Before the first Guest arrived

This summer was the summer we finally would move into the house that we first spotted in summer 2006 – FIVE years ago. Who would have thought that it will take us that long?!
There are a few reasons why it took us five years.
First we needed to get all the paper work done and the permissions from the commune.
Then we needed someone on site to talk to the architect and supervise the project, at least from time to time. This was Angelo, my father-in-law, who also himself had some other businesses running in the last years. Our architect started the renovation from the outside and when that was done, we waited for Angelo to take over the inside fitting. He would do most part like painting and flooring by himself. Since he is very precise he noted his working hours:  three thousand something… ! But Angelo also had support by Tonino and Mimmo, two masons who prepared the floors and did the tiling of six bathrooms, three kitchens, one terrace, one balcony and one garden and all kind of other works. And there were the plumber, the electrician team “Fonsi” & partner, some carpenters and other suppliers.      
me & Angelo on his Vespa on the way to work in Pizzo 

Since the past 5 years, we were living most of the time overseas, far from the construction site, we were doing – what I call - a “long-distance-online-renovation”.  And whenever we spent our summer holidays in Pizzo we have been busy in the beginning with decision makings. Then in August, basically when all Italy goes on vacation, shops would close and workers would go to the beach as well. So, when on site we could only push little things. The main communication between us and Angelo was via email and sometimes via Skype, in urgent cases via SMS. But the fact that it was “long-distance” did not delay the project, since Angelo would decide when I would be too slow…

Another reason why we were not that fast is that a renovation of a house – even when the construction supervisor and main interior worker is your father-in-law – costs a lot of money that needs to be earned first. There was a time when money was tight and I had to bring in my pension fund…
And after five years, this was finally our summer.
When I arrived in Pizzo, Angelo had already started with the flooring of the last square meters in the guest residence in the seminterrato.
working in progress in the seminterrato

The masons were filling the holes in the stairways with cement and adding the granite border.
cement filling and granit border for the stairways

The cutting of granite stone and wooden panels together with the earth movements for the future porto below the house caused lots of dust that was carried with the wind inside the house, every day. I kept cleaning and cleaning.
One day, even the outside scaffolding on one part of the house was back! Angelo had figured, that rain water might penetrate the walls through some holes that he wanted to seal. (The renovation work will never end!)
scaffolding is back for some sealing work

The workers and Angelo asked me constantly when our first guest are arriving. They wanted to finish everything before.
I assured them that our guest will sleep upstairs with us and not in the guest residence. Only the second group of guest that will arrive 10 days later might use the guest residence. However, I was happy, when finally no cutting of whatsoever material took not place any longer.
After the cleaning woman who came three times a week to help to get rid of the last dirt of a construction site just had finished the bedrooms, the air condition guys came and mounted three airconditions…
AC is mounted in LCs room
But not only needed the interior work of the basement to be completed, the other floors now needed some fine tuning like mirrors, hooks and accessories for all bathrooms, wall and ceiling lamps for all rooms. Luckily we discovered a shop that copies a bit the success and style of IKEA, although still much more expensive for many items. But who wants to drive three hours to the nearest IKEA in Sicily, just for shopping some accessories, when Semeraro is at Lamezia?.
We bought all lamps there and bathroom accessories in a shop close by. Then, started the long drilling and vacuum-cleaner-assistance phase.
mounting the kitchen lamp over the island

And bedsheets! Bedsheets for under (lenzoli sotto con angoli) and bedsheets for over (lenzoli per sopra) and cushion covers (fodere) needed to be purchased for all kind of beds of different sizes. Another bottle neck seemed to be the mattress protections. Either they were sold out or our standard sized mattresses (200x180) were not standard size in Italy (190x170).
Italian bed sheets for over and under and pillow cases

When this was finally done, sheets were pre-washed – and we finally could move in. 
Monday, July 25th 2011 moving in !

