Discover more from Understandably by Bill Murphy Jr.
"I live in Italy, in a house I bought during the pandemic ..." And, 7 other things worth knowing today.
Folks we’re finding our way with the Guest Writer Program: trying to be exacting in terms of quality, and yet methodical. We’ve had a ton of submissions …
Today’s piece comes to us from novelist Cheryl Ossala, who is an American expat in Italy. Without giving away the story, I like writing like this sometimes, where I might not have anything in common with the author, but I nevertheless feel like I share an understanding anyway. You can find more of her work here.
(Want to find out more about this program, and perhaps submit work of your own? Details here.)
I live in Italy, in a house I bought during the pandemic. But there’s another house, in another region, another town, that has wrapped its metaphorical arms around me.
I thought I’d escaped its clutches, but the house thinks otherwise.
I found this new (old), temptress house about a year ago when I was in Viggiù, a small town in Lombardia near the border of Switzerland where my grandfather was born.
I was there doing genealogical research, wandering the town. There it was, this Liberty-style villa, in disrepair and apparently empty. I fell instantly and tragically in love.
I mean, it even comes with its own corner edicola, or street-side mini-chapel.
This being Italy, I wasn’t daunted by the lack of for-sale/rent signs; if it was empty, it would have an asking price.
So I asked a friend who’s in the know about everything Viggiù. Sure enough, the place was for sale. I made an appointment to see it.
Let me reiterate: I have a house that’s very “me,” in a community I love. I don’t have the money to buy another house, much less one that needs major renovations (which I suspected would be needed on the newly named—by me—Liberty House).
But Italy has a bonus program that covers much of the cost of energy-saving renovations, so going to see the house didn’t seem entirely unreasonable.
I went. The house is enormous. And a total wreck. But oh, the charm, the whispering voices of the past, the terrace with fruit-laden trees! And oh, the romance of having a home not only in the town my ancestors lived in—but in the same neighborhood.
It’s a very emotional experience to walk these streets. I could imagine my grandfather playing soccer in the piazza, his mother and grandmother and aunts buying vegetables and bread, his uncles and cousins cutting stone in the courtyards that center most homes.
It’s the same kind of jolt that comes with digging into genealogy research. I keep asking myself why it matters if I find out who so-and-so was and where they were born and died. I don’t know, but every new name, date, and shred of info thrills me.
So, I admit, does the idea of living here There’s an emotional pull to Viggiù. My dad knew little about his father’s family, not even where his father was born, and he died young, before he could learn what I now know.
That fact pains me every day. In finding his family and seeing where they came from, I’m doing what he’d always wanted to do but never had the chance: find his roots and understand his past.
Back to the Liberty House. What a delicious folly it would be!
An elegant two-story home, it was built in the early 1900s by the town doctor. There are wide hallways, high ceilings, and dozens of windows; there’s even a small upper-floor terrace—which, like the rest of the house, is crumbling. But the sense of this place, its former spirit and glory, is enough to send this former This Old House–watcher’s restoration instincts (and saliva glands) into high gear.
It was clearly too big a project for me to take on, especially from a distance—roughly six hours from Perugia by car or train. I felt simultaneously crushed and relieved when I admitted to the owner that buying the place wasn’t possible for me.
I walked away and put it out of my mind.
Until, that is, a few days ago, when this house, this lost opportunity, this compromised dream, popped, unbidden, into my head as the centerpiece of a new novel. The story already has a title: Liberty House. And now that it’s arrived in my head, I suppose I’ll have to write it.
I’m already scribbling notes, asking myself questions … This is how it works—the ideas come, and, like the Liberty House and its ilk, they don’t let go.
You may be wondering if the house is still for sale. I haven’t asked, but that doesn’t mean I won’t.
Sometimes it’s okay to look beyond practicality and act because our hearts tell us to.
Some choices, even if not financially wise or practical, can be worth the risk. Life is short, after all, and we can hang onto every penny—or we can wring every fine moment.
I never used to think of myself as a romantic, but here I am. I think of the Liberty House remaining uninhabited, crumbling more and more over time, and I feel more than sad. I feel the loss of its beauty, the ruination of what was once grand, the disappearance of someone’s dreams.
To restore a once-spectacular house, make it into a home again, fill its hallways and rooms with friends and family, to give it new life—if that’s not romantic, what is? Now all I need is a windfall.
7 other things worth knowing today
A woman who posted day-in-the-life TikTok videos about her job at Google used the same format to tell her viewers she had been laid off from the company, going viral in the process. According to Nicole Tsai's LinkedIn page, she had worked as a partner services program manager at Google in Irvine, California, since July 2021. (Insider)
The National Archives is looking into sending letters to all living former presidents and vice presidents, asking them to go through their records to ensure there are no classified materials, according to sources familiar with the matter. Of course this comes after former President Trump, President Biden, and former Vice President Pence have all been found with classified documents. (CNN)
Third parties pay writers for posts praising or panning hotels, restaurants and other places they never visited. How review sites like Yelp and Tripadvisor are trying to stop the flood. (NYT)
Archaeologists found something much more fascinating than they got credit for when searching under the waters of Lake Michigan for shipwrecks: they uncovered a rock with a potentially 9,000-year-old carving of a mastodon, as well as a collection of stones arranged in a Stonehenge-like manner. (The Archaeologist)
How antidepressants help bacteria resist antibiotics: A laboratory study unravels ways non-antibiotic drugs can contribute to drug resistance. (Nature)
"My mom loves me but can’t afford me." Heart-wrenching note left with abandoned dog. (The Charlotte Observer)
A 29-year-old woman was arrested last week after spending four days fraudulently enrolled in a New Jersey high school as a student, district officials say. (NBC News)
Thanks for reading, and thanks to Cheryl Ossola, for her story (which originally ran here) and photos. See you in the comments.