Not every straniero who moves to Italy from another country to renovate a historic ruin has a romantic success story to tell. This is the gritty, painful tale of a British-American expat who takes on the Italian bureaucracy in the midst of an economic crisis and has a crash of his own.
Even in the face of bad fortune and bad decisions, the author’s love of Italy keeps bursting through. Italian drivers and a perplexing language can’t stifle Jim’s love of the food, the people, the landscape, and the culture.
A love/hate relationship, humorously and poignantly told, this is a must read for all lovers of Italy, and a cautionary tale for anyone thinking of building their dream home there.
Welcome to Under the Tuscan Thumb
Like me, I suspect many of you love Italy and everything it represents: spectacular mountains and beaches; the healthful Mediterranean diet; lovely, welcoming people; delicious wines; an art history studied and admired by the entire world, and a culture that reveres family. It is my hope that I can share with you some of my adventures over the past thirteen years that highlight the uniqueness of living and working here in Bella Toscana. I would love to hear your stories as well.
I fell in love with Lucca, the birthplace of Puccini, in 2000 when my wife, Debbie, and I came here for a wedding. As we were living just a two-hour flight away in London at the time, we came back every year from then on for as many weeks as we could, until finally we could take it no more and we moved here permanently in 2005.
My “retirement” didn’t last long and I found myself enthusiastically joining two partners in a real estate development business in 2007, when times were booming and buyers were flocking to Tuscany. I think most of you know what happened next to the worldwide economy. So in the midst of celebrating my good fortune at being able to live in Italy, my other fortune was racing in the opposite direction.
Under the Tuscan Thumb – How “Building Dreams in Tuscany” Turned into a Nightmare, is the story of my misadventures in the minefield that is Italian bureaucracy in the midst of a worldwide economic meltdown. It is available now on Amazon sites everywhere.
Please explore the story behind our two big projects, especially il Borghetto in San Gennaro. And sign up for my free monthly blog, where I will be sharing more stories about life in Bella Toscana.
Under the Tuscan Thumb
How "Building Dreams in Tuscany" Turned Into a Nightmare
As I left the Notaio’s office in the historic center of Lucca, I had never felt more alone. This was supposed to be a day to celebrate. In 2007 I bought a centuries-old ruin, Il Borghetto in San Gennaro, with high hopes of "Building Dreams in Tuscany" for others. I had fought through the bureaucracy of the permesso process for two years. Our Sicilian builder, Nicola Padrino, had built a masterpiece using the stones and bricks from the original ruin, with artisan touches that would live on for centuries to come. To find the money to finish the construction, I had gone against the advice of people wiser than me and had sold our home in London. Seven years after starting this venture, I had just sold five of the six apartments. So why did I feel like crying?
The reality was that not a single euro from these sales went into my bank account and only one owner wanted to keep his apartment. My great friend and mentor in the UK, Martin Prince, had bought several of the apartments as a favor and to protect his initial investment as the dark days swallowed me up. He wanted to sell them as soon as I could find buyers.
I had no prospects to sell any of his apartments. Il Borghetto was a beautiful asset, sitting there generating no revenue, draining money from my dwindling bank account to pay for the interest, maintenance costs and taxes until I came up with a solution.
I also owned a second project in Arsina, a spectacular piece of land in the hills overlooking Lucca four miles outside the walls, where I had more than €1,000,000 invested. My permission to build five more homes there, good for only five years, had just expired. As things spiraled out of control, it became harder to face my wife, Debbie, and tell her the cold truth. The voice in my head that I woke up with every morning was brutal in its assessment. “You’ve cashed in your pension by selling your home in London, have nothing to show for it, and have totally screwed up your retirement.” How could this have gone so totally wrong?
As alone as I felt in that moment, walking up the cobblestone street of the Via Fillungo in Lucca, I thought back to the day in 2007 when three of us started this venture with laughter and high hopes.