As old as the Romans… perhaps older

For all you architectural buffs, including those nutty enough to re-build some stone shack in Italy, there is Good News!!! I have found something to applaud on the local Re-building The Humble Abode Front here in Codiponte. But, let’s review what I so hate…

Italian House - Marsegliesithe buon mercato prevalence of the villager’s love for the marsegliesi roof tiles which: A) look like plastic; B) are destined not to fade: C) nor will they accumulate much moss; and, D) bird-do apparently washes right off with rain!!! Gosh.

Italian House - Intonaco giallothe new technology of stucco and its new fangled colours which, like their sisters, the roof tiles: A) look more than just artificial; B) will not fade; C) will hardly show the unwanted brown blotches of humidity, water infiltration or from too much lashing rain. Gosh again.

Italian House - Ringhiereand the ubiquitous metal railings. As You says… Eeets hardd too beeet sutch ooglinessss. I won’t waste a Gosh.

My major peeve with these construction materials is they have eliminated The Key Feature of Italian Architecture and this is…

Degradazione fa bellezza!!!

So now, some dear folk in Codiponte have chosen to apply a lovely veneer of natural stucco for the house they have been renovating. 20151210_144347_resized 20151210_144432_resizedThe material is older than the Romans. The Ancients mixed sand + lime cooked out of stones in ovens to make a malt for mortar and as a stucco wall covering for external and internal uses. The natural stucco stuff breathes. Yes, all stone walls need to inhale & exhale and the natural stucco allows that. Other attributes are: A) the natural stucco’s varied, light brown colour is its most charming aspect; B) is looks terrific with stone; C) you can paint on it; and D) it ages beautifully too. Degradation makes beautiful!!! Gads.

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.

Memory Lane of reconstruction…

What a Climb to Calvary with these photos. I found slews on an old MacBook but, to get them to the newer one, I had to send emails… lots and lots and lots of email… with only a few photos in each. Most just would not arrive where I wanted them to land, i.e. the newer MacBook. Lost in some niche of the server, I suppose. These nine pics made a happy landing. How is a mystery but, I ain’t arguing. I would like to share them. Looking at them myself those months turned into four years of rebuilding il Poggiolo strike me as nearly Ancient History…

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Back to slinging cement…

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20150613_093537_resizedYes, it’s true… we are repairing La Casetta from its Earthquake of 2013 damage. I don’t quite believe it. What possessed us? I had become an expert in ignoring the tell-tale effects ever since that 5.2 on the Richter Scale had hit… zig-zagging gaps in a wall’s colourfully painted covering of stucco, tiny cracks dancing and skipping about senselessly up & down walls, and probably, laughing at me too, and odd revelations of white glaring out from Our Blue-Blue in La Casa Grande. Unfortunately, I know the answer to my quiry… You commanded it and so, I had to organise it. Our Usual Routine and with very little discussion too.

We came up with XXL Stone Mason Man to do the repair job. A gentle giant. He has to be one of the most polite, well-spoken and patient of Human Beings on the face of the Earth. XXL came highly recommended by Our Milanese & Dutch Friends up at La Concia. He had laboured away for the past two years on their charming hill-side dimora. And, I discovered he is well recognised and valued by practically everyone else around Our Parts of the Lunigiana interested in paying solid Euros for sheninganless work. One too many times an Italian stone mason has grumpily furnished us with an estimate… something the fellows just cannot get around… only to show up during construction with… Ooops! Sorry, Signorenon ho calcolato bene, etc. Or, we discovered post-work that a local mason had skimped on the cement… to improve earnings?… leaving us with falling stones upon the heads of our fish in the pond! You and I listened to these recommendations, deliberated and decided upon XXL and to put him to work in La Casetta!

It is a new whole world of working.

From the first day of Monday last, I realized we had ingeniously embarked upon a quasi do-it-yourself-er. Something akin to flying on Ryanair. With that airline… not sure Ryanair qualifies as an airline…. you buy your ticket piecemeal, print the reams of paperwork on your own device, show up at the airport to rip your cartaccio so everyone at Ryanair gets a strip of paper and the only thing you do not have to do is shove the B-737 down the runway for take-off! Same procedure with XXL and La Casetta.

