Relax.  This isn’t going to be metaphysical.  We’ll keep it simple.  We’re in Valuberti
principally because we’ve always wanted to live in Europe.  Who can say why?  There was
something simultaneously exotic and yet familiar about things European:  so many
different cultures in such a comprehensible area, so many foreign languages, vast
numbers of museums full of culturally accessible art, and world class cities such as Rome,
Madrid, Paris, Berlin, and London.  But it was really Southern Europe, and in particular
the Mediterranean, that exerted its pull.  We loved to daydream about archaeological
ruins, amphorae at the bottom of the wine-dark sea, Greek myths, and ancient maritime
civilizations.  All that and beaches with bathtub-temperature waters, palm trees, temperate
climes, outdoor cafés, and a languid pace, too.  

Europe also meant for me (Marilyn) an awakening to life’s endless possibilities, in every
facet.  It was my New Frontier.  My first and lasting impression of Europe, as a 20-year-old
traveling via Eurail Pass and youth hostels, was the haystacks and the toilet paper.  I was
absolutely amazed by the variety of both.  As for the haystacks, there were the cylindrical
rolls, the Monet-type cones, the rectangular cubes, and the free form.  As for the toilet
paper, there were the waxed, the translucent, the deep pink crepe paper, and the all too
often missing.  In a Eureka moment I realized that if there were more than one way to
stack hay and more than one way to make bum wad, then there must be more than one
way to live one’s life!  Europe meant freedom from convention.

To the left is a list that Marilyn and I kept on our
refrigerator/bulletin board for about 4 years.   It
pretty much sums up our view of life in the States
circa 2003 that, coupled with our recognition that
we wouldn't be able to continue living on Fair
Oaks after retiring in San Francisco, made us
begin to think more seriously about an exit
strategy.  As we went about living our life there,
we made a list that we titled: Y223.  It was about
"why" in " two to three" years we hoped to be
living in Italy.

Fig. No. 1: Y223.  Click to enlarge.

For me (Steve) the reasons had a lot to do with life in
the States, what it's like to work there (obviously from
a very personal perspective), and the desire to keep
a youthful approach to life.  

I had a solo architecture practice in San Francisco,
and I had the good fortune to work at home and to
have trustworthy and quality occasional help.  This
allowed me to work on various projects around the
house, including designing and supervising the
renovation of our Victorian, travel and take extended
leaves with Marilyn.  But, even with these pluses the
practice of architecture in San Francisco was
ultimately extremely frustrating.  (See Steve’s Page for
a little more on his personal view of architectural
practice in San Francisco at the turn of the
millennium).   The rewards in the end didn’t justify the

My solo practice did, however, facilitate travel, which
is a good way to stay young.  Through travel Marilyn
and I could discover new cultures and locales and
share a deep passion for experiencing architecture,
which I think you have to do by walking through it.

We realized it would be difficult to pick up stakes and
move away from friends, a shared language, and a
familiar place.  Being more optimistic, I (of course)
played down any and all of these obvious difficulties,
and emphasized the positives.  This fantasy is
accorded to me because I think, “well, it CAN’T be that
hard”.  Once set on course, it was “all ahead full!”.  
The move was also a way to remain “in the game”,
keep a forward-looking view, learn a new language,
make new acquaintances (hopefully eventually,
friends), see many new things, and understand a new
culture.  Moving to Europe seemed a good way to
keep a youthful approach to life.

So why Italy and not France or Spain or Greece?  
Again, who can say?  Probably it was the Three C’s:  
circumstance, choice and chance.  For Marilyn’s 50th
birthday, we decided to rent a farmhouse in Tuscany
for the month of August.  Steve noticed a letter in
“Follow the Reader,” a Sunday travel feature in the
San Francisco Examiner, that touted Valuberti as an
ideal vacation spot in rural Tuscany.  We sent a fax
inquiry and learned that the cottage was available for
the entire month.  
Veni, vidi, vici.  We came, we saw,
and Valuberti conquered.  We kept going back year
after year, in every season.  It continued to enchant
and, finally, to beckon.

