Friday, June 25, 2010

With Love from Calabria

    The Cedro Riviera Shoreline from Cetraro
We have been here in Calabria for only four months now, but it has been long enough to undergo some transition stress.  The tough part for me is to figure out which originates from missing my former identity as a working stiff and which is culture shock or some such phenomenon.  We all have a tendency to take things for granted so I thought I'd take this blog space to recount some of what I love about being here.  I was happy to find that I didn't have room for it all.

First for me is the fullfillment of a lifelong wish to live by the sea.  I remember watching To Catch a Thief with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly and thinking how lucky to be able to live in such a place.

I love how the women dress here.  I don't copy them by any means but I feel better in my favorite color (black) and my jewelry than I did in the States.  I'll let them have the spike heels...I can sport a more comfortable version of that look.

I love to look at Italian design.  I can see the design logic even in things that seem as my friend Tamara says "over the top":

I love getting up early and enjoying a really good cup of coffee early in the morning without worrying about getting to work. Sometimes we have to worry about getting to the stores before they close for the noon break, but there is always tomorrow. I love the view from my terrace. The mountains, the sea, the moon over the water, the stars, the swifts. All changes every hour each day. It can be very windy during storms but that is a show too:

I love hill-towns and exploring them to find friendly people serving delicious food.  I love going to the beach and getting an overly expensive gin and tonic at the "lido"

I love Mediterranean plants. Vines were a luxury at Rainshadow farm...only a few took hold due to the wild weather of the high desert.  Here, there are vines everywhere and I have planted just a few of them so far.  I can't wait to find more and watch them cover the walls of my little casa.

I love the fact that our house is small...I don't feel overburdened with work or guilty about over consumption.  There is plenty of space for Doug and I and soon there will be a special place for our guests.  Life is good, even in transition.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Calabrian Hill Town Construction-Guy Talk

I thought there might be a little interest in how construction happens in a Calabrian hill town.  Di will return next week. Meanwhile I can fill in some of what she missed (due to lack of interest in tools) during the last construction update…

Based on my American experience, the biggest eye-opener is the labor intensive nature of hill town restoration work.  Few Americans would have to work as hard as the Italians here (the streets are not driveable for equipment such as delivery or concrete trucks). The best option is to use a small construction “haul vehicle” that can get your materials NEAR where you want them.  

In this image the guys are taking material from the machine. They then must climb about 25 steps to the worksite in our apartment.   
Here, they use wheelbarrows to take rubble first to a dumps site, then from a dumpsite to the machine which hauls it off.  Good use of planking, etc.  Some builders have motorized carriers on tracks to save some work.  In the States we used tracked “toters” for trail work in the forest.

Look at these pics of the blocks and rubble hauling then imagine that machine delivering 20-40 sacks of calcio or cemento which weigh 25 kg (55lbs) each.  Then imagine you are the dude that has to carry those up a bunch or stairs to the staging location….and it’s 32C (hot!) and very humid.  You get the picture.   Oh, that same strong guy gets to mix the concrete and carry it in buckets to the mason. This will continue thru the project when they mix base for tile, grout and plaster.

We mentioned our desire to remove a 30-year old plywood ceiling, then clean the beams to have that exposed beam look favored here. These were the very best beams we exposed and the rest are twisted and starting to rot (mind you they hold up our main house above!!).  

Hence, the need for steel beam reinforcing which had to be carried to the site.    This is Angelo welding plates for support under the old wooden beams.  

They have slick little welders that plug into the 220V house current.  Those original beams and wood decking support a layer of concrete capped with tile upstairs.   It was necessary to beef up the floor with steel, then put new wood beams and planks (all castegno – chestnut) under the old stuff.

Americans build houses with wooden studs.  Italians have built with stones and masonry for centuries and continue to do so since wood is not that available.  We left our wood working tools in Oregon but they would only be used minimally here anyway. The two Calabrian main players are the electric jack hammer for heavy work and the electric chisel for the rest.  

I don’t show hand chisels and hammers for the refined work. In addition to demolition, they use the chisel to create channels in floors and walls to carry flexible plastic conduit for wires, for gas hose and for water hose. They stopped using galvanized plumbing much like the US has for new construction. You chisel a course for your wires to a light fitting or switch, place the conduit and wire, then plaster over it all.

Here’s Mario preparing the wall that will be under the stairs going to the basement. They ripped out the old stairway that was nearly vertical.  He’s actually up against terra (bedrock) there in the cellar.
The workers are very talented. Ottavio here is the chief mason on our project and is very fast throwing up filler walls like this (fills in a curve in the bathroom wall where a straight run is needed for the lavabo (sink).   He was also key in discussions with the supplier for the wood burning insert that will go into the fireplace Otto will build (he was so named for being the 8th child in the family).

