words by Ken Zohar
Passions… Strange thing, passions. I believe everyone has at least one thing theyare passionate about. My passion is Italy and the Italian language. It wasn’t always like that. If fifteen years ago someone were to tell me that one day I would visit Italy, be captivated by its charm and the richness of its culture, study Italian for six years, find my love in Italy and eventually purchase a house and relocate there permanently, I would have probably burst into laughter. But this is exactly what happened, and today I can only be grateful for that first visit twelve years ago during which, somewhere around the Chianti area, I must have had a glass of wine so strong its effect still hasn’t warn off completely.
The only thing related to Italy or Italian I was familiar with back then was my favourite opera – Mozart’s Don Giovanni – from which I enjoyed singing some arias under the shower, without understanding much the meaning of the words. I made my first trip to Italy in the midst of my architecture studies in Israel, and visited the main cities of Rome, Florence, Milan and Venice. I was stunned by the majestic architectural monuments found around literally every corner, the picturesque piazzas filled with life every evening in the time of the traditional “passeggiata”, the narrow alleys leading to the heart of the old town centres, not to mention the food, the wine and the overwhelming beauty of the countryside. Italy was, for me, what you’d
call ‘love at first sight’.
On my return to Israel I was very anxious to start studying Italian, and quickly completed the two beginners’ courses offered by my university. After graduating I moved to London and started working for the architectural practice Tal Arc Ltd. It didn’t take me long to discover the Italian Institute, which was offering courses at all levels. Now, much more serious about Italian, I was completely taken by the diversity and beauty of the language. More than a few times I missed my stop on the Tube because I was too focused on filling my notebook with phrases of immense grammatical complexity that made absolutely no sense, solely to impress my teacher and fellow students.
It was shortly afterwards that I made my second trip to Italy, which proved to be even more significant than the first. The trip included renting a car and crossing the country from Milan to Bari in ten days, and on my return to London I was left with such strong impressions that I started writing a short story; In Italian. Never before did I write narrative, neither in my mother tongue nor in English. I was amazed to see the story practically writing itself in a language I was not yet fully confident with, based on a theme I never imagined could inspire anything: the long ride on the motorway and the frequent stops at the motorway’s refreshment bar Autogrill gave me the idea for a story about an accountant who keeps returning to the same Autogrill bar because he is desperately in love with one of the girls who works there.
The first story gave way to others: a visit to the Colosseum in Rome inspired a story about an aging entertainer who, for his livelihood, dresses up as a Roman centurion for tourists and finds himself involved in a murder case; the endless stretches of the tranquil Po valley sparked the idea for a story about a nostalgic and overly emotional pensioner living in an old people’s home on the river’s bank. Thanks to Italy and the Italian language I discovered a hidden creative desire: writing.
It wasn’t long before I was sending stories to literary competitions in Italy, in some I even won prizes and was all too happy to return the boot-shaped country for the award ceremonies, discovering each time another Italian region I was not familiar with. In some places I was astonished to discover medieval towns and villages so well preserved, there was solely the odd Fiat parked here and there to remind me I wasn’t in the middle of the 13th century.
As much as I enjoyed attending ceremonies held in villages where locals preserved their unique dialect and traditions, I always hoped the village would not be too remote as to force me to rent a car, for fear that the years spent in Britain combined with the irresistible charm of the local ladies would result in me driving on the wrong side of the road. Thankfully, this never happened, but it did take me on average two weeks after each visit to stop addressing waitresses at London coffee shops in Italian.
In 2008 I published my first book in Italy, ‘Rallentamenti sulla Strada del Calvario’ (Delays on the Road to Calvary) – a collection of short stories. Shortly afterwards I got to know and fell in love with Gabriela, who was living in Tuscany, at which point I stopped and thought to myself: ‘your whole world now revolves around Italy and Italian, all your friends in London are Italian, in the shower you now sing arias not only from Don Giovanni but from many other operas and at times you even dream in Italian. You even found the love of your life in Italy, so, what are you waiting for? An angel to descend from the skies with the one way air ticket in his hand?’ I moved to a flat in Tuscany with Gabriela, not without dedicating a thought or two to London, my home for eight years, the place where I enjoyed a great professional experience. But life is an all-too-brief journey along which important decisions have to be made, and there is never much room for regrets or second thoughts. Sure enough, life in Italy exceeded all expectations: a few months after moving in with Gabriela we bought our house in the beautiful town of Figline Valdarno, about 20km south of Florence. Situated in a late 18th century palazzo with vaulted ceilings, thick stone walls and typical Tuscany style window shutters, the property was a winner from the first moment we set eyes on it. Needless to say, we carried out the restoration project ourselves, assisted by the Italian surveyor Antonio Laganà.
Antonio, whose profound knowledge and understanding in Tuscan architecture had impressed me right from the start, suggested we open a joint property enterprise. His experience and expertise in the local property and construction markets have helped him to form a team of highly qualified craftsmen, with whom he was confident we could offer an outstanding construction service. Together we established Toscaneto, a company offering a comprehensive property service in Tuscany to overseas clients covering all their needs, from the initial property search to the specific restoration project, design, construction and more.
The business has had a great response both in the UK and the US, as well as other countries. We remain focused on improving and extending our service even more, as we continue to assist our clients in realizing their dream of owning a property in Tuscany. For me Tuscany, one of Italy’s most beautiful regions, will always remain a source of inspiration. I will certainly never regret being very attentive to the one thing present in both my heart and mind in the past twelve years: my passion.
To read more about Toscaneto, visit www.toscaneto.com