I’m thrilled to welcome my guest this week who also forsook the grey skies of UK to live in the warmer climes of Europe – only no one mentions that Europe can be very cold in winter. Just when you thought you had read everything about relocating and renovating an old European building along comes this book with a difference – a love story with a house and the battle to make it habitable and blend in with the local community. Over to Clare.
I’m told that most people who buy a house take the trouble to get it checked out first, and see that there is no serious structural damage, or reason why they shouldn’t invest their money in that place or property. When I fell in love with an old farmhouse in the hills of Umbria, I took less than ten minutes to make my mind up, before writing out a cheque on the spot. I was so excited that I couldn’t wait to tell my elder brother, and called him that same evening from the only telephone for miles around, which was located in the corner of the village shop.
Even the crackling phone line couldn’t disguise the horror in his voice when he heard what I had done.
“What does the surveyor say? Presumably, you’ve had the property checked out?” he said reasonably.
“I haven’t got a surveyor,” I answered.
“Well, what about a lawyer. Surely you’ve consulted one of those?”
“Er, no. I haven’t.”
“Well don’t worry. We’re still in time to stop this. We can get your deposit back if you only decided to buy the place this morning.” My brother was trying to sound calm and reassuring.
“No, we can’t. I already paid the whole amount. And I don’t want to pull out of the deal. It’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in my life.”
In my defence, there wouldn’t have been much point in having a surveyor inspect my new purchase, as there wasn’t a great deal of it left standing. The old stone house that I had rashly just bought had hardly any roof, gaping holes in most of the stone floors and one entire section that had disintegrated into a pile of rubble.
But I was just 26, and blind as only a person in love can be. I had seen an advert for the house in an English newspaper just three days earlier and boarded first a plane, then a train to reach a remote corner of central Italy, on a journey that was to change my life.
The story of how I came to buy an old stone house perched on a knoll outside a tiny hamlet in the hills of southern Umbria is told in my book Chickens Eat Pasta: Escape to Umbria. It’s a love story really, with the house itself of course, and with a man, I later met there – a strange coincidence given that I was only the 43rd resident in the little hilltop village, where everyone knew everyone else, and most of them were related.
By rights, the whole unplanned adventure could and maybe should have gone horribly wrong. Not only had I bought an old ruin with no clear idea or plan of how to restore it. I had also inadvertently chosen one of the most highly seismic areas of Europe as my future home. The village where my house is situated is in one of the most earthquake-prone areas of Italy, and as I soon discovered, tremors are quite common, generally heralded by the glasses rattling on the shelves.
The house when Clare first saw it
But as things turned out, my insouciance was rewarded. I made some extraordinary friends, who looked after me and helped me through some very difficult times and encounters, and these make up a cast of characters who are every bit as important as the protagonist.
Of course, I’m by no means the first person to write a book about doing up a property in a foreign country, but my story is very different from the best-known titles in this genre. For a start, it’s not a syrupy tale of sunshine and happiness. Not everyone was kind to me, nor was it always warm. The climate in this part of Italy can be very harsh, and I well remember that first winter, with no heating aside from the open fire, and the bitterly cold air seeping in through the rotten window frames and missing panes. The only way to get warm was to go outside and chop wood, before heating water over the open fire to cook a plate of pasta, all by the light of a candle as the sun sank over the snow-capped mountains.
The village that became Clare’s second home.
These days, my house has a roof, solid window frames, electricity and heating. It’s also been renovated to withstand earthquakes which involved dismantling the building brick by brick and lining each room with wire cages so that the structure would flex instead of collapsing when the earth shook beneath it. That’s just as well given the massive tremors that have struck this part of Italy over the past 18 months. My experience has confirmed a strong belief in the power of love, friendship, and coincidences – and that just sometimes, it pays not to ask too many questions before taking the plunge.
The house now.
From Clare’s press release:
As events unfold, the strong storyline carries with it a rich portrayal of Italian life from the inside, with a supporting cast of memorable characters. Along the way, the book explores and captures the warmth and colour of Italy, as well as some of the cultural differences – between England and Italy, but also between regional Italian lifestyles and behaviour. It is a story with a happy ending. The author and her husband are still married, with three children, who love the old house on the hill (now much restored) almost as much as she does.
“I wrote the book partly for our children, who have grown up spending their weekends and summers there. The house has been completely restored – it’s hard for the children to understand how dilapidated and basic it was when I was first bewitched by the place.”
Read her blog about life in Umbria here
Chickens Eat Pasta is published by Troubador and is available for purchase direct from the publishers here and in all the usual places in both ebook and paperback.
CLARE PEDRICK is a British journalist who studied Italian at Cambridge University before becoming a reporter. She went on to work as the Rome correspondent for the Washington Post and as European Editor of an international features agency. She still lives in Italy with her husband, whom she met in the village where she bought her house.
PUBLISHED 28 July 2015
ISBN 9781784623517 (Paperback)
Distributor: ´Orca Book Services. Tel: 01235 465521.
BIC subject category : BM – Memoirs / WTL – Travel writing
Paperback 216 x 138mm Portrait
please contact Sarah Taylor
Tel: 0116 279 2299 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Troubador Publishing Ltd, 9 Priory Business Park, Kibworth, Leicester LE8 0RX
Most people would not have shown as much courage as Clare and stories like hers are inspiring, they show what can be achieved if you are determined and prepared to step out of the everyday rut. You can’t help but admire Clare – a huge thank you for being my guest this week.
Till next time take care.