Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Quest for the Keys

“I don’t have a key or a deed to show for it, but we now own a house in Italy,” I told Bryan in a phone call immediately after the closing. After signing the papers, the notaio informed me that it would take about  a month to complete the official document and send it to me.  As the previous owner dashed from the notaio’s office to catch a taxi, she absentmindedly informed me that she was not in possession of a key to the house we had just purchased, thrusting us in pursuit of a relic that was akin to a search for the holy grail.

Probabilmente le si trova da Peppe,” she told us cryptically. Upon arrival we duly sought out Peppe, who did not have them, but who linked us to the last known keeper of the keys. Peppe held up his hands in front of his chest and, with a regretful expression, informed us that he had turned them over to la signora’s local accountant who handles matters for her in this region. This ragioniera, like all good antagonists, claimed ignorance and cast blame back onto the previous relic-holder, namely Peppe. An impasse lasted several hours.

Local guides were enlisted to help us seek out clues to its whereabouts. They surveyed the situation and assessed varying motives for concealment. After about an hour of piazza-side discussion, a consensus was reached that the ragioniera, acting as an agent for the insensitive land baron, was to be held accountable. Peppe, after all, was a neighbor who was happy to have us buying property in the vicolo, and he had explained quite worthily to my guides that he had returned the key because he fully expected that it would have been sent to the signora, so she could present it to me at the closing. All involved, including eavesdropping passersby, agreed the ragioniera was the key-keeping culprit.

Phone calls were made, but the noble’s agent, not wanting to stoop to drive from Potenza into the hinterlands to search for them, suggested that it was our problem and we should “just have a locksmith come over and change the locks.” That’s when our friends, Peppino and Giovanna, donned their armour, stepped in, and got themselves into a true chivalric lather. “This is unacceptable! How can this woman not have a key ready after all the months Valeria has waited? What do you mean you expect her to go through hoops to get inside the house she has just purchased? It’s not her responsibility to get keys made! You get them made and bill them to la signora!”

More inquiries ensued involving a widening circle of players; our righteous search for the holy grail led us through shadows and rocky terrain while our hopes of finding the coveted key flagged. Finally, in late afternoon, la signora deigned to return a call to Giovanna, wondering why everyone was so worked up. Her condescending nonchalance set Giovanna, a normally sweet-tempered, angelic-faced woman, into a diatribe explaining to la signora the meaning of courtesy, telling her that her actions were not just rude they were of cattivo gusto, socially unacceptable and uncouth. This may be how you do things in Roma, she railed, but it is a slap in the face to Valeria, who wants merely and rightly to enter the house she purchased a couple days ago. It is your duty to get her a key, and get it to her NOW!

I’m always amazed at Italians’ ability to argue forcefully and then end a conversation on an amiable note. Giovanna returned to her normal self, uttered some pleasantries, chirped a sweet buona sera and a series of musical ciao-ciao-ciao’s and snapped her phone shut.

Scusami,” she said, “but this has me so angry!” Then she was off in pursuit of la signora’s local housekeeper to see if she had an extra set of keys for this particular apartment. The elderly lady was appalled at the story, delved into a search in la signora’s “big house” and came up empty.

With spirits flagging we all tromped down to the coffee bar like a dour parade. The ragionera was not happy to be among the peasants dealing with this, even more so now that half the town was angry with him and his boss. He had, somewhat suspiciously, located the small keys for the cantinas, our rock-hewn storage chambers where generations of prosciutto-making and sausage-curing has taken place. One door opened easily; in the other, the key fit and turned but not enough to ease the lock open. He suggested WD-40. While it may well have been a sensible idea, our knights were not going to allow him to shirk any of his full duty. There followed more arguing from Peppino. More waiting.

The ragioniera went off somewhere; I figured he escaped back to Potenza, out of reach of the villagers who were clearly enjoying the show and whose ire was mounting against him in favor of the povera signora americana who had been innocently, fruitlessly, diligently searching and was being held out in the cold by the landed gentry.

Suddenly the ragioniera appeared with a long silver key. He held it aloft like a religious icon. We don’t know from where he procured it or whose door it was meant to open. “It just might work,” he said. I knew it was not the original key for our door; when we looked at the apartment the key that had been handed to us was a big iron thing. He made a ceremonious gesture and inserted his new find into the old-fashioned keyhole and twisted it. The door snapped open.

