Not quite living the dream

Autumn is an exciting time of year here in the Langhe. For a start, it’s harvest time and everyone is talking about how good this year is going to be.

The tourists are in town too, ready for white truffle season, Cheese in Bra and countless other festivals, including Alba’s annual donkey palio, a sarcastic nod to Asti’s real palio. Couple that with the perfect weather (warm, sunny days, misty, atmospheric mornings and exceptionally clear air) and the Langhe is a pretty good place to be right now.

Nebbiolo grapes Novello
2013 is looking like being a very good year…

Our life, though, is rather less exciting. Living the dream has rather been put on hold of late, though hopefully only temporarily. If we’re not in a queue at the hospital, staring blankly at a raffle ticket bearing an insanely high number, we’re locking doors, picking figs, looking up pellet boilers and window frames on google or explaining our plans to builders.

Getting quotes from builders is supposed to be our geometra’s job, but so far he hasn’t entirely succeeded. Two months in and he’s yet to deliver his first, no doubt eye-watering quote. So, we’ve taken matters into our hands. We’ve been getting recommendations (and quite a few warnings) from everyone we know and my wife has her mobile phone pressed constantly to her ear speaking to plasterers, pool makers and plumbers. We’re getting rather tired of talking people through the plans but at least it feels like we’re moving forward, albeit “piano, piano”.

It's just a bit of patching up really...
It’s just a bit of patching up really…

Yesterday someone came around to quote on building us a roof using a groundbreaking new system. It’s modular, which means it takes less time and is less expensive than building a roof in the traditional fashion. It looks exactly the same though. Perfect. Except on further questioning it turns out it doesn’t, it isn’t and it doesn’t. It actually takes roughly twice as long to build, costs slightly more and looks a bit, well, Ikea.

Our main challenge, though, is finding a builder we like, trust and can afford. Negativity abounds, particularly among the older generation, who say ‘No’ an awful lot, moan about how big a job it is and suck air through their teeth relentlessly. One even explained to us that our tumbledown stable will need a roof if it is to become a bedroom. While I appreciate he is almost certainly correct, I don’t think he’ll be getting the chance to put said roof on said bedroom.

The younger the builder, the more positive they seem to be. Whether this is youthful naivety or just eagerness and ambition remains to be seen. One of our neighbours is quoting and he falls into both the youthful (I’m sure he’ll appreciate that…) and seemingly trustworthy category, so we’re keeping everything crossed that we can afford to use him.

Enough of the moaning though. We’ve got the weather, the wine and the food, and the views are getting better with each passing day. This really is a great time of year.  We may not exactly be ‘living the dream’ right now, but it’s not too bad…

Novello morning
The early morning fog clears leaving a great view of the mountains

25 thoughts on “Not quite living the dream

  1. Good to know that it seems like I picked a great time of year for my tour next year! Good luck with the building process – I’m sure it has its ups and downs but the end result will be beautiful (if you can wait that long!!!)

    1. Yep, you’ve picked a really great time. This is our first autumn here and it’s amazing. I thought summer was nice, but it’s even nicer right now!

      Well, the living here is the ‘up’ and I think we’re well-prepared for the ‘downs’. It’s just the slow progress that is driving us mad at the moment. We have to get used to the slightly slower pace of things here I guess.

  2. … but the Nebbiolo is so called becasue it has to be picked with the first NEBBIA (fog) … I am sure you know that by now … patience and a sense of humor is what I recommend for your renovation – Thomas Mann (who loved Italy) said that Italy is the theater of Europe… so there you are, in the commedia di tutti i giorni!

    1. Well, we’ve already had the first fog… I’m still learning however it’s my understanding harvest can take place any time from now, but that the warm weather we are having right now is really helping the grapes.

      You’re right, patience definitely seems to be the key. Even the mayor said “piano piano” to us the other day when talking about our renovation.

  3. We’re enjoying the same conditions here, except all the tourists have gone home, and the locals are slowing down the traffic with their snail-paced grape-picking gear.
    I couldn’t help smiling at your meetings with builders; we’ve been through that too for windows and kitchen installment. The guy who fitted our kitchen, the inappropriately named Mr Bravo, couldn’t measure things corrrectly, shifted everything around, stubbed his fags out on my recently renovated 19th century tiles, and was ready to leave me with a gaping hole between the cupboard and the kitchen wall. He didn’t understand why we didn’t give us a tip, and told us so. Poor wee mite.

    1. Haha… that sounds about right! I almost admire the attitude. I’m not sure I’d be able to be quite so negative/lazy/condescening/inept (delete as appropriate) if I was quoting on a job or, even worse, actually doing the job. It must be great to really not care! A couple of times now we’ve both burst out laughing as soon as a builder has left; it seems some of them just really can’t be bothered with the hassle of a job!

      1. I thought some of them actually did it deliberately so that we didn’t take them on, because renovation takes longer than building from scratch, and people who renovate want to reproduce original features that modern-day builders can’t do any more. If I talked to my clients like that I’d be skint 🙂

      2. Yeah, that’s my feeling too. I think a lot of them genuinely don’t want the work. It’s quite a big job and I think they just don’t need the hassle. Either that or they’re playing it cool, doing the stand-offish, not interested thing hoping that it will make us want them more. A friend of mine used to use that technique in bars all the time and was remarkably successful!

  4. The local harvest started yesterday here in Chianti. The sound of squeaky tractors and machines fill the air!
    As regards getting a decent builder, drive around locally and find a newly renovated property that you like and knock on the door. Recomendation is everything!

    1. The sound of the squeaky tractors carries for miles doesn’t it! I’m tempted to sneak around in the night with a bottle of WD40…

      And thanks for the builder advice, we’ll definitely give it a try. So far most people who have had work done have been able to warn us against using certain builders but not many are able to recommend anyone!

  5. mmmh builders…. we’ve had our share in Croatia so I don’t envy you…. it will be a long process and you will be pulling out your hairs, but I promise you it will be worth it in the end…. persevere…. 🙂 and moan along the way…. 🙂

    1. Haha thanks… I hope our place turns out as well as yours! I’m sure we’ll get there in the end, but patience is not a virtue I possess. I think I’ll have to learn it though!


  6. Autumn is my favourite time in Italy, it’s just perfect. We’ve had molto fun with plumbers here. I particularly enjoyed it when they dug a 2 foot hole in the bathroom floor, then didn’t turn up for another week!

    1. It’s wonderful isn’t. I’m used to autumn being a bit depressing, justna segway to the long, dark winter. It’s quite the opposite here though!

      I bet those plumbers saw nothing wrong in leaving a gaping hole in your floor…

  7. You are an inspiration in courage and patience ……already!
    Hubby is touring Italy right now, somehow I don’t think we will be giving up our country property in Australia.

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