Fire!!! Phase Whatever…

Work on our Fire!!! repairs started yesterday morning. The day began dull & grey. So much for the Estate of San Martino’s splendid sole. There was a light knock at the door of L’Appartamento Azzurro at 7:52 AM. I had just trudged in from the w-a-l-k with The Dogs. Had no time even to give them their t-r-e-a-t-s. Two operai and il costruttore stood politely outside. Golden leaves from the caco tree floated down around them. Typically Italian… when you walk down the street and meet another Italian, eyes go immediately to the shoes. As an Italianized American, I did the same to identify who was who. The two operai sported massive boots, something Frankenstein might have found cool. The costruttore had on a late-breaking pair of Lotto sport shoes. Lotto is an Italian brand emblazoned with a signature double helix of rectangles in a reflective fabric. Pretty groovy. Colourful too. The rest of their outfits were basically the same… jeans, sweaters and windbreakers. After a brief preliminary discussion on how to start, the costruttore bid me an ArrivaderLa and the two operai traversed the apartment to commence with the immediate demolition of the tilting chimney piece et al. Here are a few cogent shots…


IMG_5865The Good News, sort-of, came later in the morning, when the two operai demolished the flue facing of pasteboard above the firebox and mantelpiece to extract the flue for inspection. Here’s the exciting imagery… no, this is not science fiction but a rather clear indication that theories of some blockage in the flue… hornet’s nest, incrustation of cinders, poor construction from the previous builder… was a lot of bunk.

The gist of the rest of the First Day was spent worrying about spending an additional $1,000 out-of-pocket for a chromed cannister of a cazzo-boo-boo… the costruttore used the more tactful word boiler to describe the thing and which installing it would completely discombobulate the pasteboard cappa to hide the new flue… deemed efficient & appropriate to isolate roof from flue or seek some other solution. Today, Our Geometra, costruttore and myself haggled over options. In the end, we collectively opted for a thermal casing of high-intensity ceramics to separate roof from flue. I am saved a bunch of bucks AND, according to the geometra & costruttore both doubtful of the chimney store’s assessment of the boiler’s cazzo-boo-boo value… still upon the road to render La Casetta Safe & Secure from Fire!!!  Gads.

November 1966

Yesterday, the 4th of November, was an anniversary of the devastating floods in Florence. Horrifying scenes were transmitted throughout the world, thanks to the nightly news on TV. I can still run several in my mind… waters rushing pell-mell down what were once trafficked streets, the Ponte Vecchio operating as a provisional dam to the insistent push of the flood-waters, people perched out their 3rd or 4th floor windows & balconies watching in anguish disbelief, and so on and on and on for many days and weeks afterwards. The clean-up lasted for over a decade, as an occasional plaque will remind.

IMG_5746At that same moment, similarly destructive floods hit the village of Codiponte. The water & debris washed away the Medieval bridge, the town’s only artery to the world. The right-hand part of the bridge, now graced with an elegant brick arch, was obliterated the same night as in Florence. The village houses built on mud-packed bases along the river were rocked, moved, angled off-kilter and, in some cases, parts were just plain carried away by the terrific forces of the deluge. The water level reached to the attics of some, certainly to the top of many 2nd floors. Codiponte and other towns were isolated by mud- and land-slides. Communication was interrupted. There were other inconveniences too, like no drinking water, provisions or medicines for many days.

IMG_5749The town cleaned itself up. The bridge was repaired and strengthened. Retaining walls were erected along the Aulella River to steer any future flood waters away from the borgo. And, under the banner of Progress, a brand new and reinforced concrete bridge was built a little down stream connecting the village to the Casciana Road and to what is now the SR445, graded, buttressed and asphalted in the meantime. It used to be a rutted dirt mule-track before. And remember, before 1966, the way to “San Jose” was from Monzone behind and on the other side of the chestnut covered hills of our little valley and not by way of what today is The Road through the Aulella River’s throat from Gragnola, Gassano & Aulla below.


