Monday, June 18, 2012

Making a home on the mountain

It is has been a month and a week since we got back from our trip to Veglio.  It seems like ten years since we were there but at the same time, I have images in my head during each day in which we are still there. 

We had an unusual trip in some respects if we look through the lense of a traditional vacation, but in other respects it was a very good, meaningful visit.  It was our first steps towards being at home in the Valley. And being at home means that problems exist in every day and in every family.  But at the same time, it means that we are home in a familiar, comforting place that allows us to sink roots.

Being home sometimes means you spend days cleaning up things you would rather not clean up.  On this particular trip, we had both of my brothers, Linda, Jocelyn, our daughter Alex, Mark’s daughter Allyssa and Ken’s niece Shandley.  We arrived on a Friday and settled into Mario’s place down the hill in Oira. The plan was for a good, reconnecting dinner at the restaurant next door and then an early night to rest and hit the village first thing in the morning.

Late Spring Rain and a Full Creek
We woke up to the sounds of light rain coming through the valley.  Our first order of business was to clean out the parts of the property that had been long neglected or used for livestock “storage” which was code for old hay and manure from various species.  That meant one group, largely Ken and Allyssa took the rabbit merde in the upper room while the rest of us cleaned out the various cellars and other stables that were needed for temporary storage.  Every one of us had very mucky tasks that were made even messier by the constant drip of the late Spring rain as the clouds had gathered against the Alps. 

Just about the time we finished with the nasty tasks, Andrea came up with the plan to move some items that had been temporarily stored by one of the neighbors, Renato Balzarini(also the proud owner of the rabbits),  in our stable,  down the path and up some old stone steps to an attic owned by Renato.  With only some minor slipping and sliding, we worked for the better part of an hour carrying some small furniture, boxes and various other items that needed to be cleared from our little goat stable. 
Clearing the Garden Path

There was one particularly large piece of furniture, a credenza, that needed to makes its way up into the attic.  I grabbed the front end and Ken grabbed the back and with a groan and wheeze, we starting packing it down the path and started our way up the by now slippery stairs.  Ken’s boots were to the slimey point from the rain, the mud and the remaining rabbit droppings that were still keeping him company. 

Just about the time we were near the top of the stairs, I gave a final pull over the threshold to get the weight off of Ken who was a bit below me and by now stepping out on the top landing.  All of the sudden, I looked back and Ken disappeared off the landing and I heard a thud and a few inaudible words.  I started yelling for help and trying to take a few deep breathes, terrified on what I would find as I looked over the edge. 

Some of the Stairs are Not Yet OSHA Compliant!
Finally, I pushed the furniture up into the room and made my way to the edge of the stairs, looking down a full eight or nine feet.  Ken was not moving and had landed on his side and most worrying was not talking.  Climbing down, I was quickly joined by the rest of the ashen-faced family members.  Mark and I looked for punctures or evidence of a major injury or bleeding and fortunately found nothing.  Ken was by that time starting to talk and between the shivers was at once upset because he knew he was done for the week and nervous about his shoulder that he thought for certain was broken.

Meanwhile, Andrea was on the phone with his father who is a medical doctor arranging for a meeting at the hospital once we got Ken down off the mountain.  After some lifting and swearing, we got Ken to his feet and fashioned a temporary sling.  Andrea loaded him into his jeep and made the ten miles down the mountain and to Domodossola.  We anxiously waiting for several hours and finally got word that the break was clean and with proper care surgery may be optional. 

Attending Church the Day After the Fall...Just in Case
Over the next forty eight hours, arrangements were made to send Ken home through Geneva, which we did.  Upon his arrival, Kathryn whisked him up to UC Davis Medial Center where they validated the diagnosis, rewrapped him and set out on the plan of a surgery-free, but four month recovery. 

On this particular trip, we were planning to spend some of the days down the hill at Mario’s  and then some of the time at a restored house in Veglio owned by our distance cousin Maria Luisa and her boyfriend(of 18 years)Angelo.  Maria was looking forward to sharing her hospitality and cooking with all of us and before we drove Ken to Geneva, we spent Monday morning clearing brush and yet another stable(goats) before settling in for a wonderful lunch prepared by Maria Luisa.

It was with great joy that Ken was able to be at the table, wrapped like a mummy, but eating with one hand and even finishing his meal with a little grappa.  It was a bittersweet moment as he said goodbye to our hosts and our extended Italian family prematurely.
The Mummy Seems to Like Grappa

Linda and I returned from Geneva at 2 in the morning having taken the wrong train and getting stuck in our least favorite Swiss town of Brig.  But we arose at our scheduled time to have breakfast on the mountain and begin our work.

Finally, the rain had cleared and we all settled in for various tasks around the property punctuated by incredible meals served by Maria Luisa with various guests including stone masons, roofers, helpers, cousins, girlfriends.  Andrea had made a special request for some American bourbon and on more than one evening we sat around or rather in the ancient fireplace sipping and talking, planning  and playing cards. 

The ladies even took a quick overnight trip down to Florence and really enjoyed the shopping and art and food.  It gave Mark and I time to work with Andrea, Marco and Massimo on clearing the final rubble from the house and repairing the floors of the stables that will be used for storage.
GionPiero the Stone Mason Explaining the Ancient Arts

On this trip, we also had the opportunity to do some “normal” tasks such as grocery shopping, buying a wheelbarrow, going to the car wash, shopping for underwear and socks, cooking, finding some much needed ibuprofen and getting to know the Italian medical system.  Not exciting but it did give us a glimpse of what it may be like as we move from tourists visiting to establishing a real home with real Italian parts of our lives. 

So we are now in a new phase of our restoration project which is to get real about the cost, risks and effort it is going to take to bring our dream to life.  And, to try to figure out how to have our feet in two homes with all that entails.  How do we live part of the year in Italy, how do we deal with being away from family for several months at a time, how do we deal with working remotely or building a local Italian business.
Jocelyn and MariaLuisa Showing Language is No Barrier

We do not know the answers to these questions but the questions are in the back of my mind each day, each plane ride in the middle of the night, each quiet evening spent in a hotel room in New York or a stinky train from the middle of nowhere.  I am not alone in the thinking.  Ken especially with four months of time away from his day job has been exploring a eco-tourist business that can share our experiences and the local arts and craftsmanship.

Despite all the obstacles, the bumps, bruises and slings, we are more committed now to creating a new home.  Of creating a clear picture in our minds of the day we can all raise a glass on our new terrace that looks out upon the mountains.

Lunch Al Fresco at MariaLuisa's

But for now, it is time to get back on an airplane to pay for some more stone and beams…And to plan Veglio in Fall during the Harvest.  Shovels, picks and wheelbarrows await us for our new Septic Tank!