Chapter 29: Caitlin – December 1977

Caitlin and Rebecca left together for the airport in Rome, Rebecca to return to London and Caitlin to fly to Venice.  It was two days before her meeting with Mario Ferraro but she had decided that a few days in Venice would be useful and pleasant.  She thought that she would feel lonely in the big bare apartment in Rome once Rebecca had left.  The girls said tearful farewells at the airport, Rebecca departing first for home.  She was determined to forget Dylan and to throw herself into the plans for the new shop and tried to reassure a concerned Caitlin that this is what she would do.

‘I’ll be at the Danieli until Saturday then back in London.  Let’s meet up on Sunday.’  Caitlin hugged Rebecca close, ‘I’ll be thinking about you.  Call me at the hotel if you need me’Caitlin smiled encouragingly, ‘you can tell me all the progress on the shop on Sunday.  I can’t wait to have a Palmerstone on my doorstep.’

‘Thank you Caiti, thank you for everything, for being my friend in need.’  Rebecca tried hard to choke back the tears as her voice broke with emotion.  ‘Bye, see you on Sunday’ she flung over her shoulder as she disappeared through emigration.

Caitlin had called and reserved a suite overlooking the lagoon at the Danieli.  She planned to spend the next day visiting her Grandparent’s palazzo to assess the extent of their possessions so that she could make an informed decision on what furniture she may sell with the property.  She was finding the whole process quite difficult.  She realised now as an adult that she had not spent enough time with her grandparents to get to know them.  To poke through their lives and possessions as the new owner and to make the decision to get rid of much of the stuff that they had collected together she found to be a huge responsibility.  She was also aware that she didn’t really have that much choice either, to own three Italian properties was just not feasible for a young woman on her own who had elected to settle in London.

Caitlin checked into the Danieli in the mid afternoon.  Arriving by water taxi she was impressed with the scale of the building in its magnificent setting right on the lagoon.  Her first impression was of intricate carved wooden doors and panelling, lofty ceilings broken by arches supported aloft pink marble columns, huge Marano glass chandeliers and richly carpeted steps ascending to a minstrel gallery.  She quickly booked in and climbed the ornate stairs up to her suite, her mind firmly set on a long soak in the bath.  Once she had accomplished this and attired in a hotel bathrobe Caitlin put in a call to Penny.  With a promise on both sides to speak again soon and love sent on Caitlin’s side for a safe and speedy birth the two friends said their goodbyes.  Caitlin decided on room service being tired and overloaded with site seeing in Rome, Venice would keep until the morrow.

The next morning Caitlin made a pilgrimage to her grandparents’ Palazzo.  This time she approached via the Grand Canal in a water taxi.  She could feel the chill from the water as she entered the building from the canal.  Clutching the heavy and ornate ring of keys she had been given with the exchange of deeds Caitlin climbed the steep steps up to the main entrance and let herself in.  The once grand Palazzo felt faded and forlorn in the damp winter morning.  The magnificent family home had been closed and uninhabited now for six months or so Caitlin reflected.  She could smell damp in the air and wondered if any of the furniture and furnishings would be mildewed.  She felt an overwhelming sense of sadness for her grandparents.  Life was so transient.  Everything that had been handed down from generation to generation, all that they had bought together, the plans they had made, the refurbishments discussed and executed, all left to slowly rot.  Caitlin gave herself a mental shake for being so morbid.  Her grandfather and grandmother would remain in her heart, possessions were not important in the grand scheme of things.

Caitlin busied herself going from room to room taking stock of what were now her possessions.  She mentally selected a few small items of furniture including an adorable mantel clock and a collection of decorative enamelled boxes that her grandmother had collected. Almost all of the furniture was far too grand for her London house and also not really to her taste.  If she could sell pieces with the property it would be for the best and would add to the ambience of the Palazzo if it were to become a hotel.  Better that the place was refurbished and maintained, as it needed to be than to be left empty for most of the time.  She wondered briefly what Mario Ferraro would be expecting to see and if the Palazzo would suit his requirements.  She doubted whether there were many potential buyers for such a large property with a hefty contingent liability of the maintenance.

She spent a long time looking through old family photographs all heavily framed in silver placed around the reception rooms on a grand piano and various console tables of great antiquity.  There were several photographs of her mother Sofia, some with herself as a baby, small child and teenager.  There was one beautiful snapshot of dining together in a Sorrento restaurant, which must have been taken by a waiter.  All four of them smiling to camera and raising glasses of wine in a toast.  What a happy time she had enjoyed the last summer that her mother had been alive. Caitlin stifled the tears that sprang to her eyes.  She would definitely keep all of these as mementoes.

