So nice to be here.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Get up in the dark. Drive to airport. Stop for espresso and croissant. Say goodbye. Flight. Landing in Frankfurt. Talk German for two hours. Next flight. Next landing in Philadelphia. Immigration Agent: Polite. Customs Agent: Polite. Sister. Hugs. Tears Ninety degrees out. Ride home. Country. Chester County farms. Cherry trees. Brother in law. Hugs. Tears. Turkey burgers. Rucola Salad. White wine. Laughing. Catching up. Tiredness setting in. Sleep. Wake up. Croissants and coffee. Sitting around in pj's. Shower. Yoga stretches. Email. More rucola salad, with fried eggs and brie cheese. Talk to Micha. Construction ok. Max ok. Miss my boys. Oprah.
Monday, April 27, 2009
Well, everything is still standing. What a feeling. So I guess I can make like a banana and split.
Time to prep for the next disaster in waiting: the swine flu, for which the European Union has put out dire warnings to stay away from the USA.
Or is it just a media disaster?
In any event, you have to be prepared for coughing, spewing seat mates these days.
I don't know anymore. I just don't know.
I am leaving tomorrow at 6 am for the airport.
We have had 48 hours of consecutive rain, torrential, monsoon like rain. This on top of two weeks of sporadic rain, which was on top of a month of constant rain, which was on top of almost 3 meters of snow during the winter.
It is 8 degrees outside, which is about 48 degrees Farenheit.
It should be sunny and 70. Sunny and 70.
The new walls in the wine cellar are now threatening to crumble --because the tufo behind it is so overloaded with water. Think a piece of sponge which goes from 2 inches to 10. We have not quite finished all the excavation yet, and where the tufo is up against the building still? You got it, it's buckling.
We woke up to 2 feet of rain in the wine cellar this morning. We used the pump to clear it out.
The city is on alert; the river is threatening to run its banks again. We have had more precipitation in the last 6 months than in the last five years combined. Crops are ruined, streets are falling apart. Thank God we do not have guests right now. Thank God.
I cannot cry. There are no more tears. I leave tomorrow. I will see you all on the other side.
This photo sums it up for me -- two of the glass demijohns demolished. Why oh why did I not bring them in?
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Yes he has his Doctorate from (let's see if I get it right this time) oh, yeah, Yale (something about magnetic resonance technology but not for people but for machines? I think it was something like that but I had had a lot of Barbera while he was explaining it) , and she is a marketing research expert, but who are they really? They are the media sensation of New Haven, Connecticut and here they are, once again, cooking on Connecticut Style. They honeymooned here, but their love of food started well before and might bring them far, far from magnets and demographics....
Well done, kids, once again! Let's give it up for these two -- talk about multitasking!
PS Elizabeth, from one Gruyere fan to another, if you have not yet had the pleasure of a hunk of Comtè, go for it if you find it... and pick up a nice bottle from the Languedoc ... make that rucola salad, get some good bread... you get the picture darling....
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Roberto and Will just left -- Saturday at noon. It might seem unusual for construction guys to work on Saturdays. This week it's very unusual... because today is a national holiday. But they wanted to finish up a couple of things -- and I would say this week was VERY productive. They dug out 12 truckloads full of tufo, reconstructed four walls, laid the foundation for an elevated area in the wine cellar and installed two iron girders.
I thought I would sketch a small idea of the "before" and "after" of the wine cellar and barn area. At least the project will make a little more sense if you are interested in following it.
Here was the situation when we started with the barn in January of 2008: You can see that the ENTIRE BACK WALL did not exist -- they simply leaned the structure against the hill which was constructed of tufo, an earth - and - sand porus substance which is semi-solid.
And they carved a couple of small storage areas for food directly out of the tufo. You would have never known this, because they bricked up the front of the tufo and it looked like it was real walls! The photo under this "before" is how it looked at the beginning. That whole middle area is simply faced-out tufo.
