Sambuca con la mosca

In this month’s issue of Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Living magazine, there’s a short article I consulted on about the resurgence of marble in homes today.

The article says, “every countertop has a story to tell.” The pictures in the report come from a home we completed this year using an extraordinary marble from Italy. I’ll tell you about one of its many stories, one that’s quite special to me.
The clients for this project (repeat clients and charming people), along with an interior designer from Seattle, had a precise vision of the look they wanted in their home. They knew that look was marble, and they knew the impression and feel they wanted it to convey. They looked at distributors locally, regionally, even nationally but just couldn’t “fall in love” with any choices.
We contacted our most trusted Italian supplier and found the perfect marble for them: Statuario Super Extra. When importing stone, it arrives in ocean containers containing about seven “bundles” of rock. Each bundle includes about six slabs of 3cm thickness or about ten slabs of 2cm. They needed nearly an entire bundle for their project. To date, it’s the single most expensive bundle we’ve ever imported in our 31-year history. I’m sure you’ve figured out what Super Extra means now, lol. (Actually, it pertains to the quality.)

These types of marble from the quarries around Carrara, like Statuario and Calacatta, are beautiful and memorable in their own right. But to explain why this marble is special to me, we must rewind about 15 years, when I first met the man whose company, Bonotti Marmi, worked the quarried block these slabs came from. That man is Guglielmo “Bill” Bonotti.
I try to avoid solicitors, but one day I walked through our office just as Bill walked in the door, flying all the way from Europe on the off chance of contacting me. At that point, nobody could say “Joey’s not in at the moment.” His soft spoken greeting of “Buongiorno” won me over anyway.
I’ll spare you the details, but I purchased two containers that morning, not only because the material was impeccable, but because I just liked him. Bill was already marking up his calendar, planning my first ever trip to Italy right then and there, whether I liked it or not. (Rest assured, I liked it.) This was the beginning of what would be more than just a business relationship, as he became a dear friend to both my wife and me over the years.

I learned so much from this elegant man about the Italian stone industry it would make your head explode. Why things are the way they are, why this is done that way, secrets old world stone masters carry for generations. It was like earning an honorary doctorate in deep stone knowledge from Harvard, with the most enjoyable professor you can imagine.
As the years passed, we racked up countless trips to Italy. Containers would often arrive with Bill’s “contraband” hidden between the bundles. A case of Vernaccia or Chianti, giant bottles of the best olive oil hand-pressed by “his guy,” or CDs of classic Italian singers. Authentic panettone arrived by FedEx just in time for Christmas.
Each September, we attended the stone trade show in Verona. Bonotti Marmi is a prominent supplier to large distributors all over the world. Evenings during that time, companies typically take their best clients out for dinner in the historic old town. For reasons I may never understand, Bill always kept one night open, if not two, for Sheri and I. I asked him about this on more than one occasion, being that we had to be one of his most minor clients and why he wasn’t paying attention to his larger accounts. He would just simply say he preferred our company. Friendship and family always came first with Bill. Business was a distant second.
He often ended the evening drinking Sambuca with three espresso beans floating in it. One night back in Carrara, he ordered one for me as well. He said, “do you know why there are three beans?” I had no idea there was even any significance to it.
“Sometimes there are seven, representing the seven hills of Rome. But we’re not Romans. We are in Toscana. Here they mean Health, Happiness, and Prosperity. Sambuca con la mosca it’s called. Sambuca with the fly.” With that, he raised his glass “Salute amico mio.”
Sadly, il Signor Bonotti passed away from cancer about two years ago.

I definitely would have shown him photos of this home. He would have approved, knowing how beautifully his stone was used. I know he would have really liked the fireplace. He seemed to enjoy those strong contemporary lines, and held Statuario marble in high regard as “Iconically Italian.” We visited the Statuario quarry together and several others around Carrara over many years. Fine art was a passion for us both, and we enjoyed spending time in Pietrasanta, among the local artists and sculptors, having lunch at Il Gatto Nero or just nursing a Campari in Piazza Duomo. I will forever keep my gentle Italian mentor in my fondest memories.

I shared a bit about Bill, his factory, employees, and the Statuario quarry with our clients, leaving them their own bottle of Sambuca and bag of beans after the project. Now they can toast to their own Health, Happiness, and Prosperity and hopefully see more than just a beautiful countertop, but a story within the stone.

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