Sunday, 27 January 2013

"How eerie it had looked in that first morning light, like a shipwreck that had risen silently to the surface." ("The Crossing" Elly Griffiths)

La Pensilina Fotovoltaica

This is a wondrously strange wooden structure.  Covering 12 x 7 meters of land and standing 3.80 m. at its tallest.  We had thought, in the planning, that it would dominate the garden, obscure the view south eastwards towards the hill fort town of Piticchio, dwarf the principal house and incite the wrath of the locals with its discordant aesthetics. Of course, we also thought that it would harness the sun's energy to provide an ecologically (and financially) efficient means of producing electricity.  The latter has yet to be proven (the financial benefits will take years to realise), but the former have all proven to be unfounded ... so far.

There is a concrete base on which sits a framework of massive fir beams, which, whilst admittedly big, has blended into the landscape with (dare I say) an aesthetic of its own. It is as if it has been absorbed by the landscape in the same way as it in turn will absorb the sunlight.

Inside the house the piping for the underfloor heating has been intricately laid throughout, all 7 kilometers of it.  The plumbers brought in a mobile boiler (have you heard of such a thing? I hadn't) to test the system, and it is working.  Just as well really, as the whole floor has already been cemented over.  And this is no ordinary screed, it contains metal filings designed to conduct  heat more effectively.  This too will have to be proven, although how one judges whether they make any difference is as much of a mystery to me as the whole cat's cradle of the photovoltaic system!  But, the fact remains that the house, without doors and windows, is heating up very nicely thank you.  Long may it continue.

The weatherman: impressive, indubitable, in his air force uniform, assures us that we will have snow again within the next two days.  Not so much, I hope, as to delay the arrival of the piastrellisti (tilers) to lay the floor tiles.  After that, the underfloor heating had better work, or we're all back to the drawing board, or the ice age.

Other great strides have been made.  The pergola has been assembled, an oaken structure, this time to shade from the sun.  Again, not as straightforward as one might think.  The base follows the old stable floor plan and is not a perfect rectangle.  Paolo mutters about how these old houses are all "squadrate" - out of kilter.  And then there is the problem of where to place the vertical beams so as to minimise the obstruction of the view.  It only takes half a day, five grown men and teatime looming to help solve everything.  I think they did rather well.  The next day the structure was completed.

La Pergola

The Main Pergola Cross-beam
Strides too on the stairs front.  Alessandro tiled the whole staircase in a day by himself. Paolo and I took over 2 hours (effectively the best part of a morning) just deciding how to arrange the tiles on the two (yes, two) steps leading from the ingresso (hallway) to the soggiorno (living room).  I think we did rather well. That afternoon the tiles were in place and grouted.

Stairs from below

 Stairs from above

Steps from hall to living-room

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

"She suggested they go into the forest where the wild boar were still hunted. 'If one charges you,' she said, 'you have to wait till the last second, then jump to one side like this. The boar run fast but they can't change direction.' 'I'll remember that,' said Bruno.' " ("A Possible Life" Sebastian Faulks)

We saw one once, a wild boar as big as a Dexter cow and twice as broad.  We were driving home from a nearby restaurant after midnight, turned a sharp bend on a steep road and the boar suddenly appeared in the headlights, calmly ambling across the road right in front of us.  The car was slowed because of the bend, which was fortunate because that boar wasn't going to veer or slow for us or anything else.  After that I knew as well as Bruno that if a boar were charging me I wouldn't wait till the last second.  At the restaurant we had eaten a pasta dish with cinghiale (boar) sauce, it was very tasty.

Boxing Day (Santo Stefano sees the hunters out in full regalia in full force.  Their cars line the country roads at all the strategic locations.  The sounds of gunshot and baying dogs are all around.  (We have been told of a hunter who hunts only out of season for fear of getting shot.)  Then all is peaceful once more until New Year's Eve (notte di San Silvestro) when, of course, we have the fireworks.  This year, prior to the night, the news is full of the new laws banning fireworks in town centres (finally!), except in Naples which, for reasons every italian seems to comprehend, is exempt.  Despite this, the next day the news is full of deaths and maiming caused by fireworks.  Here one has to resort to the French, "plus ├ža change..."

Work on our house continued right up to the 24th and will resume today.  In the interim we have been visiting our site with family and friends to view progress and debate THAT colour.  Thankfully throughout the holiday the weather has been gloriously sunny and the "sticky" mud, a feature of the building site, is drying out, mocking our insistence that all visitors bring along "suitable" footwear.

We spent New Year's Eve as guests of Italian friends.  After a veritable feast we toasted and embraced as the changeling hour struck.  Of course Paolo was there.  Everyone put him on the spot asking for a date in 2013 when our house would be completed.  Even in his cups he remained steadfastly, albeit charmingly, noncommittal.

After midnight we all sat at the table and played cards till 3.00am.  The game was called Sette e Mezzo (Seven and a Half), a gambling game played with Neapolitan cards.  Now you'll ask me how one plays and I will tell you.  There are no rules, or if there are, they are somewhat flexible.  Laugh a lot, shout a lot, swear a lot, cheat ad infinitum.  Leave the table at will and return at will without ever losing your turn (whenever that was).  Glare at your opponents cards and advise (preferably unwisely) whenever you can and especially when you can't. Argue about all of the above all of the time and then some.  Beg and borrow when you must, promise to repay and then forget...  are you getting the hang of it? Great fun to play (!), even though at the end we had lost all our initial stake - all five euros of it.  When gambling here, we now learn, it is advisable to keep the stakes low.