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Diana's Piemonte - Living My Fantasy

Diana Strinati Baur

Diana's Piemonte

It never fails. As soon as you get what you want, you realize that the thing you wanted looked way different in its fantasy version than in real life.

Take your first car. You wanted it, you really, really wanted it. Then you got it. It and its payments and its insurance and its leaky water pump and its towing bills. Sure, you still loved it. After all, your love for it was unconditional. But that’s not to say it didn’t try your patience as you sat waiting at Bo’s garage instead of going out on a date with the hunk of the high school.

Ok, I have some first car issues. But I didn’t really want to talk about that.

My husband and I used to sit on our balcony in Hamburg, Germany, under the starry sky (well, when it wasn’t pouring or grey or foggy or cloudy) and dream of how it was going to be when we got Regione Valloria 28 fixed up enough to move to. I had a vision of myself. It involved a lot of silver jewelry and kaftans. Pouring wine on the candle lit veranda, snacks gracing my beautiful hand-made mosaic table. Light jazz purring in the background. Talking philosophy. Art. Music. Somehow the dishes would get magically gathered and washed before the next day’s multi course breakfast, which I would serve all day. Of course I would. When you have sheets that wash themselves, you have plenty of time in the afternoon to make poached eggs.

Now, let me state that fantasy is important. Critical. Absolutely necessary for a project like ours. Because unless there is a fantasy, there will never be a reality. But there is a time, my friends, to let the fantasy go. And that time is way before you find yourself with your head halfway down your fosse biologica (that sounds so much better than septic tank, doesn’t it?) trying to see if it’s time to call the honey dippers or if you can risk waiting another two months. After all, the last thing you want is for a guest to come downstairs and say, you know what, the room smells a little funny. Getting the honey dippers in on short notice doubles the price.

Trust me on that one.

Yes, it’s important to reckon with reality when doing a fantasy project. To allow yourself to go with the craziness. Not to fight things too much. For example, when you hire a new cleaning girl, and instead of her coming up to the house for an interview, her mother shows up to interview you, just act like it’s totally normal. When her mother says, I don’t want my daughter working too hard and she needs to leave her cell phone on so that I can call her, smile nicely. Don’t fight it, but don’t hire the daughter either. If you hire the daughter, then you may consider yourself, like me, to be a fool. In my defense, I have to say that it was early on in my B&B career and I was out of my mind insane from exhaustion and would have invited the neighbor’s cocker spaniel to come and clean the rooms if she was house broken.

That was two years in. Not a kaftan or a piece of silver jewelry in sight. And I still had not unpacked the jazz CDs, or come close to making the mosaic table. To say I was swimming in a sea of the unknown would be giving me way too much credit. I was barely treading. Everything somehow got done, after which I would collapse in a heap, and when the guests would leave, the construction guys would come up and rip the place open at its main artery once more – only to get it patched back together for the awaiting guests the following spring. Year after year of this, seven in total, have made me, in retrospect, really cranky when someone comes up and says, soooooooo, how about that dolce far niente anyway? Really, really cranky. There was no regrouping, no relaxing, no looking and saying, my, look at all we are doing. There was just a marathon, one that started when we signed the paperwork buying this house and has continued to this day, eight years later.

But something else started to happen recently.

The property has started to look completely different. Not finished, mind you, never finished, but different. More complete. The buildings, renovated one by one, have formed a completely individual borgata that no one else could have even dreamed up. I could never imagined, in the beginning, how this place is actually turning out. You can literally see how much better we’ve gotten at design decisions along the way (which, of course, makes me want to go back to the first things we did, rip them out and start again. But I am not going to do that. Promise). We have mixed paint ourselves; stained walls, whitewashed furniture, planted gardens, repaired damage from the weather, cleaned until we could clean no more. All of that, plus endless construction, has resulted in the morphing of this property in a way that we never could have dreamed of, back then on that balcony in Hamburg.

I love working in my kitchen and this year have been doing a lot more cooking classes than ever before. Micha, my husband has his own wine cellar (he insisted on this after I got my own pottery studio. Sometimes you must have parity) where he categorizes a thousand bottles of wine from small producers all over Piemonte. He knows so much about wine. I attended one of his tastings for the first time and learned a lot – something that made me very proud indeed.

And speaking of my pottery studio – I am finally starting, after six years, to find enough life balance that I can go in there and work. This is because Micha insisted that I get more support this year. Being open to that idea has brought me peace. I have to let go of doing each and every thing myself. I am not nearly as tired as in past years and can imagine and dream more – about mosaics, art, pots, and paintings. I finished some nice pieces in the spring and the oven is full and ready to go.

The dangerously dilapidated barn, ripped wide open last November and finished 12 hours before the first guests arrived, makes me jealous. It’s nicer than our own living space. That fabulous guest room and the new wine cellar, a complete barn conversion, are the culmination of 7 years of construction experience. We are getting good at this, little by little.

So, in retrospect, the reality has surpassed the fantasy, but in ways that I never would have thought possible. In order to have gotten to this point, this project had to grab me by my throat and spit at me, “ I am going to have my way with you, my little pretty!!” Which is exactly what happened. But I have earned this house’s respect, and am, finally, truly, gaining the upper hand.

I’m going kaftan shopping next week. And wait till you see the mosaic table I’m making. Everything in its time, right?


Diana's Piemonte is a series of articles on Slow Travel about living and running a B&B in Piemonte.

Diana Strinati Baur lives near Acqui Terme, Piemonte and operates Baur B&B (www.baurbb.com).

© Diana Strinati Baur, 2010

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