20 August 2010

Tradespeople everywhere!

Since commiting to our kitchen, we've been busy trying to get the necessary connections into the space ready for its arrival at the end of September.

There were already hot and cold water connections, waste connections and electrical outlets but they needed to be redirected into the middle of the room where the island would be. We also needed a gas connection. All of this work meant that we needed a plumber/gas fitter and an electrician.

Add to this a carpenter (because we wanted two new glass doors for the kitchen and dining room entries as well as a new window for the kitchen) and a muratore (because we needed to do some serious stone walling in order to make the space for the window) and you start to get a feel for our penchant for multiple tradespeople. By way of explanation regarding the window, previous owners had bricked in a space in the kitchen wall which was once the original front door. This bricked in wall was a blight on the beauty of the rest of the house because it was orange brick as opposed to grey stone. We'd always dreamed of correcting the brick with stone and restoring the house to its original state but thought that such a drastic change would be impossible or cost prohibitive. Faced with one last chance to make such a change, we agreed to obtain a cost for the work and make a decision based on that.

So all of this required activity and dreamed of activity meant that we needed to engage and coordinate quite a few tradespeople, including a carpenter, a muratore, a plumber and an electrician.

First to visit was the carpenter, who provided us with a quote for the new double glazed window that we hoped could go in the kitchen wall. Bepe is about 40 years old. He is short. Very short. When we first met him, he told us that he was from Calabria. Since then, he has made two external double glazed doors for us. Bepe is an artisan. He is a simply beautiful carpenter. His workshop is an artisan's dream, huge beams of old oak and walnut reach from ground to ceiling against one wall. There are several sets of old lourvres in the process of being restored in another corner. There are countless door frames and windows in various stages of production. There is also a very small dog who caused my heart to suffer irreparable damage when I walked into the workshop and surprised him on our first visit. Bepe said he would coordinate with the muratore regarding the creation of a hole in the wall for the window installation and the re-stoning afterwards.

Next to visit was the muratore. Aldo is about 60 years old. He has a bad back, probably from lugging stones around for all of his 40 years in the trade. He looked at the stone wall like only a muratore can and finally announced that it was possible to insert a window. He asked us if we had spare stones so we took him to our little stockpile of stones that we've dug up from the garden and other places. He was relieved, explaining that stones are very difficult to get these days. He even told us that building the stone shell of our house in current times would cost around EUR 200,000! He provided us with a quote for our relatively minor work (by comparison) and we gave him the go ahead, confident that he and Bepe would coordinate the work.

Next to visit was the plumber. Lilo has helped us since our early traumas with water and sewerage. He is about 35 years old and a marathon runner. Because the phone makes me nervous, I prefer to send Lilo text messages on his mobile. They usually start with 'Ciao Lilo, sono Caterina, abbiamo uno problemo...' which you might think would scare him away. Despite this method of communication being a bit too intimate, he always responds immediately so it appears to work for us. In no time at all, we hear a disturbance in the valley and seconds later see a white van speeding up the driveway and sending gravel all over our paddocks. It screeches to a halt in front of the house and Lilo dives out of it. While he gives us a broad smile and a loud 'Buon Giorno' we appreciate his perfect teeth and curly dark Roman hair. He runs into the kitchen, we explain what needs to be done and he runs back to his van. Through the window we see him stumble on a wobbly rock in our uneven path along the front of the house. We watch as he loses control of his body and flails his arms and legs in an attempt to stay upright. We wait for him to fall, perhaps even slide under his vehicle. We worry that he has spained his ankle. But he dives up, throws his body into his van and emerges seconds later with various pieces of plumbing-related paraphenalia.

A few days later, we heard vehicles making their way up the valley and dashed outside just in time to see Bepe and Aldo pull up outside the house. Bepe had the window and Aldo had the tools. We oohed and aahed over Bepe's beautiful workmanship while Aldo took a jackhammer out of his truck. We offered to act as labourers for Aldo so when it started he didn't waste time asking us to cover the stone pile with a tarp. Apparently, the stones slide off the cement if they are wet which makes wall building difficult. Once the pile was covered, we returned with a wheelbarrow and spade to collect the rubble that Aldo was creating at alarming speed from the old bricked in wall. When he'd finished the demolition, he sent us off to the stone pile to find heaps of flat stones with at least one right angle for him. We dashed off and picked over the pile until we found several stones that roughly met his criteria. Then we wire brushed the dirt and mud off them before presenting them to Aldo. While we waited for his approval or rejection, we felt like new chefs in a Michelin Star restaurant! Before long Aldo had re-stoned the base of the wall up to the window. After Bepe fitted his window, Aldo finished off the wall work with plaster to match the other windows. In the afternoon, when the sun proved too umconfortable for him we rigged up a tarp to provide some shade. We also gave him water and an icecream. He was a perfectionist and his wall was perfect and strong. He had built the external wall first, then the internal wall, then filled the gap between the two walls with cement and brutto (ugly) stones. This meant that the wall was almost three stones thick!

Next to visit was the electrician. Paolo is an enthusiastic 69 year old who is third generation Piemontese. He has an open face that draws you to him. He is a gentle and endlessly happy man who likes to talk. His patience with my Italian is momentous and he goes to great lengths to help me conjugate my verbs. He even introduced me to the Piemontese dialect which I managed to reject immediately. If I get distracted with another 'language' my 'pure' Italian (which is already horrific) will go to pot! Paolo arrived with a helper. The helper did all the work, while Paolo dashed off to buy bits and pieces, have long lunches and even attend his friend's father's funeral! The helper was the slowest worker we have ever seen. He had to run two cables across to the island, drill three holes in a stone wall for new powerpoints, pull cable to and through the holes, move a light switch and wire up the fan for the fireplace. It took him two full days.

I love these visits from tradepeople. Much talking goes on. Much more pointing and postulating goes on. There is a real feel that they want you to be happy with the job and that they want to do the right thing by our old rustic house. It is as if they feel a responsibility towards history. Italians don't preserve history in order to look at it from afar; they live in it.

Having said all that, we do try to minimise our use of tradespeople in order to keep costs down. Managing funds is a constant challenge for us and spending it when we don't have any income is even worse.

So we appreciated the electrician's view of the 'do and pay' relationship between tradesperson and customer.

When we offered to pay him immediately, he smiled and whispered 'Pagi a dopo...pagare e morire' ('pay later...to pay is to die')

What wonderful words of wisdom...but we're wondering exactly HOW MUCH later...our funds planning still needs to be done...

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