Onwards And Upwards: The Roof And The Walls

IMG_20180327_152045_667.jpgWe’re moving forward with the house renovation!

It’s all getting rather exciting. As of today, the roof is now finished – new layer of insulation underneath, new tiles, a couple more windows to bring in more light, and the solar panels…. It’s taken a while but it’s finished and finally the builders are starting to take some of the scaffolding down.

Next up is the insulation around the walls of the house – called “cappotto” in Italian, the same word you would use for a “coat.” We should have started this quite a while back, but because the panels are held on with glue (at least provisionally) we couldn’t do it when there was a risk of frost.

Basically this insulation consists of putting 10cm-thick insulating panels all the way around the house. These are being glued on for now but later, will be drilled into the brickwork. On top of this, we’ll put a finishing coat and then the paint of our choice.

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It’s kind of weird to think of a house have a insulating coat on top of the bricks but it’s apparently widely recommended in these parts to save energy.

In the photo below, which hasn’t had its cladding installed yet, do you see how the door frame is standing completely unattached from the rest of the house?

Yep, well when they get round it to that part of the house, that gap will be completely filled in!

We also need to put some insulation on the left-hand-side wall, because even though it’s an internal wall, it borders onto the wine cellar and therefore needs something more substantial…. apparently. I’m still learning!

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“How’s The House Coming Along?”

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“Slowly but surely,” is the answer.

At the beginning stages of a house renovation, it’s completely linear. Just bricks and mortar; walls and a roof. There’s nothing else. It becomes frustrating because you can’t say “well, these guys for X have been held up on another project so let’s do Y, while we’re waiting…”

Now we’re at a stage where the house is essentially built so we can start working on different elements simultaneously. It’s more satisfying, even if it does make you a little bit more crazy trying to keep all the plates spinning.

The electricians cannot be relied upon to do anything correctly by themselves.

Underneath is a photo of our bathroom-to-be. WC and bidet on the right, washbasin on the left by the window. We’ll have a small electric plug (the empty socket on the far left) and a light above the mirror (the tube sticking out of the wall.)

Now if you’re not familiar with the mechanics of wiring a house (I wasn’t until a couple of months ago….) you may not know that there’s a whole spider’s web of tubes and cables which run under the floorboards. They all have to be connected up and obviously linked to the mains entrance point. In this case, a tube is supposed to run along the floor to the socket and then up from the socket to the light.

It turns out though, that they’d put in the tube from the socket to the light but had forgotten to put in the tube which goes from the socket to the mains. We had a suspicion that they’d forgotten, so even though the walls had already been plastered and the floor was already filled in, we called them back and they were able to rectify it. (Hence why the passageway along the floor and up the wall is a different colour.) Imagine if we hadn’t spotted their error!

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Meanwhile, the plumber has started laying down giant blocks of Lego, which apparently will become the underfloor heating. I had no idea that’s what underfloor heating looked like!

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There was also a pretty funny moment when my kitchen supplier came over to check the last of the details before putting in the order. We had our technical drawing out and were measuring the distances for each of the sockets, the extraction fan and the cupboards now that the walls have been plastered to make sure it will all eventually fit.  We were going through the electric sockets step by step, counting, “1, the plug socket… 2, for the induction…. 3, another plug socket…. and 4, where’s 4??”

It turns out that the team who did the plastering inside forgot about the fourth and most essential socket. It’s clearly much easier for them to plaster over the entire wall, rather than work around the fiddly little electric sockets…. but it’s also their job to remember how many there were in the first place!

Fortunately, she and I borrowed a hammer from some of the other builders and, through trial and error, figured out where that hidden socket was located. Phew!

Lesson learnt: you really do have to check and double-check the builders’ work. Had we not, we wouldn’t have had any electricity in the bathroom nor any going to the fridge and oven!

“The best-laid plans of mice and men oft go astray”

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Just one quick look at the calendar and you know this week is going to be amazing. I mean, it’s not even once every hundred years that Valentine’s Day and Pancake Day/Mardi Gras land on the very same day.

I could have gone full out on the heart-shaped American style pancakes with maple syrup and caramelised bananas…. I could also have made kitschy, French crepes with chocolate sauce and strawberries (a bit like in the photo below.)

Unfortunately, however, a work meeting meant that we had to move any romantic plans that we might have had scheduled for the 14th and then the flu bug wiped us out for the rest of the week. If it was at all ambiguous, let it be known that the words “tesoro, where’s the thermometer?” coming from behind a mountain of tissues, and spoken by someone with puffy eyes whose just recovered from a sneezing fit, are not in any way erotic.