Maybe it was the cast of characters, all interesting
and none “typically” Italian.  Those characters include
Alda and Claudio and Alda’s 30-something daughter,
Eleonora, and her partner, Licia.  Alda was born in
Padova to a noble family and escaped to Valuberti in
the early ‘70’s with a hippie commune.  She was then
separated from her husband and brought her 3-year
old daughter with her.  Claudio is Alda’s longtime
partner, also originally from Padova and a classics
major who’d rather be a farmer.  Eleonora lives in
Padova in the family palazzo and just got her degree
in clinical psychology.  Her thesis was on borderline
personality disorders, and her subject was a living
female artist.  Eleonora is now working toward her
licensure as a psychoanalyst.  Licia is a
psychoanalyst who has a practice in Venice.  Not
exactly your typical famiglia italiana.

Also part of the ‘70’s commune is Fabio, who now
lives in Rome with his partner, Eloise, who is expecting
their first child.  Fabio earns his living as a
stonemason, but he is also a published poet and a
musician.  Eloise is the daughter of an academic who
taught in the US.  Because she lived in American
university towns and studied at the Sorbonne, she is
fluent in Italian, French and English.  Fabio’s
daughter, Amauta, by his first marriage and who also
lived at the commune as a little girl, now lives in
London with her English boyfriend, who is a music
publicist.  Amauta is also in PR and worked on the
Venice Biennale a few years ago and now works for
Disney in London.  Fabio and Eloise also have a small
house near here, down by the river Nestore.  They
frequently visit in the summer to escape the heat and
cacophony of Rome.  

Another member of the ‘70’s commune who still lives
nearby is Andro.  Born in Trieste to a former mayor of
that city, Andro is another renaissance man.  He’s
been a studio musician, a builder, an organic farmer,
and a graphic artist.  At present, he sells very old
agrarian iron tools at antiques fairs in central Italy.  He
and his wife, Marina, who is from Sardegna, live in “i
Meli,” (the apple trees) just a short walk up the road
from Valuberti.  Marina is also a psychiatrist (is there
a theme here, or are there really that many nutty
Italians?).  She is recently licensed in acupuncture
and is opening a practice this spring near Castiglion
Fiorentino, the town of which Valuberti is a frazione.  
Andro and Marina speak English perfectly, including
slang, and are fascinating.  On our first night at
Valuberti, August 1, 1997, as we sat outside on Alda’s
cottage terrace marveling at how many stars you can
see when you get away from an urban area, we
thought we heard the sound of Native American
drumming.  No way we said, but there it was,
unmistakable.  Years later we discovered that the
sounds indeed had come from Andro and Marina’s
house.  During the summer, they host conferences on
alternative methods of healing and Native American
ecology/theology.  Again, not your typical Italians.  

continued from below left

Rounding out the immediate group are Christina and
Lulli, both from Castiglion Fiorentino, who live in “il
Fiume,” (the river) a stone house that Lulli built by the
Nestore.  Lulli owns a construction business and
Christina owns a printing business.  In their spare time,
they run a B&B called “il Pruno,” (the plum tree) just up
the road from their house.  Lulli renovated it and did a
fabulous job.  Christina and Lulli recently hosted a
birthday party for Lulli at il Pruno.  We ate polenta and
steaks and sausages cooked over an open fire in the
living room fireplace, and we drank much too much
wine.  We met lots of interesting people and stayed until
the wee hours, eating, drinking, dancing, and talking.  
Not the first time, either.  Christina and Lulli give great

Or maybe it was the landscape that drew us here.  
Valuberti sits in the middle of the Apennines, very
different from the rolling hills of Chianti with its
vineyards, olives, and cypress.  Our landscape is much
wilder.  These are mountains, not hills, and the
vegetation is chestnut, oak, evergreen, mulberry, wild
rose, and broom.  In places, there is little topsoil and the
geology juts out at you.  In other places, there are
dense woods.  It is an unmanicured landscape, yet you
can see stone walls everywhere, testimonials to the
people who long ago claimed this land.  Every day, the
landscape changes.  The mountains take on the colors
of the seasons, the days, and the hours.  They are as
changeable and eternal as the sea.  It’s really quite
beautiful here.  From our bedroom windows we can see
the sun and the moon rise over the mountains across
the next valley.