I should not complain. I have no good reason to. It’s my nature. XXL shows up punctually at 8:30… unlike the non-so-che-cosa orario of the locally born & bred masons, who must smoke a cig, play video-poker, etc. before arriving to work… he tells me what he needs in the way of building materials to accomplish The Work… I should halt here to say…

I am not keen on this part. I feel to be out of my normal sector. Cemento and arenina are not on my CV. I can deal with selecting the proper potting soil for azaleas, purchase non-lethal mechanical equipment, i.e. like scissors, judge one type of glue from another to affix Giulio Cesare’s wife to a column, head to the gas-station to fill-up with benzolio for my weed-whacker. There, those are my kinds of items to do!

My discomfort rests with the casual language of building supplies. XXL asks for sabbia fine. OK. Fine sand. Did you know there are several different types? Can you believe that? Cement ain’t just cement either. The gamut runs from heavy-duty to pronto-baby. To avoid unforeseen errors later or, return trips to the building supplier to exchange something, I have to Spanish Inquisition the poor XXL for brand name, manufacturer’s material label and type. All XXL can tell me is… it’s in a yellow & green package. Apparently, that’s a concept the building material manufacturers understand because, low & behold, the desired material WAS in a yellow & green package. I bought several with the obscene name of Osmocen. It retards humidity from passing through stucco. No wonder colours are the best description!

…so, I get in my FIAT Barcchetta… il mio furgoncino with the top down… tootle to Gragnola to pay a visit to the local building supply store, where I spend most of my money anyway, spout-out the list of materials wanted to one of several superbly service-oriented staff, load-up on several 30-40 kilo bags of cement/calce/Osmocen then, return to Codiponte, drive across the narrow yet Medieval bridge, dump the cargo on the stairs up to Il Poggiolo and, finally, carefully inch my way through the narrow passageway of a street to the village’s piazza car park, probably stealing someone’s space they’ve held for years and well before I ever showed my face in town. Backing up across the Medieval ponte is OUT OF THE QUESTION!!! These viaggi are repeated every morning.

20150617_180119_resizedThe practicalities of a do-it-yourself-er aside, there is the added stress that next week I have an American family coming to stay… FOR TWO MEASLY NIGHTS ONLY!!!… in La Casa Padronale and too a pair of Minnesota Cousins arrive on their belated honeymoon to Europe/Italy/Il Poggiolo!!! I goofed the calendar. The Cousins will have to bunk one night in the camera dal letto of La Casetta since the Appartamento Azzurro is otherwise occupied with a family of 6 from Michigan. As I write, the Casetta BR is full of debris and wet stucco. XXL found the stucco in the BR to be sorely in need of being hammered off the stone wall and replaced anew. A consequence of an ill-considered judgement to save money with the initial construction adventure lo’ those six years ago. Fine. Somehow, I, they, them and XXL will survive. But gads!

Local architecture…

Every morning of every day of the week of every month I reside in Codiponte, The Dogs and I take a turn through village. They dictate the route and it rarely varies… down the multi-ramps of Il Poggiolo and across the Medieval Bridge… Thank God, they do not pee on the Ave Maria built to commemorate the flood of “66. No. They hold it until they get to the triangle of grass under the grotesque fig tree… down the asphalted ramp to the tune of the nasty hunting dogs’ barking. Poor things, their living conditions are less than rustic… along the little lane strung of modern houses built on a flood plain, chicken coops too and past abandoned vegetable gardens, the owners long ago deceased, ownership since forgotten… and back up the Casciana road and across the New Bridge to the twisty lane to the piazzetta, the epicentre of Codiponte… and then back home.

While those two Weimaraners assaporare the many pungent odours on our tour, I am forced to entertain myself with contrary pursuits. If not to admire tree moss, punch keys on a smart-phone for an AM text-message to You or, glance at passing aircraft winging their way at 38,000 feet towards Paris or London, I can appraise the local architecture.

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Shack Architecture is the most beautiful of architectures and the Italian variety has its own distinct non sa qua beauty. Ad hoc is an art, you know, and especially when one has few centesime to spend. Amazing what a few terracotta or cement bricks and mortar can muster up and in a jiffy too.

