Making Good Choices / Faccendo Buone Scelte

An architect friend and I discussed sustainable design when I was new to the industry. The foundation of my career –which started with real estate development and asset management, followed by general construction– was established around “the deal” and making projects pencil.

The point at which I joined an architecture firm was still a time when we had to make the case for green with clients, and in making the case to them, I needed to learn it for myself. The way Steve described it, there was nothing more expensive, over-the-top –or new– about sustainable design. I remember him saying, “It’s really just about making good choices – and making them early.”

For example, choose to orient a building so as to minimize its heat gain and maximize its alignment with wind patterns for natural ventilation. If that’s not possible, then make choices that mitigate the effects of what you cannot change.

In Civita exists a constrained scenario: limited land, topographic challenges, erosion, and exposure to the elements. Yet, simple design solutions made thousands of years before LEED have produced extremely comfortable outdoor spaces and buildings that don’t require mechanical equipment.

Similarly, Civita’s green walls and pocket gardens not only provide food and tranquil outdoor living rooms, but also lessen the heat island effect. (In America, we excitedly label a mid-rise condo “sustainable” if it has a ivy trellis on one side. Mama mia, as the Italians say.) For buildings that cannot avoid heat gain, such as Il Nuovo, which rises tall to confront the sun, windows are equipped with interior wood shutters that can be closed to block out the heat.

I considered the concept of good choices this morning, laying in bed as the sun rose. Last night I cracked open my windows to let in the cool air, but closed the shutters to block the morning light and heat. A simple choice made early to sidestep an undesired result.

The more I continue to investigate design, the more I find that it’s quite a bit like life.

Yesterday, upon returning home from buying postcards and wine, I heard a man call my name, seemingly from the courtyard below. When I looked out the window and saw no one, I realized that he was actually calling from inside Lo Studio, the other NIAUSI home connected to mine. “Permesso?” he called.

My heart raced; I couldn’t imagine how someone had been able to enter my home. I wondered if I was in danger, realizing later that this was the first time I felt threatened during the entire trip. And it happened inside my house.

As he stepped into the dim light of the interior stairs, I saw that it was Fabrizio, which didn’t make me feel any more safe. “Gabriela…permesso?” he asked, slowly ascending the stairs.

I felt like I was being cornered. With the weight of the wine bottle in my hand, I realized that I had a weapon if I needed it. My heart thudded in my ears as I struggled to ask in Italian how he managed to be inside. Turns out, the door to Lo Studio was never locked after Jonathan left.

He continued slowly toward me up the stairs, suggesting that we have a glass of wine. With the shutters closed to keep out the heat, Il Nuovo was suddenly a very dark, small place.

I moved quickly away through the interior double doors into the kitchen to set my bags down, but Fabrizio followed me saying, “Permesso? …Ach, Gabriela, sei bella, bella,” reaching out to gently touch the side of my face.

It was hard to conjugate words correctly as I skirted past him from the kitchen back out to the vestibule, my hands shaking. In measured words, I said, “Se vuoi il vino, andiamo alla piazza,” holding my hands up to stop him from coming closer. He explained that he couldn’t go to the piazza because his daughter was at Tony’s speaking on Skype with her mother; he pressed me again to share a glass of wine together in my home.

No, non è possibile,” I said, hearing my voice become strained. When he asked why we couldn’t have wine together in my house, I responded with distress, “Non conosco te!” – I don’t know you!

With exasperation, he responded, “Ach! Ecco me…Fabrizio!” and some assurance that he had no intention of hurting me. Finally, I grabbed my purse and keys and moved us both out the front door, locking Il Nuovo behind me, shutters and all.

He asked where I was going; the only good choice I could see was a populated place. “Devo lavorare; vado alla piazza.” My hands trembled minutes later as I sat on the stone bench, writing notes for yesterday’s essay.

Later that evening, as Tony and I enjoyed red wine and our latest creation –an oven-baked potato torte layered with zucchini, ham, cheese, and onion, topped with zucchini flowers– Fabrizio came to make his case in the proper way.

Tony sat at the head of the long table, and Fabrizio, dressed up in black, brought a chair to sit opposite me. I felt like we were actors in an adult version of a TV show where the teenage suitor asks the girl’s father if it’s okay to take her out on a date. For much of the conversation, in between winks whenever I met his eyes, Fabrizio and I spoke through Tony when we didn’t know words in English or Italian, asking him, “Come si dice…?

When Tony left the table, Fabrizio asked if I’d like to join him for dinner at his house with his daughter. At that moment, I began to understand the nature of his desire and his boldness. Like the way Giovanni and Ludivigo pressed Alessandra with their antics, I recognized something similar here. No malintent, per se, but when they really want something, each of them will continue pushing to get it, despite the many times they are told, “No.”

In considering choices, I could also see the constraints in Fabrizio’s world: hands-on management of an agriturismo; divorced father of a young girl who lives most of the year with her mother in Seattle; embedded in small-town life where the residents don’t change and the visitors don’t stay.

But, I had to trust my gut, so I thanked him and politely declined. He left soon after, and this time, I think he understood.

In spite of everything, I felt a little bad for him, but then I reminded myself that a sustainable life is about making good choices early on when you see an opportunity, and discovering ways to lessen the adverse effects of the things you cannot change.

All of my doors are locked now, but I’ve decided to keep the windows open.

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