Value and Worth / Valore e del Patrimonio

When writing to Brad, who just moved to Bogotá, I used the salutation, ‘Caro,’ which is the masculine form of ‘Dear’ in Italian. He quipped, “Caro in Spanish = expensive. Me likey!” to which I added that caro also means expensive in Italian, but either way –relationships or money– the word describes things that people value.

The latter has been a prime subject, as I discovered yesterday that my debit card was canceled due to fraudulent activity; unfortunately, this also cut off my access to cash. Thankfully, Tony has come to my rescue, as I’ve been unable to get help from Bank of America or Visa; we’ve had many conversations about banking systems, exchange rates, hidden fees, and bureaucracy along the way.

With this in mind, mi chiedo, what creates value in the first place? Ultimately, it’s opinion. Something is deemed valuable if people desire it –and agree– that the thing merits worth. Dollar bills or gold aren’t inherently worth anything –paper scraps and so-called precious metal– it is our prize of those items and what they represent that transforms them into valuables.

Naturally, since opinion governs the concept of worth, the value of things tends to change over time — something I note whenever I withdraw cash to find that it takes increasingly more American dollars to create a single Euro.

Value can change on a whim –relationships wither, stocks fluctuate, and even our self-worth changes over a lifetime– and each individual’s value of what a particular lifestyle is worth ranges wildly. Some are willing to pay extra to live in cosmopolitan cities like New York or Paris while others take on the physical challenges like lugging groceries uphill on foot in order to live in Civita.

When it comes to the design of such places, what is it about them that allows them to endure in a state of desirability? Perhaps after desire comes time. By this, I mean the influences of architecture and urban design at the time a place was created but also the patina they’ve accumulated over time since they were made.

As a species, we like old things; they comfort us with a sense of weight and gravitas, as if proximity to something time-honored somehow increases our own longevity. Buildings become legacy –places that we can hand down to the next generation, proof that we were here, and an extension of our own lives. With endurance as a goal, it makes sense that we value time-tested buildings and cities with proven staying power.

Caché, too, establishes value. We value things that are unique, rare, and impossible to duplicate. We like things with character because we believe they indicate –or enhance– our own. But we also value authenticity, which we often hold synonymous with age.

These elements come together in Civita: the ancient stone gate, the church, the decumanus maximus lined with flowers in terracotta pots, small winding alleys, tufa stone buildings, the legion of resident felines, simple post-and-lintel doorways, secret caves with centuries-old olive presses, lush gardens, wooden doors, and wood-framed windows, Tony’s gate (which was selected for its appropriateness but is not nearly as ancient as it appears), and of course, the people.

There is thoughtful and consistent design from materiality to planning to architectural form throughout Civita –traditions are still followed in restorations done today– and people are willing to pay to restore and retain homes in this most unlikely of locations because of the perceived value of living in a unique and well-designed place that increases enjoyment and tranquility.

Desire + uniqueness + design + time = value.

In a nod to how my relationships would change while I was away, my friend Jay quoted François de la Rochefoucauld just before I left: “Absence diminishes commonplace passions and increases great ones, as the wind extinguishes candles and kindles fire.”

When I consider what Civita meant to me before I arrived, what it means to me today, and what it will mean after I leave, I must also suggest absence as another element of worth.

Now on the verge of assessing the true value of the relationships I left behind –and the ones I’ve made here– I’m also measuring the worth that Civita holds for me and what I’ve gained during the past seven weeks. Somehow, I already know that the value of every day spent here will increase a hundredfold for each one that I’m away.

Of course, the kindled passion that will build between this visit and the next will make that arduous climb well worth it.

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