So you think you would like to live in Italy

This is our story, warts an' all. We have come this far since May 2004 and survived the bureaucracy, a freezing cold winter, a landslip and a diminishing money pot. Share our experiences, believe me the good ones far outweigh the bad and if you want to ask a question and we know the answer, we'll tell it like it is.

I found this little phrase in a Collins Italian Phrase Book published in 1963 ~ "passa ogni limite" pahs'sah ohn'yee lee'mee-tay which means: That's the giddy limit. Useful if there's anybody out there that quaint!!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 Round Up

Now, where were we? Somewhere between December 2008 and December 2009 and all that in there is. To begin at the beginning, well not the beginning exactly but after the end of the flourish. We are here:- still living in the big house with all of the major restructuring complete, working on the ‘church’ house with all of the major restructuring complete, up to our ears in stone, blocks, bricks, toilet pans, basins, tiles, 1 luxury spa bath made in China and any number of shutters (too many to count) all to be laid, installed, filled, grouted and hung. The building gangs who rampaged around the site throwing up walls and dropping great gobs of concrete into copious cavities, who tapped and knocked and drilled and cursed while the costs were pumping up as fast as their adrenalin, have long gone and with them the remainder of our budget.

Work continues but at a reduced pace. There are just the two of us now and my husband, a registered builder here in Italy is working for clients as well, when the opportunity arises, but it’s very difficult to edge your way into the Italian market. Thankfully there are plenty of expats in the community who make up our client base; may they continue to invade our airports in search of the ‘good life’ and may all of the hillocky little rock piles for sale at ridiculously inflated prices be converted into their dream homes.

In the meantime good things are developing in the church house. We’ve installed another wood-burner-boiler combination fire, aptly named ‘Vulcano’ (first one installed in the big house), which provides hot water and central heating throughout but more importantly nothing appears as welcoming as a glorious, roaring log fire, spitting and crackling behind it’s glass shield. The heart of the house has been installed.

We’ve gone for a modern / traditional mix in the church house and you know what it’s like, thumbing through the glossies looking for inspiration when you spot a simple little feature you know will make all the difference. Never believe that anything simple appears in the pages of a designer magazine; it didn’t get there by dint of being simple. Oh no; it looks simple, that’s the whole point but don’t think that you are going to conjure up the same effect with a few sticks of pine, a swatch of left-over curtain fabric and a strategically placed IKEA lamp. No sirree, it aint never gonna happen! And so it was with the concealed chimney breast light. Just a narrow channel cut lengthways into the chimney breast radiating a soft white light without any visible workings. “We’ll have that”, I heard myself saying and believe me we will. My husband has less hair than when he started on this project and we have accumulated a number of objects, some expensive, some not so, which have been abandoned in a heap or relegated to the skip in pursuit of the ‘designer’ look, all of which didn’t quite ‘do’ it. I even contacted the designer via email to ask how he did it; I didn’t expect a reply and I didn't get one. But hey, it’s starting to look less like an accident and more like something intended. You will need to watch this space for the real deal, coming soon.

Now, another little design feature, an original this time, is the pill box in the bedroom. It’s actually a fixture behind which the wardrobes will be hidden and to which the bed will abut. Snazzy eh? In this way the bed is positioned almost centre of the room which leaves the four walls of the room free for other necessary bedroomy things. Two slots were cut into the fixture at an appropriate height to serve as little alcoves to store your night time things, little pots, books etc.; a clever design detail by way of a substitute for bedside cabinets for which there is no space. On paper it didn’t look like a pill box but in the stone-cold, sober light of day wearing a heavy coat of grey render, well, I can see the similarities. A dab of camouflage decoration to the walls and a little Focke suspended from the ceiling and we can make it a theme room!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

DogBlog December

July, 2009

Another sad passing.  This time Monte, the miscreant of the duo with the freckly nose, whose playful growl sounded like a high-pitched rumble and who thought that by contorting his face, sucking in his jowls and shaking his head from side to side he could look threatening and which only served to make him look like he was chewing a wasp, is gone.  We did everything to ensure that we started on the right foot; training them from pups.  We did everything Cesar (Milan) advised.  Taught them to respect the hierarchy of the pack and to know that they are bottom, taught them social skills although they always behaved like hooligans around other male dogs, and taught them not to steal food from the table (difficult when the height of the kitchen surfaces are at their eye level ).  But there was always a problem with Monte, a spark of unruliness that developed into aggression and not premeditated either so that no-one really quite knew what he was about.  There were some quite serious warnings but thankfully no serious outcomes and so after much discussion and with heavy hearts we entrusted him to the angels.  Now, without the influence of his rebel brother, Giorgio has blossomed into an angel, docile and gentle, and has become quite the main attraction in the village with the children and parents alike.  Monte lives on in the rascal in Giorgio's eyes. 

