I sat down over two hours ago, but so far…nothing. Scribble pad still virgin, computer screen still blank.
“Shout if you need anything.” I had said to the workmen downstairs before climbing to my perch on the third floor.
It is all very casual here. Shouts and swearing, laughter and arguments and lots and lots of hard work fill our days. After all, building a house perched on a mountainside in an earthquake prone zone of northern Italy requires some effort.
We are still young enough to be optimistic and foolhardy enough to believe that everything is possible. It is all about lateral thinking, creative thinking, thinking outside the box - well, you get it.
I am sitting in the most beautiful room in the house with an uninterrupted 360 degree vista of layer upon layer of hills and mountains. A view I share with sparrows and eagles. It is one of the semi finished rooms that I can escape to when I need to get work done or just chill out.
Treetops brush the bottom of our terraces; the dense green ocean that climbs up from the valley below will swallow us up if left untamed. Deer and wild boar roam there and woodpeckers peck there.
Landscaping is one of the zillion projects on our “to do” lists which we will be "to doing" for years to come. So much time has been spent behind and under and above and inside walls, floors, ceilings, mouldings, electrical stuff, heating stuff, support stuff, structural stuff, insulation stuff. Ahhhhhhhh!!!!
I had given up hope that I would ever be able to do the fun stuff; paint and decorate. I have come to terms with the fact that this will be an ongoing project. It is meant to be so, almost like a hobby. But coming from a generation that gets things done yesterday I have had to learn to calm down and take it easy.
Truth be told, we will never stop being amazed at what was and what is. From the dilapidated depressed bungalow of before to the fresh new multilevel structure of today there is a space of 6 years of commuting back and forth from Germany to Italy during all periods of vacation in order to work on the place.
Our first November here, we were introduced to the signature bitter bone chilling cold that humidity laden zones offer up during the winter months. Only the two of us and the sounds of the occasional car going by or a dog’s bark. All that work and just the two of us. Ripping out old nails and boards, tearing down atrocities, sizing and cutting gypsum board and Rockwool to fit. Hang in there! Come on! We can do it!
Using the beaten up heavy duty toolbox that had accompanied my dad to work for over thirty years made his participation to the project more real. Vicariously, through his hammers, wrenches, Allen keys and screwdrivers he is here assisting us. He would have loved this place.
The church bells chime noon. It is a sound that is part of the landscape here. As is the fog that, when it rolls in, obliterates the surrounding hills leaving us temporarily afloat above the valley suspended in murky white light.
Last night’s downpour has left everything soaked through and heavier. It feels ancient. A dingy sky contributes to today’s gloom. It is so quiet, that I can hear the discouragement, brought on by my two hours of unproductiveness growing inside of me.
I get up, stretch and head downstairs. The workmen have already left. Lunchtime is sacred in Italy and from 12:00 to roughly about 15:00, prepare to enjoy the silence.
I enter the kitchen and look out at the street below as I rinse my hands in the kitchen sink thinking about what I want to eat. From the house in front come the familiar sounds of lunch preparation; comforting background noise that anchors me to where I come from and who I am.
We have decided to immigrate and plant roots after two generations of emigration. I always knew, even as a small child growing up in Canada, that I would end up here one day.
Everyone on the street is used to us now, but initially they were fearful of and fascinated by us. News of our arrival had spread thanks to all the workmen and artisans recruited for the project. For the first few months, wherever we went: to the grocers, to the hardware store, to an eatery, we were always told, not asked, “You are the couple that owns the grey and white house.” “Yes, we are!”
Our first summer, we stopped in at the canary colored bar, on the first rise after our house, for cold beers and panini. "You are the owners of the new house," states the elderly lady that owns the bar. We begin chatting with her in Friulan, the language of this region, knowing this will eliminate 90% of her diffidence. It works and when she returns with our wine she states, matter of factly, without any malice, that she finds the modern structure (our house) downright ugly before serving us an extra portion of olives and bread to ensure we don’t take offence.
As in all small towns, around the world, there is a protective strata, an unspoken law shared by the inhabitants, to neighborhood watch their area against strangers and potential threats. I guess all our background checks went well, between the town’s gossip groups, because we are now considered part of the community.
At night it is magic to watch dusk and then darkness settle over the valley. The mountains, light green during the day turn bottle green at dusk and then disappear into the thick blackness that is night. There is a sprinkling of twinkle lights from the distant surrounding towns. Winding roads you didn't know existed, in daylight, now snake their way through the darkness lit up by street lamps along their perimeter.
I don’t remember ever seeing so many stars since my childhood days in Canada, when I would lie on the back porch staring up at the sky, trying to locate constellations and dreaming about what my life would be like.
From almost anywhere along the kilometres of roads, both paved and non, that cut through the hillside town, you are met with breathtaking views that invigorate and awe even the most bored and cynical.
Sometimes you time travel as woodsmen tie themselves to the mountainside wielding axes and scythes in an attempt to hold back the ever advancing nature. Women with woven wicker baskets strapped to their backs make the steep climb up and down the hills to gather grapes and tend to their orchards. And the older generation still wear headscarves and colorful aprons as they go about their daily routine.
Modern vignettes coexist such as the dollops of primary colors that fill the shimmering blue skies during the summer months in the forms of delta planers, para-gliders and hot air balloonists that flock to this little corner of the world.
The inhabitants here are hardy and straightforward with no silliness. Very proud and concrete. Hard working people that come from a history of invasions, wars, famine and earthquakes. They genuinely don’t expect anything or take anything for granted. Big hearted and practical folks that love to eat and drink and work and laugh.
We will learn a lot from them.