It has been a strange summer. Well not exactly strange, but different. As the weeks turned into months here in Tuscany, that ‘difference’ transformed into the warm cloak of familiarity. What began as a foreign and exotic experience in the spring became my normal day. The sound of buzzing vespers and the huge variety of church bells are now recognizable. The same goes for the friendly nods from the many octogenarians in my village. Plus, of course, the taste of the local chilled Prosecco with pecorino cheese from the sheep who live up on the hill. The most delicious tomatoes drizzled in my very own olive oil and the evenings spent with new friends eating alfresco on candlelit terraces. – It has all become so ‘everyday’.
I arrived here in early May to supervise the construction of my 14 bedroom, ancient property that will one day hold my ‘Women’s Getaways”. Apart from the odd trips to London I have been in my Tuscan valley for months. I have had plenty of visitors – friends, family and my husband, but most of the time it has been me and the builders. I have rented an apartment in a nearby medieval town and if I drive cross-country it takes me about 10 minutes to get to my place. When I say cross-country, that is exactly what I mean. I hurtle along a track that a donkey would complain about. The road is a long and winding white, dirt road that takes me over a small riverbed then up the steepest, potholed hill, But what makes this road so truly stunning is it changes every few weeks. In May the hedgerows and fields that surround it were a lush and vibrant green after the spring rain. Then the poppies arrived. They carpet the fields like pools of red paint and shoot out of every surface from craggy walls to old tree stumps. By the end of June the poppies sadly fade away but are replaced by rows of cornflowers. This delicate blue is one of my favourite colours for painting bedrooms. Not quite blue, yet not lavender.
Once I reached my village I would grab a cappuccino in the ‘Communist’ bar. Not quite sure how my local café became known as this but half the village won’t drink there – One day I will get the true story. I’ll sit among the old geezers who have usually had a couple of grappas by the time the rest of the villagers have begun their day’s work. After a good shot of Italian coffee I am ready to face the endless questions that bombard any homeowner on their construction site. I have the utmost respect for all tradesmen but I have a very special affinity with my Italian ‘boys’. Their patience is outstanding as they struggle to make this crazy blond who has bought this pile of rubble, understand in both pigeon English and Italian. Somehow we muddle through. It is hot here in the summer, very hot, especially as they restore the stone exterior walls under the blazing sun. They start at five in the morning and by two in the afternoon they are packed up and off for their siestas. The quiet always engulfs me as I am left alone with just the sound of the crickets and my emotions. I walk the land, explore the buildings for the millionth time. I check the olive trees and the vineyards with the look of a diehard farmer although I have no clue what I am looking for. I always find time to sit under one of the older olive trees and enjoy the luxury of its shade. I then begin to think.
I have spent a good part of my career not just lecturing about decorating and design but I have hopefully been inspiring audiences about building their careers, juggling families and like me, finding their next chapters. As I sit under these magnificent trees the doubts wave over me. There are so many thoughts tugging me in all directions. The worst are the ‘what ifs’. What if this doesn’t work out? What if something happens to one of us? What if the money runs out before we’re finished renovating? What if the kids don’t want to come? What if our friends don’t enjoy it here? What if I can’t sell the fields of lavender I’ve planted, or my olive oil is rubbish? But like so many of us who are planning to follow our dreams, we dig deep, we listen to what took us on this journey and we believe. We believe it will all work out in the end and when I look out over those hills of Tuscany dotted with ancient farms, olive groves and vineyards and hear the chatter of the men coming back to work, I smile. A lazy, delicious smile. It is all going to be just fine.