 Every morning we were woken up by Angelo to continue the work. Well, after an extended walk with CC and a breakfast at Belvedere, the work started much later than before. Tonino and Mimmo had already their break, when Angelo finally joined in.
When unpacking moving boxes (yes, the last boxes for the kitchen), we realized that we do not have even five matching plates. But 24 Champagne flutes (3 different styles) and 8 crystal wine glasses. Just one day before our first guests were arriving, we bought a set of white plates (large, small, deep – each for 12) at EURONICS (!), an electronic gear shop that features also lots of household items.
Instead of going to the beach this holiday, we spent most of the time in shops and in the car driving to the shops.
CC is a fast decision maker, and I got influenced, so at least our acquisition processes were efficient.
Meanwhile, in the seminterrato, Angelo discovered that sand trickles down from the vaulted stone ceiling – probably due to life and movements in the floor above. The finish he had applied all over on the stone walls and stone ceilings, did not fix the sand enough.
sand trickles from stone walls with sandy joints

We had to buy another material (resina = resin) and apply it all over again - worse, the flooring by now was finished. The resin gives the stones and sand a wet look, not great, but we saw that before in shops, restaurants and bars with similar stone ceilings. It seems the only method to really fix it.

resin finish fixes the sand and gives the wall a wet look

The time flew fast, the work progressed, but we never had found a moment to toast to our move, to the new step, to success. Stress and disappointment and emotions muddled me. A half hearted planed inauguration party was cancelled, as it was too early to have people walking through the whole house – and I just was not in the mood. CC was not in a good mood either, since his holidays were coming to an end - he had to go back to Bangkok two weeks earlier.
we had rainy and stormy days end of July

and there was sun after the rain !

The day our guest were arriving, Angelo borrowed and delivered us a self made table around which I grouped a selection of old chairs (in need of renovation!) we had found in antique shops.
a borrowed table, a variety of old chairs and a table-cloth from the market

What an exciting and lucky day, when our friends, a family of four, from Germany finally arrived. Their son is a good friend of our son, so the boys were happy too! - And finally I got good company to toast to the palazzo – every single day!!

Palazzo Journal - Day 3

Day 3, Friday 8.2.

This morning I am having breakfast with my winter coat on. Angelo always says: “copriti!” – cover you! – So that’s what I did. I feel strange but warmer. However, my mother-in-law is down with an influenza.

At 9 am we are at the construction site. The electricians are lamenting that they are waiting for the architect since 8.30. We are discussing the level of the floor of the mansard. To have an even level, somehow, someone has suggested raising the floor level by 16 cm. There is a brick on the floor and a meter lies on top to visualize the effect. My husband stands on that brick and bends his head to not touch the roof beam. Oh, no! Then he will not be able to cook! The kitchen area will be for short people only! Excluding me, of course. - Oh, and the level should not be the same all the way through the mansard? There will be a step, around here, where we plan a sofa… mmh… impossible! - We decide to further discuss this when the architect shows up.

Meanwhile we continue with the electricians to determine the positions for the lights and light switches, room by room. At 9.30 the architects arrives. We decide that the floor level of the mansard first has to be reduced in one part to allow the tubes for water and electricity to lie underneath. Then the floor will be stabilized with an iron net and at the end they will raise the level to the actual one. And there will be no steps.

After this important and unexpected decision it is time for the bar. It is Friday and our Bar Belvedere is closed. That is the winter schedule. Therefore, l' architetto, Angelo, CC and I are heading for Bar Ercole, the other best gelateria in town. A very friendly owner of an uncertain middle age is serving us drinks and potato chips. His father is drying glasses. I just imagine that they are family. Black and white pictures at the wall show the older men at the age of the younger man. They look alike. The younger men smiles at us. I feel he knows who we are and I wonder what he thinks. Maybe we should not only have a drink here on Fridays.

With the 12 o’clock bell chimes we spread out. The architect back home for lunch, Angelo back to the construction site - the plumber wanted to come again – and CC and I do the grocery shopping and get some medicine for la nonna . We meet Angelo at the palazzo and since the plumber did not show up we all go home to Vibo Marina. L. was playing with CC’s old Lego and had built an airplane.

After lunch, in the early afternoon we go back to the palazzo and take L. with us. At 3.30 we meet the young Signor G., the smith, which could do new window grills for the four windows of the main facade. The young man had brought two thick catalogues full of wrought iron work for windows, gates, fences, balconies, beds, chairs, shelves, you name it. As the sun comes out we enjoy sitting on the bench in front of our house and flip through the catalogues. CC and I have no clue! But we like that iron bed, Mediterranean style. And we know that the window grills should not be “prison style”.

