Tuesday, May 30, 2006

DIY Italia

If you, dear reader, have come to Il Sette Bello in search of DIY tips or light construction advice, you are on the wrong blog. Yours truly has mightily improved his home construction skills in the past few years (i.e. I have graduated from holding a ladder and fetching screwdrivers for agitated older brothers to fetching my own screwdrivers and wobbling atop an usteady ladder), but I have not advanced enough to dispense advice. Well, beyond cautionary advice, as in do not try this at your own stone cottage.

This past weekend I raced up to Amandola to, among other things, intercept a truck rumored to be carrying the materials for my future pergola, materials I ordered at some point during the Berlusconi government. As I once had envisaged as a younger man, the truck arrived and dumped a pile of 3 meter (roughly 10-foot) beams onto my stone patio and a bag of screws. Well, not exactly as I had envisaged. There was nothing more. No schematic. No instructions in multiple Romance languages. Just screws and wood, a perplexing combination for me and my trusty sidekick, Pino, the Napolitano-born wonder fixer who is in high demand in the hills outside Amandola. We later recruited Fiore, an 82-year-old ex-barista, and Joe, another construction specialist. Basically, if you could keep steady several vertical 10-foot beams, you were hired for the job.

Even with this fit and able crew, we ran into a series of frustrating complications. First, our plan to anchor two of the beams into the soil were nullified when we learned that the patio extends several meters out under a thin cover of earth. The more we dug down, carving out snug post holes, the more stone and concrete we hit. Basta cosi, someone (sensible) ordered. Our plan B -- to anchor the mounts to the patio itself -- was even more of a disaster. The stone floor literally ate the drill bits, blunting them as if they were crayons. Meanwhile, during all this excitement, passersby checked in on the progress of la pergola di Bernie, "Bernie's pergola," which drew comparisons to great unfinished construction projects that Italy is so famed for. We have one nearby. It's a new valley road to the provincial capital of Ascoli Piceno, replete with a Space Mountain-like tunnel, that when finished (promised for the Spring of 1998), will cut 20 mins off the trip. As the Marchigiani say, "qualcuno mangia bene" -- someone is eating well on that never-to-be-finished project. I was determined to see my pergola not enter the annals of half-finished Italian constuction works, but my neighbors, watching on the sidelines, had grown dubious. Upon surveying the scene, some muttered a few unhelpful observations (as in, "who let Bernie near the ladder and screwdrivers?") before apologetically dashing off to other affairs, fearing no doubt they too would be recruited to hold upright a 10-foot beam in the blazing sun. Cowards.

In the afternoon, after polishing off a beer and sandwiches, we looked for a plan C. Fasten three of the four beams to the patio wall. Semplice. This would prove to be the solution staring us in the face all day long. The only problem was we didn't have enough sturdy bolts, and the drill bits, well, see paragraph above. It was concluded right there. I would go back into town and buy the proper materials and we would start over. In a few weeks time. We disassembled the pergola and set it off on the side of the property. I could live with that. In its current state of disassembly the pergola does not resemble a half-finished construction project, really. Half-finished would be an improvement.

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