31 October 2013

Fresh milk

In the interest of maintaining a smaller environmental footprint, we have started buying our milk from a Latteria in town. The milk comes from a small farm near us and is pasteurised but not homogenised. We wash our own glass milk bottle and take it back for refills. Seeing the cream at the top of a traditional glass milk bottle reminds us both of our happy childhoods...


Anyone for tea?

Our roses are in the process of going to sleep and are leaving us rose-hips...


30 October 2013

Slipping and sliding

Oh, what will I write about when there are no more problems!? When our chimney sweep was loitering on the roof between coughs and spits, he took the following photographs showing how our roof tiles have slipped. This happens with the weight of snow. Of course, they will need to be re laid, preferably before winter...


29 October 2013

Arrivederci vespe!

After sweeping four chimneys in one day. our poor chimney sweep let out a small exhausted sigh when I pointed to our bedroom window and asked "Vespe?". He cupped his ear and confirmed that he could hear them. I told him we didn't know if they were calabrone, wasps or bees. He said "Api...dobbiamo salvare". Bees we must save. I invited him up to my bedroom (!) where we looked at the contraption that we had built to cover the hole in the plaster where the nest was and keep whatever they were from stinging us to death in our sleep. He watched the insects fly in and out of the nest outside the window, before confirming that they were wasps. He then removed our contraption ever so slowly and observed the hole and the activity therein. I was devastated to see that they had eaten half an inch into the foam cover that we had devised (what dastardly creature eats foam!?). He then went to his car and proceeded to dress up like a bee keeper. I noted with consternation that he even wrapped the area between his cuffs and gloves with masking tape. Then he told us to stay inside. Grabbing a pump and three cartridges of poison, he returned to the bedroom alone, closing the door behind him. We waited. After a few minutes, he came back downstairs instructing us to air out the room before we sleep tonight. Then he explained that he had resealed the hole with silicon but that we should open the hole and the entire area up in a week or so, clean out the nest and reseal inside and outside the window with hard cement. While this means that we have another job to add to our list, it also means that we can remove the "eradicate biting things" job off the list. It also means that we can sleep easier knowing that we will not be awakened by events akin to those filmed in Alfred Hitchcock's "Birds" or H G Wells' "Empire of the Ants"...

Above: The upstairs bedroom window where the wasp nest was

Above: Our chimney sweep preparing to eradicate the wasps


Thoughts of Mary Poppins...

Among all the official traumas we are having, I can happily report that our three chimneys have been swept ready for winter! Last week, a friend mentioned casually that she was getting her chimney swept. This was something we hadn't even thought of! With memories of a chimney fire during our first winter still fresh in our minds, we dived on this poor friend. Two days later, a tradesperson arrived in a grey station wagon. Our first impression was "How can that car contain the things required by a chimney sweep?". But it did. We watched as he pulled out a box that contained the technology required to see inside the chimney, a selection of brushes, an industrial vacuum cleaner and an eight metre ladder. The chimney sweep himself was clothed in...well...black. He wore black overalls, a black skivvy, black boots, a black cap and a black beard (?). He proceeded to seal our three chimneys by covering them with plastic held on by masking tape. In the third room, the soon to be lounge room, there was a floor of rubble to avoid and no electricity. I faithfully held a torch for him in this room. Once this was done, he went back out to his car and lashed himself into a safety harness, grasped his stack of brushes and extended his ladder by the full eight metres onto the roof. He then climbed up, tied himself to the first chimney and proceeded to push brushes down it, adding extensions as he went. He grunted, coughed, snorted and spat every few minutes. At one point he yelled down to me "solo 2 metri di acciaio". Then he moved to the second chimney: "solo 2.5 metri di acciaio". The third chimney: "solo 2.5 metri di acciaio". As with everything we touch, these comments carried bad news. It seems that our chimneys do have stainless steel tubes but only for the first 2 metres or so. The remaining 4 to 5 metres is brick. When I quizzed him on the need to install stainless steel, he said it was not necessary as long as we have the chimneys swept every year. So, I guess this is not all bad news. He then climbed down and had a thorough wash in the bathroom (hair, face, neck, hands). We talked while he packed his car. I gleaned that he has been doing this work for 10 years and covers the whole of Piemonte. He explained that he is busiest in Autumn, then has virtually no work during Winter (unless he is called to a chimney fire). He suggested we book him again in Spring. When I paid him, he gave me his card and I read with interest that he also removes wasp nests...(see next posting).

