“About 8 weeks” was the answer from our geomtera, Sauro, when we asked how long it would take to build the cantina, garage and portico. As it took us six years to get this far then a forecast in weeks rather than months was fine by us. Like the rest of the world we are looking forward to spring 2021 when things might be better. As long as we have it done by then we’ll be happy.
Starting Monday 26th October, how did the 8 weeks go?
Week 1: Half a hole
I know there is no such thing as half a hole, but we had one. The idea was to dig out half the space needed for the cantina, and use the wall of earth to support the new wall against the foundations of the house. Clever. As Gabriele the builder said “I’ve done this a few times before”.
On day two we had our first decision to make. We were advised that the house foundations were wider and deeper than they had expected.
This was good news for us as it meant that all the money we’d spent in 2003 on the foundations were indeed spent on foundations. We suspected they were good after the Aquila earthquake in April 2009. We happend to be in Italy for Easter that year. It was 03:30 on the 6th April. We were awoken by the bed and the whole house shaking. Jan had experienced earthquakes before when working in California but this was Colin’s first. The good news was that the whole house moved in unison. No cracks, no misaligned tiles, nothing. All good.
Sauro advised that the foundations meant we had to either lose 65cm along the 5m wall or build the whole underground cantina 65cm further into the garden and adjust the plans accordingly. We opted for preserving the space as we thought we’d always resent losing it.
By the end of the week the cement for the back of the cantina had been put in and they’d made a start on the holes for the posts for the portico.
Using the other half of the hole to support the retaining wall:
Week 2: In the dark
Only four days work this week as the builder declared that Monday 2nd November was a holiday because All Saints Day on the 1st fell on a Sunday. We were confused as half our Italian friends said it wasn’t a national holiday and the othe half said it was. Who knows.
This meant they were up against it on Friday afternoon/evening when the cement lorry arrived. The objective for this week was to excavate the other half of the hole and create the shuttering and metal re-inforcing for the foundations of the cantina, the access slope and the supporting walls either side of the ramp.
By the time the cement was flowing on Friday afternoon it was already getting dark.
They got it done though. By Saturday morning we had foundations.
Week 3: What a load of walls
Five to be precise. Three walls of the cantina, plus the retaining walls either side of the access ramp. The plan was to build all the steel reinforcement cages and then the shuttering ready for concreting.
I chatted to the workers who reckoned they would be finished by Friday night ready for concrete on the Monday. Gabriele tried to persuade them that he should order the concrete lorry for Friday afternoon again. The workers very obviously didn’t agree. They didn’t fancy laying the concrete in the dark again. After what we would consider a blazing row but just a normal conversation between worker and boss in Italy, the workers won.
By end of light on Friday there was just a suspicious one hour of work left to do before concreting. I suspect they were making a point! They’d also dug out the three holes ready for the supports for the portico.
Week 4: Swimming in it
On Monday the guys popped by for an hour to finish off the shuttering then left site as the rain started to pour for the rest of the day.
The following day I mentioned to the builder that we hadn’t ordered a swimming pool!
Tuesday morning was madness. Two concrete lorries turned up, then our cleaner, then a gas delivery.
For some reason, Gabriele decided to add a layer of stones along the drive to cover the damage that the various lorries had done to the drive. We were perplexed as we’d already explained that he didn’t have to worry about that as the drive would be taken up and replaced with gravel some time next spring.
By the end of the week we had our walls, which were being damp proofed before the rain came down again. Having pumped out all of the water during the week, our swimming pool just filled up again on Friday.
Week 5: Floor to ceiling
This week we said goodbye to the swimming pool. Pump the water out again, fill the space with gravel and concrete over. We had a floor.
Next was applying a DPC to the external walls, a layer of industrial ‘bubble wrap” to stop stones piercing the DPC and put the soil back around the cantina.
Things really started to take shape after they started to put the roof on the cantina. For the first time we could stand inside it an appreciate the amount of space we’ll have to process and store the olive oil, wine, cherries etc. We chose where the sink, water softener and water pump would go so that the drains could be fitted. Such an exciting life!
On Friday morning we spotted that one of the delivery lorries had damaged the post box on the gate. I had words with Gabriele. I appreciate that these things happen but to just drive off and not say anything pissed me off. I think he could tell.
Week 6 To door or not to door
First thing Monday morning Gabriele had two replacement post boxes for me to chose between. He’d been good to his word that he would replace the damaged one. We agreed we’d fit the new one once all the work was finished. We really appreciated that he’d taken the trouble over the weekend to source them. Grazie Gabriele.
On Tuesday Jan had a trip down memory lane. The cement lorry took some samples in mid flow. These blocks of concrete are sent for testing to show the correct mix has been used. Many years ago Jan worked as a concrete tester, using very similar blocks. In her day the blocks were in greased metal containers and had to be hammered on the bottom to get the concrete out. Italian workers are always confounded when a woman knowledgeably asks them about their concrete mix.
After a morning of concrete laying the back of the house was transformed:
After a couple of days lost to rain, the garage infrastructure started to emerge. At that point Colin asked why they were building a pillar where the passenger door to the garage was supposed to go:
This was a consequence of having to build the cantina 65cm further out that planned (remember our day 2 decision). No one spotted the consequence for the door. A good job we were paying attention. Gabriele took it all in his stride. He convened an onsite meeting between us, Sauro the geometra, and the engineer. We asked why a support pillar couldn’t be keyed into the house. It turned out that’s not possible as we’re in an earthquake zone. The two new structures have to move separately from the house. They came up with an alternative solution, to move the support pillar away from the house to allow room for the door. That was extra work of course.
Our choice was that or no door. We split 50-50. Jan wasn’t bothered bout the door, Colin preferred to have one. In the end we went with the door. We’ll find out next year if it was the right decision. We won’t know until we start using the garage.
At least we now have the shuttering for the four pillars of the garage. That’s good as there are only 2 weeks left of the original 8 weeks estimate.
Week 7 Mystery week
Just like Nevada, Romania, the UK, Australia Poland, Ukraine, and Finland the mysterious monolith phenomenon came to Cartoceto. We upstaged them all by having several appear during the week. We have no idea where they came from.
Week 8 The pressure is on
Now that the roof line of the garage has emerged the guys are working closer and closer to our bedroom window. This week the shutter has been closed. It doesn’t stop the sound though. One morning this week the sound of ‘discussion’ blasted the air. We recognised “figlio di puttano”, which is an interesting phrase to use when discussing which bit of the garage to build next.
We’ve reached the end of the “about 8 weeks” period. There is still quite a bit of work to do, but we’re quite calm about it. It’s not as if we’re going anywhere. It looks like we’ll be finished sometime in January.
Week 9 Half a week
The guys worked for half a week bringing it up to the full Fellini: 8½
Having checked that Wednesday was their last day before the Christmas break we prepared mince pies and beer for them. We headed out in the morning for all our Christmas food shopping. When we got back before lunch they had gone! They’d worked 2½ days, exactly half the week.
To be continued/…