31 October 2009

Reflections on Fire

I've been contemplating our fire today.

When we first moved here, we had a fire in our cosy every night. I used to worry that everything I owned would very quickly smell like wood smoke. I had visions of all my beautiful Zurich clothing going rank in the odour of fire.

Today I realised with a little surprise that the fire makes me happy.

It was a cold morning and, since I don't feel too well (flu), I decided to stay inside and restore a little cupboard. To provide a bit of comfort in my misery, Stu started the fire and soon the little rustico was warm.

While I was sanding and painting, the fire was crackling and whirring away and generally doing what it's designed to do. That is, until I got distracted with my painting and sanding and let it die out...several times...

Sometimes at night the fire emits a strange noise and I worry what's it's up to. The other night there was a terrible whistle from the flue and Stu and I looked at each other. I wondered if an animal had fallen down the flue. Stu wondered if white ants squealed when they were being burned.

Noises aside, one thing is certain: I no longer worry about the smell.

Mind you, I suspect this may be because I myself now smell like the fire...!

29 October 2009

Staying Positive

I am still remaining positive, despite the fact that I can't eat any food.

Yes, you read it correctly. I can't eat.

Let me explain. I told you a few days ago that I baked this week for the first time since I've been here. Well, that joyful experience of baking lead onto bigger and better things and yesterday I found myself making a chicken casserole in my slow cooker. So, I hear you say, what has this got to do with not being able to eat? Well, the casserole smelled so good and I was so famished from my day of weeding that I tucked into it a little too quickly and burnt the roof of my mouth!

So now I can't eat...

But there are other problems too.

Stu can't walk.

Let me explain. He was a little too over zealous constructing his stone wall yesterday. To place the stones properly and securely in the soil and gravel, he decided he would kick them into place. Well, he kicked a little too vigorously and bruised his foot.

And now he can't walk...

However, aside from my food problem and Stu's foot problem, all is well.

Yesterday, before these misfortunes befell us, we were able to achieve great things in the garden. I told you a while ago that I was cleaning out the garage? Well, one of the things in the garage that needed to be removed was an old wine barrel and we had already found a place for it. The Pomegranate tree that had recently died had been growing out of a circle of cemented stones about 1 foot high at the start of our driveway. This circle of stones would be a perfect base for the wine barrel, where it could frame the beginning of our garden.

So we cut down the tree, axed the remaining trunk, made firewood, made kindling, levelled the stones in the circle, poured sand inside the circle and bored holes in the bottom of the barrel. And yesterday, finally, we were ready to 'roll out the barrel' as they say!

So, with great concentration, Stu tilted the barrel until it rested on its centre of balance, then he carefully rolled it out of the garage and across our gravel driveway to its new home. Once we positioned it, we were impressed by the character that it added to the place, so much so that we then did 2 hours of gardening around it to do it justice!

Since we are not (yet?) making wine, we had some initial concerns that our barrel made us look like 'pretender foreigners' in this very farming-authentic region. However, after much soul-searching, we have been able to convince ourselves that (since grappa-making is part of the history of this property) it is acceptable for us to have a barrel in our garden.

And even if I can't eat and Stu can't walk, we can still be proud of our barrel...

28 October 2009


In a couple of days, we will have been here 4 weeks.

During this time, I have learned a lot about myself. Just when I thought I was at an age when I knew everything (at least about myself!), I've discovered that I'm not particularly self-motivated (I spend more time dreaming and imagining what this place could be like than actually doing anything!), I'm stubborn beyond my wildest dreams (I spent a full hour yesterday fighting a particularly prickly weed that left thorns in my gardening gloves!) and I'm most definitely a team member (I work best when Stu and I are working together!)

Also, I get so distracted here...I have trouble sticking to one job because I see other things that I'd like to do. This drives Stu crazy. He's the lucky one who looks at the tools and things that I leave all over the place as I jump from one job to another and never finish or tidy up.

Along with these self-discoveries, I've learned about personal achievement. For example, I feel great personal achievement when I grub my garden and when I make kindling. Yesterday I spent 2 hours breaking small branches into kindling and proudly stood over my bulging cardboard box, comfortable in the knowledge that I'd spent valuable hours of my life in this mundane activity. Yes, I know...it's tragic that I have come to this. My global career has been reduced to pulling weeds and breaking branches... :-)

I have also learned about appreciating simple pleasures. For example, I used to take cafes and bakeries for granted, dropping in for some little delight on a very regular basis. Now I have 'big days out' in town every 2-3 days, when the joy of having a cafe lungo and a crema pasticceria is completely beyond belief!

So, I hear you say, why should my readers be interested in my self-discoveries?

They don't need to be. I'm sharing them because they are enlightening for me and may help to explain the anticipated unbounded joy of my future posts. For the first time today I've felt at home here. I'm not sure if I would actually call it 'home' yet but I certainly feel comfortable.

I think it's 'right' that I'm here doing what I'm doing...even if I do dream about it a little too much...