Even the best made plans can come to naught…..

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We spent a few days shuffling back and forth between the bedroom and the sofa but today, we’re feeling better. My temperature is still stupidly low at 35 degrees C but that’s become my new normal. (Any ideas why my body temperature is so low, please share…) Still, I had a bit more energy this morning and we had some milk that was about to go off so I fulfilled my initial idea and made crepes. Nothing fancy and certainly nothing that would have its place in a Mills and Boon novel… just quickly whipped up crepes with a simple lemon juice and sugar topping. Lesson learnt: sometimes spontaneity is the best!

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In the afternoon we took the car and the dog to explore a nearby town called Valdagno. It’s the town that gives its name to the valley so I was expecting something of a hub with a bustling main square. I got that one wrong. Besides one determined jogger, there was absolutely no one out. Admittedly the weather didn’t help much – a constant drizzle that never quite allowed you to decide conclusively if an umbrella is essential or excessive. We walked through the pedestrianised centre but being Sunday afternoon, nothing much was open. The one interesting find was stumbling across a small museum in a park, dedicated to all the different rocks or layers of them that had been found locally.

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I’m supposed to be going to a wine tasting tomorrow. If you didn’t know, my day job mainly consists of writing about wine, talking about agriculture and tasting as much grape juice as I can get my hands on. The only problem is that with a blocked nose and a raspy throat, tasting wine and talking to producers is next to impossible. I might, errr, “stop off” to browse the winter sales instead.

How Is It February Already?

It’s now February. February! How did that happen? We’re already a good chunk into what I still think of as the new year. I think it’s because I am starting to feel increasingly settled here in Italy, the days are going faster, the evenings are getting longer but I sometimes feel that I let days slip by without accomplishing anything.

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Carnevale gets underway in Venice today.

I am ever more impatient for the house to be ready. It probably sounds pretty stupid but I can’t wait to put up bookshelves and to unpack my boxes. I’ve had my stuff in boxes now since July 2016 and I’m itching to be able to unpack. There are so many books and kitchenware – plates, serving dishes, glasses and so much more – that I haven’t seen in nearly two years. Another thing, I can’t wait to have a functional guest-room and be able to have friends from far away come and stay.

I shouldn’t get my hopes up too much. Everything is taking far longer than expected. The geometra has a way of keeping the whole project in limbo. Just when you think, “ok, so the windows have been cleaned up and ready to be put back in,” he comes up with a new hurdle: we need more insulation. The builders therefore had to come back, chip away the bottom brick under each window and install an extra layer of insulation. That’s finally finished and he decides that we need insulation on the sides too. At this point, the window people think he’s taking the piss (to use a good English expression) so call a general meeting (architect, builders, plasterers, the engineer, and us.) Some strong language is bandied around from all sides and the window people win out: no additional insulation, it’s decided. The plasterers are happy with this decision too because they’ll be able to press on more quickly.

Meanwhile though, it turns out that the plumber, whose starring role in this ongoing theatrical performance is about to resume with the installation of the hot water system, hasn’t ordered any of the pieces yet! Another delay, jeez!

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Because it’s so easy to let the days slip by, I’m setting myself targets: one post on this blog per week and likewise on the wine blog (this one.) Walk with the dog for at least an hour every day and don’t get lazy just because it’s raining. I need to be better at updating the Burnt Cream Facebook page, but quite honestly, I remain unconvinced about the purpose of social media, especially since the algorithms on Facebook and Instagram have become so biased. I should, though, make the most of my incredible surroundings and take every opportunity to go to local cities like Verona and Venice, even if it’s only for the day.

My work (yeah, that thing that pays the bills….) is going from strength to strength. I can’t believe that I’ve been freelancing for very nearly four years now. Even though it hasn’t always been easy, I don’t regret the decision to leave the traditional office environment one bit. The freedom to work on what I want to be working on is the most important thing. Speaking of which, I’m excited to have developed a new writing project, one that will take me at least a year to complete but that promises to be hugely rewarding. Watch this space!

Pipes and Pythagorus

The house renovations are moving ahead. Admittedly not as quickly as we had planned, but you can now finally see that progress is starting to being made.  Today the electricians finished laying down the tubes for our lighting, the burglar alarm, the solar panels and the different power sockets. For his part, the plumber has installed pipes leading to and from the two bathrooms and kitchen. Now the builders need to come back and lay the first layer of insulation and flooring.

We had thought it would take a maximum of one month, maybe six weeks, to reach this stage. We’re actually now a full three months later.