Amid cheers and a reverently spoken ‘finalmente’ we crossed the threshold into the inner sanctum. It may have been the dulling light, or perhaps my newly-inspired suspicion of the suddenly-discovered relic, but I thought I detected a slight smirk on the face of the ragioniera as he departed.

The original iron key has not turned up, still secreted away to confound the seekers. The mysteriously-appearing replacement is duller than the original grail perhaps, but it gave me access to the castle nonetheless, with my fellow villagers wishing me a warm welcome by their solidarity in the search.


LindyLouMac said...

Oh you poor girl, just the sort of tale that one learns to expect here in Italy. As frustrating as it may have been for you, it has made excellent copy for your Blog.

janie said...

Great story Valerie! At least you have lived in Italy long enough to know that so many things do not happen easily. Those keys were certainly worth the wait!

fashion survivor said...

Italians have made an art out of arguing--I too am impressed at how at the end of it they can return to civility so quickly. There's a lesson for all of us.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

This post cracked me up.

All this drama over a key! I love it. (although I'm sure I would not have loved it if I were in the middle of the drama of tying to get a key to the home I just purchased).

william said...

Dear Valerie,
As well written as your story was, I must say that I am getting tired of all the ex-pat blogs which seem to glorify bad behavior in the name of quaint customs.
I too am a lover of Italy, its land, food, people, and grand history. But not everything the Italians do is praiseworthy. There are jerks in every culture on the planet, and your "il ragionere" (sp) who tortured you, then appeared with the key to your new home is a first class example. This entire charade was performed so that he could proclaim to the town just how important he is. How dare he do this to someone who was just following the rules? The answer is that no one holds him accountable.
I am a big fan of your journey, but lets not paint all Italians with the same brush. While the vast majority are wonderful, lets call a "testa di cazzo" a "testa di cazzo."

Cherrye at My Bella Vita said...

Congrats on your new house (and keys!) I have to say "William" cracked me up with his comment. I tend to agree on the accountability part ... it is one of the most difficult things for me to adjust to here in Calabria.

J.Doe said...

I too agree with the commenter William. There are teste di cazzo in every culture, including Italy. No country is spared from these imbeciles. I'm glad you finally got your keys though and were able to enter your own home. I hope you were able to relax from the stress
P.S. I think the raginiera should be fired, if possible. It's not like buying a house takes place over 1 hour. He should have had the key waiting for you

Valerie said...

LindyLou - Yes, one of those things that is so ridiculous while it's happening but at least makes a good story once it's over.

Janie - I knew there would be glitches, just didn't expect to have to fight to get the dang keys!

Fashion Survivor - So true!

Ragazza - It is almost like a mini opera drama, no?

William - Not glorifying it at all, just telling it like it happened. You're right, there are jerks everywhere, and this guy was a prime example. The villagers knew exactly what he was up to and were saying that he is "un stronzo, nel vero senso della parola".

He wasn't let off; on the contrary, he had to come to the village personally when he clearly didn't want to, and is now persona non grata there. Word will have spread around Potenza about him, too. Lucky for me my friends stepped in and held him accountable, and would not let him get away with putting it all back onto me.

Cherrye - I think it always ends up coming back around sometime. Unless they're in politics. {groan}

J. - Yep, jerks are jerks in every culture! He *should* be fired, but the owner (his employer) obviously didn't care. But, as I said, all the piazza-side talk was that she, her ragioniera and the horse he rode in on could rot!

I guess the upside of all this was that I got to meet a lot of townspeople in one day, and all them were on my side!

Linda @ Ice Tea For Me said...

So life begins in your new village home. How exciting.

Though not having the keys was a rocky start, it's nice to see your new village neighbors coming out and fightly for you.

An American in Padua said...

Whoa. Since I am closing on a house in Padua this Thursday, I hope not to have the same problems as you!

My little house-buying tidbit includes the renters who wanted us, the new owners, to pay them several hundred Euros for a terrible, falling-apart kitchen and a couple of Venetian blinds they wanted to leave behind (and save on the moving costs). We said, "No, grazie."

Glad your key business turned out well in the end.

Barbara said...

You've fought so long and hard to claim your life in Italy, and this will certainly add to the tale1 In the end this event probably solidified you with the villagers even more than your local ancestry! You are now one of 'us' against the evil ragionere! Auguri!