Above: Sealing the chimney in the kitchen

Above: Analysing the chimney in the dining room

Above: Getting the brushes ready

Above: Climbing up


28 October 2013

The changing faces of the valley

The gradual transition of Autunno along our driveway...



Time for wild funghi

This is what we found in our grass today...Benvenuto Autunno!


Conquering everything all at once

We have such high expectations of ourselves. Every day we achieve something and yet we still go to bed feeling as if we have spent a day twiddling our thumbs. I suspect this energy may be a "leftover" of working in a remote overseas location and all the nervous anxiety that goes with that. On one day last week, it was not enough to receive our shipping container AND go a long way towards solving our water problems with our plumber. Another day, we met the man who will remove our rubbish as well as flatten the area behind the fienile for us AND met a courier in town who had important customs clearance documents for us (when he phoned, I told him in my very tired Italian that we would BUY him at the station when I meant to say we would MEET him at the station! Oops). No doubt we will ooze ourselves into our bed tonight and proceed to worry about the next items on our list of issues to conquer...


27 October 2013

The plumber

Sometimes it seems that everything we do here gets undone, then redone. A couple of winters ago, we had a pipe burst in cold temperatures. as the pipes were under the tile bathroom floor, our only solution was to lift/ruin all of the tiles in order to lay new piping, then lay new tiles. Our continuing problem with crossed hot/cold water pipes has kept us busy for months trying to think of solutions. The plumber wants to find the source of the problem which could be anywhere and would require a complete excavation of the floors. We just want a shower. So we have had to think differently. This week, I sent a text to the plumber ("abbiamo un idea!"). When he arrived I explained that we wanted all of the water pipes to be set to cold and an extra instant gas hot water heater installed in the end of the house where all the wet rooms are. Then we would intercept one of the cold water pipes and direct it through the new instant gas hot water heater! Initially, his professionalism wouldn't allow him to accept the idea but eventually he could see that it was the most immediate and practical solution. While it will cost more initially, it will mean less work for our submersible pump, our filter system and our septic as we won't have to run so much water through the pipes waiting for it to get hot. So that's how he and Stu came to be kneeling on the bathroom floor and destroying our tiles (again) with a jackhammer, a cold chisel and a hammer in search of pipes to intercept...


The plumber

Our plumber seems to be our most frequent visitor. We have certainly had our fair share of water challenges here and he has been invaluable in helping us deal with them. He is a 30 or 40 something Italian who works at a frenetic pace and enjoys torturing us in our ignorance. When I text a water problem to him (I worry about phoning him in case my Italian fails me!), he instantly phones me back. You call this attention? I call it harrassment. When he arrives at our place, he calls out "Stoo-art!?" for no apparent reason other than to call Stu to panicked attention. After a few such "Stoo-arts!?", Stu skulks away to hide in his workshop, leaving me at the plumbers beck and call. And beck and call he does! "Caterina, aprire la doccia!", "Caterina, chiudere la vasca!", "Caterina...", "Caterina'...", "Caterina...". I run from pillar to post turning everything on and off, opening doors, closing doors, running up stairs, flying downstairs, holding his tools, reminding him where he left his tools, all the while trying to understand Italian plumber-talk. I am utterly trashed by the time the plumber leaves. I stand at the gate waving goodbye, legs trembling, shoulders drooping, head lolling under the weight of confused language. I feel like a crazy woman. It is usually then that Stu emerges from his workshop. "Stoo-art! Ciao!" yells the plumber on his way down the track.


25 October 2013

A container of sunshine

On a cold, damp and wet day, our 20 foot shipping container of sunshine arrived. We received a phone call from the mobile crew an hour before they were expected and rushed down the driveway to meet them. Down the street we came across a group of four men beside a truck carrying a 20 foot shipping container which looked a lot like the one they had packed outside our apartment in Australia. There was also a smaller boxy truck which was no doubt the transfer vehicle. They asked us to take them up the drive so they could see the state of the road. I had told them in Australia that we would need a transfer vehicle...and I told this crew again. However, it seemed that their hopes rested on getting the actual container up there, no doubt to avoid double handling everything. So we drove back up the driveway with two removalists in the back seat. The silence coming from the rear of the car was relatively comforting until they started to say things like "brutto", "stretta" and "mamma mia"! So it was back out to the road where there was much talking and waving hands until finally I gleaned that even the transfer vehicle was unsuitable. Therein commenced a process whereby they held long conversations with a neighbour who lives at the end of our driveway and seems to have a transport business. Then there were more conversations with a vehicle hire company in Canelli. Eventually, half of the crew went in search of a small van that they had managed to hire, while the other half reversed the truck carrying the container up to the neighbour's loading ramp. After about 1.5 hours, the small van arrived and transfer commenced. They managed to complete one trip before the team went missing. For an hour, we waited at the house, minds swirling with thoughts of our container sitting raw and open at the mercy of locals while a coffee was taken. However, on their return they announced that they had been offloading the bike with the assistance of the forklift owned by the neighbour! We dashed down the driveway once again to see if the battery was flat. It was. Stu took the battery out and we drove it home to charge it. There followed three further loads before the crew said their farewells in the early afternoon. A few hours later, Stu and I again set off down the driveway with what we hoped was a charged battery. It was. By close of day, the container was empty, the motorbike was secure and our treasures were stacked high in the rustico, to be opened another day.

Postscript: The following day, we delivered a large tray of pastries from the local Pasticceria to our neighbour in thanks for his "pazienza e assistenza".



24 October 2013

Staying the same

After two weeks here, we are feeling more at home. This morning we made our first trip to the street market. It was exactly the same. Same stalls, same owners, same customers, same seasonal produce, same plaited onions. In contrast, our entire lives have been lived in a state of constant change. We have lived in 20 homes in 5 countries in 20 years. Now here we were, faced with a familiarity that we hadn't expected. There was something beautifully constant about it and it was in this warm glow of belonging that we left the street market and walked to our butcher. Here, our sense of continuity was suddenly destroyed. We learned that our lovely butcher had died a few months ago. He was an older man who treated his customers with kindness and dedication and the meat in his shop with pride and respect. Change has visited our town after all.



The Christmas cake is complete!


23 October 2013

Full swing

Demolition is in full swing. Stu has now removed all of the tiles from the first level floor. Then I cleaned them of cement and grout before placing them on the terrazza in readiness for next years rustico renovation. Stu had a go at breaking the cement slab using his impact drill and a sledge hammer but this was such painful work that it sent us running to the local hardware shop in search of a jackhammer. A quick play with his new tool indicates that it will do the trick with (relative?) ease so we expect to be minus two floors within a couple of weeks. Stand by for further updates...



22 October 2013


Mmm...fruit glistening with rum...who's making their Christmas cake then?



21 October 2013

Mist on a Sunday

Yesterday was a damp misty Sunday. This day is generally observed in Italy as a day of rest; one that should be spent in a peaceful and quiet manner. This means one should avoid making loud noises (e.g. jackhammering a cement slab). Therefore, we spent a peaceful and quiet day inside with our backs to a wood fire.


The curse of the old fireplaces

Finally, a job that we have been avoiding for four years has been done. When we purchased the place in 2009, a number of old fireplaces came with it. At the time, we thought this was the greatest coup...six antique fireplaces thrown in! It didn't take us long to realise that each fireplace weighed as much as a small car...or seemed to. So, for the next four years we looked at them, tried to pick them up occasionally and told ourselves how lucky we were to have them. It has been only recently that we have cursed them. They will be too heavy for our new wooden floors and we needed to move them in order to proceed with our demolition. After several days, and a very slow process that had us thinking in terms of imperial measurement ("inch by inch"), they are no longer internal antique fireplaces but external incidental tables or pot plant holders! Here are some photos of the effort to move four of them, which took all morning!






20 October 2013

The piles are moving and growing

Managing our renovation and demolition detritus has been a constant challenge for us. We have bricks, tiles, steel and plastics that we have to organise and limited space near the house to put it. In the past, we have spent many hours moving these piles around the place depending on our focus at the time. In summer, the vege garden was the priority and the bricks and tiles went at the end of the garden. Now, demolition is a priority so they need to be moved to a location that will allow their quantity to increase four fold. We keep our rubbish because we want to re-use it as much as possible in order to minimise our environmental footprint. The old bricks can be used in paths between rows of veges; old tiles may cover the odd floor or wall; old steel may come in handy as cement reinforcing. So we are now "hiding" our rubbish behind the fienile, which has yet to be renovated. Once the house is finished, and we are left with rubbish that can only be defined as "utterly unusable" we will engage a bobcat/truck to excavate and remove our entire collection. We live in hope that this will be the end of our rubbish management issues.



18 October 2013

Our own slice of hidden treasure

While we have been away, a constant drip from a badly placed downpipe has caused a patch of damp on one of the bedroom walls. This week, when I was scraping and sanding back the paint on this wall, I came across a hand painted decoration several layers down. For a few precious minutes I felt like i had discovered my own little Sistine Chapel...


17 October 2013

Let the destruction commence

It has been two days since we launched at our first renovation project since returning to Italy. We now have a new pile of bricks growing behind the fienile, a new pile of rubble growing in the downstairs room and a hole in the floor/ceiling depending on which room you're in. We are trying to fix an old renovation job that was done by previous owners. The problem is that the ceilings in both rooms are incredibly heavy: they are constructed of one layer of wood, one layer of bricks and 3 inches of cement. There is a layer of reinforcement steel in there too but, thankfully, this is badly placed (under the cement rather than in it) which means it will be easy for us to fracture the cement. Our geometra came to view the situation a few months ago and was shocked that such massive weight was resting on wooden beams. So we have started to remove it all and plan to replace it with heavy board, then put down wooden floors in both rooms. Stand by for further updates as the piles get bigger and the hole enlarges...



On the way to belonging

An "administration day" is always a good thing when we have spent the last two days digging in the garden and emptying the next two rooms to be renovated. Our bodies are incredibly tired to the point that we had trouble getting out of chairs today in the various government offices we visited! We needed to renew Stuart's residency, get the ball rolling on the renewal of my residency and progress the import of our shipping container. When we did anything administrative 2.5 years ago, it was a major trauma which exhausted us within minutes and had us escaping back up our valley for a bit of respite. This time, since we were already familiar with the offices, the people, the challenges and the waiting times, we could cope with it all much better. Also, my Italian seems to have improved (?) but I suspect that this may be because I have a different attitude. Last time, we were here temporarily; we always knew we would have to return to Australia to work. This time, we are here permanently, which gives me a greater impetus and confidence to "give it a go" in terms of verbal communication. It is definitely BAD Italian...but they do seem to know what I am saying! Tomorrow we have another "administrative day" which will see us commencing the changeover of our car registration from Switzerland to Italy. Once we do this and our residencies are finalised, we will have 12 months to get an Italian drivers licence...but thats a whole other story...