A Spaghetti Junction of tubes and pipes

Meanwhile, the bathroom people came yesterday to double-check their measurements. This is absolutely essential because if there’s anything I’ve learnt so far, it’s not to take anything for granted. Check, double-check and triple-check everything.

I’ve already written about the old goat house and how we’ve had to rebuild our new home exactly to the same specifications as the old one. (Did you miss it? Click here.) What I haven’t mentioned is that our house is actually made up of the old, historically-protected goat house and also a part of a more recent construction. I hadn’t talked about this other part of the house because it required far less structural work – just some new interior walls and changing of the doors and windows. It was much easier because it had already been rebuilt in the late 1980s.

Rebuilt. It’s a word that now brings fear. Because this 1980s house was rebuilt exactly to the specifications of the previous house, it is completely squiffy. The only corners which are actually at right angles are the walls that we’ve had the builders put up this summer.

As a result, I asked them to check the angles in the bathroom.

I had expected them to have a L shaped thingamabob. You know, a tool that tells you straight away if you’ve got 90 degrees. But no, the man wields his tape measure once again along one of the walls. He makes a little marking. He goes to the other wall and measures that. Nooooooooo, I think to myself as silently as possible…… I’m about to witness the first time I’ve ever seen a real life use for Pythagorus’ theorum!

“In mathematics, the Pythagorean theorem, also known as Pythagoras’s theorem, is a fundamental relation in Euclidean geometry among the three sides of a right triangle. It states that the square of the hypotenuse (the side opposite the right angle) is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides.” (Wikipedia)

I take a breath. This is 2000 year old mathematics put into practice in modern-day Italy! Whatever next……

 

On Shaky Foundations?

You may remember from my post ten days ago (Building A Life) that building works have started recently on the house next-door.

Consequently, my daily routine has now been set to a soundtrack of drilling, banging and grinding of heavy machinery. It starts at 7am and plays on loop until 5pm, with just one hour of respite.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the sun has recently revved into gear and it’s now blasting us with temperatures which reach 30 degrees (86 Fahrenheit) by lunchtime. Have you ever been in a sauna while thrash metal music is playing? It’s not pleasant, let me tell you.

In these sultry conditions, the English idea of pudding is just far too much. Instead, the end of a lunch is signaled by a coffee (espresso, of course) and a tablespoon of ice cream. This is definitely something I could get used to.

Harder, however, is the daily decision of what to wear. My loose linen trousers are already too heavy for the midday heat. I really need to make an appointment to be able to bare my legs in public.

Another daily challenge is our Internet connection. It has become so slow that Spotify can’t even stream my playlists anymore. I’ve resorted to listening to CDs from the early Naughties in order to drown out the builders.

It’s not even just our builders. It turns out that the owners of the house across the way have been inspired by our works to finish their own. In true Italian style, their house was completely renovated not so long ago but came to an abrupt halt. Word at the local café says that the two couples who wanted to live together ran out of money and started arguing. (Before you raise an eyebrow, this seems to be a relatively common living arrangement here in Italy…) So just in terms of heavy machinery in my immediate vicinity, there are four diggers, one roller and countless trucks…

This makes my situation all the more precarious because the conclusion of the hole in the wall (see previous post) and the incessant digging of next-door’s foundations has revealed that the house that I’m currently living in and working from has been built without any foundations! It’s just sitting upon a large slab of hard volcanic rock! Not entirely reassuring….. but then again, everything in Italy is somewhat of a gamble!

 

Building a Life In Italy

It’s never a good sign when someone wakes you from your postprandial siesta with a knock at the door and a “permesso?”

On this occasion, standing on our stoop were next-door’s builders.

They have just started work on the house adjacent to where I live with The Boy and Super Dog.

If ever there’s been a test of my prowess in the local dialect, this is it.

Buongiorno signora, senti, gursay problem con wall, bedroom, blahbla…”

The words for hammer (martello) and complete disaster (macello) sound very similar in Italian. Impeded by my slumber, I hold out a hope that they have just popped over to ask to borrow something from our utility cupboard.

The man standing next to this wizened, dust-covered, bearer of bad news shrugs indifferently.

If you’ve seen the film “Under The Tuscan Sun” – or had any experience with builders in Italy – you wouldn’t be at all surprised that on the very first day of the building works, there was an unexpected surprise. In this case, the fact that they had come right through the wall and into our bedroom!

With another couple more shrugs and the beyond-believable excuse “but we thought there were two walls….” they left to go and start hammering on another section of wall.

An architect, an engineer and another opinionated old man with a cigarette always hanging out of his mouth will come over in the morning to reassess the situation.