casa ė la tua casa.” This made him happy and he assured me he would continue to keep an eye on the property. And, if anything needed to be done, if I gave him the authority, he would do it. Also, he would make sure that we would always pay the Sicilian price, not the American price. That promise became real just the very next day when we realized there was no water, even with the electricity on. The water pump must not be working, someone would have to be called. Of course, I said, please call whomever you think best. And he did. Two days later, a man arrived and determined that the pump needs to be cleaned. Replaced? No, he didn’t think so – just cleaned. And the tank cleaned as well. How much will this cost? One hundred twenty euros, maybe 150. This, my friends, is a relief.
Someday when my Italian is better, I look forward to hearing what Enzo thought of us when we came to view the property before making an offer. I do know I made a good impression when I spoke a little Italian and told him that, while I could learn Italian in the States, I could only learn Sicilian in Sicily. He responded with gusto, “She understands that Sicilian is a language, not a dialect!” But he had no way of knowing for certain if we would love the property as much as he does and if we would strive to maintain its historic look.
Now he has no doubts. Yes, we will keep the yellow exterior. Yes, we will keep the wood stained green. No, we will not replace the floor tiles. But the real test came with the placement of air conditioning units. (In Italy, the a/c unit both cools and heats.) For every inside unit, there is the engine outside. When we were trying to decide where to place the ones in the upstairs rooms, it became obvious that there was no way we could do this without destroying the historic look. And so, before I could even consult with Tom, I said no. We could not put a/c upstairs because it was more important that the house continue to look as it does. And with this one quick and firm decision, Enzo knew we were the right new owners of the home.
“La mia casa ė la tua casa.”
I asked Enzo if he could find someone to replace the screens on the windows, as the current ones had been chewed through by critters. Yes, he said, he would pick up the supplies. Did I want green plastic again or aluminum? While I like the green color, aluminum, I think, is better to keep out the mice and small lizards. Yes, he agreed. When I arrived at the house on Saturday, already two window screens had been replaced. I understood he would buy the supplies, but I did not realize that he, himself, would do the work. Then a window fell apart when I opened it. By the end of the day, he had made it all better.
The men who installed the a/c units on Saturday left a rather large hole on the exterior where the tubing comes through. This is not good, I told the man who sold us the units. This must be fixed. Yes, yes, he said, Enzo will do this. But that’s not fair, I said. Enzo did not make the hole. I was told, “It’s okay, don’t worry.” Indeed, the very next day, Enzo fixed the hole.
When we decided we wanted the property[i], we had no way of knowing that it came with Enzo. Time after time we worried about how we would care for it when we are not there. Whom would we call when things needed to be done? It is too far away from anyone I knew. If there were problems, which of course there would be, what would we do? I fretted over this quite a bit and still, I trusted. This, I was sure—we were both sure—was the right property for us and so we proceeded. Now to discover that Enzo and the home are a package deal, I cannot tell you the depth of my gratitude. Be still and know. It will all work out. It has all worked out. And it will, I believe, continue to work out.
I tell Enzo, “Ora siama una famiglia” (we are family now). “La mia casa ė la tua casa.” He smiles. For a moment, we touch. His arm over my shoulder, my hand on his waist. Together we admire the home we are creating, the home we will share. Okay, not completely, but you know what I mean.
With such good news, why do I title this post, “My Home May Not Be Your Home”?
What feels like home to me may not feel like home to you. And what feels like home to you, may not to me. But, to be at home and to feel at home is a sensation we all understand. Home is universal. The feeling transcends specifics.
This basic premise is the foundation of my writing and research.
Throughout this months-long process, I have posted six times about the properties we saw, each time asking for your opinion. Your responses have been good and I hope you will continue to share your thoughts. Some comments are clearly concerns based on personal preference.
Regarding this property, the most common concern expressed is the location. It is not inside a town, not walkable to restaurants and stores, and seems quite isolating to many of you. Others worry that because it is historic, the renovations that can be done are limited. Perhaps the windows are too small and I will miss having a view. I appreciate each of these thoughts and have considered them all.
What feels like home to me may not feel like home to you.