Monday, December 15, 2008

Catch-Up September - December

The church house, so named because the builders think that the house needs only a cross mounted to the main roof above the oval window and they say churchgoers would beat a path to the door. How very droll! In England, most people love the idea of buying an old chapel to convert but when the specifications for a new build have been drawn to our design (without any religious characteristics in mind) and the building is nicknamed La Casa Chiesa, it takes on a comical slant, which seems to delight the builders. I have to admit that whilst standing in the body of the building with the sun streaming down on me through the oval window I wondered just for a second if this was a heavenly sign, a calling. Perhaps it has always been our fate to come to this place and erect this building here, a place of worship, and you know, it used to be a stable! Is this what they call 'seeing the light'? And then, blinking up into the glare waiting for that finite moment of truth, somebody dropped a scaffold pole and a cry of "Attenzione" echoed around the hollow building. If it wasn't the call I was expecting it was the one I was meant to hear. A resounding great CLANK brought me out of my reverie and I scuttled off. I was sure I heard just a faint snickering from the builders direction!

Amazing progress has been made since September 2008 but then we've had two amazing teams of builders. They're a hungry lot though and they've eaten their wedge of the budget before Christmas. We have to continue under our own steam now (I can feel the callouses on my hands already) and it's anybody's guess whether we can finish in time for next summer. All the windows, doors and mosquito nets (integrated) have been fitted to all buildings and we are just waiting for the shutters to arrive. There is no such thing as a standard size window or door here so everything is made-to-measure at enormous expense, the craftsmanship is generally good though.

It's one of the most important costs to consider when renovating an old building so always make sure that it's one of the first estimates you obtain after the construction costs. Cost of windows and doors, mosquito nets and shutters as follows:

2 x double windows with segmented arches above in pine (no mosquito net) 2,532 euros
2 x oval windows in pine 1,487 euros
1 x double window satin glazed in pine with mosquito net
516 euros
1 x double door half glazed in pine (no mosquito net)
with Yale lock 1,096 euros
1 x single door half glazed (as above) in pine with Yale lock 838 euros
1 x double shutter louvred, alluminium to look like pine 550 euros
Grand total for all windows, doors, mosquito nets and shutters for all three buildings 45,600 euros which includes fitting.

This goes a long way to explaining why there are so many properties for sale here which have been restructured to what's known as 'builders finish' which means sold without bathrooms, kitchen, windows, doors, flooring, decoration, plumbing and electrics. So whilst the cost of the property may appear reasonable and it may be easy to visualise the final finish, a buyer will need to carefully consider the cost to complete. This is the scarey end of the budget and depending on the type of finish you want it could easily double your cost. The Italian builder knows this and whilst they tell you that it makes sense to leave the finishing to the clients discretion, more often than not the cost to finish it is prohibitive.

Both loggias, one to the main house and one to the church house are finished and now that the windows and doors have been fitted it's all beginning to take shape. I would have liked to have said shipshape but the area around the buildings (previously referred to as a garden) refutes any suggestion of that, it looks more like a dump site set on a morass.

It's perilously dangerous trying to negotiate a path to the wood store or the dog pen avoiding the mud and at present, the ice. Twice, so far I have lost my footing, on both occasions with the dogs who set about me with that boisterous fervour reserved for 'games'. Only one soggy ear and all bones intact so life is good!