Finding this fact out was an expensive undertaking and resulted in part of the roof collapsing when we went to dig out the back wall from the hill - - the back wall that did not exist.
But that is ancient history.
So, this is the plan as it will be in a few weeks. This is a result of last year's and this year's work:
We have now almost completely dug out the structure and built the back walls, and will putting in a French drainage system directly behind the building. This involves digging 1.5 meters into the ground around the back and side of the entire building, putting PVC sheeting against the base of the structure, putting in tubes dotted with holes (holes facing up so that they can catch rain water and runoff), filling the ditch with gravel, and then leveling off with top soil. This will protect the wine cellar and back of the house for good from that big hill and all of that moisture-absorbing-and-holding tufo.
After the structural part of the wine cellar has been reinforced, we will divide off a part of it for clean dry storage (I can cry just writing that -- I have been needing this for five and a half years now).
The area above the flat one-story area will be a roof terrace for the room (which is the second floor above the area we are now renovating). You need to have quite a bit of imagination, but we'll get there. Better late than never.
I leave for the states on Tuesday -- my first trip back since November 2005. It is long overdue, and predictably, poorly timed. But I will be very interested to see how far things come in the two weeks I will be gone. This week was has been hugely productive. Micha and Max are the provisional construction managers while I am gone. Max has already asked for a raise, and he has not even started yet.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Sweet, darling Allison who writes the creative blog Campbell Soup Diary, had a drawing on her website and today I found out that I won! The best part is that I get one of her wonderful creations, these gorgeous earrings!
You can go and read all about Allison's creations and take a look at her on-line shop of fabulous fabrics and gorgeous hand made accessories...
Allison and I share something special. She is an American in Hamburg, as I was for nine years. We get to speak a special language with each other, one not many others understand.
Ich danke Dir, Allison, bleib genau wie du bist...
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Today, Roberto and Will unloaded two huge iron girders meant to support the part of the ceiling structure which had no support. A third one will be added to be safe and to make sure that the heavy weight of the new roof and the room upstairs.
In this photo, you can see the girders mounted to the left. There are two of them mounted directly next to each other.
After finishing that huge, weighty task, they went to town and picked up this baby backhoe to get all of the rubbish out of the room, and knock down the rest of the tufo which is stuck to the back of the building.
I made a reinforcement of another kind. Stealing this directly from Amanda, I made canelloni bean dip, with rosemary, sea salt, olive oil and balsamic. I added red peppercorns as well.
I said goodbye to the sunflower paintings I made in 2004 to cover the missing window panes above the cantina doors. I put them to the side, though. They are now part of the history of this place and I want to reuse them somewhere.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
There are pieces of old building that will stand through the next millennium, no matter how hard you try to shatter them.
There are pieces which will fall to dust if you simply breathe on them.
You never know which is which until you start touching the parts.
You try to stay strong. After all, you can't give up now; it's just the beginning of the ride. But it is hard when things shatter and fall. You let it go, and know that the falling down has to happen so that the rising up can occur. You think of the farmers who mortared the old stones with their bare hands so that they could ferment their harvested grapes. You see the crooked wooden pieces, the bits of brick they gathered and used. You see the veins in the hands, the hairs on the wrists, the dirt and sand under the nails, the small cuts and bruises on the tanned skin.
You see those things in the piles which are getting swept away.
You try to keep what is whole, what is intact, what still works and is solid. Whole 400 year old bricks. Massive 200 year old wood beams which the worms ignored because they were too hard. You cringe when something crashes that you had just decided you wanted to keep. You feel ridiculously self absorbed, as if the world will fall apart which each sacrificed brick. You go for a walk to relax. You try to focus on something else to keep the bigger picture in mind.
The costs are going up. Your heart is falling down.
Why bother? Because it is our property and it is our job? As if we could ever really possess a property like this. As if. I believe this house has been put in our hands for safe keeping. And that is what we are trying to do -- keep it safe. Make it strong again so when the next come, and those after the next, that it is still standing and can protect them too.
