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.

Agricultural archeology…

Every morning in Codiponte, The Dogs & I go on their prefered AM tour: down the ramps of il Poggiolo to the Medieval bridge, across its 17th Century stones and its ghastly layer of 60’s asphalt to the fig tree at the other end… where first Nina, then Moses pee… then down a long asphalted ramp to the little lane which runs through the flood-plain of new-constructed single-family houses of an untold architectural brutality of pitched roofs & white stucco… at the start of which, Nina habitually leaves a bio-donation in the grassy gulf between the ramp and the sad greyed house in the field next door. Meanwhile, Moses trots off to sniff around the empty aluminium shack where the little lane splits from the spur down to the Aulella River’s ford… on around to the new bridge and through the village for home-sweet-home.

Yesterday, was no different EXCEPT I lost Moses. One moment he was behind me and in the next he was gone. I looked around but no trace of that Weimaraner. I yelled too. The entire village of Codiponte is used to my yelling… MOOOOOSES!!! NIIIIIINA!!! Of late, Moses is either deaf or plain hard-headed. He never responds by plodding back to me. I let Nina loose of her leash to free myself of her constant pulling and to go in search of the Dog. Immediately Nina bolted down a gravel & grass trail at the sandy terraces of the bocce ball courts. I quickly followed to snare her back. No sense to loose both of The Dogs. After a hundred meters, I spotted Moses. He was hobbling and sniffing this’s & that’s beside the most gorgeous yet obviously abandoned stone walls. I walked down what had become a sunken grassy road to re-capture him. I discovered the walls delineated plots of land, probably once-upon-a-time vegetable gardens & orchards and built to protect them from the river’s occasional flooding. Now, none are used for what they were intended for. Struck me as an odd sort of archeological site.

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I ought to thank Moses. I was unaware of this aspect of greater Codiponte.

Il Poggiolo has similar constructions about the path which climbs up to the Borgo Castello. The vestiges have a hedge of spino fiorito… it puts out a small, delicate white flower in the spring… planted to replace the “privacy-protection” of a taller wall destroyed and fallen-down during the ’22 earthquake.

In the future, I’ll let The Dogs show me more of their amblings off their leashes. Who knows where Nina would take me. Scary. Gads!

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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!!!

Fire!!! Days Three & Four after…

IMG_5703Day Three of After Sunday’s Fire… the insurance adjuster came yesterday. He took a few interior shots while I kindly shined a beam up at the blackened ceiling and at the gaping hole too, took some rudimentary measurements, wrote out a “verbale” which was basically copied from the one I sent to the insurance company Monday AM, and he ended by telling me the work could begin!!!

“Gosh, that fast? But, don’t you want to see the roof?”
“No, your photos are enough. Send them to me. Are they in colour?”
“The last I saw, they were.”
“Fine. Arrivaderci!”
The End… but not really.

IMG_5703Day Four, today, Thursday, and yes, it’s the same photo from Day Three of After Sunday’s Fire… No-one wants to uncover the disaster. Or, my photos are so stunning and highly descriptive that the exercise can be dispensed with. AM appointment with our geometra. Google translates “geometra” to mean “surveyor” in Italian. I would say NO! It means “A Guardian Angle covering my back!” We went over stuff about the fire. Too lengthy to go into. The consequence of the appointment though was a PM appointment with the same geometra and the two builders… destined to do The Work… to really go over stuff about the fire. Took over an hour. The result is: the entire chimney and 24 square meters of roof will have to be entirely re-built, re-beamed, isolated, protected, secured, re-tiled, the flue cleaned & brushed and with the novelty of a NEW! NEW!! NEW!!! copper chimney-piece on top. Then, the entire ceiling and walls of the salotto will be re-appointed… detailed painting… followed by a couple of coats of paint… for the second time this year!!!… in our signature Sage Green. The attending three gentlemen’s eye-balls popped out of their sockets when I told him what just one gallon of the paint costs. Thank God, they know the store where I bought it. I often think Italians imagine Americans cart over in their over-head bags nifty stuff found ONLY in the United States of America. Ha!!!


Fire!!! Prop & Cover…


Il Poggiolo’s Fire: The Aftermath or, Phase 2… rains predicted for two days and, sure enough, they arrived early but, not too early before the local builder + crew could put braces up against the chimney piece… it risks falling inside La Casetta and/or down the roof before the insurance adjuster can come to inspect and assess the damages… and to cover all with plastic tarpaulins secured with stones from our vast archive to keep La Casetta dry. We ain’t rockin’ but we are rollin’… a bit.








Now the whole village knows something happened. Oh! And the last thumbnail shows my contribution. Gads.


A fire… I was awakened in the middle of the night last Sunday by a horribly acrid, noxious smell in my BR in L’Appartamento Azzurro, the top most portion of il Poggiolo, our house in the Lunigiana. I immediately thought of a fire in the apt.’s fireplace. Nothing. Got back in bed. The odour got worse. Sometimes the contadini burn trash late at night down in the river often throwing plastic into the flames. I thought that was what was happening. Sceptical, I looked out the window to see tons of smoke right below where I was. This is NOT happening in the river. I stepped out onto the terrace outside my BR to see the chimney of La Casetta wrapped in flames. I bolted to awaken the neighbors staying in La Casetta while their house is re-built. I ran into the daughter on the ramp. She had been awakened by the same nasty smell and called a friend on night-duty at the volunteer ambulance service to come with fire-extinguishers. Inside the LR danced more flames up where the flue passes through the roof. While the fellow tried to douse the fire with the synthetic spray on the fire-extinguishes, the daughter & I ran back up to L’Appartamento Azzurro to do a bucket-brigade to put out the flames with water. 30 minutes later all was put out.

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I have an idea as to how it happened. There is a lesson to learn, I knew it before but others did not but, I am mostly thoughtful of this…

lucky that the daughter awoke and called for help… lucky that the friend arrived with the fire-extinguishers and set to work. The nearest fire department is 30 minutes away!!!… lucky that I was roused into action too… lucky that no-one was injured or, worse by the noxious fumes… and lucky that the roof and fireplace were built out of fire-retardant materials. Had they not, in minutes all would have been for a total loss.

Monday morning, I got a local builder to come and check the damage and to tell me if he could repair all. Said the chimney was built properly and, sadly, too busy to help. Still in the phase of post-earthquake reconstruction. Our geometra arrive too. Said the chimney was built properly and made a call to a builder expert in chimneys to come make repairs. He’s booked. Called our insurance agent to have a claims adjuster come and inspect the situation so the re-construction can begin.

Now, if the rains can hold off, I will feel even luckier!

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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Looking a bit Fall-ish…

Just got back to il Poggiolo yesterday and before the Heavens let loose its Globally Warmed load of thunder & lightning, heavy rain and even hale later in the evening and through all of last night. Took a tour around the garden this morning, an exercise in Damage Assessment. The persimmon tree had lost a limb. Poor limb could not resist the swaying and its burden of fruit. 2015 will have a bumper crop of persimmons. Not like last year, when You could only find 3 to pluck. Brought along the camera and here is a medley of Fall-ish photos…

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