Next month: progress indoors and the complicated workings of an Italian builders estimate.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

DogBlog September - December

Good-Bye Clank.
Sadly, Clank has died. (To read more about Clank, see our DogBlog April.) As sorry as I am to lose our little four legged neighbour who lived under the fig tree, there is a huge sense of relief that he is no longer suffering. Since we started to feed him in April, which was always in ample proportions, he never put on any weight. I'm not sad that he is gone but I am sad that he died without someone to comfort him. I hope he's gone to a better place where there aren't any chains and he can chase butterflies amongst the flowers. We still pass his spot every day; his kennel is still there and the fig tree is losing its leaves now that autumn is upon us but I can feel his presence and the dogs still look for him. He will never be forgotten, our little dog with the misty eyes.

Ever since we adopted the boys, they have played together, in fact when we found them in the garden they were locked in combat, tumbling patches of pink and fur venting soft, purring growls with an occasional yap, and 19 months on it's much the same only the decibel level has reached dangerous proportions. There's nothing in Cesar's book that tells you how to cope with noisy game play and in fact whenever we pay a visit to the Vet she always asks if they are playing together and extolls the importance of game playing as a principal factor in a healthy development. But, I don't think anybody realises just what this involves and although I can try and describe it you can not imagine the intensity of the noise. Their postures resemble those of mating seals; their bodies prostrate on the floor, if not facing each other then close enough for their necks and heads to touch enabling a direct face-off.

There follows a lot of lunging from the shoulders and head and jaw clapping motions directed at each other but without any intent other than vocal. A high pitched YIP will ellicit the response of an even higher pitched YAP and this exchange will continue until the YIPs and the YAPs reach such a pitch that a human ear can no longer bear it. The lunging abates when the YIP/YAP's segue into the most blood curdling howls and moans, then noses are set to the sky, throats elongated for the best delivery. Of course we had to stop allowing these games whilst they are in the house and if we catch a glimpse of them shuffling up together and a bit of excitable snuffling starting to develop (a sure sign that a YIP/YAP is brewing) we throw a ball into the middle of them hoping to divert their attention. Such games outside, in the pen is fine (well, for us, not for the builders who are working close by) but only because we have no neighbours to speak of but I'm sure the YIP/YAP's and howling can be heard in the village which is a mile away. I'm quite sure that this posturing is not unique to our boys but I would dearly like to know if anyone else has experienced this behaviour in their animals and more importantly at what age it ceases. If I ever manage to master the art of transferring video to my blog I will post just a short example of them in communication. If you've never seen it before it will amaze you; I'll regulate the volume for safe listening though.

Next Month: Meet the little fox cub who visits at night and leaves his mark!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Ferragosto and Frustration

The Pool house formerly the bread/pizza oven house
In August Italy closes down, well not all of it, the touristy places remain open, but that's what Ferragosto is all about. This is when the Italians take their holiday, anything from one week to four, businesses usually only two. But you have to plan carefully for it if you want to be able to buy building materials etc. because the suppliers will not always take the same two weeks. The Italians of course can't understand why we foreigners don't look forward to and enjoy Ferragosto as much as they do and just take a month out to chill but the word 'deadline' is anathema to the Italians and most of us foreigners are working to one! In Italy a finishing date can not be predetermined, it is when it is. To the likes of us trying to manage the restructure of three buildings and hoping to open next year for summer letting, a month off is just too much to swallow. So we planned for it and battled on in the August heat along with our Romanian builders. Hey, I've just found a wonderful article in the 'Italy' magazine (August edition) which I am about to reproduce for my blog readers especially those who are thinking 'does she ever stop whinging'. This is a transcript of an email sent to somebody who is restructuring a house in Umbria and who is experiencing all the same problems as every other investor of a 'do up' here. I don't know anything about copyright laws but I do know that it's one of the funniest articles I have read so here it is: "THE VOICE OF EXPERIENCE. Just a word of caution. Don't expect miracles and be pleasantly surprised if anything like 'divine intervention' occurs. The biggest source of frustration/angst/anger amongst many who embark on the renovation escapade is that they try to impose Northern European timetables. There are many lovely aspects to Italy - timetabling or working in 'concert' is not one of them. I know that you are anxious to finish and quite logically cannot see why, by your own standards of production and hard work, this will not be achieved ... Ma siamo in Italia. I don't want to dash your hopes but you can save yourselves a huge amount of angst by realising that everything happens here, just not to a timetable that any known cosmic forces could predict. But when in the not-too distant future you sit watching the sun go down with a glass of vino in hand, it will be all part of life's rich tapestry. I am not known for my patience and so Italy has been good for me; lowered my blood pressure because the forces are too strong to push against (though I do). It is survival: face the inevitable or die: pour another glass of Sagrantino ... Amen." It's good to know that we are part of a bigger 'family'.

