A strange title for a post but one that could not be more fitting for what has gone on in my life in Arpino since my last post so long ago.
Yes, you, my loyal readers, are owed pictures and explanations and now you will be able to get them in all the sadness they reflect and in all the beauty that has been revealed.
This week, my downstairs neighbor’s daughter passed away after being diagnosed in December with late stage breast cancer. Yes, these are TGG (the Gilda Gang) as I referred to them in my many posts. The daughter was the geometra’s wife, the sister of the architect in Rome and the sister-in-law of the wife of the brother who is the structural engineer and mother of two teenagers. These are the people that have been sometimes featured in my posts as it is them, my TGG, the mother, the son, the brother in law who are my partners in the massive structural work that must be done to make the house habitable (even though you will remember that it was certified habitable in all documentation in the commune – city hall- or else I would not have bought it!).
It is Gilda who I say good morning to from my bedroom as she works tirelessly in her garden tending the fruit trees and the flowers. And it is her grandchildren who play with my grandchildren when they come in the summers.
During the first week last December I flew to Rome with my own private structural engineer from Israel who personally worked on the renovation of the ancient clock tower in Jaffa known as the Jaffa Clock. We had a meeting with Luigi, the Vatican structural engineer who had done the work preparing all the documentation on exactly what must be done to the property, Carlo (the son of Gilda, the architect), his wife Sabrina (a structural engineer in her own right), Fabio (Gilda’s son in law) and my fabulous and wonderful designer (FWD) who has been acting as my voice and translator with them and Luigi.
I took with me to Rome Inbar, the structural engineer from Israel, as you see from the line up we have 3 of “them” and one of me who wouldn’t know to say nay or yay to anything the TGG may say to the plans that Luigi is suggesting. And although FWD is well versed in all the building issues, she is not an engineer and I felt I needed a structural engineer who was just ‘mine’ telling me what they thought should be the way that we go about fixing all the issues that need to be fixed.
The meeting was amazing, lasting four hours as the professionals went back and forth on the best method to strengthen the house, how it should be done, which materials should be used and all the intricacies of a massive structural overall of a 300 year old palazzo whose walls need to be bound together with underfloor chains and a steel ring, whose roof must come off to accomplish all this with all the floors in my part totally lifted and then somehow put down again. Of course, the discussion all in Italian! Thank goodness for FWD who was constantly translating and making sure all was understood by everyone.
We left the meeting giving Luigi the mandate to rework the specifications (computo metrico) according to the decisions that had been made. And then it was holiday time! Christmas, New Year’s and I left everyone alone… who would have thought.. that in those 3 weeks, the life of so many of the people at the meeting changed forever. Fabio’s wife took sick and so did my FWD – my rock through all this, my translator culturally and language wise – the person who had put together this team – Luigi and was able to bring to the table TGG in peace with the joint productive goal of getting the house in shape. My lovely C. was sick. And everything stopped. Everything.
When I found out that both of these women were sick with the same disease, I think the irony of it happening as it happened, exactly at the same time was so unusual and so clearly unbelievable that I just didn’t know what to do. Nothing could be done. There was nothing to do. Just hope and pray. And of course any work on anything concerning the house stopped.
I have been to Arpino several times since and in all honesty, the charm of the house after two years of really very little progress began to wane and all I felt being there, was that it is a huge empty space exceedingly inconvenient and very cold. I lost my motivation for doing anything. And seriously contemplated selling.
I thought a trip to my Tuscany might help. I found four days that included a visit to the Arezzo Antique Market and huge restoration places near Lucca. LLA (lovely lady from Australia) promised to come with me and we met in Florence for a four day road trip. It was a lot of fun, but ended on a bad note as I dropped my phone and then it got stolen, there were petty arguments and in the end everything just felt too much and too complicated. I was too tired. Thinking about it, the real highlight was not even planned.. we happened on the flower show on the Lucca walls that was amazing.
I did find some lovely items at the Arezzo Market which then were delivered to Arpino – a beautiful travertine table with six chairs for the courtyard and an ancient fresco painting which needs cleaning but might add a bit of scenery in the almost empty living room mostly likely paying way too much for everything….
And found a light for the kitchen that I absolutely adore:
My kids with the grandkids came for a week in April during Spring vacation. And although it was magical Arpino..
the house was empty, echoing, cold and just inconvenient. And to top it all off, there was, as my son in law so rightly predicted could happen when he first saw the house, an electrical fire in the kitchen when they were there!
The kids left after school vacation ended and I had gotten my flight ticket months before planning to go to the opera in Naples with LLA and another friend from Amsterdam, so staying on three extra weeks. Best laid plans of mice and men and of course it didn’t happen. I had plenty of other visitors, but the house just felt too big, too cold and I wasn’t happy.
Happening at the same time, was a sorry story of a stonemason who ended up having an ego and temperament that left me 100s of euros ‘fleeced’ and work half finished. Knowing that all work in the actual palazzo was on hold, meaning nothing could/should be done until the large structural work would happen, the one place I knew I could do some work was in the courtyard.