26 October 2009

Goodbye Fruit Tree, Hello Firewood

Today I woke with a sore back, so I was having a slow morning wondering what to do and waiting for writing inspiration when I remembered my new oven! I dashed upstairs to the lounge where I found my trusty Edmonds cookbook waiting for me on the bookcase. I found a nice easy chocolate cake recipe, one that I'd previously marked 'lovely but not dark'. The cookbook and I went back downstairs where I made the chocolate cake mixture and put it into muffin tins. So I guess I made chocolate muffins.

Stuart has been losing weight at the rate of a chronic anorexic so I need to feed him more. My baking should do the trick. We've also upped our carb intake something amazing. If we were working in an office now, we'd both be dangerously obese!

Then I decided to clean. Yes, tragically, cleaning appears to be my new pasttime. Cleaning is not something I've been very good at to date (just ask Stu) but apparently it is one of the critical tasks associated with renovating a house. Why didn't anyone tell me this before!? Renovation cleaning means removing construction detritus and cobwebs and sweeping tonnes of cement dust.

Last week, I cleaned the main bedroom and the ensuite bathroom. Among the detritus I found two grotty t-shirts which I can only assume belonged to a previous renovator, several strange circular metal contraptions and many fluffy pieces of decomposed insulation batt (used to seal the gappy door).

Today I cleaned the smoke house (the room where long dead owners used to smoke their salamis and which will be our lounge) and the dining room. The smoke house requires the most work of all the rooms so we have decided to use it as a construction storage room while we do the rest of the house.

Just before lunch, Stu sought me out to talk about our fireplaces. He had found a brochure on fireplaces and wanted to identify the types of fireplaces we have and how to use them. In one of them we found an ashtray full of water which had leaked and rusted its marble front. I guess it's never too late to correct problems during a renovation. And I guess you've always got to expect surprises. Yesterday, we found a hole in the cement casing of our stormwater tank and had to do some quick repairs (but that's another story...).

After lunch, Stu started up the chain saw in preparation for another afternoon of firewood cutting. We have an incredible amount of wood lying around the place which just needs to be cut to fit our fire places. The benefits of cutting are two-fold: we get firewood but we also tidy up the place. The pile we cut today was in the garage so we are getting nearer and nearer to parking our car in a covered area!

We have a good system. Stu cuts while I feed logs into him, pick up the bits, throw them onto the wheelbarrow and transfer them to the woodpile.

After 3 hours of cutting, we finally agreed to stop.

Unfortunately, we always have trouble stopping and the next thing I knew Stu had wandered over to a tree and started to cut it down!

This tree had been dead since last winter when it had perished in the severe frosts and minus 10 degree temperatures. We had been eyeing it off for some time because it stood at the beginning of our garden and we wanted to replace it with a wine barrel in which we would grow strawberries next Spring/Summer.

So we spent another hour cutting and making firewood and kindling from this tree before finally calling it a day.

This once beautiful fruit tree, a pomegranate, had been adored by the previous owner and our neighbour. Now it seems Summer 2008's fruit tree will be Winter 2009's firewood...

25 October 2009

The Big Day Out

Yesterday we forced ourselves to take a day off...

The sun was shining for the first time in 3 days so we decided to wander into town and investigate all the little shops.

Always considering Siesta, we headed off at 10am, which meant that we would get 2.5 hours of viewing in before they all closed on us.

First we found a little salumeria just around the corner from the end of our strada, where we looked at dozens of fat salami hanging on hooks from the ceiling.

Then we found a little Carni spesa (meat shop = butcher) a little further along the street. I went in to talk to the older couple behind the counter. Thankfully there were no other clienti in the shop so I was willing to share my Italian with them. I told them I had been living here for 3 weeks and I was from Australia; they told me all their relatives were living in Perth! They gave me a quick lesson on present and past tense related to eating marrone (chestnuts) which was really valuable and I told them that I would return to buy meat and cheese often. Stuart stayed outside, worried that they might try to communicate with him too..

Then we wandered into and out of several other small alimentari (grocery) shops. I'm not sure how they make money because there are heaps of them (4-5 between our place and the Canelli train station!) and each of them is only the size of a single garage!

Then we dropped into church (Sacred Heart) to see what times Mass is on Sundays before we continued into town, buying a cannoli at a pane shop and a coffee at a pasticceria.

The tourist bureau told us that the Tartufi festival on 8th Nov is held in Gancia's (Canelli's main wine maker's) premises and they have truffle dog displays and run buses to take people out to typical truffle areas to hunt...sounds like fun! And I'm sure Gancia will put on a few free drinks...hopefully!

This got us thinking about food and wine so we found it easy to talk ourselves into eating out for lunch. This was our first meal out since we arrived 3.5 weeks ago so we made it a good one and went to the Enoteca, an underground cellar near the train station. There are several Enotecas in the area and these restaurants showcase the local wines on behalf of the growers so the alcohol is really cheap. We had a lovely 2 hour stay there, during which we had primi, secondi and dolce courses (as well as several 'gifts' from the chef) and vino rosso and moscato!

We then walked home, through our little dark valley and up to our little elevated spot where the sun always shines...

A truly beautiful day that gave real purpose to what we're doing here...