This love for the make-shift comes from summers spent with an adored grandmother in South Carolina. Sped about in a barrelling 1957 black & silver Chrevrolet Impala with Mimi at the wheel to collect rents from tenants on her farms… You tells any and all Italians about that I am the progeny of slave owners… or just to kick up some dust on a hot & humid afternoon, I was charmed by the blur of unpainted and dilapidated clapboard houses in sandy soiled pine groves, cinder-block gas-stations cum convenience stores anchored at a crossroad of state roads and where a frosty Orange Crush soda usually awaited me and my dime in chilled silence in the cooler just inside the screen door entrance and stops at a vegetable stand lean-too of weathered wood, catty-whom-pus shingles and strings of naked lights for a couple of pounds of fresh red tomatoes. It was Love. And too for tomatoes sliced, salted & peppered and crowned with a hefty glob of mayo on top and served with a piece of cornbread buttered ’till it could barely stand it.

Codiponte’s shacks served mostly for agricultural purposes… to store gardening equipment or as works-stations for olive groves and vineyards. Those tasks have been cancelled out. The faded and chipped stucco, broken window panes and rained stained wood are all which remains of those tasks. But isn’t the haphazardness lovely? And one shack is FOR SALE. Gads.

La Loggia… the latest architecture

IMG_3861The view from My Chair looking west from La Loggia and over the village of Codipontte…

What do we have here? Lots of roofs. A gamut. The nearest is close to its last breath. The one behind & slightly above is good for a few more years. The house underneath it though is a post-earthquake disaster. And, the bright sparkling & spiffy roof to its far left is just new-built. Off in the distant are still others in various states of repair and many are held down by stones. If one roof tile shifts, so then goes the lot. Il Poggiolo’s old & fallen down roofs of five years ago had the same. Most all of what is seen for a roof tile is an ugly AND un-Godly cheap terra-cotta tile called le marsigliesi. Let me deviate here, so I now may give you My Lecture on the State of Italian Architecture…

There has been one solid natural disaster… much worse than our June 21st jolt… followed by a couple of inventions which, in My Self-esteemed Opinion, have summarily KILLED the eternal beauty & charm of architecture on the Italian peninsula… from the boot’s pull-strap of Alpine peaks all the way down its spine to its embroidered tippity-toe of Apuglia…

A) The earthquake in Abruzzo five years ago induced a reaction from Italy’s recalcitrant parliament to re-write the National Building Codes, effectively PROHIBITING any construction in stone/rock/pebble/boulder/other. Oh! You certainly may face with stone/etc. but, THE STRUCTURE CAN NEVER BE BUILT OUT OF ROCKS/ETC.!!! Industry responded by manufacturing a dense & squat proportioned terra-cotta brick of various dimensions for an anti-earthquake building material. Its width, and thus, its low center of gravity, hopefully, will same lives, when Mother Earth hits with her shaker-stick. Not a bad thing, however, the architectural options are curtailed…

B) Concommitant to the anti-scosse bricks, and if facing with stone is not an option… a mightily expensive choice… laying on stucco will be the necessary way to go. Well, until Industry comes up with a cool-looking & exposed alone anti-earthquake brick alla High-tech. This time, Industry, coupled with the Italian folk’s maniacal concern for cost-savings… reasonable concern, since our taxes here have quadrupled though there is a temporary 50% OFF tax discount for construction projects, good till December… responded by creating a PERMANENT stucco paint-color. So, GONE will be those charming facades in faded Ochre, Genoese Red, Neopolitan Pink & Ligurian Pistachio… for cryin’ out loud. And, concomitant to this HELLACIOUS precedence, the color palette is geared for intense, nearly Day-Glo tints. So charged, so infused with intensity, UFOs will be now able to detect the local Italian terrain without the use of their flashing lights, etc. Remember that ad… what was it for?… when a voice-over said… Cherry-cherry, Yellow-yellow, etc.? Well…

and C) since Industry was on a roll, le marsigliesi are now produced in a hard-knock material and in kilns rivaling l’Inferno that the quaint mosses, lichens & other low-grade flora, which adore nothing better than to attach themselves to surfaces occasionally wetted… WILL FOREVER DISAPPEAR FROM GRACING NEW-BUILT ROOFS IN ITALY!!! It was one thing to say Arrivederci to coppi e embriaci, it is another to withstand the plasticized effect… UNTIL KINGDOM COMES!!!… of these new-fangled marsigliesi. Now, statistics say that every year, about 25% of the roofs in Italy suffer the need to be re-built. I’ll let you do The Math on how long this architectural ROOF-CANCER will KILL-OFF the Eternal Beauty & Charm, etc. of Italian Architecture.

