The other day as I begrudgingly counted out my last few spare euros to the outstretched hand of my builder, he gratefully exclaimed I am off to Sicilia now on holiday how about you. Well it is mid August and in Italy everything stops for a fortnight. Who can blame them it is intolerably hot and quite honestly at the moment the thought of a couple of weeks by the beach is very appealing. However I looked at him rather desolately and answered
how can I ?
I gave all my money to the builder —- you.
He smiled smugly , he has this very irritating smirk which at first we mistook for an air of superiority. He looked about the room where we were standing at the new swanky wooden Farmhouse kitchen with all the mod cons, opened his arms out wide gesticulating in his Italian Sicilian way
“but you have all this”
And Yes I do, but it hasn’t come easy in fact two years, nine months and ten days to be absolutely exact of very hard work, which took our tolerance level to almost breaking point. I remember standing looking hopelessly at the house, actually apologising to the old place that it was in for a long wait to be returned to a handsome proud building with every luxury our imagination could muster. Give me a garden and I can tell you how it will look in five years time but regarding the house I can’t get past the front door. But I never gave up and neither did my forever hopeful husband he never seemed to see all the mess, rubble, the money problems and pretty chronic living conditions, he could only see the winning post and as he always says hold on to my shirt tails we are going up, what other alternative did I have but to hold on tight. So I did and what an achievement here we are today with over half the house renovated but most importantly with my new complete sparkling kitchen.
The room we are sitting in was the stable it had housed beasts I suspect oxen but I am sure there had to be pigs involved as the smell was disgusting.
It had two metal doors one to lead outside to the cortile the other opening into a dark murky room which had been used as a kitchen area. Between the doors there was a metal framed window its glass thickly encrusted with years of dirt and scratches from the various inhabitants. The floor was covered with old compressed straw and fodder beneath which was a concrete base. The walls were plastered and had been painted white many moons ago. They were now a shade of yellow caused by the excrement of the various beasts. The damp had also risen up around the walls creating a black and green mouldy shadow and causing the plaster to flake. The room did have one redeeming feature a small nook in which there was a little statuette of Mary holding baby Jesus with a lamb at her side.
The adjoining room was dark and had hideous dark brown patterned tiles on the walls.
The wall flanking the staircase, now had a large gaping hole where once had stood a log burning cooker Under the staircase in the corner of the room there was an old stone sink where someone had neatly placed an old pair of shoes, an apron and a pair of dirty yellow rubber gloves.
yipes !! I felt the owner was likely to return at any moment to start her daily chores or maybe to give a watchful eye or a frown of disdain as we set about clearing things and ripping the old place to bits.
The one saving grace was the vaulted ceilings the kitchen was plastered but the stable area was beautiful old bricks. Unfortunately we later discovered that this had to come down as the stable was not designated a habitable room within the house but was sgombero a box /store room. So to change this into living accommodation we had to adhere to building regulations which determine a specified height from floor to ceiling, our ceiling turned out to be 10cm below what was acceptable. we could not dig down any lower as it would take us below the ground level and cause more damp problems. The only way forward was for the Ceiling to go up. once again we were faced with another huge cost that we had not planned for, we offset this cost by labouring ourselves and before the builders arrived on site. We knocked the old ceiling down, OH did this balancing precariously on builders planks placed across the barn above. In fact he removed all the plaster from within and we both set about digging out the cement floors. We were told to go down a metre this was not so easy as the barn floor had layers of concrete shale and bricks. Oh spent days with a pick axe and I had a large shovel we were going nowhere fast. OH had to return to Britain for a business meeting leaving me to continue digging, realising this was impossible i enlisted the help of a friend who brought a guy with a small digger to crack the surface and loosen the rubble below. I had to pay him but it was well worth it, I thought.
When Oh returned he was thrilled and thought I had dug this out myself. We once again set about digging out the soil but nothing is ever what it seems especially in a place as old as this. The spade soon struck another concrete base below, to our horror we discovered that with a hundred years of cattle they had never cleaned the floor just added a new layer of concrete again and again. My goodness it did smell.
We literally filled hundreds of barrows and during last Summer and Autumn all I could hear was the endless squeak of our long suffering wheelbarrow as oh disappeared to the bottom of our garden dumping layers of smelly earth.
During this whole slog we were supervised by our builder Nicola always with the smirk that I mentioned earlier. He would arrive at the house carrying a wooden measure which he would then place into the dug out ground. We would hold our breaths awaiting the judgement he would look up smirk on his face shake his head and say ” di piu, di piu.” Thankfully he did not know a word of English as OH s replies where somewhat strong nearly always questioning his birthright., Finally by the beginning of the summer we had done the job. Just in time for our now resident builders to arrive and start the transformation of the place.