Living on a building site isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I’ve had grit in my bed, dust in my sock drawer and splinters in my, well lets just say I sit on it. Add to this the fact that I’ve just discovered I’m allergic to cement and you can forgive me for saying, that this is a testing time. okay it’s not as bad as four years in limbo, being displaced, but it runs a close second. I know the weather here in Abruzzo is better than it is back in the UK at the moment, but what good is sunshine when you’re trapped in a restoration project.
Today I did my morning trip to the builders’ merchants for the day’s materials, but today was different. You see today I understood why I had to keep going for cement etc. in dribs and drabs. For the past two weeks it’s annoyed me that I have to do the daily trip, but no longer. At the start of the restoration I asked the builder how many bags of cement will we need to complete the master bedroom downstairs, his reply was “I don’t know, but today we’ll only use four.” Confused, I asked why we only buy four bags, when we’ll have to come back tomorrow. His response to this question was, “Why tie money up in bags of cement that sit waiting to be used, money is better in your bank.” I tried to explain that, I’ll still have to spend the money the following day and he said, “But you held onto the money for a day longer.” What a crazy way of looking at things, I first thought.
Then Nino arrived to measure for windows, he measured only one room then left. “Why didn’t he measure all the windows?” I asked our builder, who just shrugged his shoulders and shaking his head told me because the each room is a separate job. “But it makes sense if he’s here to measure all the windows in the house. That’s what they would do in England.” Our builder removes his hat and wipes his brow before telling me, we’re not in England, we’re in Italy. What a crazy way of looking at things, I thought, again.
The quote comes in from Nino and I say it’s okay, so he arrives at the house again. This time he’s measuring for a window and a door for the second bedroom. The process is repeated, he leaves after ignoring the kitchen windows and the third bedroom’s window. The following day he calls with his quote. I tell him it’s fine and ask if he’ll be coming today to measure the other windows. “No,” I’m told, “I will make these two jobs first.” I’m about to say that surely my total requirements are just one job, but think better of it.
Now to work on a house in Italy you must obtain permission from your local comune (council). This means paying for a piece of paper and a job number granting you permission to move doors or build a balcony etc. So this extra expense has to be factored into any restoration project. So our 1970’s, porn star look-a-like, geometa (architect) comes along to measure everything and says you may just need a simple number. We then mention we’re putting in stairs and the whole thing changes. Apparently, new stairs will alter the house considerably, and will therefore require a complete job number and permissions. Total cost will be one thousand five-hundred euro. He says he’ll be back to take photos on another day and can I e-mail him our house purchase paperwork and payment will be split into three payments of five-hundred euro, cash if possible and cheque later. “I could just give you a cheque for the total amount,” I say, “Or cash if you…” I am unable to finish as he strokes his moustache, looks over the top of his sunglasses and says “No three payments is fine.” He then hitches up his ridiculously tight jeans and strides off towards his immaculate cherry red sporty number that’s parked beside my dirty sand-covered Zafira. What a crazy way of looking at things, I think, yet again.
Later this practice of one job being split into several smaller ones, and payments being requested in instalments makes sense. I’m in town, talking to my bank manager, he’s asking how things are progressing and I tell him how it’s going. “I’ve not seen any cheques go from your account,” he asks. I explain that I’ve not needed to write any. “But what about your builder, how do you pay him?” I explain that we pay him a daily rate we’ve negotiated. “Ahh, I see.” he says. “You have taken to the Italian way of doing things very quickly,” I’m a little confused, and about to let him know that I find it frustrating that I have to pay everything in several small amounts, rather than in one go, when he says, “Here, it’s against the law to pay anyone more than one-thousand euro in cash, you must set up payments with the bank. So people break down their bigger jobs into smaller ones and invoice for smaller amounts. It our way of keeping secrets from the government.”
Suddenly it all makes sense “But I still don’t understand why I can’t buy more cement and let it sit outside waiting to be used, I’m hardly going to buy a thousand euro worth of the stuff,” I tell him as he sets a coffee down in front of me. “Well,” he says, “it’s just the way we do things. But no doubt somewhere there’ll be no madness in the method.” I smile at his misquoting, Hamlet and stir my coffee as the sun shines down upon Lanciano.