“I think I need to go to a doctor, there’s something weird happening to my stomach when I do a sit-up. Look at this,” says Ronan lying on the bed beside me and does a sit up. A pointy ridge rises down the centre of his belly as his stomach muscles tighten. “Ronan what the hell is that? It looks like an alien baby is about to burst through your skin.”
“Ha ha Rosemary’s baby! Get it?!”
“Seriously, that looks serious.”
“Yeah I googled it, I think it’s a herniated aorta.”
“Don’t be ridiculous your aorta goes to your heart.”
“It also goes down the centre of your stomach, do you not know anything?”
I’m immediately on my phone googling “Where is Aorta?” and I get a small town in the Netherlands. So I cut to the chase and google Aorta abdominal hernia. ‘For God’s sake Ronan that’s life threatening, when did you notice this?”
“About a week ago.”
“And you are only mentioning it now?”
“I thought it would go away.”
‘What? You thought your aorta would go away?” I’m already texting our Italian friend and neighbour Anna to ask her to help us make an appointment with the doctor and I explain why. She is on it immediately and has an appointment made for later that morning.
As we are not yet full residents in Italy we have not been assigned a doctor and thankfully we have had no cause to go to one up until now, other than me with my frozen shoulder. She’s an older no bullshit doctor, who doesn’t speak english so Anna has to come with us to our medical appointments until we get better at Italian. When I asked payment on my last visit, via Anna, the doctor said “You can owe me lunch at your family’s restaurant”, to Anna. Seems like a fair deal, I drag my Italian neighbour to be an unpaid translator and she then in turn gets to pay for my treatment by giving the doctor a free lunch.
“She is a very good doctor,” Anna had explained on the way for my shoulder visit. “I have gone to her all my life”.
I did previously question Anna’s judgement of the doctor’s worthiness when she told me the three-choice prescription she gave to Anna for stress. “You need to take up meditation or get a strong man to help you with the farm or take up smoking.”
So Ronan goes to the doctor and illustrates the problem by doing a sit-up. Her first reaction, “Why you do sit-ups? You are too old to be caring about a six pack.”
“Because I want to stay fit?”
She tuts. “It is not your aorta, it is your stomach muscles, they have detached and separated. You need to stop doing sit-ups, you will never have a flat stomach because of this. But I will send you for a scan anyway.”
“What causes it?”asks Ronan. “Often pregnancy… but in your case probably lifting heavy objects.”
A penny drops for me. “Oh my God… could that have happened to me during pregnancy? Does that explain why I haven’t been able to get a flat stomach for the last 24 years no matter how hard I try?”
She looks at me. “yes probably… It is too late now for you.”
We leave the surgery both written off as wrecks doomed for Tellytubby Land for all of eternity and with another promise of a free lunch from Anna. She still hasn’t taken advantage of the last one, I’m expecting her to arrive someday at the restaurant with a list of guests and the dates of our medical appointments beside each one she is owed dinner for.
At least we know that Ronan isn’t going to explode.
The private medical clinic for Ronan’s scan is just down the road. It’s a fantastic facility, modern, clean, no waiting. His scan confirms the doctors prognosis, no more sit-ups are prescribed and no heavy lifting, which I know Ronan will ignore. The technician has time so he offers to scan Ronan’s kidneys, liver and whatever else he finds – it’s like when we go to the vet, she gives the pets a full checkup while there for no extra fee. And like our pets, Ronan has a clean bill of health. So we buy a gelato on the way home to celebrate Ronan not being pregnant with an alien baby and both of us never having to do sit ups again.
This week was a busy week in Umbria. It’s not only fire wood collection time but olive harvest season also and this year’s crop is much better than the previous two years by all accounts. I have driven passed Constable styled scenes of families sitting on the green nets under one of their trees eating their packed lunch having started at sunrise and still hours of work to go before they finish at sunset. I’ve seen a Nonna standing half way into the middle of a road holding up the side of a net as the matching Nonno precariously dangled off a wooden ladder reaching the sacred branches of their ancient grove’s boardering trees which were planted before the intrusive road existed.
The olives are picked and brought to one of the many olive pressing mills in the area on the day the crop is booked in, there is no time to waste and not an olive to be missed.
Giovanni (our landlord) had the 20 trees in the front garden stripped in one day. The next day he arrived in a new white shiny Lamborghini. I didn’t realise olive oil was so profitable. I should point out it was a small Lamborghini tractor he was driving. Ronan asked how many miles on it. “Three!”he responded very happy with himself. It must have just arrived and he had hitched up his rusty trailer to it and driven directly to our house to take us up ‘his mountain’ on a fire wood hunt as promised. I didn’t know he owned ‘a mountain’. Olive oil must be very profitable indeed.
We follow his rattly trailer up the mountain to a section of fenced and gated woodland. We walk after him as he points out neatly stacked piles of wood. We’re not quite sure why we are being taken on a tour of the different deposits of felled wood, but the walk is enjoyable. Watching Giovanni getting very excited about a bunch of mushrooms which he promptly fills his cap with is even more enjoyable. He gives us an explanation of why he is so excited about these particular mushrooms and tells us not to tell anyone, no fear in that as none of us understood what he said. He points to the smaller ones beside which he’ll come back for tomorrow when they will be much bigger. Maybe it’s not just the olive oil that allows him to afford a new Lamborghini and a mountain, maybe it’s all the money he also saves by foraging for food?
