This morning over breakfast which we always take at 7.30 before they arrive(the builders) we discussed the situation
” yes there is very little for Pani to do today apart from finishing the tiles and a little bit of cement work, maybe half a day or maybe he won’t come at all?”
As 8.00am struck along the drive came Pani,” Ok” I say “this I can handle builders for a couple of hours, Then well earned tranquility”
within seconds I hear my name echoing through the walls and as I emerge with a big question mark ? I am met by a cheerful smile as he states “we are going to cement the floor of the Cantina today” I look at him shocked “But why now, it can surely wait!! we want our living accomodation finished first, we need to move in” I can hear the anxiety in my voice basically the thought of a few more months in our wretched apartment sent shivers down my spine.
“No” he says forcefully Nicola( the boss) says it must be today.
But why today, there is no hurry, as yet we had not decided on the floor covering. we had thought of coloured cement, granite blocks, even ceramic tiles but it is such a large area that it was going to cost us dearly. I chatter on determined not to be forced into a quick decision. By now Nicola had arrived and they ignore me completely continuing on heedless as to any comments I make.
After several minutes Nicola stops and grinning over to me he says “Don’t you worry Julia I have it all sorted , I have just the thing some beautiful traditional floor tiles, I will bring them later for you to see”
How did this not surprise me ! ,
I took a deep breath and said “I hope they are also a special price”
he says “Oh definitely” as if the decision has already been made.
I shrugged and accepted that there was no stopping them and watched endless deliveries of sand and cement arrive.(
How could we need so much?
Just 6 weeks ago we started phase 3, of the build the renovation of the Cantina. We felt quite a responsibility with this task as it had been the place of work, well treasured and the pride of the farmers living here in the past. Our neighbours still speak fondly of helping out during the grape harvest ( vendemia) Angelina remembers removing her shoes and climbing into the grape vat , tramping and jumping up and down with the family to squash the grapes. They say the wine was so pure and sweet it tasted of strawberries.
With this in mind we wanted to preserve as much as possible of the interior. We wanted to create a beautiful room full of atmosphere for storing wine, sauces and conserves but also for big get togethers and parties for everyones enjoyment.
The cantina is a large area extending across the rear of the house about one and a half metres lower than the rest of the ground floor, it had three entrances one at each end leading to the old porticoes and one in the centre which led off to one of the kitchens.
camera shot of inside the cantina
It was a dark damp hellish place stinking with musty air, in fact when we first bought the place it was pitch black and only the camera could show us the horrors within. The floor was mostly soil in parts and was scattered with various wine making implements. There was a black mould climbing up the walls and some extra residents,mosquitoes and other biting things. There were three large wine casks and a type of drain which connected to the portico above.
It did not get off to a good start with me on our first day of ownership curious to see what we had bought , we entered in through the big wooden worm eaten doors and scrambled about in thd dark using the light on OHs mobile phone. Unfortunately I fell against the wine press knocking a large iron handle (bar) onto my foot breaking my big toe in two places. It was so painful and took over a year to completely heal. As a result I had my first experience of the Italian health service which is exceptionally professional and good all be it a little slow (allow yourself a few hours if you need to visit casualty)
Due to this unfortunate happening I tended to keep well away ,leaving the work to Pani and OH who set about the task enthusiastically thinking it would only take a few days to clear.
The old wine press
The first job was to remove the old wine press not so easy as it was exceedingly heavy. They struggled to release the old nuts and bolts which had rusted from years of damp. It was then that I had a brain wave WD40 (good for everything). One spray and amazingly the bolts slowly came apart. The next problem was how to get it out of the room. They set up ramps to the portico above and worked like ancient Egyptians pushing it up with long poles and rollers.
They then carefully removed the old large wooden cask which still contained rich thick gooey wine and black glue like grape resin.
Large wooden wine barrell
The thick substance stuck to their boots and they slipped and fell clambering about trying to balance. It was walked throughout the house and I spent days trying to scrub it off the floors.
Up to now the clearing seemed comparitively quick and easy but when they reached the second and third cask the problems began.
As sturdy as an airshelter
They were constructed of thick concrete reinforced with Iron grating definitely fit for their purpose but also exceptionally useful as an air raid shelter ,in fact a nuclear bomb could not have penetrated them. Pani tried various cutting tools and ended up using a road drill he worked doggedly day after day, I could feel the building shake and shudder as he set about the task with such verocity.
Everything was shaking
OH made endless trips clearing the way, pushing the wheelbarrow full of concrete rubble up and out through the portico. one morning Pani arrived laughing to tell us that the previous evening when he tried to eat his dinner the room was still shaking and even when he went to bed he could feel the vibrations of the hammer drill in his arms.
They worked on through January ,it was perishingly cold with some days well below freezing, it was certainly a hard task. As the concrete was slowly removed, three beautiful brick arches were revealed within the rear wall, OH even found a very old bottle of wine tucked behind some bricks. He now proudly displays it on our new shelves.
Uncovering the archs OH even found a bottle of ancient wine which now adorns our new shelving.
As Pani finally reached the corner of the third vasche, we all congregated to discuss the next step. As the concrete fell away, we heard a rumble from above , the ceiling started to crack and bricks were falling. The cask had been used to prop up the ceiling above. We had actually foreseen this eventuality and placed acro – props to secure above whilst the work took place . Unfortunately even these could not hold back the weight on the old rotten joists, realising we had a problem we fled for our lives up the ramps and within moments we were all covered in white cement dust.
Looking upto the concave bedroom ceiling
As we emerged from our place of safety we peered up and saw through the haze the concave ceiling of the bedroom above.
Ever since we bought the house we had walked trepidly on the floor of the room above the cantina. There were large cracks running along the length of the wall and the floor itself had dropped by at least 10cm. Luckily we had removed all the original cotto tiles the previous year to resite on the floor of another bedroom. Obviously the repair of the floor was a job in waiting but we never imagined quite this way
Finally the cantina was clear and it was time to rebuild, OH cut the original wooden cask with his chainsaw and Pani set it into the walls using the bricks that we had saved and cleaned throughout the summer of the roof build.
Setting the cask
Nicola would arrive with various objects and they would be placed within the new walls. Pani even found an old tile with a date 1925 and set it close to the arches.
Granite was brought and used for the steps and an edging shelf on the rear wall.
The ceiling was rebuilt with some very heavy old oak beams and much needed iron reinforcement.
We decided that a fireplace was required to enable us to use the room throughout the year. Pani set about the construction which turned out to be a creation, a fabulous job by a craftsman.
The new fireplace
When completed we all celebrated in front of a roaring fire without a bit of back smoke. Much to the amusement of all, as the one he had built for his boss Nicola, had smoke filled the room and choked all and sundry.
So today we are finally laying the floor, I am watching ten tons of concrete being poured into the room via a long pipe. The guys are in their wellies with spades and brushes levelling it all out.
The uncovered arches
As I look on with pride I hope we have created something inspirational and beautful,I do hope that its new keepers in years to come love it like us and dont feel the need to spend weeks trying to remove all that we have done. If they do all I can say is Good Luck to them.