Tuesday, 22 May 2012

But humans had fought a long battle with nature. In London victory was almost complete. Acres of bricks and concrete and steel with only the tamest sprouts of green. In London a man could really feel he was master of all creation." ("Grace" Maggie Gee)

Our "house in the making" has been progressing apace.  The "ripostiglio" (utility room) has walls and a roof.  The walls of the kitchen are going up: new walls all around, including a double wall around the original building, necessary to hold up the roof and to establish the kitchen as a separate entity should the earth move.  This wall between the living room and kitchen will be over half a metre deep, almost a corridor!  On the side of the master bedroom there will be a "loggia": a little gallery or walkway.  The cement for its floor has been laid and already a cat, perhaps wild, or perhaps a fox, has left its prints.  Our neighbour had four of his sheep killed by a wolf the previous night.  Our paw prints may be those of a wolf, he suggests.  I think he was joking.

But the most impressive piece of construction, a tribute to Paolo's strategic planning, took place last Friday.  At present the annexe is a rectangular stretch of land with four little poles marking out the four corners of its area.  The main house is far from ready, but Paolo is thinking ahead.  The foundations of the annexe have to be prepared well in advance.  Early Friday morning a digger with a hydraulic boring screw arrives and begins to dig out the first of fifteen holes - each more than 5 metres deep.  Every strata of the clay soil comes out darker and heavier the deeper the bore goes.  The final layer is almost black.  It looks heavy, but it is deceptive, it is light and and slightly moist and crumbles as you clench your fist around it. (It has not the slightest smell petroleum.)

A host of rusty, tubular weld mesh wire cages have been lying around on the site, weeds have twined themselves around them.  I hadn't really noticed them, thinking them part of the flotsam of a building site.  Once the holes are drilled, Paolo and his helpers carefully lower the cages into them.  This manoeuvre requires strength and precision, it is feat of... heroic proportion (?)

As if by magic a cement lorry, its revolving drum turning like a barber shop sign, arrives as the last cage is in place.  The cement is carefully channeled into the holes..  The cement lorry, with the ability to turn on a penny (like a London taxi), positions itself precisely before pouring its load.  Not a drop spills.  That is, not until the job is done , when the driver tips out the remains of his load on a bare patch of ground nearby.  Paolo studies this dollop of cement incredulously, he hasn't yet worked out his strategy for disposing of it.  He's got a month 'til it hardens completely.  He's knows this, it is why he has filled the holes well in advance.  The buried cement pillars will form the foundations of the annexe.

There were two earthquakes in neighbouring regions of Italy over the weekend.  Major quakes - quite devastating in their effect.  Thinking of them brings home the fact, like nothing else so far, that I am truly in a foreign land.

Drilling the 5 metre holes for the concrete posts

Carrying the wire rod for the concrete posts

Heroically raising the reinforcing rods

Filling the post holes with concrete

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

"Breathe out the sense of place, the sense of humour, and the sense of despair that fill the air...". (Donna Leon commenting on the work of Camillieri)

We are currently living on one side of a valley and our new house lies on the other.  The ridges on either side are divided by the river Cesano, which lazily flows into the Adriatic, about thirty kilometres  away.  Few bridges cross the Cesano along this end of its journey.  One such bridge has recently fallen down;  reportedly by a flash flood.  It was a historic bridge with what must have been beautiful stone arches.  Now it is a crumpled heap of masonry scattered across the seemingly benign waters of a mild Spring.

Being one of the few, this was an important bridge for transport across the valley.  On all the approach roads the Commune has now erected unmissable and unmistakable "No Through Road" signs ("Strada Interrotta") in wild orange and black.  For none is this more inconvenient than for the cement company whose quarry blots the landscape to the north of the river.  But theirs is the stuff that constructs and their multi-ton lorries need to get through, and they know that the Commune is not going to rebuild the bridge in a hurry - not in a year, not in a decade perhaps.

So, the cement company has built their own bridge.  It seems kinda logical, doesn't it.  It's a low bridge, a bit boring maybe, maybe prone to flooding, but it's functional and it must be sturdy enough to bear the weight of those lorries, for now.

The Commune maintains its rigid signs - "No Through Road".  They know nothing of the new bridge ;-)

The local community knows better and traffic flows regularly and smoothly over this stretch of the Cesano.  An occasional car stops, hesitates, sees the next car plough happily through, starts up again and, lemming-like, wagons ahead.  Long may it last.

One wonders what will come first - the reconstruction of the centuries old bridge, or the collapse of the new under the weight of those cement lorries.  Then again one wonders why the cement company doesn't construct a new bridge in the likeness of the old.

As in a glass house, we travel south across the valley to view the latest developments on our new construction.  The wooden frames where the doors and windows will go have been put in place.  We are here to decide which walls the bed heads will rest against so that those walls can be straightened.  Our choice is limited to those which are already relatively straighter, i.e. the one in each room.

Our bed will face south, I don't know if that's good feng shui, but it leads to Rome and so perhaps feng shui is a bit irrelevant here.