Paolo insists that there are unspoken rules about colour. Houses must be painted in Marchigiano (from Le Marche) hues in order to be traditional. Looking around the towns and countryside you can see that for the most part he is right. Unusually in a country where conformity to the rules of fashion is paramount, there are some transgressors. Bitterly striking yellows, acid greens, deep, almost purple, browns and even (most unforgivable) white, will taint the horizon.
From the outset I had my sights on one particular house in a small hilltop town nearby. Mondavio boasts the best preserved "rocca" (fortress tower) in the region. It is also where I occasionally go to school to learn Italian. This house is not especially remarkable except for the colour of its intonaco: an earthy, pastel apricot. It has the advantage of blending with the stonework, having terra cotta tones, whilst a bit fruitier for interest. I have passed the house many times on my way to lessons, seen it in all weathers and at different times of day. I've set my heart on this colour.
Far too timid simply to knock on the door and ask the owner where he got his paint, we go to the supplier of our building materials, give the proprietor the address of the house and ask him to check it out and match the paint. This is Italy, he understands, obliges, and eventually produces two sample paint pots. One, he says, is spot on, the other a little darker, but we are to try both on a patch of our wall and wait and see. There are also instructions about not painting the samples close together, about painting very large patches, and more. We ignore them all.
On a drizzly afternoon two small patches are painted side by side on the kitchen wall. Before the paint has even dried we stand back in horror and exclaim, in unison with Paolo, his sons, Alessandro and everyone with a view: "They're not right, they're all wrong. O per amor di Dio, che faciamo! (What in God's name do we do now!) In desperation we paint the least offensive colour onto a large brick and Peter and Paolo's son (the painter) drive up to Mondavio to see if the colour matches against the house. They return fairly sure it is the same, but insist that I take the sample myself and check just to be sure. In reality it is so that, should it be wrong, I can be blamed.
|My Brick in repose against the kitchen window|
I carry the heavy brick, the bulky colour chart and the burden of my responsibility up the hill in Mondavio. I stand outside the all important house, deposit my load by the roadside and begin my assessment. An elderly lady walks slowly up the otherwise deserted road, wishes me good day and without asking, immediately intuits what I am doing, as though this were a normal everyday event in this peaceful place.
"Yes, yes, put it here to see" she commands. Then, "No, no, it's weathered there, but here, yes here, see it's the same colour. Che bello colore!" She goes on her way, she has an appointment in town at 2.30 she explains. It's nearly 3.00, but I am secretly glad she is delayed. She has made the decision and in so doing has relieved me of the responsibility.
On my return to the building site the proprietor of the supply store has arrived, somewhat diluting my triumphal return. He is delivering some cement bags, but has time to look at the samples on the wall. He is a patient man. He looks at the wall, looks at all of us and says benignly, "Paint another, bigger patch and wait, wait, perhaps a month, and you will see." It's not a: "be patient, my dear children, and all will be revealed unto you," but it may as well have been.
We are waiting, and watching...