We follow him back up to where the tractor is and load the large pile of seasoned logs already piled near the gate into the trailer. Giovanni definitely has OCD and I know he will have a particular way to stack them and sure enough he does. Long pieces are propped up around the edges to form a fence as the fatter logs are loaded. We are quite happy with our stacking effort until we are headed back down Giovanni’s mountain and get stuck behind two tractors at different points with skyscraper loads of perfectly stacked wood.
We stop off at the house on the way back. One of the advantages of buying The Sighing House was that the plaster was pretty sound in most of the rooms so they would just need a lick of paint and no need for re-plastering. Not anymore unfortunately, the open topped roof during the three wettest weeks of the year took care of getting rid of that plan. Large slabs of ceiling plaster now lie shattered on the floor. We also have a new variety of mould growing on some of the ceilings, this one is a nice orange tone to go with the autumn theme. Perhaps a rare edible fungi will now grow from the damp blackened walls which we can sell to Giovanni to fund all the re-plastering that will need to be done.One can only hope.
Back in early September I had a meeting with our builder, Antonio or Tonio as he will now be called. His father, Giovanni, our current landlord, also attends. They are worried about our optimism of moving in, in November. “If it is an issue about money and not being able to pay the rent”, says Giovanni, through their friend who has come along to act as translator, “then you don’t have to pay for the final months.”
“It’s very generous of you” I said,“but it is because I want to move my parents to Italy as soon as possible so I can look after them here.” As soon as the translator has said what I say both Giovanni and his son have their head in their hands, “Ohhh the Mama e Papa!” They are both talking quickly to each other. Giovanni met my parents when they were over last year and treated them with care and attention like he would his own. He brought my mum little gifts and always asks after them. ‘Bring them to live in the other apartment beside you, no additional rent.”
“Again that is very generous of you but my mam can’t walk up stairs. There are no steps downstairs in our new house so it would be perfect for them. I need to get the ground floor finished. ”
“If only we had known this we could have waited to do the roof until next year.” says Tonio. Now he tells me, I’m gutted. “We could have waited?”
In hindsight I am glad we are doing the roof now and didn’t wait, the dirt and disruption after settling in to the house would have been a nightmare.
“I will put an extra two men on the job to speed it up,” announced Tonio.
And that’s exactly what he did. All the scary stories I had previously heard about builders disappearing for weeks and work being delayed has been the complete opposite of what I have experienced so far – long may it last. There are a gang of workers on site every week day.
However, I think the last six weeks must have been the wettest start to autumn in Italian weather history. Or maybe I am just more conscious of every drop that falls from the sky because we have lacked a roof during the whole time. The bad weather does not seem to have affected the work on the roof that much but it has soaked the inside walls.
We brought Lucia up to have a peak at the destruction progress this week. It’s looking awful. It’s like watching someone you love have open heart surgery. Black plastic pipes are sticking out from every orifice like unattended aortas, the walls look like they have been slashed open by a fake surgeon who forgot his glasses and possibly doesn’t know anything about anatomy so just keeps cutting deep until he hits the right spot. “The house feels so sad,” I say to Ronan and Lucia, “I can feel the house groaning and asking ‘What have you done to me? I thought you were here to help?’ But she’s saying it in Italian so I don’t quite know if I am getting the translation right.”
“The house has been sedated for the surgery, she’s sleeping through it,” says Ronan, trying to ease my gutted feeling of the house being gutted.
Lucia isn’t thinking of life saving surgery instead she is thinking it as cosmetic, and exclaims in an animated way, “She is going to wake up and go ‘wow look at my new boobs, look at my new waistline, ohh I have cheekbones again and my wrinkles are gone, I look so young,’ she will be so happy, don’t worry.”
Thinking of it this way does make me feel better, until Lucia says, “But you have moles in your walls.”
‘Moles in my walls? What the hell, is that a thing in Italy?”
“Yes they come because of the rain, look I show you.” She leads me up the stairs and points at the damp stain on the wall that has strangely formed into the shape of Ireland.
“They are there?” I’m thinking that’s an ironic place for them to take up residence as we don’t have moles in Ireland.
“I think when the heat is working the moles on the wall will go,” says Lucia matter of factly.
“Ohhh you mean mould.”
I’m not letting mould or moles stop our plans we still intend to be in the housefor Christmas. Watch this space!
La Talpa – Mole
La Muffa – Mould
il miei genitori – My parents (who are not moles or mouldy)
If you name your son Mario in Italy, it seems you are writing his destiny to be a plumber. I’ve met four plumbers in the last two months and three of them have been called Mario. One of them actually looked like Super Mario with the same moustache and twinkly eyes and smile.
