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……

 

The Olive Harvest

You would have thought that after two months of vendemmia (grape harvest) that the work would be coming to an end by now. It’s far from true!

Towards the end of October, in this area of the Veneto, all the local farmers stand on the side of the road, peering up into an olive tree. Yep, it’s olive oil season!


Hallowe’en is not a particularly big thing in Italy. You see orange and black decorations in the seasonal section of the big supermarkets and if you’re lucky you’ll come across a witch’s hat or a large pumpkin, but that’s about it.

Last night, we went to a friend’s house for a low-key dinner. I did some ghoulish make-up and the host put a pumpkin’s face on the cake but nobody dressed up.

Today, the 1st November is a bank/public holiday in Italy. It’s Ognisanti / All Saints’ Day. In reality, it just means that the shops have reduced opening hours and some restaurants will be shuttered up for the day, but for us, it’s business as usual.

Alessandro and his family have around 30 olive trees acting as borders to their vineyards. An olive tree is “un olivo” in Italian, or “una olivara” in my local dialect. “Una oliva” – feminine – is an olive. Anyway, for us, it’s a very small, sideline operation – some years, we don’t even bother picking the olives; this year, the crop is more abundant so it’s all hands on deck!

 


So how do you pick olives, you might be wondering?

Necessary precautions to stop the olives from rolling down the hill…

You wrap a large net around the trunk of the olive tree, much like how a Frenchman traditionally tucks his napkin around his neck. If you’re on a slope (when aren’t you?) secure the netting to make sure that the olives won’t roll off down the hill.

One person then climbs up the tree and lops off some branches while the other people stay on the ground and brush off the olives from each fallen branch using a wide tooth comb.

I’ve seen and heard of other people using an electric tool which shakes the tree and causes the olives to fall off of their own accord. I suggest that it might be less labour-intensive but Alessandro raises and eyebrow and simply shrugs, “we’d need a bigger net.”

Spot Alessandro!

The olives fall into the netting and when the tree has been more or less relieved of its crop, we jiggle the netting until all the olives are in one selected corner. From there, they’ll be put into plastic boxes (which, when full, weighs about 12-13 kg) and brought home.

A decent yield.

On average, this year, we’re getting 2 boxes of olives from each tree. It’s not much for such painstakingly tedious work but it’s pleasant being outside in the sunshine and knowing that you’ll be tasting the fruits of this labour shortly enough.

As I’m writing this, the brothers are outside gradually feeding the olives into a machine which removes any left-over leaves and cleans off some of the dust. Tomorrow morning, we take the olives down to the frantoia to be pressed and made into oil.

What Would Be Your Dream Kitchen?

The boy and I got hit with a stomach bug this weekend.  After just a half-day in the vineyards, we came home and he camped out on the sofa because it was closer to the bathroom whilst I battled a fever from underneath the duvet. Whoever said romance is dead!

By the next day, some paracetamol had helped the fever and the aches but it was still too early to venture out. It’s at times like these that I miss having a TV; to be curled up on the sofa watching a film or some silly television would be perfect. I’ve been TV-free for the best part of 6 years. I occasionally miss BBC Breakfast, but fortunately hearing the clipped accents on BBC World Service sees off any homesickness.

As it is, the boy pulls out his magazine of choice “Tractor People” and I set about googling “kitchen design.”

At the beginning of the building works, I had a pretty clear idea of how I wanted the kitchen to be and what sort of appliances, finishes and features it should have. As time goes on, that dream is slipping away. I seem unable to convey those desires in a way that the kitchen designer in front of me is able to transform them successfully. This isn’t necessarily because of any limited language skills, more that these people have selected suppliers that they work with and I haven’t yet found the right person who can source the right kind of elements for me.