Or maybe it was the stones that captured us.  Like the
mountains, they take on the colors of the light they
reflect.  In the morning, they show the pale straw color of
dawn, every stone sharply outlined.  At midday, they are
bleached bright.  At sunset, they glow rosy gold.  And in
the moonlight, they shimmer pure silver.  The stones are
home to lichens and moss and ivy that add to their
texture and hue.  The stones tell us that they’ve been
here forever and will continue long after we’re gone.  
The stones have a subversive beauty.  They remind us
that no one can own this place and that no one should.  

Or maybe we came here for the infinite number of
roadside attractions, some famous, others not, but each
with its piazza, church, and/or work of art not to be
missed.  Among the lesser known attractions are the
frescoes by Signorelli (with whom Michelangelo studied)
at San Crescentino in Morra, 15 minutes away, and the
Roman temple at Clitunno, a beautiful spring
surrounded by willows near Spello.  Among the well-
known attractions are the Piero della Francesco’s in
Arezzo, Sansepolcro, and Montevarchi, as well as the
Giotto’s in the lower Basilica of the Church of San
Francesco in Assisi; the Church of Santa Maria degli
Angeli with its little chapel of St. Francis inside, yes,
inside; and all the hill towns:  Volterra, Todi, San
Gimignano, Lucignano, Gubbio, Cetona, Monte San
Savino, Cortona, Chiusi, Greve in Chianti, Montefalco,
and Deruta, to name but a few.  And then there are the
cities of Lucca, Siena, Orvieto, Spoleto, and Florence,
all within striking distance.  So many things to do and
see; so little time.

Whatever it was, we were hooked.  Once we realized
that we could never afford to stay in our house in San
Francisco after we retired, we decided to go to Valuberti
while we still had the energy to make such a radical
move.  As if on cue, an uninhabited building became
available at Valuberti, and we jumped off the diving
board into uncharted waters.  It took 2 years to make
our little pig sty/cow barn/chicken coop into a house,
and as soon as it was finished, we sold our Victorian in
San Francisco and moved whatever we couldn’t bear to
part with, along with Aldo Kitty and Gaston le Petit
Oiseau, to Italy.  That was June 2, 2004.  

The challenges we sought are definitely here.  We left a
country where everyone spoke our language to come to
a place where almost no one does.  Becoming fluent in
Italian is as critical as we expected it would be, and
every bit as difficult.  We traded a 9 to 7 day for “every
day’s a Saturday.”  Adjusting to not-work is work.  It’s
dealing with that daily blank slate that’s a little
intimidating.  And we gave up the external stimulation of
San Francisco’s hip urban environment for a rural borgo
far from the madding crowd.  Indeed, we are in Podunk.  
Reaching inside for stimulation and meaning is a good
thing, but there is a certain amount of laziness built up
over the years that needs to be overcome.  Finally, we
said “Arrivederci” (which doesn’t mean goodbye but
“See you there”) to our many friends in San Francisco
and said “Buon giorno” to our few acquaintances in this
little corner of Tuscany.  That’s the hardest part of all—
not being able to be intimate with anyone but each
other, having no shared history except our own.  But in
spite of the difficulties, almost all of which we anticipated
and none of which is insurmountable, we wouldn’t
change a single thing.  That’s why we came here—
because it was exactly what we wanted.

Why We're Here