31 January 2011

Nonno and nonna are with us...

I like old things. They remind me of times gone by. Our 200 year old house allows me to share my life with those from the past. I dream of the people who have lived here before us. I feel their spirits as they waft throughout the rooms. I hear the sound of their arguments and laughter in the stone walls.

When we finally finished renovating our bedroom, it was only fitting that my spirit friends should be surrounded by old bedroom furniture.

So on a clear blue sky day in mid September we found ourselves driving to Torino.

While local farmers were busy amidst the vines and driving tractors pulling trailers laden with grapes to cantinas, we were going to collect an armadio for our bedroom.

As we approached Torino we were rewarded with beautiful views of the alps that surround the city. Torino was shining in the brisk late summer morning as if to show off its royal past.

The purchasing process for our armadio had been a simply wonderful experience, right from finding it on ebay italia, communicating with its owner, then finally driving to 'meet' it for the first time on that fresh morning.

The lady who sold the armadio to us, Daniela, is slim, has short grey hair, beautiful clear olive skin and is in her 50's. She met us at the gates of her apartment building in the centre of Torino and took us upstairs to her apartment. While she prepared coffee for us we inspected the armadio. It stood in her wide hallway amidst boxes and mess because she was in the process of moving. A glance around the apartment told us that Daniela was an artist and a musician (pianist) and perhaps a little eccentric. After coffee we asked her to play us something on the piano and were stunned when she rewarded us with several bars of clear and confident classical music.

It was love at first sight. Our new armadio was old. It is an antique from the 1850's and made of solid walnut. It has all sorts of cracks, marks and damage on its lovely patina and these give it heaps of character. It also has a legend.

Daniela explained to us that it had belonged to her grandfather who had come to Italy from Germany where he lived near the border with Holland. He was apparently a very intelligent man and a brilliant photographer and he used to develop his photos in the armadio, hanging them on the rail to dry in the dark depths of the cupboard!!! He eventually gave up the art of photography at the age of 90 and died shortly afterwards.

Unfortunately, the armadio was much bigger than we had imagined. We realised fairly quickly that it would be impossible to travel back to Canelli with this precious antique sliding around on top of our little 1.5mt x 1.5mt trailer. We told Daniela that we thought it was too big for us to take. She looked upset for us but then went over to the armadio with a small screwdriver and proceeded to undo several tiny screws as well as some larger bolts that we'd never seen the like of before. She told us the armadio broke down into 12 pieces! We were wrapt!

Just as we were starting to dismantle it, I noticed a small antique desk on the opposite wall. It was made of beautiful wood and had a smooth marble top. Daniela said it was her most treasured possession.

After a few minutes, we had dismantled the armadio to the stage of having to lift the top off it. Just as Stu lifted the top off, there was a sudden slip and a crash. The two doors of the armadio had crashed to the floor, smashing into the marble desk on their way. We were horrified. Amidst profuse apologies, we dropped to our knees to check the desk. Thankfully there was no damage. We then checked the armadio doors. Again, no damage. Both pieces of furniture were aged and well-preserved; their materials hardened and their construction stern stuff! We learned quickly that the doors of our armadio are held on by a link into the top.

Daniela was very emotional as we prepared to take the armadio away. She helped us carry every piece into the lift and out to the trailer. She even got involved in the loading and helped us to squeeze cushions between various pieces to protect them. The loading took a full hour and she was clearly thrilled that we had taken so much care with it.

Just as we were finishing the tying down, I noticed Daniela walking around the trailer with her arms crossed and her head bent. She seemed to be meditating. Suddenly she looked up at me and said 'Mio nonno e molte contento' ('my grandfather is very happy'). She was absolutely beaming. It was as if she'd got a message from beyond. When she grasped my hand for a photo beside the trailer, I felt strangely connected to this woman.

Later, when the armadio had been re-erected in our bedroom, I had stood back and welcomed nonno to the house.

A few weeks later, we returned to Daniela's apartment, this time to buy the matching cassettiere (set of drawers) which belonged to 'nonna'.

Now, when I look at our old furniture, I imagine the sound of nonno's voice in the waxed walnut wood of the armadio and see the stretch of nonna's smile in the polished cracks of the cassettiere...

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