The best laid plans… We’d hoped to start renovations on the south side of our Italian house in the autumn of 1999, but various trials accumulated until it was too late in the year for such a project. (See post #44 for details.) Our design got approved by the authorities, but the actual work didn’t begin until the following spring — sunporch, pergola and patio with terracotta tiles, protective walls around the drop-off, a water garden, new steps down from the roadway and stone benches for a table yet to be found. Once we got started, there was all kinds of drama, including a cellphone falling into a 16-foot pit. But the greatest challenges came from big trucks having to decide how to get down our narrow, wooded, half-kilometer (one-third mile) dirt lane with no turn-around space at the house. Should they back in or back out? Here’s the whole  story, with mostly photos and some words here and there.

[As always, you can click on the pix to enlarge them.]


One of the things I most liked about our old farmhouse was that her history was etched on her face — a chimney repaired, a window bricked in, another carved out. Now, as we were ready in the summer of 1999 for the southside renovations, some of this would never be seen again.


Risking life and limb beside the ten-foot drop-off, we chalked the outlines of what we wanted so the geometra could make technical drawings for approval by City Hall. He did a great job of interpreting our ideas, but work didn’t start ’til the following spring.


Once we got going, the masons jackhammered a trench through the cement platform for the sunporch walls. (In the foreground of the first photo, you can see the finished water garden on the left and the old stone trough which would become a bubbling fountain on the right.)

To everyone’s surprise, we discovered only rubble underneath the pavement. No way that could support the planned renovations, so we brought in a giant machine to drive shafts down through the rubble to terra firma. First, neighbor Paolo bulldozed a temporary road so the massive truck could back down our narrow dirt lane and then along the new “road” to the house. (In the second photo, that’s General Contractor and Engineer’s Daughter, supervising on the left.)

But the weather didn’t cooperate. Pouring rain made the ground so slippery, it wasn’t safe. Solution: Head mason Gianni dumped gypsum under the wheels for traction. More than one hairy moment until the truck was situated on the cement platform, right beside the house and powering down to bedrock 16 feet below. 

Some days later, not one but two cement trucks arrived, the front one with a telescoping pipe to pour cement into the deep shafts and shallower trench, the second one feeding cement into the first truck when it ran out. These trucks drove in front-first, so they then had to back uphill on our narrow lane to the main dirt road, where they could turn around.

The masons got back to work, finishing the safety wall and built-in benches at the end of the platform and starting the veranda’s columns and walls.



Once the walls were up, another big truck backed down our lane and off-loaded beams and other lumber for the roof. Before long, the masons had placed the beams, heading toward tiling the roof with traditional terracotta.

With the veranda basically complete, the carpenter could start the pergola (note empty water garden in center foreground), and the specialists could install the handcrafted windows. Such windows were no indulgence in a land where just about everything is crafted by hand, and factory-made windows are only seen in modern buildings.


A year after we’d started, construction was finally finished, ready for early summer meals on the patio, planting the pergola’s wisteria and the water garden’s aquatic plants.


Autumn brought cold rain and wind outside, but all was cosy and warm inside. The furniture would return to the north terrace when summer came, but now we could sit and read or dine, enjoying the 18-mile view across the Tiber Valley to Monte Cimino.


#46: Italy, 2000
So What Else Happened?

Magical Mystical Tours, dealing with the bureaucracy, a new carport, 
UCLA writer’s program and more.


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