We just met with our new plumbers. It’s like going on a date. Cesco, the builder, arranges a time to meet. He comes along as the chaperone. We meet at our house to discuss the new bathroom we are installing. There’s a lot of tentative chat as they check us out, try and ascertain what we are looking for, whether we will be amenable clients? Will we haggle over payment? At the same time, we are checking them out: father and son team, as is usual in this area. Will they be reliable? will they gauge us? Cesco acts as the mediator, diplomatically facilitating the conversation. Since my ability to speak Italian is very basic, and my understanding of plumbing is even less, I revert to smiling and nodding and saying, “What do YOU think is best?”
Clay has developed an uncanny ability to speak plumbing IN Italian. He doesn’t do home maintenance in the USA, in English, but here in Italy he is a fountain of knowledge, carrying on lengthy conversations regarding water heaters, under floor heating and gas vs solar panels.
One thing I realize since we have begun renovating our second house in Italy, is that certain things matter to me: like windows. I like lots of windows and as big as possible. I like light, open spaces. The rest, I really don’t have a strong opinion about. Clay and I are an interesting team, since he is very detail conscious, consults daily with Cesco and watches the building progress with keen interest.
I have to admit, that to me, an unfinished house is a dirty construction zone. Until we are ready to choose paint colors and bedding, I’m less than excited. It is a challenge for me to build up a zest for crumbling walls in damp, cold buildings. Clearly, this is why I never went in for architecture. I have a huge amount of respect for our team who diligently works hard every day to rebuild this house stone by stone.
Clay is like a kid in the candy store, “Did you see where that stone wall used to be? Look at how they have shored it up. It’s amazing what they are doing to the roof! The bathroom is going to have an amazing view. Do you think the toilet should face east or west?” To every question, I have the same answer. I turn to Cesco and ask, “What makes the most sense?” Because honestly I am not one to notice which way the toilet faces. I’m just thrilled to have indoor plumbing. I am just not a good partner to discuss which kind of towel racks we should have. My eyes glaze over, I get dizzy and have trouble focusing. It’s a lot like being in Ikea (my nightmare).
Things I have learned about restoring a 400 year old house:
- Not only is there no foundation, but the floors were laid directly on the dirt. When the workers pulled up the tiles, they asked if we want to plant a garden in the living room.
- The house is held together by “keys”. The walls are literally screwed together, like a toy model kit.
- Instead of using cement to build the stone walls, the stones are stuck together with dirt. Like a sand castle.