Ought I appeal to the New Pope? He cannot piss people off more after his Let’s-get-off-the-anti-gay-and-abortion Rant. Beseeching his help on Italian Architecture should be a safe item on his agenda these days.

More later on My View. Gads.













Our new back gate…


And now, something far, far away from Our Recent Concerns…

a gift from Dr. You. 900 Euros of intolerably heavy iron-work to serve as Our New Back Gate… if we are so lucky to find a Builder-chap strong & clever enough to install it.

I discovered an interesting notion… WHOOPS!!! Sorry… more like An Iron-clad Rule, about what is absolutely essential for an Italian and his/her house. I was caught unawares of… A House Ain’t A House Unless It Has A Fancy Gate Law. Your abode can be a hovel… a risk we almost experienced on the afternoon of the 21st!!!… or a Medici palazzo but… if it ain’t got no gate, well… you don’t got no house!!! I apologize for the Grammar. The bigger, the fancier, the phouffiest, the most impressive it is, all the better. I guess we win!!! We did so, thanks to the ten tone weight of the darn thing. Anyway, I would have rather had those funds devoted to cut & pasting back Il Poggiolo. I mean, we’ve got post-earthquake cracks to mend, once M.E. decides to be quiet for a goodly spell. But no!!! I was FORBIDDEN to use those Euro bills for anything else.

Two thugs delivered the gate, if threatening to leave the two-piece-gate at the head of the Medieval bridge could be said to be delivering it to Our House. These Thugs were highly recommended & organized by the Stud-sales-person, who bilked You, at the cheesy bric-a-brac store on the old Roman road, the via Aurelia, down Sarzana way. You loves the place. What can I say? The outside patio of the wood-clabbered strip-mall-store is strewn with large cement sculptures of dolphins, horses, a Venus de Milos or two, a Hercules AND even a frigging elephant FOR SALE and installation next to your, I would presume, rubberized inflatable swimming pool… for cryin’ out loud!!! 100 Euros for a hour’s worth of work, travel-time & lugging included. They arrived 4 hours late for the appointment. I did not set the hour. THE THUGS DID. Then, at arrival, Thug #1 zipped out of this truck’s cab and summarily invoked A Previously Known Law… one of You’s favourite… Over Our Dead-body will we drag this gate to your house!!! I told them then that they could go back from whence they came. Thug #1 called the Stud-sales-person. Thug #1 reasserted his Law. I was passed the phone to re-assert mine… the gate is to be taken up to the Courtyard of Our House… STOP. It was taken up to the Courtyard of Our House. So, I now have The Daily Reminder of… A) the vision of a totally unnecessary New Back Gate. I like the one we’ve got. Nina-beena goes right out between its broken spokes. Ease of escape is always important… B) it probably will not ever be installed since a) I ain’t spending My Euros, when I want to spend mine on Pasting & Painting Il Poggiolo back to its former pristine self and b) You’s gifts NEVER include installation or service… and C) the Italians need to come to grips with The True Notion Of A House = A Gate Does Not A House Make. Let us pray. Gads.

P.S. We have A New Calpurnia for L’Appartamento Azzurro’s Terrace but, for the time being, she’s resting on a solid table on the Loggia.

Before & After…

I’ve come to cherish these Before & Afters. So uplifting to see how Progress can work its mighty wonders. Let us hark back to a Before of early 2010 and a new roof under construction for L’Appartamento Azzurro & La Casa Grande. Poor ol’ plum tree flowering its pink heart out while engulfed by that shoddy scaffolding, costing all my limbs!


And, an After in the late Spring of 2011 with a pristine roof and a re-built garden. I ought to take a new snap but, I think I’ll wait until we are out of the dregs of Winter. Gads.




The Topics of the holiday…

You & I spent a lot of time socializing in Codiponte during Our Holiday Stay from the Day- after-Christmas to Capodanno. There were two sorts of encounters…

Have a caffe’ and a piece of panattone with the locals. In one busy afternoon, we paid visits to three of our favourite Codipontesi neighbors and at each stop it was… Have a caffe’ and a piece of panettone. We came home with severely disturbed stomachs. By the way, for those who are not familiar with this Italian Christmas staple called panettone, beware that it is a sweet bread big as a chef’s hat and often adulterated with chocolate, nuts, or candied fruit. The last does My Intestinal Track no end of trouble. Add all the caffe’ and… well, never mind. You still complains of coffee poisoning. But, it would be rude to refuse, You! And, especially, when one & all were so complimentary about what we have done with Il Poggiolo. Have another slice of panettone? Si, grazie!