Two windows could have a ‘belly’ (like in the left picture) and the windows over the doors should be flat. The young smith suggests having a decorative border that consists of design elements similar to those of the balconies and the one over the main door. That sounds good. He promises to make a drawing for us by tomorrow. I wonder why I have not done that by myself - a drawing after a detailed Internet research before making such an important decision. I tell myself that any iron grill from Signor G. will look better then what we have now.

Meanwhile L. has observed the lonely worker that restores the window frame of the living room. With a broom L. keeps himself busy cleaning the walls and the floor. He is happy to hear that we are ready for more ice cream. This time we can sit outside in the sunshine. For a picture we take of the hats we have been wearing.

On the way back home we stop half way and go for a walk along the sea. A fantastic evening light embraces the landscape. The sun drops behind cliffs and the sky is tinted in bright pink and orange. The lush grass along the gravel path is intensively green. The surf hits the rocks that protect the coastline. What a wonderful atmosphere. Angelo and CC walk faster then me and L. They seem to look for something. They climb around the rocks and carry a heavy stones back to the path. It is a black lava stone, and to be more precise, it is a former paving stone that has been used in the piazza of Pizzo. Some years ago, when the piazza was renovated the entire old pavement was thrown out. Apparently it was too slippery when it was raining. The old stones appear here and there, thrown in hedges or on the beach. Some people have collected them for their flooring at home. We found some of them in our garden. But not enough. One morning, before our arrival in Pizzo, Angelo had discovered several of these beautiful black paving stones while he was out for an early walk. You need to know: these stones measure around 40 by 20 cm and are extremely heavy, maybe 30 kg. And you need to know: to abstract stones or even sand from the beaches in Italy is illegal. Therefore I am not explaining further what I saw two men doing with the help of an umbrella and a rope this evening at dusk.

Later in Vibo Marina, two men and a little one went for a walk. But I went to the hairdresser for a simple shampoo. I never had a better reason then a cold bathroom with unreliable warm water supply.

The Journal of our construction site vacation is to be continued...

Note: Any similarity to living persons and realities is purely coincidental. The text is subject to the artistic license.

Palazzo Journal - Day 2

Day 2, 7.2.

We wake up early. Our son has slept through the night without any coughing! This is amazing since we were afraid of a croup attack after he had started that familiar sealion barking cough on the plane. The fresh humid air in Calabria seems to clean our lungs and bronchi from Chinese pollution.

I look outside the window. Didn't the weather forecast said sunshine in the morning and rain in the afternoon? The sea is rough, it is pouring and windy. I feel cold and I realize that our cold bedroom is the warmest spot in the house. Meanwhile coffee is ready and everybody gathers in the kitchen. The thermometer shows 16 degree Celsius – in the kitchen. Angelo claims it’s broken. I think it is about how cold it feels.

We need to hurry as we have appointments at our palazzo with il elettricista, the electrician at 9.00 and with il idraulico, the plumber at 10.00. I am so excited and can’t wait to see all the work that has been done since the start of the renovation about three months ago in November.

Angelo, CC and I arrive at the house in Pizzo a bit earlier to have a quick look around. It worth coming allover from China to get a feeling for the new opened living space and the added bathrooms. At 9.00 sharp the electricians arrive and we have to tell where we want plugs, switches, lights, TV, Internet, intercom system, fridge, oven … – to start with – under the roof.
As soon as we point somewhere they spray their signs on the walls. I feel unprepared and wonder why. I have a big file under my arm. They rush and we have done half of the second floor when il idraulico drops in. It is only 9.30. So someone continues discussing with the electricians and someone starts to talk to the plumber. While the electricians make a new appointment for the afternoon and greet, another craftsman comes by. He needs to be briefed for the eaves gutter. But this should be in present of il architetto. This is when I realize that P, the architect is still missing.

P shows up just a little later and salutes us like old friends, kisses on the cheeks. We ask him about the thick supporting wall in the tiny overhanging loo that he wanted to modify for the installation of a small shower. The plumber just had said we can’t touch that wall. I am a bit confused. Not much about the differences, but about who is saying what. We accept the plumber’s suggestion to install the shower in the opposite corner. That means the sink has to move below the window. Aah, how nice, my son will be brushing teeth with sea view! Over a tiny sink though, but who cares, it’s fantastic!