I have 2109 in my head. A hundred years from now. Will the house be intact? Will people still be living and breathing and dying and giving birth here, as they have for the last four hundred years? Will someone rebuild the pool, replace the solar panels with whatever the new technology is? Will someone make pizza in the what will then be 500 year old pizza oven?
I must remember to etch a little signature in the cement in the wine cellar. To let the people of 2109 know that there was once a couple of people who worked very hard on this house. That some parts of the building will have once again turned to dust, but that Phoenix rises from that dust. That those people from a hundred years ago hoped against hope that the house would be standing, still intact and proud, for the people of 2209...
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
I am totally freaked out. And it is only day two. This is a HUGE job. HUGE. There is much more instability in the structure than was apparent. That is the problem with these 2 and 300 year old building which were put together by farmers as needed. We are retaining as much as we can, but some of the walls were not even walls, they were bricks cemented on to tufo. That all has to go, iron girders need to be installed, and the structure must be stabilized.
Now. Addesso. Pronto. Subito.
(need big sister yoga instructor)
Monday, April 20, 2009
We received the permission to restore and slightly enlarge our old wine cellar. Unfortunately no permission yet for the room above. We have had to cancel the reservations we have for the room, and will start with that construction after the last guests have left.
This has been very difficult for us to accept. But we cannot control the approval process, and the Commune here in Acqui is very backed up. We have a good relationship with the guys there, and I know it is not personal. They are dealing with massive cutbacks which occured at the end of last year and things were complicated by our first architect having made mistakes in the paperwork five years ago which have come back to haunt us. They have been nice about it at the Commune, and with the help of our current architect, we got all the huge fines waived which they could have easily hit us with.
But it is still very upsetting, and has caused me way too many sleepless nights. However, we have to move on.
So today, we were able to start demolishing part of the wine cellar which is no longer structurally sound. Here is Micha at 7 this morning, surveying the cellar one last time. You can see we had a couple of small moisture issues. HA.
Max is making sure everything goes to plan.
As they first started knocking down a tufo wall, a little dormouse who was hibernating fell down. She is fine. I picked her up on this shovel and she continued to sleep, stretch and yawn. I dug her a hole in some tufo, packed it with some leaves and place her in there to finish up her winter sleep.
... and you can see, it was time to go to town. Demo is always fun and scary at the same time. You can see that they put up those iron support polls to make sure the entire structure does not come crashing down. We are opening up this wall, which is where the old unrenovated structure meets the renovated part from last year.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Today, Micha and I met Luigi and Meg at the Genoa Fiera for the annual Slowfood Slow Fish convention. It it one of the yearly Slowfood events which focuses on sustainable development (in this case, sustainable fishing) and small production techniques.
With a little creativity thrown in|
There were booths from all over Italy, with all kinds of products... from Mrecco di Sardegnia to Accciuge di Sicilia to Ligurian Olive Oil and pesto...Moscato vinegar from Piemonte, of course...
The deep fried anchovies and baby shrimp form Sicily were delicious. They couldn't fry them up fast enough...
The huge Piemonte booth (even though we only have fresh water fish)....
Gorgeous hanging stoccafisso...
and more Sicilian anchovies, this time in cans...
The only complaint was that there were too many people trying to eat all of the fabulous seafood from all the different regions that the lines were too long! Everything we tried was delicious.
Friday, April 17, 2009
Don't you just hate this question?
Someone trying to make bigtalk out of smalltalk. Maybe it's just my sensibilities which are irritated by this question. It normally gets asked when you are cornered by someone who you don't really want knowing how you really are. And in reality, said questioner probably could not handle how you really are, so you end up just answering, "Fine! Really!", only louder, and with more open eyes and a slightly shaking head --not nodding, shaking, as if to say, subconsciously, "No! Stop asking me that! Are you a complete twit, or what? If you really cared how I am, you would know without having to ask this twit like question!"