When tragedy strikes… car accidents, earthquakes, landslides, flooding… the Italians build and guard with vases of flowers a “Madonnina”. They skip over the part of how come the Virgin’s protection lapsed to allow such an awful & mean event to occur and, instead, rest easier knowing they have marked the location of despair so her attention may always be drawn to that tragic place. The townspeople built one on the post-flood, re-built Medieval bridge, a safe-guard and commemoration too. Above il Poggiolo is another Madonnina built after the IMG_5740huge earthquake of 1922. Once-upon-a-time, our house had a tall stone wall to cordon off the vineyard from the path up to the Borgo del Castello. It tumbled down upon the vineyard and our now houses. In any of these or other cases, safety and security are insured with a Madonnina: the Virgin Mary is watching over us. And, not a week passes that a woman of the village hasn’t refreshed the flowers or, at least, brought in some new plastic ones.

Let us be thankful. In the years You & I have been at Il Poggiolo, we’ve had our share of tragedies, the most recent of a Fire!!! Now, I say a little pray and hope for the best. How Italian! Gads.


Fire!!! Maybe how it happened…

Post-fire has had me conversing since Monday-last’s Fire!!! with various people experienced with fireplaces, chimneys, flues, roofs and fires too. The list has included Our Trustworthy Geometra, a few local builders… two will be employed in the $10,000+ repair job to start next Monday… Our Very Good Friend and heating/cooling expert… and My Saviour with radiators and water heaters… and, of course the constant wisdom of You transmitted via his many, many text messages. Il Dottore was in Sardinia on a much needed R & R expedition which, unfortunately, went up like the smoke, when he got my hysterical text message of Fire!!! last Monday AM. You rallied and, Thank God.

Like the aftermath of a tragic airplane crash, the first task of the NTSB is always to establish what were the conditions leading up to the disaster. My inquiries of the same come to the following:

The fireplace was barely used. Our Next-door Neighbours, a mother-daughter-and-kid have been camped out in La Casetta while their house is re-built. They have sporadically built fires during their stay and only to take a slight chill out of the house. All the firebox, etc. ever experienced were short, intense bursts of flaming heat.

Huge fires were built on the rare occasions a fire was laid inside the cold & barely used, glass-door enclosed firebox. I had happened to noticed a mountain of burning embers when I glanced at the fire-box while dousing the flames with buckets of water up at the roof. This was not as per My Instructions, and was probably done to avoid constantly climbing the stairs to re-stock the fire with a new log or more. The Neighbors pass their time down at the First Floor DR table next to the kitchen, a typical custom in these parts. If there were enough room, they would be in the kitchen. Again, any fire was laid ONLY to take the chill out of the upstairs before going to bed at 9 at night. I had taught the mother-daughter how to simply build a fire. The message was… start and stay small… a bit of fire-starter and two logs crisscrossed to get things going, adding a log at a time as the fire burns down.IMG_5732

The wood was green. The Mountain Man, who furnishes our wood, had changed telephone service and number without bothering to inform me or, probably, anyone else. Communication in the Lunigiana is an unknown. They see each other at the local bar or in church… maybe. I spent June & July trying to track down the fellow with the added annoyance, once I had his new telephone number given by the bar at Vignetta, that he could ONLY be found at home for meals… maybe. So, the wood he delivered in early August was freshly cut. I stacked it or dumped in places… like the cantina where the cows once chewed their cuds… to dry. Takes time, apparently. Our Very Good Friend and expert with heating issues said green wood, once hot can produce even more heat than seasoned. He knows this from personal experience with an imminent fire at his mother’s house. Seconds away from a Fire!!! The tell-tale sign is too much smoke. But who would see that at 12:30 in the morning?

The night was damp and chilly. Our Trustworthy Geometra, Our Very Good Friend and the two builders booked to do the repair job all said that damp and chilly conditions outside and an overly heated flue inside can produced a pressure differential of letting smoke out the chimney but not the heat, building inside the flue to such an extent that all that could happen was Fire!!!

So Sunday night, the daughter innocently went upstairs to the salotto after dinner and built a big fire with lots of green wood in a cold firebox on a damp and chilly night before going to bed. At Midnight we got… Fire!!!