As I was browsing online, to find images to show the designers, it became very clear what I don’t want!

flaunter-com-237602

Ok, yes, the above photo is beautiful (in its way) but as a room in my house, it would drive me mental. It’s too quaint and too busy. I love some of the old pieces of furniture and want to use some of those touches but give me something more sleek….

liliane-limpens-17371

This however, is totally unfeasible. As a living space, it’s very elegant but if I’m being realistic, after a couple of months and once everything has been unpacked, the room is actually going to look like this. 🙂

eaters-collective-109606

How is it so difficult to have something discreet and functional yet also pretty… a little bit like this?

simple-322427

On a more serious note, I’m waiting to hear back from a couple of new people. Let’s see if either of them are able to capture my idea and turn it into something that we can use. Watch this space.

What kind of living space would you love to call home?

The Return of the Goat

“What do you mean, the old men of the village don’t come over to take a look at a building site in the UK?” asked my Italian friend, bewildered.

I was asking why, over the last month or so, a stream of people have walked, driven and peered over at our ongoing – and increasing – collection of bricks and dust. It would appear that putting up a crane is the equivalent of sending out a round of party invitations.

“But you’ve put up a wall?” this grey-haired, heavily-accented villager exclaimed disappointedly, having stepped across the threshold into what will become our new home. “Before it was all open-plan: entrance, kitchen, living room, all together…”

I briefly run him through the plans: this downstairs area will become a hidden laundry room, wine cellar and additional food storage space. I conveniently leave out the fact that the architect had initially wanted to put in another dividing wall to make this space even more fragmented. Continue reading “The Return of the Goat”

Renovating A House In Italy Is Nothing Like “Under The Tuscan Sun”

Picture an old house, on a hill, in the lush Italian countryside, completely surrounded by vineyards. Sounds idyllic, right?

Especially if you’ve seen or read “Under The Tuscan Sun” you’ll already have indulged yourself in a fantasy of doing up a house in Italy. Read this superb article in The New Yorker if you’re under any doubt of the power of this perceived paradise.

My move to Italy was nothing like that. I arrived, knowing only that a winemaker would be putting me up for a few months. I knew nobody else in the area but when you are working harvest, you don’t have time to be bored! I had thrown caution to the wind and let fate decide my future.

As it happens, the order in which things worked out for me is very different from that commonly portrayed in the films: only once I was here, did I meet the dream man (meaning that I chose to stay in Italy.) Then the puppy arrived (she found us) and that prompted me to settle down but she now rewards me daily with her company and then the house, which is our current project and the point of today’s blog post.

For the sake of keeping Under The Tuscan Sun film within two hours, no mention was made of the hurdles of legislation that you’re going to have to jump through when renovating a house in Italy.


Let’s do a quick quiz to see how realistic you are!

So imagine that you are the new owner of this dream-house. Because it is actually close to falling down, you have to do some renovation works on it. You have an architect, engineer and a trusted workforce. However, the local comune has decided that this old house has “historical value” and therefore must be protected.

Question 1: What can or can’t you do with this house?

a. Because the house is protected, there’s nothing much more you can do than a few cosmetic touch-ups. It’s protected after all.

b. You can restore the existing structure and build a relatively large extension for your guests once they come to stay in the finished house.

c. Demolish the building completely but you have to build it again to the exact, same, precise dimensions.


Question 2: There are tons of building regulations in Italy and an expert from the comune will come to check that the works have followed the proposal to the last square centimeter. What changes or exceptions are allowed?

a. You can use these renovation works to put a door where there was previously a window and vice versa…

b. Ok, you don’t want a really large extension… but you would like to put in another couple of rooms, which would correspond to an increase of roughly 25% in terms of surface area.

c. When rebuilding your protected-but-demolished house, you can raise the height of the roof a certain amount but only to put in earthquake protection measures and isolation panels.


Question 3: In Under The Tuscan Sun, Frances Meyer found a wonderful, original fresco in her villa. In this old country house, what did we find?

a. Authentic mosaic flooring.

b. Absolutely nothing exciting.

c. A dead goat’s skull.


ANSWERS: In all three questions, the answer is the final option. You can demolish an old house as long as it is rebuilt to spec; we’ve only been able to raise the roof for the cement anti-earthquake structure and, yes, we found a goat’s skull!!


Previous posts about this renovation: “Building a Life” and “Shaky Foundations.

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.