I got quotes from several plumbing companies for the work to be done in the house. All were similar in price but the contract went to the company which can do plumbing and electrics, could start immediately and have the work finished by mid November. I chose well, I signed the contract on a Friday and there were six guys working in the house on Monday.
The manager of the business is Danny Boy, he’s young and looks like he constantly has a migraine or hung over. My chief plumber is called Mario. He’s great so I call him Super Mario. He has about 100 words of english and I still have only about 300 words in Italian so google translate comes in handy. However, looking back on the texts sent between us on the first day the possessive tense tends to come in at the wrong time.
On the Monday evening that they started work, he texted me and through google translate I answered, this is how the conversation went translated back into English:
Super Mario: I need to meet with the geometra asap, otherwise we can’t continue.
Me: What is the problem?
Super Mario: It is a serious problem with the drainage of the sewerage there is no pit. You only have an old small hole.
I try not to take offence.
Me: I think you are looking at my old hole which is no longer in use? It was there before the house was connected to the public system. The house is on the public sewerage (black water) system, I was reassured this several times when I was buying the house.
Super Mario: Are you sure?
Me: Well that is what I was told, I’m quite sure my old hole is no longer in use.
Super Mario: Tomorrow we meet at 8.30am with the geometra, as we cannot continue without knowing if your old hole to the rear is still being used.
Again I try not to be offended.
So at 8.30am I arrive. There were four guys standing around staring into the oldhole in the back garden. I have only met Danny Boy, and I don’t know which one is Mario.
I walk up beside them and stare into the hole, there is a hose filling it with water. Danny Boy arrived shortly after, I didn’t recognise him as it was the first time I saw him without a mask and didn’t realise he had a beard.
My anxiety to find a solution to this problem which could cost thousands makes me forget that none of the guys around starring at my hole know who I am.
“Ahh she is the owner!” says a stocky guy with a great face in Italian, who turns out to be Mario. They all laugh, I didn’t realise that none of them knew who I was, other than just some randomer who walked in off the street who is not responding to their questions, just smiling and nodding.
“Have you put water down the toilet pipe?” I ask in broken Italian.
“Yes it arrived here. But there is another pipe out of this pit so they will fill it with water and try to find where that goes,” says Danny Boy.
It looks like it is heading towards the lake. This could be costly. Very costly.
We’re all walking around the garden looking for something that might be a cover to an opening of another mysterious hole I might own and eventually Mario sees a concrete step between us and the neighbours fence with what looks like a potential lid. After much effort they lift the lid and there it is: water running from a pipe that is in the direction of my old hole. There is also a feed in from the neighbours garden and then between the two pipes a larger concrete pipe that runs back up between the two houses on my side out towards the road. Relief, the house is on the mains sewerage.
Mario reassures me that my old hole is still in perfect shape, I do not need to replace it, it will work perfectly again in the future as old holes were built to last, they are much better than new holes.
The only problem is that the pit, or my old hole as it is now fondly known as, is in the position where I dreamed of eventually putting a pool. Maybe we could combine the two and have some therapeutic mud bath?
It has been stormy all week here in Umbria – thunder, lightening and deluges of rain, enough to refill Lake Trasimeno for the year. Not the ideal weather to have during the period that the roof of the house has been removed and the new one was supposed to go on. The builders did their best and have a tarp over the house but nothing but a solid roof could keep that amount of rain out, bellies of water form of the tarp and sometimes give way at certain points.
The continuous wet patch on the stairs shows the course of the river that eventually found its place of rest on the ground floor hallway. A miniature prehistoric landscape has developed with terracotta islands with high mountains of rubble surrounded by seas and oceans on the three floors. Together with the walls, having weird shapes spray painted onto them mapping out where they need to be carved out for electrics and pipes, the place looks like a badly kept crack den.
We can’t resist but to sneak in every evening after the builders have gone, to see the progress, or in the case of this week, the damage. Last Sunday evening, Ronan with the help of a spare scaffolding pole expertly emptied some of the water bellies on the roof tarp above incase they gave way. It was going well until the scaffolding pole he was using went straight through one of the said bellies and he was suddenly standing directly under his homemade version of Niagara Falls. While I grabbed a large plastic bucket to catch at least some of the fallout, a saturated Ronan jumped out of the way. It was like a beautiful synchronised contemporary ballet, me with the bucket, Ronan with the pole and the waterfall backdrop, especially the part when Ronan backed into the makeshift platform the builders had just started to construct that day to reach the centre of the room, it wobbled and began to keel over to the side, I watched in horror at the falling heavy metal poles, as Ronan did an impressive final Grand Jete across our own newly formed swan lake on the second floor just in time to save himself. The scaffolding crashed and wedged itself against the wall in a perfect parallelogram.
Thirty-five years ago, I foolishly asked my math teacher why we had to learn the word ‘parallelogram’, like algebra, I felt I would never use it. He wisely said it would be useful someday. Now I know what he meant, as it describes perfectly the final shape of the scaffolding when my husband nearly got beheaded in Italy. Thank you Mr Maxwell, although I still have never found the need for algebra, but there is still time I suppose.
“Will we just deny we were here today?”
We emptied the full bucket out the window and snuck back out the way we came in.