Renovating a House in Italy
The Seduction of a
House Hunter

by Gillian Drake

DO OTHER PEOPLE have the same problem I do, of being found by a house, rather than looking for one? Maybe it’s just that I’ve never had the luxury of going house-hunting for the house of my dreams, usually because I didn't have a nest egg sitting in the bank as a deposit. No, fate did not have that in store for me, not in this lifetime at least. Instead, houses have a habit of finding me.
    I think of the first house I bought, in Provincetown, in 1980. We had no deposit saved (and in those days you needed a twenty percent down payment before you went begging to the bank for the remainder.) A year earlier, I had been looking for a house, but now we were in a period of stagflation, with interest rates at eighteen percent. Nobody could sell a house, and I’d be crazy to buy one.
    However, when a realtor friend wrote, “You’ve got to look at this house, it’s perfect for you.” I couldn’t resist. And the house spoke to me. I remember it said, "Buy me, love me, save me. I need you. This is the perfect house for you. It needs a family, a young child, someone to plant a garden."
    How could I not heed its cry for help? We arranged to rent the house for a year and to hand over a ten percent deposit with the agreement that at some point during that year we would buy the house. If we didn’t, we would lose our deposit.
    It was the first time I’d ever had to take a risk like that. I went for a long walk in Beech Forest and thought hard. It felt right. So we scraped together the deposit, signed the papers, and moved in.
    By some miracle during that year, interest rates went down to twelve percent and we secured our mortgage. I still don’t know how we came up with the remaining ten percent deposit—it was some kind of miracle. But I know that we were meant to have that house. My ex-husband still lives there, and it is the sweetest house.
    The house in Italy was the same. My partner and I had no conscious intention of buying a house, though I have to admit it was a secret dream, a seed planted thirty years before, on my honeymoon on the Adriatic—with a different husband.
    Our friend, Major Tom Storer, who had been in the battle of Monte Cassino during the war and met and married an Italian Contessa, had taken us to an abandoned farmhouse overlooking the Adriatric. He’d explained that it was for sale for 500 pounds. We were both 21, both desperately wanted the house, but had no money whatsoever. But we recognized an opportunity when it arose. Perhaps the house in Italy was that opportunity rearing its head again, thirty years later. This time I grabbed it.
    The year was 2002, and we had been visiting my cousin who’d bought and renovated an old stone farmhouse in the mountainous rural province of Lunigiana, in Northern Tuscany. The late September weather was cloudy and miserable, so we thought it would be fun to take a look at some houses for sale. I should realize this is a dangerous thing to do.
    We met our contact and his agent for an espresso in a cozy cafe and flipped through his portfolio of fading Polaroid photographs of various hovels and ruins surrounded by olive trees and mountain pastures. Nothing looked promising. Then I spied a picture of a tumbledown cottage that sported two stone gateposts in front, a sign of a more superior pedigree. Well, long story short, we drove off with Federico to see the house and it said to us, "Buy me, love me, save me, I need you. You will be very happy here."
    We must be insane, we thought. We were leaving for the US two days later and had planned to go to Siena to visit friends. Instead, we decided to go to the coast nearby and stay there overnight to regain our sanity. We took a deep breath, made a list of pros and cons, and looked at each other. The list of pros was three times as long as the list of cons. It looked like we might have to buy this house.
    We went back the next day to find the sun was shining, bathing the village in a honey-colored glow. We could see the stunning views of the Apuan Alps, which had been obscured the day before by heavy cloud. We inspected the house more closely and noticed the tooled stonework surrounding the windows and doors, and learned it was a Grade A listed historic building. How could we not buy this lovely old house and restore it to its former glory?
    And so the house seduced us into buying her. We were powerless to her amorous advances, arms wide open, saying, "Buy me, love me, save me."
   We went home, took out a mortgage on our house on the Cape, and bought the Tuscan villa. The ensuing renovations are a whole other story. Part of that story is told on our website, But the story continues.
    I am in Italy for the spring, and another house beckons, tempting me into her web, seducing me with lilacs around the back door and wisteria threading through the olive trees.  
   We weren’t looking for a house. Honest! We had decided that we DID NOT want to renovate another house. Too much work, too expensive, too much property to look after. We thought we might buy a piece of land and build a small house, something new that we could make look old. The summer rentals would give us income.

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Moving from Cape Cod
to Mexico

Small World
by Rena Lindstrom

Pensando y Escribiendo de Cualquier Cosas, en Cualquier Lugar  (Thinking and Writing about Whatever, Wherever)






Where does change begin?

