Monday, 26 March 2012

“Something was nagging at me. I tried lying down on the bed and reading. A book about how the potato came to Sweden. I had read it several times before. Presumably because it didn’t raise any questions. I could turn page after page and know that I wasn’t going to be faced with something unpleasant and unexpected. I switched off the light at midnight. My two animals had gone off to sleep (...) I tried to come to a decision.” (“Italian Shoes” by Henning Mankell).

I read today, that in the current economic crisis, Italians are spending about the same as always.  The difference being that they are spending less on shoes, but more on over-the-counter medications.  I don’t spend too much time drawing conclusions from that.
The burning issue which kept me awake last night was “cotto”.  For the floors of our “new build” do we lay real cotto tiles or porcelain (gres porcellanato)?  The pros and cons are manifold.  Cotto is the genuine article.  It is, and it looks it!  It complements a rustic house.  It diffuses heat evenly from underfloor heating and, with modern methods of wax protection, it is (we are assured by the makers) relatively easy to maintain.  But, it creates an uneven surface, it is more expensive and complicated to install and it is more prone to crack, especially in an area of seismic activity.
Ah, seismic activity!  Peter, Paolo and I spent two and a half hours last week with the structural engineer, agreeing (trying to) his detailed report, which ran to over 1,000 pages (we took his word). It was not the report itself which took so much time, as the discussion, sometimes heated on the engineer's side, about the nature of Italian bureaucracy which requires such a lengthy report on a small house.  Oh, and the one about unskilled brickies being paid more than highly qualified structural engineers.  (For all I know there may be a commissioned report somewhere which analyses how each of these income groups spends its money).  At the time it seemed like a relief when the "seismic" question surfaced.  Peter asked how the seismic activity beneath our house rated.  “Moderate” was the expert’s reply.  No-one  asked, nor was told, where “moderate” features on the Richter scale of an earth moving disaster.
Back to cotto.  Yesterday we drove 2 hours inland to Perugia to visit a real Umbrian cotto manufacturer.  (Such is the gravitas of this decision.  It should also be mentioned that we had previously visited a world renowned porcelain tile manufacturer, based not a million kilometers from here).  In Perugia each cotto tile is made by hand in an enormous barn.  The floor is heated and the tile makers work at a blink and you miss it pace, hopping to their industry on bare feet and using the simplest of wooden frames to shape each tile.  The tile is then placed on the warm floor to partially dry before going into the oven.  The oven is then heated to some unimaginable (scary) temperature.  For some reason the rough wooden templates, and those bare feet, brought the pyramids to mind.
Porcelain tiles, on the other hand, are relatively effortless to install and maintain.  They are virtually indestructible and, with Italian design ingenuity, can be breathtakingly beautiful.  Some can look like the real thing - almost.
It’s a tough call;  can lead to sleepless nights.
Back to the house itself where work progresses at its own pace.  Igloos are ready to be put in place and soon we will be pressed to decide on the flooring.  Something to be pondered upon after a good night’s rest, I think.  Domani ...

Stack of igloos waiting to form the sub-floor

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