Granny ‘nonna’ Helene is serving us children her triumphant rotolo (roll), a compendium of saturated fats, dairy and potatoes that would lead Gwyneth Paltrow to suicide (she would soffocate herself gently in one of those casual cachemire blankets and would be found her thinest self inside the organic bin, barefoot) when I realize this is the time of our lives: this is when we party life, food and family and know nothing about nothing. The feeling of an unlimited time in front of us strikes me for the first time, my stomach is ready to welcome an amount of food I shall feel ashamed of and, ladies and gentlemen, tomorrow schools are closed: we are on top of the game, top of the world, top of the pops.
Ten years have gone. Summer. Tuscany. Heaven. My good friend Gianni has just broken up with this extraordinarily feminine creature we will call Maria. He is very happy because we can finally go to the discoteca with no attachments, me very sad because I really like her, probably more than I like him.
One can not understand how intriguing mediterranean women are: there is something about them, the way they keep that neck straight, move their hands, walk as if they own the ground, that is unexplicable, atavic. She sends a text message to my new rocking Motorola 8700. She needs a lift home, she writes, but I know she is asking for way more than that: it is me she wants, plus revenge, plus things that involve an Italian summer night, crickets and a smell of hay that you only know and remember if you have been lucky enough to spend some time in the Bel Paese. So, there my friendship with Guido goes together with my words of eternal love to Maria, while everybody is at the discoteca and I am not (neither is she).
Aside the taste of betrayal in my mouth, the scent of beauty all around Maria’s hair and face, there is an other flavour I can recall, pleasant as a field of olive trees reflecting the light of the moon, safe as a womb: nonna’s roll evocative flavour comes back to hit me. I feel like I am on top of the world again, like that day at the table with everybody that counted around me. I still don’t know a thing at this point, nor the word VAT had made its appearance in my life. I am however sure of the opposite and have joined groups of theatre, poetry reading and photography, this last one because girls tend to be friendly when you tell them you would like to make a portrait, ‘ritratto’, of them.
Granma’s roll memory has come to visit me quite some times since Maria and the Italian summer - and each time involves great company, a table, a sky clearer than usual. I got myself an italian wife and some mixed raced kids that speak like they belong to the Brooklyn burrough.
Me and Manuela, the photographer I work with when inspecting villas, have just approached the veranda and we are setting the table up for the photoshoot. We want to create a nice, credible, atmosphere to be reflected in our pictures and descriptions, so that guests can pick this villa instead of an other. We do not want to over do it, say chandeliers with crystal and petals of roses - who puts that stuff on the table while eating anyway. We are going for simple, authentic, familiar versus complicated, unreal, fake: it is granny Helene’s table I am recreating together with that spirit of pure, full happiness.
Cotton, we need good hand embroidered cloth napkins. Short glasses of a strong, matt glass. Dishes of hand painted ceramics and, of course, enough room on the table for things you eat rather than for objects that belong to your kids’ toys basket. No scented candles, because each Tuscan Mamma would be horrified if some Figs & Cassis was pestering her basil and parmisan scent - for sure mine would be.
Before we set the table for the ‘alfresco’ pictures I must investigate with staff if they will actually be serving those lunches in the veranda or if this is one of those properties where everything looks nice before arrival and, when on site, it all becomes welcoming like a mortuary. You know, those houses whose proprietors hide the good furnishing and lower the heating. I will not recreate a fictional atmosphere for the sake of it.
The kitchen is a happy one. You can tell people have stopped here for a late glass of champagne before going to bed: the fridge has a whole section for bottles to it, but it is not a huge one - beware of people with immense fridges, they do not understand the difference between a tomato pachino and a datterino one, they just pile stuff.
There are more chairs than the table allows, and this too is a good sign: we like people who make room for other people.
This house is about family, we realize by the time we have inspected all the bedrooms, jumped on materasses and opened all the: somebody has placed nicely scented anti-termites packages in wardrobes every change of season, packed blankets and dresses and refreshed them again after six months. There are no holes and drawers come out easily - it is a good quality material, construction, wood. This forniture didn’t belong to Auntie Annah the Octogenarian, it was not stocked in here after she died surrounded by ten cats, no, they are an exquisite workshop product from a ‘bottega’ and they are bespoke.
I take off everything and get under the rain shower: it has been a long day and I didn’t expect to find such a music and video system with projector in the living room, I got carried away while inspecting and danced my soul to Aretha Franklyn on the satellite Soul Music channel. Shower is perfect: abundant, right amount of pressure (not the kind you get hurt by), nice colours all around and no traces of old materials. This too, believe it or not, I am paying for doing.
Yes. Families will be happy in here: it’s a granny’s roll house.
Andrea Bono Tempo is a villa inspector, photographer and Tuscany devotee