My favorite home, the home I loved most in all my years, was the one I owned in Picabo, Idaho. This home reminded me in many ways of the childhood summers I spent on my godmother’s farm in Michigan. I loved being far from town, surrounded by open space, agriculture, and stock animals. In the ten years I lived there, only a handful of times did I consider the distance from town a bummer. Probably three of those times was after a concert in Ketchum (35 miles away), when it was late and I was tired. Maybe another three times when a snowstorm made the roads dangerous, and maybe twice when I had forgotten something important and needed to go back.
The old train stop house is five minutes from Selinunte, which has groceries, restaurants, all necessities, and several beaches. It is twelve minutes from Castelvetrano, a town of maybe 30,000 and the nearest hospital, and one hour from the Palermo airport. From my Picabo home the nearest groceries were twenty-some minutes away (and seventy minutes to Costco and Lowe’s), forty-five minutes from the nearest hospital, and just over two hours to the Boise airport.
Walkability to restaurants and stores is not an issue for me. Yes, it would be charming to shop daily, strolling to the vegetable stand, bakery, and such. But only once in my adult life have I lived within walking distance to groceries. And the truth is, I rarely eat at restaurants. It is an expense I allow only when I’m socializing with friends. Cooking at home is cheaper, which is okay because I like cooking and I’m a pretty good cook. And so far in Italy, I find friends prefer to eat at home as well. Cooking for friends and family is part of the culture.
The primary reason for not living in town is that I don’t like noise and I don’t like crowds. Living in an Italian village means sharing walls with other homes. It means noise from the street and noise from neighbors. It means tourists, and way too many tourists during the best times of the year. Whereas, living at the train stop house, like in Picabo, means quiet, peace, tranquility. The cars that pass on the road remind me of those that would lull me to sleep in Michigan. The whizzing sound is almost comforting and eventually, I suspect, I won’t even hear it. My nearest neighbor is a three-minute walk away. Close enough when I need him, but not too close.
As for the view, while it might not be what I could have in a hilltop town, I do see olive groves. Dear friends, I’m in Sicily - everywhere I go there is a view!
And finally, the renovation constraints. The historic value, the fact that it was once a train station built during Mussolini’s time and has been restored to look as it did ninety years ago, oh my goodness, this is extraordinary! For us, nothing could be cooler. Fundamental to my love of Italy is how ancient much of it still is: the buildings, the traditions, the people, the history. I gravitate to places, people, and things with stories: that which is weathered and old and repurposed. This, too, goes back to my godmother and other childhood imprints.
The only renovations we want to do are ones that are already allowed with no special approval needed. We can create a stone patio and add a pergola, no problem. We can even put solar panels on the roof, which is amazing to me. As a conservationist, this is something I absolutely want—except that they will cover the gorgeous roof tiles and in general, look ugly. We don’t have to worry about this at the moment, however, because they cost more than we can afford. (Our realtor misled us.)
Finally, the windows: While those on the sides look small, combined with the others, they allow a great deal of light. The kitchen has three, the living room and bedrooms each have two. Additionally, each bathroom has a window and the two small storage closets also each have one, and there is a window at the top of the stairs. So pretty much any time of day, there are windows where the light comes directly through. No other place we saw had this feature. In most Italian homes, at least those in towns, there are windows only on one side, two sides if you’re lucky. Here, there are 13 windows total: six on ground floor and seven upstairs.
Truly, the only thing that weighs on me is whether my little dog Mazie will like it. She, I think, will feel the isolation with no street to view from her sofa perch. But at least there is a large yard. And, perhaps, I will get her a companion. A daily drive to the beach for a stroll in the sand will be good for us both. But remember, it will be quite some time before I can actually live here (more on that later).
In half the time that it has taken us to purchase this house, my brother decided to sell his, have it painted, listed, and sold, bought another and moved in. And this is quite common. A thirty-to-forty-day closing is the norm, whereas ours took over five months.
Am I sure about this? Yes. Absolutely yes. I am ecstatic. The future is always a mystery and I’m not foolish enough to think it will be smooth sailing. But I’m happy. Very, very happy. And consider this: in a few years, Inshallah, God willing, you’ll have a friend and an interesting place to visit, if you ever make it to Sicily. My home may not be where you want to live, but I promise it will feel homey, even to you.
Thank you for reading! I’d love to hear what you think. Have you ever lived somewhere that friends and family thought was maybe not such a great place, but you loved it?
[i] We made the offer back in April – sorry friends, I was keeping you in suspense as we did not know if the sale would go through, and it only just did at the end of last month.