Alessandro the sandblaster and Dean our little helper

The brothers from Kosovo finished putting the roof on the new house and then went home for three weeks to celebrate a wedding (one of their own) and so far only two have returned; the groom has remained for a further 15 days. Anyway the returning two are to recommence work on the new house tomorrow. I can't say that we haven't enjoyed some peace whilst they were away. We've only had half a labour force but things have really started to develop. The old pizza/bread oven has been demolished and has virtually been rebuilt as the new pool house.

Kristian, the plumber and Adriano, builder

Adino, Il Capo and Michele, his son

And so the builders, plumbers, sandblasters and anybody else who continues to work during the month of August forge ahead and in terms of visible progress the development has been remarkable. We are starting to look at the plans for the swimming pool which have been laid to rest for two years and as is normal when things have progressed so far and we have had to accommodate all the changes resulting from new ideas, new building regs and unforseen nasties, it no longer fits in the grand picture. So hey ho, we have to think again; a bit more stress, a few more arguments but we always manage to turn it around. There is a wonderful saying I live by: NOTHING CAN WITHSTAND THE FORCE OF SUSTAINED THINKING and it's true, nothing can.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Dogblog August


People with dogs are drawn to people with dogs which is how we met Maureen and Windsor at a house party in Gualdo. When the conversation gravitates towards 'our babies' and we start sharing anecdotes and photographs there's no stopping us. No risk of boredom setting in with this topic; it's our favourite. Unlike the 'Doting Mothers and their Children' party bores, doggy people don't go in for one-up-manship but marvel and coo at the antics of any dumb creature. And so we were invited to supper and to meet 'ELLA' Maureen and Windsor's 3 year old Bernese babe. And she is a babe. Whereas our boys are cumbersome and awkward and always look like rugby players after a scrum, Ella is elegant and serene and manages a pose without trying. Not that she doesn't have all the same traits as any boisterous young pup, as Maureen says, "she is an accomplished thief". Trophies include emery boards, a couple of pairs of reading glasses, workmens' tools and current favourite, gardening gloves. Nearly acquired, but sadly caught red-handed, a pair of binoculars. It's just that I see her more as a David Niven in the Pink Panther and not the typecast 'bungling thieves' more befitting Monte and Giorgio. Anyway, Ella has featured in a book "The Southern Bernese Year Book 2007/2008" so what about that for stardom! I'm wondering if there is a publication called "I Cani da Pastore Maremmano Abruzzese" which might like to feature my ever so slightly unhinged boys.

The Lady

and the Tramp

Now this could easily be one of my boys ~ Monte I think, knicknamed 'The Scruffian' ~ but it isn't. This is RAMBO. If ever there was a misnomer it was this one. RAMBO no no no. Chaplin, Scruffy, Bonzo, Scooby Do, Mutley but not RAMBO. I don't know him very well so maybe beneath the informal tie and the waistcoat lies a Baskervillian temperament but I can't see it myself. Rambo belongs to some Italian friends; he's a guard dog!!

Monte ~ our little 'Scruffian' grows more handsome by the day. He has a freckly nose ~ his kissy spot and boy does he get kissed. My husband minds that his nose is always 'rosy' from lipstick, Monte doesn't!

The boys are inseparable. They are separated, sometimes for a few short minutes if I walk them individually from the house out to their pen. If I don't return within minutes for the second one, frenzied barking and howling sets up from both quarters and there is nothing I can do to suppress it until both dogs are reunited. I've never experienced anything quite like this before but then we've never had two pups together from the same litter. I met a woman at the Vet's who told me she had rescued two hunting dogs, obviously brothers, and that they too are inseparable. And also, like our two they will run off given the chance so she came up with a cunning plan which, so far has proven to be very effective. Our situation is that the dogs have their own shed (for shed read semi furnished apartment) contained within a pen, when they are not living in the house with us. This woman, not having the benefit of a contained area has to tie the dogs up when they are outside which restricts their freedom somewhat. She is not happy about it, and I suspect, neither are the dogs. So, taking advantage of the fact that one dog will not go anywhere without the other, she ties up only one dog and allows the other the freedom of the garden and alternates them each day. Now, I'm thinking, could this work for us. I'm going to try it. Success or disaster? Find out next month.