IT'S FEBRUARY 2008, a quiet, sunny early morning. I’m at my kitchen table, looking out over a hedge of flaming bougainvillea to the mountain home of El Tepozteco beyond, musing about change. A ruby-breasted hummingbird hovers in a blur over a firecracker bush in the garden. He, too, has come a long way to get here.
   The new puppy, Frieda, is licking my toes. She wants up. If you had asked me a couple of years ago if I would be living in Mexico, high in the central valley surrounded by mountains, in this town more than a thousand years old, rich in indigenous tradition, I surely would have expressed concern about your sanity.  Yet something was stirring.

   It’s February 2006. I’m on the green line riding through the bitter cold morning, sun barely visible, from the dreary Lechmere station to my temporary job at the Harvard Medical School.  Needing to make some winter money, and get some distance from a disintegrating relationship, I’ve moved from Provincetown into the spare room of good friends in Somerville. I call it Heartbreak Hotel. Behind me on the train sit two women talking in animated, lyrical Spanish. I can hear the empathy in their voices. Sí, Sí.
    That weekend I drove to Vermont and participated in a gathering with the Guatemalan Mayan shaman Martin Prechtel. We talked about the alchemy of grief. If change begins with pain, or at the least discomfort, as many say, then I was a prime candidate . . . brokenhearted, cold, jobless, broke, lonely, filled with self-doubt, aging, pissed off, bitter and fearful for an unstable world. Oh, and my sweet home in Provincetown for twelve years went up for sale. Should I add self-pity?
    Prechtel described bitterness as “petrified grief”. There, in that small room, in a circle of strangers, he got my attention. Surely all the wailing and cursing I was doing was full-blown grieving? What was I not grieving? The loss of my love?  That love is mine forever. My mother, whom I still miss terribly sometimes? I feel her with me. When I pass a mirror, we greet each other. In the Mayan world view, the one who loves you keeps you alive from a distance. No, it was deeper than that, bigger than that, older than that.
    I began to understood that what I was not grieving, what was petrified in me, was sorrow for my indigenous self…something like an inner ancestral belonging had been severed in my headlong race toward happiness. I don’t speak here as an anthropologist. I want to use the Spanish word duende. I first heard this word years ago at a celebration of the life and work of the great Spanish poet and dramatist Federico Garcia Lorca. It’s hard to define…dark sounds, mystery, soul…here is what Lorca says:
    "These dark sounds are the mystery, the roots thrusting into the fertile loam known to all of us, ignored by all of us, but from which we get what is real in art. . . .Thus duende is a power and not a behavior, it is a struggle and not a concept. I have heard an old master guitarist say: ‘Duende is not in the throat; duende surges up from the soles of the feet.’ Which means it is not a matter of ability, but of real live form; of blood; of ancient culture; of creative action."
    This root, this blood, this indigenous core.  Lorca’s words vibrate in me.


Photo: Rena driving to Mexico
Rena Lindstrom is originally from North Carolina. In October, 2007, after fifteen years living in Provincetown, she put her belongings in storage and moved to Mexico. She hopes her essays will stimulate examination and gather honest responses from Cape Cod women and others, whatever their gender, all over this small world.

    Check out Rena's blog at:

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New Horizons

    Our friend Stephano was to take us to Vittorio’s horse farm, in Monzone, to look at some land he’d bought next door. But we never got around to seeing the land. Vittorio had a house he wanted us to see.
    “Never,” I said, “never again,” as we walked in dappled April sunlight through the olive grove carpeted with lush spring grass and wild flowers. An old dirt road led us to a property that Vittoria said he had wanted to buy for himself, but had already bought the property he’d told us about . . .
    And there she was, an abandoned stone cottage nestled comfortably against the hillside, presiding over a vista of meadows and olive groves. She raised an eyebrow, threw me a coy smile, and said, "Buy me, Love me, Save me . . . ."

Gillian Drake is the former editor and publisher of CapeWomen magazine, and is the publisher of CapeWomenOnline. She is the owner of Shank Painter Publishing which publishes local guide books and cookbooks, as well as CapeArtsReview magazine. She has spent the past five years renovating an ancient ruin in Italy with her partner, Ron, and learning Italian, and now divides her times between Italy and North Eastham.

Photos from top: the seductive cottage! View from the renovated villa. Side view of the villa before renovation. Same view of the villa after renovation.

As of 2009, Casa della Quercia will be available for creative retreats for up to 10 people. For more photos and information, check out the villa's website: