Ernestina is the wife of Gianni Barbero whose family owned our house before us. They have been good friends and in fact have helped so much without any expectations in return. Right from the beginning we were welcomed into their home and treated to numerous family feasts. I do believe they feel that by making us part of the family they have not given away the house to strangers. All the Barbero family want to give their own opinion on the way we should go forward with the house but they are all in agreement that it should not cost us infinite amounts of money.
Ernestina is the kindest soul always helping people and is very generous in her own way. I really could not have managed to get this far without her patience for my inadequate Italian, her help and encouragement.
Over the last few years there have been so many reasons to celebrate with a meal, Christmas, festivals, birthdays, in fact just get togethers.
On every occasion I feel as if I am in the middle of a Federico Fellini film.
There is a big long table in the dining room covered in a pure white tablecloth.
Papa Piero sits at the top end, Mama Rina to his left, she is the boss and everybody tends to treat her with kid gloves. Her word is law and my poor friend Ernestina runs around endlessly to the beck and call of her mother – in law.
The rest of the family sit along the centre and the other end is always reserved for the guests. There could be up to ten of us.
Ernestina loves animals and there are always at least three small dogs running around our feet, playing and chasing each other around the room.
The food is endless with numerous dishes of antipasti, pasta, meats, risottos, vegetables and salads followed by fruit , icecream or special torta.
On one occasion we had zabaglione made by our host Gianni he added at least half a bottle of Marsala which nearly blew our heads off and sent the old ones to sleep.
My small offering is always a home made cake. Something they rarely have here.
The problem is there is too much food, there are at least ten courses, every course is a delight and if I chose it in a restaurant I would be thrilled by the quality and flavour. However when it is followed by another and another it makes my stomach scream,
All this food is washed down by copious amounts of wine specially selected for each dish some made by themselves and numerous bottles from surrounding cantinas which they feel the need to supply just in case theirs does not come up to standard.
Gianni seems to have great delight in opening these various bottles taking a few sips and shaking his head in disgust and moving on to eventually supping a glass of his own..
To me nothing beats his Barbera especially as I have slaved up on their vineyard harvesting those grapes with my very own hands ( but that is another story.)
These meals can last for hours during which everyone talks loudly to each other and over each other vying to be heard. Every possible conceivable subject is discussed including dare I say politics. It is one of their favourite subjects on which you can usually hear Gianni ‘s final conclusion echoing loudly around the room
There is always a moment of silence when Mama decides to shout “Senti” ( listen) and we do just that to hear the words of wisdom that she has decided to entrust on us all.
The meal is completed with dark sweet coffee and a tipple of each liqueur he keeps proudly on his sideboard .
We retire gracefully and slightly inebriated returning home to nurse our stomachs and to enter in a two day fast.
What do we do next?
Following the unfortunate experience of the roof and to prevent any further mistakes Ernestina once again came to the rescue for which I will be eternally grateful. She found me a local geometra Signor Musso he has a loud deep voice. When we first met I thought that he was shouting at me because he was of the opinion that the louder he spoke the more Italian I would understand. Later I realised my mistake when on visiting the bank located across the road from his office, I heard his booming voice coming from within obviously deafening the poor soul on the receiving end.
This guy was a god send he listened to my somewhat poor Italian aided by Ernestina. He looked at our A4 scribbled design which was not too ambitious. We did not want to change any of the structure just to sympathetically work within the house’s perimeters.
The previous architects had wanted to change positions of the staircases and to build huge extensions.
Why do this ? when the house is already enormous and full of character. The staircases are important to us as they are typical of a Piemontese farmhouse, beautiful stone steps leading to the upper floors.
His brief was to split the renovation into phases the first being to create us some living accommodation. We wanted spacious rooms with lots of light.’
He soon set about measuring and translating our ideas into a working plan. We decided to remove the wall between the old kitchen and the stable to create a large kitchen with a small lounge adjoining. This we felt should be the heart of the house. The rear barn was to be changed into a bathroom, a service area , and a garden room. Upstairs we were to have two bedrooms one en -suite.
He listed the work necessary and dealt with the local commune. He also advised us on what work we could feasibly undertake ourselves. Within a couple of weeks or so we had a preventivo (a list of work) and all we needed was the builders.
How hard could that be!!!