Blacky has become 'one of the boys' and has moved into the new apartment and pen with Monte and Giorgio. He has the benefit of a cat hatch cut into the door of the pen so he can come and go as he pleases. He favours Giorgio and has to sleep next to him. Either one will always have one paw reaching over the other. What's that all about ~ adoration, domination, protection? Whatever, we couldn't have a more amicable trio.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Heat and Dust

Thankfully summer has arrived and brought with her a gaggle of builders. Oh, to hear the unremitting banter of Serbian, Albanian, Bosnian and any other unrecognisable patois however chattery. It's all sweet, sweet music to my ears. So long as it accompanies the sounds of hammers bashing, concrete mixers sloshing and drills whining there is no better tonic for she who is waiting to move into her new home. I don't envy them working in the heat though, temperatures now between 30 degrees and 40 but even that has its benefits ~ young bare-chested men, bronzed and toned, swanning around the site. They're like a breath of fresh air and the best part is that I get to take the photographs of them for the blog. No shortage of pictures this month!

We're up to roof level and it feels good. I've been chatting with the builders about 'topping out' explaining that the custom in England is to celebrate with champagne. Now, maybe I'm being led by the nose a bit but The Brothers have told me that it's the same in Italy only the clients have to stand their builders a slap up supper. Hmmm, I was hoping to get out on a couple of bottles of prosecco and a few finger dainties.

And don’t think the activity stops with the new house. Whilst the Brothers are having ‘Sloppy Molly to Go’ delivered by the lorry load the men working on the main house are doing it by hand (fatto a mano) and the air is filled with the sound of the mixers revolving endlessly and the wheelbarrows bouncing over the temporary wooden bridges.

The thing about this stage of building is that none of it is silent and you become used to the constancy of its noise until that is, something different interrupts the monotony like the intrusive ‘parp’ of the lorries signalling the arrival of more cement and blocks or a ‘Kango’ reverberating around the house, engaged in devouring our aged walls.

Oh, and while I remember what do you make of these cool, little black boxes? (Sorry, forgot to take a picture of the whole floor laid end to end with them). They are called ‘igloos’ unsurprisingly and when they are installed they make a suspended floor to provide ventilation to the earth and the lower walls. Tubes from the igloos are vented through the external walls, concrete poured over the top, and hey presto, the floor can breathe. Now, here’s a sorry tale with a happy ending. Whilst we were in bed one night we were kept awake by the crying of a cat; it was quite a soft mew but consistent. Thinking it was our own ‘Blacky’ who was crying to get in, we got up a couple of times and called him to the door but he didn’t come. The cat was still mewing the next morning when the builders arrived and they told us they were concerned that a cat had got in under the igloos and had been concreted in the new floor. So Kango to the fore, a small hole was made in the concrete base and a little plate of tuna fish set at a short distance. To help the kitty enticing aroma reach its target, we wafted a tin tray back and forth to create a draught, all the while shouting “Here kitty, kitty”. Pathetic, I know, but you’ll do anything in a crisis. It was all worth while; after lunch when the builders returned, the tuna fish had gone and so had kitty.

And there’s more. If all the activity of the team building the new house and the team renovating the main house isn’t enough, my husband and his team are building a wood shed (somewhere to store the logs) and a wooden shed (somewhere to store my gardening gadgets which were ejected from the chicken shack cum bread oven following its demolition).

Many hands mean lots of progress but however well you think your project is planned every day starts with a flurry of questions requiring immediate answers. It’s not unusual at 8.00am to find a circle of heads bowed over the plans and drawings laid out on the kitchen table amid the coffee cups and the pencilled scribblings as ideas and variations are bandied about. Exhilarating! Beats looking out of the window wondering if they're going to turn up.

About Me

My photo
Keep checking in. I swear I will put something in here one day.