23 October 2009

A Cold Day

Yesterday we reached a top temperature of 8 degrees. A bit on the cold side so we had the fire going almost all day until we decided to get out and about during siesta (as usual). We wandered around the grocery shop, then the hardware shop (typical haunts) and had a coffee, then returned and waited for Lilo the plumber to come and connect the gas to the new kitchen.

Lilo's appointment was at 5pm so we were surprised when he arrived basically on time! He got to work immediately by extracting a huge drill from his van and proceeding to destroy our beautiful stone wall next to the kitchen. The drill he used was the largest drill I have ever seen (beyond serious underground mining drills!). It was probably 25mm in diameter and 1 metre long. He shuddered and shook for a full 15 mins before giving up and going to his van, where he extracted an even bigger drill. This one was 50mm in diameter and 1 metre long! He leaned and forced and finally managed to create a hole about the size of a man's head (!). I'm not sure why the hole ended up being this big but I suspect he misjudged the level at which he was attacking the 1 metre thick wall from both sides. He told me 'vuoi marito chiuso' (your husband can close that) and then asked me if I had a broom. As I stepped forward to do my thing (that is, clean up the mess after the tradie), my mouth dropped open at the quantity of cement and the huge rocks that had fallen out of the hole!

The rest of the story is fairly boring. He selected connectors and valves and welded different pipes together until finally after 2 hours his work was done.

Today we reached 16 degrees which was a pleasant change and we launched on the woodpile and the garage again.

Stuart split kindling while I removed bricks from the garage. The kindling pile is now full and the garage is now empty (of bricks anyway).

We are pondering treating ourselves this weekend and going out for lunch or dinner! We promised we'd do this every week before we left work (we worked the cost into our budget) but it seems that our early enthusiasm and hyperactivity has got the better of us in our first 3 weeks here...

21 October 2009

Vodafone Italia

We had the trauma called 'Connecting the Phone' yesterday.

We had an appointment with Vodafone 'on site' (home) at 10am so we were up and having breakfast in our dressing gowns when a van pulled up at 9am. Yes, 9am. And yes, it was Vodafone.

After quickly flattening our wayward curls and throwing on the habitual trackie dacks we went out to meet them.

(Niente Inglese...)

We showed them what we believed was our telephone cable, which was a cable that attached itself to the second level of the house and then ran into a cable box and underground. We then showed them what we believed were 2 phone outlets inside the house. They huffed and walked away from these, which we think meant 'you are stupid' (the outlets turned out to be fans for the wood fires in the smoke house lounge and the kitchen). Then we found another cable box and twigged the cable in there and found that both cables that headed underground moved each other but neither appeared to be connected to anything else!

The Vodafone men seemed to be concerned that the cable might belong to the owner of the connected house but I assured him that the neighbour did not have a phone. I told them to cut the cable and redirect it into our rustico. Stuart asked me if I was sure of this. I said I was, but I wasn't. Stuart suggested I check with Renzo (neighbour) first. I said OK and got my mobile phone. I phoned Renzo. No answer. I went outside to the Vodafone men to ask them to wait before cutting the cable. I looked at 2 Vodafone men already holding a cut cable in their hands. Oops.

They busied themselves doing things that phone people do. Then they left, saying they would be back. We weren't sure if this would be in an hour, in the afternoon, this week or next month.

We waited.

Two hours later they returned. They did more things that phone people do then gave Stu a huge roll of cable and instructions in Italian. It seemed that the job of running the cable, drilling holes in the wall and connecting was much larger than their scope of work would allow. So they left and Stu stood there, with a roll of cable and a join in his hands.

A lot of work and 1 day later, we appear to be connected!

Unfortunately, our phone, which we purchased in Singapore in 2001, appears to have died so we're off today to buy a new one...

19 October 2009

The First Garden Bed & A Clean Garage

Yesterday was a big day in the garden (well, not that we actually have a garden yet...but we live in hope...).

We built our first garden bed, not an easy thing when you have to re-position a border that is made up of Piemonte pietra (stones) that are absolutely huge and weight a tonne!

We have decided to 'pretty up' the area around the house. At the moment it is a bit of a construction site with lots of gravel and piles of crap (broken bricks, broken tiles, wood, etc.). We have decided to make a few garden beds close to the house to give a softness to the building. The garden bed we did yesterday will be for tomatoes and is directly outside the house kitchen.

We also cleaned out the garage so that we could access a huge old wine barrel that was in there. Unfortunately, the wine barrel was full of bean bag polystyrene balls which were a challenge to package for disposal! But we have now finally got access to the wine barrel!

We have found a place in the garden to put it and now just need to fill the jerry can with petrol (why, you ask?), which will enable us to cut the dead tree down that is currently where we want to put the barrel!

Every job around here seems to be connected to another job...which means that everything requires massive planning if you want to feel in any way organised!

12 October 2009

The New Life in Italy

Well, we have finally moved to Italy!

It has been twelve months since we purchased our little 'project' and we have spent our first two weeks here establishing a home in the little Rustico that is attached to our 'project'.

Our 'project' is to complete the renovation of the house. It's not too bad really. It just needs some plastering, painting, sealing of holes and new doors...and a lot of love...

But that's all for now...stand by for regular updates from now on...