Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Rock Science

It seemed like such a simple proposition - replace two sets of rotting, broken-down French doors and a small kitchen window.  In my New World mind I envisioned them simply removing the old and installing the new.  I had met with the falegname, or woodworker, while I was in Lucanella in January, who gave me work quotes and material options.  We chose the color we wanted and gave the go-ahead to have the doors and shutters fabricated. 

The muratore (stone mason) was brought into the mix because it turns out that removing old doors also means adjusting old walls.  The three-feet thick openings are constructed of ancient stones, and peeling off the wood jams and frames revealed rubble and rotted lintels that would need to be redone.  Fortunately for us, our friend Tonino, a building contractor, knew the right person to call. 

Maestro Vito and his son showed up with the tools of their trade and shy smiles.  They broke into the stone and pulled out bits and pieces of "filler" that had, at some point in the ensuing centuries, been stuffed into the walls, creating a lot of rubble on my floor.  My first impression was, "What have you done to my house?!" but their constant calls of "calma, tranquilla" - and the fact that they were ever-so-patiently fitting stones just so into the cavities- calmed my nerves.  They pulled out an enormous, blackened, rotting lintel.  When I commented, "Gee, that thing looks like it's 200 years old," Maestro Vito responded, "I'd add another hundred to that number."  So, you're saying you yanked out a hunk of building material that is older than my country?  They were very amused by that thought.

They arrived early, worked hard, labored skillfully, and left sweaty.  They respected my desire to leave the great thick depth of wall that led to the door openings distorted and uneven even though they thought me a bit loopy for that.  It's a three-hundred-or-so old casa, I don't want it to be all perfect and even and new-looking.  I won them over on the first day with a snack of mortadella sandwiches and beer.  They won me over with their shy smiles and their amazing clean-up job.  Seriously, men who create a mess and then clean up after themselves?!  They even scrubbed the bathroom sink where they had been drawing water for making mortar! 

Then the falegname returned to take final measurements of the openings and finished the fabrication process.  He and his son came to install them, which, again, would seem simple, but was an operation that would consume twelve hours of their time.  He had a heavy accent and a soft heart, and at the end of the day he changed my front door lock, helped me unload some heavy items from my car, and gave me a little discount  on the price.  He brought a new iron railing to place between my living room doors and shutters, "the old one was all rusted and ugly," he stated matter-of-factly.  And he didn't charge me for it.

I was so impressed with these guys, all of them craftsmen of the old school who pride themselves on their work and their traditions, and who only reluctantly, shyly accept praise and thanks for their efforts.  I have a habitable house...and thanks to their careful labors it feels ever more like home.


Vicky said...

Oh how satisfying to see that door! and good for you to stick up for the old-age quirkiness of your home.

...louciao... said...

I'm fascinated to read about this renovation process. The Italian craftsmen sound quite wonderful. There are so many tales of contractors and carpenters, etc. doing shoddy jobs and trying to rip off the clients (in any country) that it's really refreshing to hear a positive story about them. Your new French doors set into the 3-foot thick wall look fabulous! You were right to stick to your guns.

Anonymous said...

Door looks great Valerie. We, too, have bought an older house needed lots of work, albeit 1940's U.S. brick - "Wren cottage" we style it. I do most of the work myself but we are in the midst of having the entire HVAC system including ducts replaced. Our guys are like yours. They walk in the door in the morning putting down drop cloths leading from door to attic. They leave at day's end picking up drop cloths and vacuuming behind themselves. I could kiss them!

Eleonora said...


travelingsuep said...

Looks fabulous and a great tale. Enjoy!

Valerie said...

Vicky - Thanks! It looks *so* much nicer now.

louciao - They are truly amazing guys, I (heart) them. We too had our share of experiences with rip-off contractors in the states and was a bit fearful of what might happen to a female foreigner - but they were awesome.

makehasteslowly - Thanks! Good for you...your project sounds wonderful. We have some DIY projects for the future, but will be bringing Maestro Vito back to expose the stone wall in the bedroom at some point.

Ele - Grazie!

travelingsuep - Thanks, glad you enjoyed it.

carol said...

hey Valerie, a bit late to the party here, but I reallly enjoyed your construction story. You really evoke the exact experience for the mind's eye. And OMG, it looks like you've got quite an amazing view!!!Wish you were here! Hurry back!

LindyLouMac said...

I missed this earlier!? Your workmen sound great, hang on to them. They clear up after properly themselves unbelievable.

Miss Footloose said...

This gives one hope! Goes to show not to take as gospel truth that all Italian renovation workers are out to get your last euro/dollar and do a shabby job.