Much of the furniture she now saw was in all probability quite valuable.  She would need to get an expert from Sotheby or Christies to take a look at it before she made any hasty decisions.  Her father had warned her that Mario Ferraro would strike a hard bargain if he got the opportunity.  She should be prepared to counter propose and to seek to get the maximum return from what was after all her grandparent’s treasured possessions.  Caitlin finished her tour of the Palazzo and decided to go back to the hotel for a late snack lunch and then go out and see some of the sights.  St Mark’s Square at least she should visit.  She had her inventory of things that she wanted to keep and also a list of items that may be valuable.  She would call her father and get from him contact names at the top auction houses, that way she would be treated seriously.

The following morning Caitlin had room service for breakfast.  She had plenty of time to prepare for the meeting with Mario Ferraro and she took the opportunity to dress and do her hair and make-up in an unfussy business like way.  She then took out the notes that she had made for herself after her visit to the Palazzo.  She had called a few agents and spoken to her father’s contact at Sotheby.   Caitlin now had a clearer idea which pieces should be sold at auction and had lengthened her reservation at the Danieli for a couple more days so that she could meet with Mr Stevenson from the auction house.

Caitlin called New York and had a long conversation with her father the previous afternoon.   He had given some advice on what she should ask for the Palazzo now she had obtained some valuations from local agents.  It sounded like a lot of money to Caitlin but, as her father had iterated, the Palazzo was a uniquely desirable property.  It could rival hotels like the Danieli and Cipriani for location, although smaller in scale.  But that was what Mr Ferraro was after for his boutique hotels.  With her thoughts gathered Caitlin marched down the huge stairway of the Danieli to meet Mario bang on 11.00am as arranged.

She was expecting to see a man of about her father’s age so the gorgeous hunk at the reception desk only earned her passing interest in a quick scan of the lobby seeking the unknown person of Mario Ferraro.  Seeing no one who seemed to fit the bill her gaze flitted back to the hunk at the desk only to find that he was approaching her with a wide smile and his hand held out in greeting.

‘Miss Alexander, Mario Ferraro, I’m pleased to meet you.’  Caitlin took his outstretched hand and returned his greeting,

‘Caitlin, please.’  She tried to keep the handshake and greeting business like while having an overwhelming desire to flirt.  The guy was gorgeous!  Typical Italian colouring with dark well cut hair just longs enough to be fashionable.  His eyes were large and brown framed with dark lashes and straight dark brows above.  A straight nose of just the perfect size and a full but masculine mouth and chiselled jaw line completed the picture.  Caitlin reprimanded herself internally for behaving like a teenager with a crush.  He must get this reaction all the time she surmised.

Caitlin pulled herself together metaphorically in time to hear Mario outlining his agenda for the day.  First stop the Palazzo to view.  Then lunch to discuss the deal, would she prefer the Danieli or maybe she’d like to try somewhere different, Harry’s Bar or maybe the Fortuny restaurant at the Cipriani.  As he was talking he was shepherding Caitlin through the main door of the hotel, hailing a water taxi and giving directions.  Caitlin felt like she had been whipped up into a passing tornado.  Mario was a man with a purpose and a man in a hurry.

The tour of the Palazzo seemed almost perfunctory to Caitlin.  Mario swept through the building scanning each room rapidly and moving quickly on to the next.  Having completed the circuit he paused for a moment in front of a beautiful renaissance console table laden with family photographs.  Picking one up, he appraised it briefly.

‘You look very like your mother except for your colouring which is more like Frank’s.’

‘Yes, I suppose I do.  Thank you’ Caitlin responded, taking the statement as a compliment because her mother had been widely regarded as a society beauty.

‘You’ll be keeping this family stuff?’ he gestured at the photographs and ornaments atop all the surfaces, more as a statement than a question.

‘Of course,’ Caitlin responded, ‘they are all I have left of my mother’s family.’  She wondered as she said this why she was declaring something so personal to a stranger.

‘Lunch then’ said Mario, ‘Where is your preference.’  Caitlin picked the Cipriani, as she hadn’t eaten there for some time.  Harry’s Bar she had done in Rome with Rebecca only a week before.  ‘Good, I like a girl who knows her mind.’  Mario responded steering her through the door on the waterside of the Palazzo where a waiting motor launch had mysteriously arrived for them.  When they arrived at the Cipriani the table was reserved for them.  Caitlin wondered if Mario had second sight or had booked at each of the potential restaurants he offered her.  They were shown to a table next to the large patio windows that afforded sweeping views over the lagoon and the city.  It was breathtakingly beautiful.