Together we continue with the plumber and mark where we need radiators. This is the best weather for radiator salesmen. I agree right away in every room on every radiator. I remember me saying: ‘This is the South of Italy, why should we install heater?’ - I don’t like radiators. They are not pretty, steal space and collect dust. - But who wants to shiver inside the house covered with blankets like an Indian tribal chief?

At 12.30 it is time for the apperitivo at the bar "Belvedere". Instead of a drink or coffee, my husband and I share una Torta Belvedere. It is a calorie bomb of ice cream. But after all, we deserve it! Later, back home at Vibo Marina - where luckily my mother-in-law is taking care of our son, shopping and cooking - we eat lunch with the electrical heater right behind me. In summer, after pranzo, lunch, we usually do a pisolino, a nap. But today nobody of us three Beijingers can sleep.

In the afternoon, the electrician calls and cancels the appointment. But we still go to see the house again around 17.00. L wants to see ‘his house’. We do not stay that long and go straight to the bar Belvedere. It is again raining slightly, so we sit inside. I am having a hot chocolate. I had forgotten how good it tastes in Italy. It is a thick, dark and tasty, almost chocolate sauce! We talk to the iceman of the third generation – the gelateria is in the hands of the forth generation – about the latest rumors in the village. On the way back to the car, we pay a short visit to our real estate agent for a small talk. And as Italians can't walk by someone's house without knocking, we next knock at the architect’s office. He opens the door and we have a quick look at the lungomare project, the new seaside of Pizzo, he is in charge of. If it will be realized like in the picture he is showing us, it will be the attraction of Pizzo! They plan to widen up the little fisherboat port at the Seggiola and let the water come in until the grotta - just below our house. I fell like in a dream, un sogno. Maybe we should move here for ever.

Shortly after dinner we go to bed. Very early, very healthy. We sleep all three together under several blankets and warm each others back and feet. I feel like we have traveled back in time. It is a nice feeling.

To be continued ...
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Palazzo Journal - Day 1


Lately we spent some days in Pizzo (Calabria) and I was thinking of writing a bit about our vacation on the 'construction site'. I am not going to post every day. But I am starting today. It is an experiment and it is documenting our process. The protagonists will have initials, unless they want their names to be mentioned. So CC is my Italian husband, L is our son, N is his nonna, my mother-in-law. And Angelo is Angelo, my father-in-law, he was introduced on this blog before. I plan to link to the previous and next day later on.

Day 1, 6.2.

We traveled from Beijing via Frankfurt and Rome to Lamezia in the South of Italy. Three planes, four airports and around 22 hours of journey to spend our Chinese New Year holidays on a construction site. It is already late night when we arrive at Lamezia airport. We are the only passengers that have to pick up the luggage on the international arrival conveyor belt. A customs officer switches on the lights for us. L sleeps and CC carries him in his arms while I am loading our suitcases on a trolley. Pushing a heavy loaded trolley with one hand and pulling hand luggage with the other hand, I awkwardly cruise towards the customs officer in the grey uniform. He is the only one and he waits for his only and last customers - us.
‘Anything to declare?’, he asks in Italian.
‘Only a couple of cashmere sweaters’ starts CC.
I am petrified… I have not briefed my husband, he is unprepared…
I have to put our suitcases through x-ray and the officer stares at the monitor,
‘What about all these metal tubes?’ he asks.
‘Oh, that’, this is my turn now, it’s my suitcase, ‘that is some bathroom equipment, a bidet faucet, a siphon ... ‘
Now he wants to know the value of these things and I am saying a number just below what is allowed to bring into Germany, hoping that this is fine in Italy as well.
Slowly I reload the suitcases on the trolley again, while he is observing me. ‘Slowly, not too fast’, I think…. I can see in his face, he is wondering whether he should let this young family with a sleeping child pass through and go home as well – or should he have a look into these strange bags and have probably a lot of questions and discussions….
It took him a moment. - Then we can go.

Angelo is waiting for us. We are the last passengers coming out. N was at the hair dresser as always when her son comes home. We are happily united and pack all items in the car. And off we go. After around 20 minutes we dive through Pizzo, our newly adopted home town. But the renovation of the palazzo has just started and there is no single livable room yet. So we stay with my in-laws in Vibo Marina, another 4 km drive along the coast. Finally at home everything goes fast. We put L to bed, we unpack briefly and go to bed as well. I feel cold and tiered.

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