I hired the ‘artist’ to replace the grey cement tiles you see around the large urn in the middle with stone to match what you see and to remove the awful brown paint from the front door
to bring back its natural chestnut
We had a clear agreement on what he must do which among other items, was to replace the grey cement tiles with the Arpino stone
It turns out that even though there was an agreement written and some money (thank goodness not all!) had changed hands, the guy decided that x, y, z of the agreement couldn’t be carried out.
He left the courtyard a mess, the door half done and believe me, I NEVER will do anything in Arpino without my LLA and her wonderful husband AGAIN!
As the story continues at my neighbors, I know that I don’t know whether it will be months or years until the structural work can be done.
I am ‘lost’ without my WFD who is undergoing difficult treatments and I don’t know when and if she will be well enough to continue to help me… and although LLA and her husband MIMGH (Macho Italian Man with the Golden Heart) are there by my side, they have other clients, other work and none us know how things are going to play out with the neighbors. We just know we need to tread lightly.
At some point during this time of – Where am I with all this – what/can I do… what do I want to do?.. maybe even just sell! Suddenly and I don’t exactly know how it happened… perhaps needing to bring my fabulous builder in to see what he suggested to fix the courtyard fiasco! I got a building and renovation quote on the only part of the house that I knew would be the least affected by the structural repairs – The downstairs apartment suite and the courtyard. And yes, I do realize that when the house is ‘bound’ together from the roof, that will cause cracks and those cracks may show up in this part, but at least I will be moving forward, doing something constructive that when done, gives me the ability to rent the space AND will have new wiring, new heat, new bathroom, FURNITURE and be much more pleasant to live in!
Of course, the Israeli structural engineer said it was a risk to do anything BEFORE the structural work, but she also said, that no matter what happened, anything that did happen could be fixed. Just I may be doing things twice, which is why I wasn’t going to do anything upstairs including redoing the electricity which of course had been my priority and what I thought I would do a year ago before the ceiling collapsed!
But in my present state of mind.. which is .. should I sell and just be done with it all.. fixing up the downstairs apartment suite would only make the house more attractive to buyers and maybe it would make me feel better!! And I had the funds I was hoarding for the big structural work…. SO .. I gave the go ahead and the renovation work on the downstairs apartment began. AND under the plaster ceiling in what will be the bedroom of the suite and in the entrance hall to the big house, we found original walnut ceilings and in other places beautiful stone arches which of course we have restored. And this is what it is has always been about for me – .. finding the beauty and discovering the secrets of my 16th century palazzo.
The month was drawing to a close and my kids had already bought flight tickets for a 3 week stay in August. I knew, as they did, that if I didn’t put some furniture, modern conveniences and rugs upstairs, their summer vacation might not be ideal.
So.. thank goodness my WFD is feeling better!!! she meets me in Rome and we go sofa and LIGHT shopping for the courtyard! And she has energy and is feeling better and my mood improves with her improvement in health! She is cancer free and just doing what needs to be done to insure that she will stay that way the rest of her life!!!!
I left Italy. I have not returned since, but left everything in the hands of LLA, MIMGH, my Master Builder Bruno and thank goodness FWD who even felt well enough to go down to Arpino, check all the work of the electrician and make sure from her designer eye that all is how it should be. Floors were dug out and ancient terracotta found to match what there is in the living room. I even designed the pattern of the floor in the days when FWD was not well. Here we have it in pictures:
The kitchen is being built using original black and white tiles that LLA found on the Amalfi coast and FWD now feeling better designing the space. You can get an idea how it will be:
And look at the courtyard floor now:
And putting electricity lines for the courtyard lights:
And as in ALL builds .. there is always one thing that you think wouldn’t have happened if YOU had been there, on site, vigilant… our beautiful ancient jasmine was taken down.. by an overzealous workman needing to do whatever needed to get done. We ranted and raved and cried a little. But the builder also feeling absolutely terrible has replaced it with two 6 meter bushes from Tuscany that are waiting now at a nursery near Arpino to go in when the courtyard has stopped being a building site.
Look at what at my fabulous builder did with the flower bed and the steps. He will add new steps that will come out from the kitchen to the courtyard.. and we can just begin to get a feel of what it will be when there will be new doors and windows and the new jasmine plants are in.
So today: FWD, my lovely designer, is slowly gaining all her strength back, beside me now as we go forward to finish the downstairs suite and courtyard. TGG will mourn and their loss is really horrific. A mother of teenage children and the only daughter of my neighbor. Their life will never be the same. And I wait patiently for whenever they are ready they will let me know for sure to go forward with the huge building job, once again turning the palazzo into a building site.
I did have the electrician rewire the upstairs kitchen at least. I had to do that after the fire this spring, but the rest of the house upstairs will stay with copper wires and wiring from 1910 until the time we do all the structural work.
I have ordered the appliances for the kitchen downstairs and what was missing upstairs, couches and arm chairs for the living room, some rugs and bunk beds for the kids. Hopefully there will even be a closet or two. And when the structural work begins I will just have to move it all. That’s just the way it happened.
When you are doing a work like this, in a place you don’t live, with all the various unknowns that can happen – just ask me! I think I have had more unexpected turns than most, but hey this is Italy so I wouldn’t bet on it, you must have local people you can trust and talk to (meaning speak your language). If not, it certainly would almost be impossible to pull off. So I am either lucky or smart. For without LLA and MIMGH, I certainly think I might have given up by now.