Ok, maybe I'm over reacting. I just find it annoying.
In Germany, if you have the gumption to say to someone, "How are you?", prepare yourself. You are going to hear the truth. Germans accuse Americans all the time of being superficial and throwing around the how are you question and never sticking around to hear the answer.
Well, try asking a German this question. Here is a sample answer you might get (note: circulatory issues - kreislauf - from seasonal weather change is a malady in Germany which will get you out of work for at least a week, if not two, fully paid. Everybody's got circulatory issues in the Vaterland):
"I'm having kreislauf which give me headaches and make me tired, and the dog had to go to the vet twice because of a skin allergy. We can't go to Istanbul for our normal four weeks vacation this year because Detlef's boss will only give him three weeks off in a row. Can you imagine that? It should be illegal!"
And you might wait a very long time, in vein, in fact, for said conversant to ask how you are. Why? Well, she doesn't really want to know. And if a German doesn't want to know something, they don't ask about it. That's why Americans and how are you questions annoy them to death.
And no German would ask how you are really doing -- seriously -- they would assume that if you said you are fine, that you are fine. Point made. Discussion closed. There is something terribly comforting in that, like you know where you stand. Ok, I am fine, and you have kreislauf. Now that we have that behind us, we can go on living.
Cultural differences, the small, seemingly insignificant ones, never cease to amaze me. Sometimes they make me feel dizzy, as if I myself have kreislauf. And I see, through writing this, that my annoyance at this question means I have become, slowly, a little bit German.
But no, seriously, how are you really?
Heat some honey in a pan until it melts. Add shelled walnuts and toss until coated and toasted. Remove from pan and cool.
Dice a nice, just ripe pear (I prefer Williams Green) and some Gorgonzola Piccante (or any good, hard blue cheese). Wash and cut a head of Romaine lettuce in small strips.
In a bowl, mix four tablespoons walnut or good olive oil, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard (smooth Maille), a spoon of honey, and some salt and pepper.
Toss the pears and the lettuce in the dressing.
Add the cheese and walnuts and carefully mix.
Serve and enjoy.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Can't sleep? Going on line at 3 in the morning but can't focus on the screen? Need help but can't get a script for Ambien? Here is the website for you. Stay away from it during the day, unless you want the world to pass you baaaa.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
The queen of all wild flowers, the Wild Orchid. Take a look at its delicate construction as it starts to unfold, from the bottom up.
The cherry blossoms. I am hopeful for lots of tasty cherries this year. I plan on making at least one hundred jars of cherry jam. Let's see how much I actually get done.
This is the flower growing on my rhubarb plant which came back this year on its own! It's kind of wierd but cute at the same time.
Oh, and this year, the lilacs are just unreal. You cannot go outside without being blasted by their perfume. A symphony for the senses, they are.
Nature is exploding, as we knew it would way back when, when we were buried under mountains of snow (did I really live through that? I think my delicate psyche has protected itself by blocking some memories involving salt tablets and propane deliveries).
Here are a few examples of what is going on. I am stopping old ladies who I see on the side of the street, plastic bags filled with green weeds. Six springs into this experience, and I still cannot identify the things picked from our field which they put into their torta verde. Maybe some day.
Since renovating the stall into a kitchen last year, I have waited to finish up the last details....mostly because I could not decide what I wanted. Part of me wanted a traditional Italian treatment -- curtains -- to cover the shelves under the work surfaces. Part of me wanted wood doors or even slick stainless.
I finally decided to go with a traditional treatment with a modern twist. Curtains, but made from a sweet, modern patterned fabric and without a lot of "schnik-schnack" as they say in Germany. Simple, with contemporary twisted wire as the hanging system. I got the wire at the "fai da te" shop here in Acqui as well as the hooks, and I made the curtains. Here are the before and after results: