31 March 2015

Fienile renovation...we have a roof!

We have a roof!

The rafters were brought up by the lifting mechanism and placed on the beams using a very fast process of lift, measure, nail...lift, measure, nail...

The terracotta tiles were placed in much the same way: lift, fit tile clip, place tile...lift, fit tile clip, place tile...

In no time at all the entire roof was striped in rafters and decorated with our lovely old re-used multi coloured terracotta tiles...






29 March 2015

Fienile renovation...the earthquake ring is in place

This week we had a few rainy days which delayed work.

A giant tarpaulin had to be stretched over the roof structure in order to protect the wooden beams and the half-finished earthquake ring.

Despite the cold and wet, Sandro continued to arrive alone and work under the tarpaulin.

He had been making a bit of destructive stone-like noise on the upper internal scaffold so I went up to see how he was busying himself. To access this area, you need to climb a ladder and as I arrived on the scaffold I was surprised to see how protected and peaceful it was up there under the tarp. The tarpaulin shielded the area from the wind and made the dismal damp precipitation sound like gentle joyful raindrops on a tent!

Sandro had spent a few hours creating two holes in the end wall which will ultimately be windows. He had been gathering the rocks from these holes and placing them closer to his next area of focus: the earthquake ring at the other end of the fienile.

The absence of rain the next day saw the complete team arrive with renewed enthusiasm. They spent the day finishing the earthquake ring, the stonework around the ring as well as pointing the internal walls.

A muratore in action is a fascinating thing to watch.

It is the stuff of history, tradition and art.

I am in awe.

Sandro has few tools and does everything by hand. A string line, a bucket of cement, a trowel, a strange blade that looks like an overgrown meat cleaver and a hammer. He works quickly, picking up a stone and whacking it with the meat cleaver to shape it for the space he has to fill. Like an artist, he rarely looks twice at the space he has to fill; it is as if he takes a mental photograph of the space and then focuses on the stone. It seems that the shape he creates is never wrong. When he's happy with it, he slices a piece of thick oozey cement out of his bucket, throws it on the top of the wall and smoothes it quickly with a deft movement of the wrist. Then he places his newly shaped stone on the cement and hammers it gently so that it is level with the rest of the wall.

While Sandro was doing this, another member of his team was pointing internal stonework. This is also fascinating. The cement is thrown at the wall, onto the stone and the gaps, then partially trowelled off. It looks awfully messy. But a few hours later, when the cement is partially dry, a wire brush is used to remove the excess and highlight the stonework.

Having tried to fill various holes in our stonework using my own form of stone masonry, I can confidentally state that it is impossible. I could never find the perfect stone to fit my space and spent more time carrying stones around than doing actually anything with them! If I was lucky enough to find the perfect stone, the cement I threw at the wall usually landed on the ground and if I was lucky enough to actually place a stone it usually fell out immediately.

I am in awe.







28 March 2015

Fienile renovation...the "antico" plates

When our muratore arrived yesterday, he had a set of steel plates with him.

Within seconds of diving out of his truck, he had broken the tranquillity of the valley and was making noises with a grinder.

I peered out to see what he was doing and found him cutting into the plates, loudly ruining their smooth appearance. When I asked what he was doing, he explained that he was giving them an antique or "stressed" look.

This is yet another of Sandro's ideas that go above and beyond the call of duty. We continue to be amazed and grateful that he cares so much about our building.

The newly aged plates will go on the roof peaks and joins and add to the authentic rustic feel of the building.

After he finished grinding them, he presented them to us for rust proofing.

Stu's hanging apparatus (which allowed us to paint both sides of the plates easily) was a stark contrast to the antique plates. It looked like a weird modern art installation!




27 March 2015

Traditions are wonderfully alive here

Our muratore arrives every morning in a small truck with his two workers.

As I watched them arrive this morning, it occurred to me that I was watching something deeply traditional. The work they do is clearly an ancient craft but the work culture they have is also old.

In Australia, workers generally arrive at a job site in their own vehicles and are essentially independent of the boss.

In Italy they arrive together, smiling and laughing. During the day, they are constantly talking and coordinating, always looking for opportunities to help each other. There is a "togetherness" which I can only assume comes from an old culture that respects family and community.

There is somehow a sense of intimacy.

I have to keep pinching myself to ensure that I never take this wonderful Italian culture for granted...

24 March 2015

Fienile renovation...the gaps have been framed

When it is finished, the second storey of the fienile will be an light and airy entertainment area. There will be open spaces in each wall which will allow good airflow and enable the property to be viewed from various angles.

For the last two days our muratore has been installing the earthquake ring and tidying up the stonework.

This has involved lifting steel reinforcing up to the roof, then bending it and tying it together in a cube shape which fits between the inner and outer stones of each wall.

Once this boxing is in place, the stonework around it is built up, levelled, tidied and pointed, then cement is poured into the framework.

The team of 3 worked in the sun yesterday...and in the rain today.

The giant tarpaulin that covers the entire roof is coming in very handy!





23 March 2015

Fienile renovation...the new roof appears

When we first contemplated a renovation of the fienile, I had shown our muratore a photo of a fienile renovation that I had found in a magazine somewhere years ago.

I remember placing this photo in front of him and telling him that this was "il mio sogno" (my dream).

With the renovation now well underway, I find myself telling him every day that he is making the fienile even better than "il mio sogno".

Stu and I were both part of the dream this week...

Stu's job was to help lift the beams onto the roof. The muratore had chosen to use maple and he estimated that each beam weighed between 250kg and 350kg! It was an effort to move them horizontally, let alone vertically up onto the roof! Apart from the sheer weight, they dug into our gravel courtyard making it hard to drag them. In the end, the muratore placed a row of scaffolding panels across the gravel, then wrapped a sling around them (one at a time) and used a lifting mechanism to drag them across the ground and lift them up to the roof. Getting them into place once they were on the roof involved the muscle of 3 men.

The main central structure of the roof took hours to measure, chainsaw, lift, position and finally chock together. I watched for hours as our beautiful new hand-crafted roof structure came together like a jigsaw puzzle.

While Stu was struggling with the beams, I was on the roof painting them with an insect repellent stain as they arrived. This paint will ensure longevity against woodworm.

For this task I dressed in an old faded and stained pair of tracksuit pants and one of Stu's old business shirts (that I had previously managed to "decorate" with cement, paint, grass and dirt!). My "look" was finished off with a very unglamorous Australian floppy sunhat. I noticed the Italians glance quickly at me then look away even more quickly. But with protective gloves on, paintbrush in hand and a wide smile on my face, I was oblivious to any embarrassment: Here was little old me...on an Italian roof...in the Italian sun...with 2 happy Italian labourers...yapping in Italian and laughing.

I had to pinch myself...this really was the stuff of my dreams...







22 March 2015

Fienile renovation...the old roof disappears

After the scaffolding was erected and the wood delivered (see posts dated 9 and 16 March) the focus was on dismantling the old roof.

Our muratore believes the roof was the original from when the fienile was first built. Given that the house is between 200 and 300 years old, that's an old roof!

Some of the roof beams were made of oak and castagne (chestnut). These are both hardwood trees that contain strong sour tannins which function as natural insect repellant. There was very little damage to these beams and they will be re-used as features above the window openings in the second level.

Other roof beams and most of the roof rafters were made of acacia, which grows profusely in our valley. Acacia is also a hardwood but it is sweet and therefore attractive to insects. Most of these beams and rafters had been eaten out quite substantially and will be our future firewood.

As the roof was slowly dismantled, copious amounts of old leaf matter fell from between the tiles and the wood. This was perfect mulch. I was very tempted to gather it for my garden and had visions of me grovelling around on the scaffolding with a bucket. Luckily I resisted the urge and still have the respect of our muratore.

It took just one day for the roof to be completely dismantled, the wood lowered to the ground via a lifting mechanism and the tiles stacked all around the scaffolding ready to be re-used.









21 March 2015

Fienile renovation...

The last two weeks have been frantic, not because I've been particularly busy but because our muratore (Sandro) has been here progressing the renovation of the fienile...

Activity like this seems to render me useless. I'm too interested in keeping up with the various activities so I tend to wander around aimlessly with no purpose. I find myself turning in circles, staring at plants and spying on Sandro and his workers from various angles.

It's actually not that bad...but I do love discussing the job with Sandro and watching him bring our "dream" to life. He is incredibly enthusiastic and organised, arriving early every day with renewed energy.

Sandro "feels" old buildings and has an innate sense of what is right for them. I always defer to him for ideas. Today he told me he treats our place as if it's his own and indeed we have trusted him with access and concepts ever since he started working on our house a year or so ago.

Tomorrow is Sunday so he won't be here. It is also forecast to rain so I'll be inside all day and hopefully (with none of the usual distractions!) focused on writing a few posts about the work that has been done so far...


16 March 2015

A sunny week well spent

We have been enjoying a wonderful week of sun and 15-20 degree temperatures. We've even had our cotton shirts and sunhats on!

Unfortunately rain has been forecast for the next week and it is already drizzling so we're glad to have made the most of the good weather.

We took the opportunity to clear another small area of our land together. Sadly, we had to cut down several trees that were growing horizontally. The forest is full of vines and blackberry which pull down and strangle the trees. We freed other more upright trees from the clutches of these vines and they now have space around them to stretch out and reach up to the sun.

Stu also cleaned about 40 old terracotta tiles with the grinder while I painted beams for the fienile. These were not the beams delivered yesterday but several old beams that we had lying around the place. Our muratore suggested we use them across the tops of the openings in the fienile, in the same way that wood is used above the windows and doors on the house.

He really "feels" historical buildings and is always on the lookout for ways to incorporate old materials into a renovation. His idea will not only utilise valuable aged wood but it will also add more authenticity to the building and bring the house and the fienile "together" more...



15 March 2015

The truck with the wood


We live at the end of a two kilometre single lane gravel road. The house is connected to another house, both of which sit in our very private and isolated valley.

Some time ago, our neighbour installed a steel barrier across the driveway about 500 metres from our houses. This barrier has been very effective in keeping people away from the houses. A few years ago, we also installed a gate close to our house to provide extra protection for when the barrier was open but the barrier still remains the best way to ensure security.

Yesterday morning I was talking to my roses in the pergola garden (as I do!) when I heard a very loud noise approaching.

It promised something big, very big.

I fled into the house, fearful that unsavoury strangers had crashed the barrier and were approaching our peaceful home.

From the safety of the kitchen window I watched as a very large truck rumbled towards the house.

Then I noticed a man walking ahead of the truck. It was Sandro, our muratore, who is doing our fienile renovation. We hadn't seen him yesterday because he had gone to Torino to do some approval paperwork. He hadn't arrived by noon today either so we had assumed that he wouldn't be coming and locked the barrier.

However, here he was, walking up our driveway ahead of a this very large truck heavily laden with wooden beams.

I went outside to welcome him. Behind his slight figure the monster loomed. It was heaving and rocking, its breaths coming in short squeaky sighs as it struggled with its load on the final incline to the house. Sandro guided it through our gate and showed it where to park outside the fienile.

I panicked. There was nowhere for this monster to turn, especially once he'd dropped his massive cargo off in the courtyard. I asked Sandro how he would turn but I needn't have worried. Country Italians are a capable lot. They can turn anything anywhere. Sandro simply smiled and said 'in dietro!' meaning that it would reverse out, something I hadn't considered.

The driver of the monster got out of the truck and lit a cigarette. He looked like he needed it.

Sandro asked me why the barrier had been closed. He looked slightly annoyed. I guess the driver might have panicked when faced with a dead end after struggling up the narrow gravel road with an incredibly large and heavy load on.

Happily satiated with nicotine, the driver got back into the cab while Sandro placed wooden planks under each of the truck tray stabilisers. Then the driver played with the hydraulics so that the weight of the truck tray was on the stabilisers and the cab was more or less off the ground. While Sandro jumped onto the truck tray in readiness to attach the first package of wood to the crane, the driver prepared the crane remote control. The first package of wooden beams was not overly heavy and the crane lifted it easily and swung it onto the ground smoothly. The second package was very heavy. The truck cab and body shook with tension as the crane lifted it slowly off the tray and very carefully placed it onto the ground.

With the beams offloaded, Sandro smiled widely, shouted goodbye and helped the truck reverse out through our gate.

I dared not look until I was satisfied that they'd made it around the first bend and past the barrier. I listened for sounds that might suggest they had made it, then I sneaked up to the bend from where I could see the barrier.

The truck had turned in our front paddock but deep grooves in the dirt told me that it had almost been bogged.

I returned to resume conversing with my roses...





14 March 2015

Spring is springing!

Spring is creeping up on us, waiting to "spring"!

The bulbs are coming up. It's early days but the crocus and violets are already up, along with the jonquils and chionodoxa.

It's so beautiful to watch the world come alive again after the sleepiness of winter...