The service was impeccable though Caitlin guessed that Mario, like her father, expected and got the best of everything.  Mario sought her preferences then ordered for her in fluent and rapid Italian.  Then sitting back in his chair he looked relaxed for the first time.  Perhaps the look of a languid cat waiting to pounce, Caitlin warned herself.  The food was divinely good.  Mario poured wine for her but drank water himself.  She sipped slowly and decided that one glass would be enough she needed to keep alert.  No mention of the Palazzo was made instead Mario talked revealingly about his family and life in New York.

He was second generation Italian-American.  His grandfather had immigrated to the States back in the twenties with his young wife who was pregnant at the time. They arrived in New York and settled in the Bronx.  His father was born two years later.  There was often ribbing between them, Mario told with a smile, particularly when Italy competed against the USA, his Uncle Giorgio being Italian and his father Maurizio being American.

His Grandparents had established a restaurant soon after their arrival and had been successful within their own community.  Giorgio and Maurizio had bigger ambitions.  Nurtured by the American dream the brothers had hit on the idea of manufacturing icecream like the homemade gelato of their homeland.  Their small venture grew and grew until they had a multi-million dollar business manufacturing and distributing icecream through a network of restaurants and delis and latterly supermarkets.

The two brothers had made the fortunes of the whole family.  Mario and his brother, sister and cousins all benefited from the best education that money could buy.   Mario had attended St Paul’s School in Concorde, New Hampshire.  Then Yale and finally achieved an MBA at Harvard Business School before entering the world of finance on Wall Street.  He had made a lot of money in a short time and now wanted to start a new venture with the proceeds of his success.  This was where the Palazzo came into the picture.

‘Caitlin, I do apologise.  I’ve rattled on about myself for the whole meal.  You must think me very rude.’  He smiled widely at Caitlin, holding her eyes with his, ‘you see I already know a lot about you.  I know that you’re mother was Italian, and that she died tragically.’  He paused, smiling sympathetically, ‘I understand a bit of what you must have felt, and your loss.  My mother too died when I was a teenager.  She had cancer and it was a slow and gruelling process.’  Caitlin smiled and touched his arm in empathy,

‘It’s difficult to bear whichever way it happens,’ she sympathised, ‘I’m really sorry.’

‘Thank you.’ Responded Mario with sincerity, ‘Of course’ he continued changing the mood, ‘I also know from Frank that you went to school in the UK and then went on to the Sorbonne where you didn’t do a lick of work!’

‘Papa said that!’ Caitlin responded in mock dismay. ‘I never thought that he knew.’

‘Then you inherited your mother’s estate and then the estate of your grandparents, so I understand you are quite a catch!’  Caitlin knew that he was teasing her now.  With pretended severity she said,

‘Well I dare say I am, but I would hope for myself not for my possessions.’  Mario laughed aloud at the defiant shake of her blonde curls as she spoke.  He was enchanted.

‘Shall we order coffee and get down to business?’  Mario said, changing his pace back to brisk and business like.  Caitlin agreed to the suggestion and made herself disengage her mind from how attractive she was finding her lunch partner.

Mario ran through an appraisal of the Palazzo and it’s suitability for his proposed boutique hotel and the associated costs he would have to bear.  He mentioned pieces of furniture that he would like to acquire along with the building, all with picture perfect clarity.  Caitlin was astounded by his prodigious memory.  Finally Mario named his offer.  It was so close to the figure that she had discussed with her father that she again wondered if he was psychic.  Caitlin knew that she should bargain for a better price but she thought the offer was fair and decided immediately to accept.  As they shook hands on the deal Caitlin felt a frisson of desire that she’d not experienced for some time.  He really was very attractive.

‘Great.  It’s good to do business with a girl who knows her mind’ he reiterated, ‘my lawyer will contact yours.  Do you use an American or British firm?’  Caitlin explained that their British firm of lawyers had handled the transfer of the estate to her from her grandfather and would be best placed to complete the deal on her behalf.  Mario had a trace of regret in his voice as he announced,

‘Well I have a flight to catch, so I’m off to the airport now.  My launch will drop you at the Danieli or anywhere else you have a mind to go.’  He stood and held Caitlin’s chair for her to stand, and shook her hand firmly.

‘Thank you Miss Alexander I’ll speak to you when we complete.’  Caitlin felt deflated with disappointment as he strode out of the Cipriani without a backward glance for her.

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