Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Manu, being Italian has all manner of relatives and near relatives in and around the construction business. His Zio Gino is a house painter, Gino's longtime partner is a master plasterer, there are distant in-laws who manufacture windows, and most importantly there is his Zio Peter, who is a plumber. If we're to have any hope at all of finishing the first floor near our targeted budget, we absolutely need dear Peter to give us a hand. The thing is Peter is now retired and while he often takes on small contracts, he does so begrudgingly and only if they are to be executed within a stones throw of his bungalow. There lies the rub. For the Tall House is a good twenty minutes drive from Zio Peter's and certainly way, way out of his comfort zone. For Peter lives in The Paese, the Italian part of town where stone lions greet you at the entrances of white bricked triplexes and where salciccia are still lovingly made in the cantina and where il vino (or some semblance there of) is still brewed in il garage. Interestingly, Peter was able to leave, at the tender age of 12, his tiny native Calabrian village and set forth alone to a better life, an ocean away, in the New World. But he is now loath to set foot but a single block outside of his neighbourhood. 

Peter is a whiz with his hands but tends to shoot off at the mouth far too often and because of this is the subject of some ridicule from The Famiglia. But despite this or perhaps because of it, he is dearly loved and forever the subject of family chatter.

Now, being Italian is governed by rules of behaviour that even after eleven years of communal living (and six years of marriage) escape me. Great and everlasting offence has been taken because an aunt did not suitably appreciate a particular dish of pasta. And people have been written out of wills for not saying goodbye with the proper etiquette. But the most cardinal of rules remains: "thou shalt always help any family member in need". The fact that Peter has chosen to ignore this rule has caused a modicum of tension between Peter and his sister, my mother in law. But Peter is staying put and no amount of begging or cajoling will change his mind.

Zio Peter though, has sorely underestimated the brilliance that is Manu. Like a hunter methodically setting a trap for his prey, Manu has patiently been laying the groundwork for poor Peter to have no choice but install the first floor plumbing in The Tall House. For Peter's downfall is simple: its not the love of money (god knows we've offered!) but the art of the DEAL. Ever since I've known him Peter has been selling used bicycles, tires, scrap metal or plumbing parts all for his sole enjoyment rather than for the additional income. And so one day when Manu had managed to lure his uncle to the Tall House, Peter noticed we had a whole bathroom suite to sell that was barely 10 years old(!). Well, kryptonite comes in various shapes and sizes and in Peter's case it has taken on the appearance of a Kohler toilet. For Peter is in the process of brokering a deal to sell the whole set. Manu, playing dumb, has told him that he wants Peter to take care of the transaction. Peter will then pocket the money which Manu will of course refuse to take and then Badabing! Under the sacred code of Italian ethics Peter will owe Manu, Big Time. And voila, without knowing what hit him, Peter is now our plumber. 

Grazie carissimo Pietro.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Although the first phase of renovations was little more than two years ago, we had already forgotten the amount of down time there is in the remodelling process.

Even before allotting a job, the various trades have to be briefed (which depending on the size of the job can take up to an hour and a half) then it generally takes at least a week for them to arrive at a quote, then in all likely hood they have other jobs lined up... Apparently patience is a learned virtue. Well, we must be in the midst of the master class.

At the moment we are waiting on quotes from two electricians and three door manufacturers. The electric work in The Tall House is creative to say the least so we expect this to eat up a sizeable amount of our budget. So too will the two sets of french doors leading to the backyard which no matter how many concessions are made still apparently have to be custom built.

The event that thrills us the most is the impending installation of a mammoth 35 foot structural beam that will enable us to completely open up the first floor. Being no body's fools we are well aware that this job is way out of our league so we have brought out the big guns and hired no other than Pierre our contractor from  the previous stage of renovations. Pierre is extremely talented and we trust him blindly but he is expensive. So while it would be so much simpler to hand over the whole job to him, we can't afford it. So for now we have struck up a deal where upon he acts as a consultant for an hourly wage and when the task is just to tricky we hire him and his men for specific tasks.

The steel beam has to hold up the top two stories of the house, so it will be a MOTHER. At 35 feet long and 14 inches thick, it will weigh over a hundred pounds per linear foot and take a week to install. And of course there are other various mini beams that have to be added under floors, over stair cases as well as a few steel columns in the basement. A tornado could touch down on the Tall House and it wouldn't move. Pierre and his gang will start on Monday, August 3rd at 7am sharp. It promises to be quite a show.

So while we have been waiting for this (yet again) mystical date, Manu has been spending most Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings continuing the demo work. For it seems that one can never open up enough. The basement ceiling had to be taken down in order to make the rewiring simpler, the non structural walls on the first floor had to be cleared out and most exciting of all, the wall separating the upper floors from the lower ones has to be removed. Manu has been wonderful about it, never once complaining about missing out on time at the park with the kids, or about having to do the work alone. He also looks really cute in his handyman outfit.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

The flowers, candles and cards have been taken away and the shrine is no longer. But like the unease of The Small Street's residents, the melted candle wax is still stubbornly sticking to the sidewalk as a reminder of that terrible event.

As if to counteract this bad Juju, our neighbors, each in their own way have been making an extra special effort to beautify the Small Street. The Parishioners have planted flowers along the side of the Pentecostal church with the Rev himself, still in his suit and tie, lending a hand. Even Monsieur L. who's purely vintage house hasn't seen a repair in the last 50 years is finally redoing his front steps. Not to mention the numerous other neighbors who have been dotingly improving their front gardens or facades. 

But by far the most glorious change of all is our Great Poet's new lounge ware. The already spectacular orange Caftan has been replaced by a red and gold silk kimono which the Poet, perhaps afraid of erring on the side of subtlety, pairs quite jauntily with a leopard print fur hat. Needless to say, the effect is arresting. And when the shining sun dances off his robe it gives him an other worldly glow that he will surely tell you is due to the fact that he is a POET and therefore deserves to shine. Interestingly though, this new attire has rendered him quite a bit less verbose, as if  he is aware that if such a striking figure were to spontaneously break out in rhyme that it would altogether be too much for us mere mortals. So as we wait for the poems to return his lips, we are content to admire him from afar as the mere sight of him brings a smile to our lips.

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