A Small Place in Italy

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Authors: Eric Newby
us at the time a good omen for the future.
    When we finally managed to get the door of the kitchen open with the twisted key, the door which opened itself whenever there was a south-westerly wind of force 6 or above, we found that Attilio had done a great deal of work in the kitchen in anticipation of our arrival.
    He had demolished the wattle-and-daub partition which had been infested with woodworm and carried it out behind the house and burned it. From now on, whenever we were at I Castagni, a fire burned almost all the time to dispose of the vast quantities of more or less inflammable material that had to be got rid of.
    He had then swept the whole room clean, and the bedroom on the upper floor, and had sawn up an old, dead, iron-hard olivetree into logs of a manageable size for firewood with a primitive saw in which the tension of the blade was maintained by a twisted cord, and a double-bitted axe, a dangerous weapon with which one edge can be used for cutting, the other, more bevelled, for splitting providing the user doesn’t embed the top blade in his skull when raising it into the air. And he had collected a lot of dead chestnut branches and cut them up too, as well as providing a couple of bales of dried vine shoots which he had pruned after the previous vendemmia , the grape harvest, and which would make excellent kindling. There was even a sack of charcoal for the fornello a carbone.
    Not only all this but somehow, using a couple of ladders, with what must have been, for one so small, a superhuman effort, he had managed to haul a huge old green tarpaulin over the most ruined part of the roof of the loft and secure it with ropes at the four corners.
    But what expressed Attilio’s sensibility more than anything else was that he had taken a saw to the wooden seat of the lavatory and had enlarged it to a size more suited to our adult proportions. What was clear was that Attilio would have to come on the payroll without delay.
    ‘It’s a bit difficult to know where to begin with the house,’ I said. ‘We need help, a lot of help.’
    ‘The best thing we can do,’ Wanda said, ‘is to have something to eat and some of Signora Angiolina’s wine. Then we’ll go and look for a bricklayer and try and get a roof on the place.’
    It was still only seven o’clock in the morning but we were terribly short of time. The next ten days were all we had at our disposal before we returned to England. In a moment of fantasy I wondered what would happen if I cabled the Editor of the Observer , and asked him if I was being missed, and if not, could I stay on for a bit longer; but I didn’t wonder for long.
    What we were in urgent need of were drains, a septic tank for them to gurgle their way into, and an inside lavatory. And where was the waste water from the mini-sink in the kitchen going at the moment? These were the sort of problems with which we were currently tormenting ourselves and which made it difficult for us to sit down and contemplate the rural scene.
    In the loft we needed a completely new roof, apart from the tiles, the majority of which were sound but could fall and be shattered at any moment, but they didn’t. It also needed a new floor or ceiling, according to whether we were upstairs or downstairs, with all the necessary beams and planking. We also had to have, as a matter of urgency, unless we were resigned to him dying of rheumatic fever, or some such similar complaint, a new roof for Attilio’s room.
    To do all these things we urgently needed the services of a plumber, a carpenter, and a muratore , a man who was both a bricklayer and a stonemason, each of whom would have to be fit enough to crawl all over this mouldering, highly dangerous structure without falling off it.
    We were also going to need quite soon, if we were not to be electrocuted on the present amazing system in which an electric light bulb was soldered to the main, the presence of an electrician.
    The upper part of the loft was going to

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