The house above the cork forest (2)

We had a phone call from Joost, our friend’s friend/colleague, who’d seen photographs of the house and wanted to know more. He’s Dutch, a director of photography; he’s done scores of TV ads and even features. He’d been in touch before this, phoning from various corners of the world but what he was looking for – a derelict convent in the wilds of Lazio, with all its original features bar nuns, for the price of a council flat in Dudley- was simply unobtainable and, rudely, we’d not replied.

But this time he’d seen the photos. He loved the look of the place, he came, and saw, and was conquered. He came a second time, with his girlfriend, who saw and was conquered too. It all seemed so simple. They walked round the house, the land; they found a well, hidden by olives,beneath a cap of skilfully laid stones, like a beehive, with a dark live snake in the water.

The owners – four brothers, one with wife, had brought a Thermos filled with sweetened coffee to seal the deal. We stood in a circle and smiled, shook hands, drank the coffee and handed back the little cups to the signora, who packed them into her bag. That was September 2005. E. said the papers would be ready by October, early November.

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