Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Crossing the Bridge

We have been home for four days and our minds and bodies are just now shaking off the effects of the trip.  These are not only the inevitable jet lag that comes from nine hours of time change but also the abrupt change in our surroundings.

It is always a mind blowing, soul numbing transition as we move from Orange County to the mountain and back again.

Tissy starting the dishwasher
One moment we are watching plumped up Newporters pushing shih tzus in strollers and the next we are fetching our water from the fountain to wash the dishes.  This is both the appeal of our little village and also the thing that creates doubts in our minds. 

This trip especially we struggled going in with many questions on how we could balance our lives and achieve the dream of living part of the year on the mountain and building this bridge between two distinct cultures.

We are now officially two years into our “project” and the novelty of the idea is wearing off.  The “investment” so far has been five trips, the purchase, continued withdrawals from our savings for materials, one broken shoulder and more than a few late night conversations.   

Our estimated time and cost to completion, while more accurate than last year at this time, is still a very general range.  Not the kind of thing that 50-somethings like us enjoy as we plan for our last big push of work before some form of retirement. 

On this trip, our  imported work crew consisted of Linda, her sister Tissy, my brother Ken and family friend Sam Pontillo who is 18 and just finished his first year of college. 

By the time we landed in Milan, we were tired and the excitement of the trip was mixed with more than a few questions in our minds.  Could we complete the project without affecting our retirement?  Would our family want to visit us in the future half way around the world? Could we really build a little tourism business that would work?  Were we up to the physical challenge this type of construction requires? 
Isole Bella, Lago Maggiore

We piled into our little Fiat and began to make our way north in the intermittent drizzle that was giving way to heavier rain.  The plains around Milan quickly gave way to the hills that become mountains leading to the Alps.  Snow was covering many of the middle peaks from the late Spring.  We decided to stop at Stresa which is a town on the Lago Maggiore, one of the deep Alpine Lakes that on the way to Veglio. 

A few cappuccinos and a walk through the farmers market started to change our attitude. We arrived at our temporary home in Canova and settled in.

As the week unfolded, we were once again smitten.  The beauty of the land, the warmth of the people.  The enthusiasm that is building from the locals as they see the potential beginning to unfold. 

Our work crew when we are not there consists of Andrea and two other local people. The work must fit between Andrea’s day job in Switzerland and also the weather that is quite wet in Spring as the moist Mediterranean air meets the immense wall of the Alps that are over 12,000 feet in this part of Italy.

Our visits provide a much needed boost of energy and labor that helps the project maintain momentum.  On this trip, we wanted to first and foremost confirm the layout of the final designs of the rooms.  In addition, we wanted to complete the last small sections of wall and tower, dig out the water and sewer lines and place the large roof beams.

Andrea and Sam awaiting "cemento" buckets
Despite three days of very hard rain and very sore backs, we pushed on with the tasks.  Good fortune of the rocks in the just the right places and the herculean efforts of Piero accelerated our work ahead of schedule.

By week’s end, we had reached all of our goals and also opened up two new doorways, cleared the creek, cleaned out the old bread oven and continued the demolition of the old interior plaster. 

Standing back on the final day of work, the old house began to reflect its transformation.  We could clearly see the flow of the rooms, the placement of the windows, the stairs and layout of the kitchen.  No longer was it just a dripping pile of rock and rotted beams, but actually began to look like a stone home that could be brought to life with the sounds of children’s voices, cooking and music. 

Every successful project has a tipping point when the trough of disillusionment makes way to the confidence of completion.  While we will have many difficult moments, both Linda and I now can feel that this dream will be possible. 

The last section of stone on the tower
We also continue to learn that our work is not just about the stone and mortar, but about the opportunity to bring people together to live and learn.  Italians and Americans, young and old, city dwellers and farmers. 

This was most evident during our last dinner on the mountain this trip.  We decided to throw a little pizza party for our family and also many of those who are working on the project and in the village.   Since Papa John’s does not deliver in Veglio, we had to come up with Plan B. 

Pizza maker, Arrianna and Sam
There are three ancient ovens in Veglio.  The largest and newest is about two hundred years old. It is in good shape and is about 8 feet across. Historically, it served to make bread for much of the village for the entire week.  Likely several hundred loaves over a 8 hour baking time.

We decided to clean it out and fire it, which was last heated about five years ago.  The heat was immense and I burned the top of my hair and both Sam and I have fewer eyelashes that when we started.

Smiles all around
It was well worth the risk.  We made ten pizzas and served them around the table in the old house.  Even though just a few words of common language were shared amongst many, the visible smiles and raised glasses signified success.  Crazy Americans bringing pizza to the Italians but we hope much more. 

We are hopeful that we can continue to bring that most American of values, optimism and a can-do spirit to this village that continues to teach us so much.