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pranzi o cene with Our Local Non-Italian Friends, who, like us, had the silly notion to buy & renovate an old house. Even before the white wine, The Topic of Conversation gravitated almost immediately to builders. Must’ve been something in the air or, with what we were nibbling & sipping. Or, no one was much disposed to talk about rising utilities fees & taxes. I don’t blame them. So, onto i nostri costruttori. And, The Verdict… near universal for all those undertaking such Buy & Re-build initiatives after Ryanair was invented & invaded Pisa Galileo Galilei Airport… for cryin’ out loud… carrying masses of mostly English persons with Pound Sterling burning holes in their pockets, anxious to be in Tuscany yet, without forking-over funds for all that over-priced real-estate south of Firenze. Whew!… was none had… A… Nice… Word… to… say… about their builder. All felt abused, bilked & cajoled by them. I aptly commiserated by harkening down My Memory Lane with Stories of Builder Sturm und Strang… lots of S & S, if you recall September 23, 2011… and all splashed in a constant medley of blog posts for the past four years. But then, in mid-breath, I was cautioned by one Very Dear to Me…

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…You, who quietly asked me to make A Fairer Assessment for what-all Our Builder had accomplished for us with Il Poggiolo, instead of berating His Record with what You felt were Minor Infractions. Oh? I see. So September 23rd was just a trial run for a heart attack? With No Reply, I changed course. You’s council guided me to recognize the many, many items of Builder Expertise by Ours at Il Poggiolo, now since forgotten. I’ll give you a Summation though… We gave the Builder a dump and he returned it as a…? As a…? As a villa? Perhaps not. But, a house with a roof that doesn’t leak, for sure!!! I am grateful, appreciative & beholden onto him… Yes!… Our Builder. What a way to kick in 2013? You’s resolution for me in the New Year is to stick with the Italian. Gads.

















Old doors…

Dinner party last night. I hosted a contingent of Dutch & Swedes departing our fair corner of the Lunigiana. We could not sit down until 9 PM. Too darn hot any time sooner. It was 102F at 2:45 PM on the aia. The temp hovered there until late afternoon. As soon as the sun fled the scene, the temp eased down to a more reasonable 85F. And, by the end of the evening, we were in the Blue-blue-blue Salotto of La Casa Grande eating ice-cream & cookies. A chilly breeze had picked-up.

But, don’t those old doors work well for tables?

You says My Middle Initial C. ought to stand for Chuck-the-stuff. And, if the Truth were to be known, I WAS on the verge of giving a good ol’ heave-ho to il Poggiolo’s old & rotten doors. You caught me in time. And, I AM thankful. Yes, thankful for seeing the utility of old doors, i.e. hosting a dinner parties on Our Aia.

We first tried out this table-stunt last year for a dinner in honor of Our Dutch & Milanese friend’s wedding. You & I hosted all their out-of-town guests. We were about 47 folk of various nationalities, residences, ages, heights, sex, etc. I went to the Big City of Aulla to shop at the Brico Center… an Italian version of Home Depot though HD is far larger… to pick up saw-horses. Dreadful quality. Cheap too. 6 Euro. I bought a dozen. Came home & painted them in Our Color Rejects… various Sage Greens, a couple of Yellows… one is now the highly contested Kitchen Color in La Casa Grande… lots & lots of Blues and a few of tans. Works nicely to see so many colorful legs as you climb onto the aia from the Sottopassaggio. I wonder if You has ever noticed that?

The Dark-green plastic chairs were purchased on a second trip to Brico Center. They were cheap too. Only about 15 bucks ea. I bought a dozen.

The finishing touch… not evident in the above photo, as per the Extreme Heat when the shot was taken… are the IKEA aluminium lanterns distributed on the table, the Front Stoop and retaining wall separating Our Aia from Our Neighbor’s. Nothing beats the glow of candle light on a Summer’s evening. The doors look less beat-up too. Gads.