Restoration of Villa San Rocco

July 2008 —

With the Italian holiday season (‘ferie’) coming to an end, work will soon begin again in earnest. In fact, our wonderful construction team – the brothers Luca and Domenico, alongside Marco and young Livio – have barely drawn breath. It is an enormous project. Having dealt with the small issue of the 300m² (~3300 square foot) roof that needed repairing, the builders (all residents of the village) more recently have had to contend with what twenty plus years of water damage and general neglect will do to an old building’s floors and internal walls.

Beam by beam, tile by tile, the internal structure has returned to life. Everything that could be saved was retained. Everything that needed to be replaced was done so sympathetically: local chestnut for the beams, local handmade terracotta tiles to complement the originals for the ceilings. Modern techniques came to the rescue in certain instances, with some of the floors requiring the extra strength of an iron mesh, embedded and tensioned within the surrounding walls, then set in a special lightweight concrete. All this will be hidden when the final layer of floor tiles is laid.

Our neighbour, Marisa, and her family have been more than gracious in putting up with scaffolding, the hammering, the drilling and re-pointing of the medieval walls that front her garden and front doorway; not to mention displaying reassuring indifference when a large section of one wall collapsed! The façade now looks unrecognisable compared to the weary face it presented to the world a year or so ago. It should last a good few years yet! The new plaster front and rear is almost finished and has already transformed the principal block, as the photos will attest to. It is prepared with water, lime and earth chosen for its natural pigments – and that’s it. No artificial colours or preservatives. Without wanting to come on too organic, this is the general principle adhered to in the reconstruction process.

We are now approaching a very exciting moment – bathrooms! Living even part-time at San Rocco has been entertaining in recent months, though probably more so for the owners than for our neighbours. The sight of pasty English brothers showering beneath the scaffolding under the altana probably does little for senses more habitually employed in distinguishing the varieties of olive used in any particular pressing. Luckily, Emilio and his son Marco are on hand to install what will be an intricate pipe system, along with the various boilers, pumps and tanks to supply and heat enough water for a full house of guests. The trenches have been dug and the first pipes laid to service the dozen bathrooms, the kitchen and the utilities room that will bring the villa into the 21st century sanitation-wise. (Judging by how we found it, it leapfrogged the 20th…)

In anticipation of what is usually a cold winter in the mountains, new windows are currently being crafted in Lucca to an old Lucchese design by Signor Francesconi and his son Massimo. The Francesconi family’s workshop in Via delle Chiavi d’Oro has been producing art from timber for over three centuries, now, and is well worth dropping in to see. In addition, Stefano, our ‘fabbro’ or ironworker, between essential fishing trips is setting about the design of banisters and grills, whilst Fabrizio the electrician is scratching his head amidst a pile of surveyor’s drawings wondering just why anyone these days wants so many sockets and switches in such a rambling old house.

Then there’s the legal stuff…but let’s not go there. Asterix and Oblix failed to conquer the Italian bureaucratic “system”; fortunately, we have an Enzo. Not the red kind that has wheels and makes environmentalists apoplectic, but the Neapolitan kind, who has contacts and whose coffee might force environmentalists to alter their stance. Having just suffered a so-called summer holiday in UK with wife Celia and daughter Isabella, the project-coordinating/sort-anything team are thankfully back at base camp. The Cammarota’s, though more often found in the metropolis of Lucca, have a house of their own in Benabbio and will continue to be crucial to the project’s success.

September update to follow shortly – if I can get that internet connection to work properly….



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