Just watching these guys makes me hot and tired. 

My biggest chore today was going to the bank and arranging for a Monday pickup of money to pay these folks.  The bank has changed the limit on cash withdrawals to €2000 max without making arrangements first. I should also confess that my shaky Italian got me a military style haircut yesterday. I’ve used the guy before, but was complacent in explaining what I wanted. EHHHHH  it’ll grow back.  Certo

Stay Cool, Guido

Friday, June 11, 2010

Restoration Fun Update 1

It's restoration update time.  If you are new to this blog, the history of the restoration can be found HERE.
First, I'd like to comment on the effect of our poll on floor plans and shutters.  It so happens that our decisions reflect the poll results. Floor Plan A and turquoise green wood shutters.

No, that's not our new restored kitchen shown above--but they are the cabinets (a design called Brava) we chose for the kitchen along with a cobalt blue stone top.

Before I go any further with the pictures of the wall demolition and other not-so-pretty items, we have another poll to take.  I have a basic sea-based color scheme that is not up for debate but we have some indecision regarding the pavimento (floor) color.  Here are the three floor choices shown along with the other house colors (the wall color will be pure blinding white).

The floor will either be 1) gold travertine marble
                                     2) beige travertine marble
                                     3) beige with gold inlays

Some other decisions had to be made when the walls came down.  Our geometra and builder gave up on the old travi (wooden beams) because they are in such bad shape.  They will remain beefed up with steel (hidden) and some new wooden beams and ceiling.  Another recommendation was to replace the horrible steep stairway into the basement.  It will be replaced with an open stairwell with iron balustrade.  The following pictures show the new open "great room" and the beam supports so far.  Doug took some great shots of the work in progress:

Walls coming down and the doorways enlarged

Removed old fireplace (a surprise, thought to put stove insert in old one), supports for weak beams going up :

Bathroom tiles, etc. removed:

Old Beams and ceiling and the process to strengthen them so our floor above will be properly supported:

New "great room" looking towards the bedroom and the sea.  And our color inspiration:

Thursday, June 3, 2010

It's Summertime, Summertime, Sum Sum Summertiiiiime

The senior blogger is taking the day off and I’m filling in with lots of delightful news to report. Old songs (that give our age away) to the contrary notwithstanding, Summer Solstice is a few weeks away. For us, though, the transition starts today with the end of the year for our Italian classes.  Classes have been great and we’ll try hard to review our work during the summer.  Naturally, Di is doing better than your’s truly, but we both continue to build our skills. Italian is more complicated than we anticipated! 

I promised to write something about my experience with the local golf course.  I’ll start with the disclaimer that I am not an avid golfer.  I am a former, avid-golfer-wanna-be!   Last year I think I played 4-5 times.  I have a friend who plays that much in a week. I’m never going to get good, but enjoy it regardless and dragged my clubs over on the last flight from America.

Last week I returned to the golf course at Grand Hotel San Michele in Cetraro – 45 minutes south.  Indeed a grand hotel – we stayed there in 2007 on our first trip to Calabria.  I played the course once before with an American and a South African.  This time I went alone.

I met the new pro, Marco, at the course and he confirmed that there are only two golf courses in all of Calabria.  Marco comes from Torino up north where golf has been absorbed into the culture more than in Calabria.  He is a kind fellow who gave me a free basket of range balls to practice with, then I took off with only two other players on the 9 hole course.  Most people play weekends.   

The property is an active farm where they grow vegetables, wine grapes and olives for the hotel.  The golf course in jammed in-between various crops, so the fairways are narrow and it is a rather difficult little course.  It’s pretty though with nice views of the sea.


My ball was close to the strawberries.  Unfortunately, the next shot sliced into tall grass where I found the asparagus patch. Never thought I’d lose a ball in asparagus.  I lost other balls that day!

Di went along thinking she could relax on the hotel’s private beach accessed by a 10-story elevator. They were doing maintenance on the lift and she figured it would not be a great place to get stranded.  The beach was also not yet opened with lido, bar, etc.

We’ll return for meals sometime, and I will continue to relax by following the little white balls around – being careful to not trample strawberries or asparagus.

Yesterday, the contractor started work on the guest apartment.  They accomplished much the first day and we learned a lot about what we face.  Di will be renewing her restoration diary-type notes to you all.  It does mean that hammering and pounding begins at 0700 each morning, so our lazy retirement mornings are hereby changed.  Our neighbors are probably not too pleased either, but they won’t complain.  Neighbors stick their heads in to check progress and it gives everyone a new conversation topic on the piazza. Guido.


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