Rain. I don’t mind the rain. It’s good for the garden. It’s good for the barrel-principle wooden bathtub. It’s not quite so good for hill-walking, but then again we’re not made of sugar.
Besides we have a roof. A new roof. A 60-tonne granite piode roof.
In October 2003, though, we didn’t have a roof. At least not on two thirds of the house. The old roof had been stripped away stone by stone, the piode that were intact had been handed down three stories through the house and piled in the ever-narrowing street. The detritus of perhaps hundreds of years had been shovelled down three stories (we’d stripped the floors and ceilings out, leaving only the supporting beams) into a glowering pile in what we called the entrata, but which was really just a covered pile of muck with a door. All over the house, props had sprouted to support the internal cross-beams. In the kitchen, in the bedrooms, in the bathroom. At times the place reminded me of the forest of columns at La Mezquita in Cordoba (but perhaps not quite so geometrical).
Covering the whole lot at night were two massive tarpaulins.
In October 2003, Claudio Porta and his team, experts in building traditional piode roofs, had stripped away the old roof, and what happened next? It started to rain. Work stopped. The tarps were secured over the house, and Porta and the gang sloshed down the hill.
It rained and rained and rained and rained. It didn’t rain at weekends, but then the crew didn’t work at weekends even if they’d not been working during the week. M. and I trudged up and down the hill in our waterproofs. He working in Milan. Me taking Italian lessons, also in Milan.
It rained and rained and rained a bit more. We thought we might use all the timber and building equipment there was lying idly around the house to build an ark, but on reflection decided that getting the blueprints from the man upstairs might be a bit tricky. About as tricky as getting our blueprints for the new roof passed by the local comune's planning office.One Thursday it was still raining. The woods were saturated, and so were Pandissima’s spark plugs (our rusting old car is the essence of Panda, hence the name). She mumbled and grumbled that morning, but after much coaxing she started and we thought no more of her and her mood swings. Off we went on the 45-minute journey to the train station at Fondotoce, and onto the 8am to Milano Centrale.
It was a long day. Some meeting kept M. late, but I waited for him. I waited in the school’s office after my class. I waited in the café next door. Eventually I waited in the rain on a street corner, pacing up and down, my high-ish heels splashing city-oil-slick rainwater up the backs of my city-slick suit trousers. Finally, he arrived and we ducked into a local takeaway pizza place for a bite. Then we ducked into the Metro and onto the last train home, a dank, fairly frigid affair with rainwater spurting into the carriages through gaps in the doorways and windows. It was nice weather for ducks.
The station at this end was awash. The wind was howling down the valley and spitting great gobs of water out into the Borromean Gulf. The car park was an unlit abyss of water-filled potholes and waves created by cars on their way past us. We ran to Pandissima (why is the car always parked in the furthest corner when it’s raining?), and jumped in with relief.
We paused for a moment, looking at each other in sophomoric delight at being in the dry, then M. turned the key in the ignition.
He pulled out the choke and tried again.
He paused for a moment and this time we were looking at each other in dismay. Pandissima, who never liked the rain, was having the car equivalent of PMT.
So in full city regalia, I grabbed my waterproofs, jumped out and started to push. As I touched the car's filthy rear end, water instantly ran up my sleeves, saturating my jacket and my blouse. Don't you just hate that?
Luckily (ha!) the car was in the furthest corner from the station buildings, and the furthest corner happens to be the highest point of the car park’s fairly steep incline.
Pandissima started sulkily. I jumped in sulkily – my high-ish heels were slopping with muddy water and my hair was plastered to my head. Under the dim street lights, little Pandissima trundled through Verbania. The streets were quiet under the thundering downpour. No sign of intelligent life. Only the really stupid people were out that night.
M. put his foot down as we left the city behind and started to manage the many curves of the strada statale to Carmine. Soon, though, he was putting his foot down (carefully) on the brake as we realised that we weren’t so much driving home as aquaplaning, and there was a distinct possibility that we might take a bend the wrong way in the darkness and aquaplane right out onto the lake without noticing, the water was so high. The words 'lake-road, road-lake' ricochetted around my tired mind.
Slowing right down to a crawl, we inched our tentative way back to Carmine Inferiore and parked up. From the car park I could see our boat, Fulmina, dimly outlined where we had left her on the beach below. Fulmina disappearing and reappearing as the waves crashed over her bow filling her full with every wave. Then I saw M. disappearing and reappearing, his yellow waterproofs flapping in the wind as he crashed down the unlit rubble path through brambles and across precarious patches of corrugated iron to get to her.
M. turned the boat over with superhuman effort (considering he’d only eaten a single slice of pizza since lunchtime, and no spinach at all) and in total disregard for his shiny city-shoes and his made-to-measure tweed suit. The boat emptied of gallons of rainwater, he proceeded to drag it as far up the beach as the beach went up and to tie it with double, triple and quadruple knots to a tree.
Coming back up to the car park, he was besmirched and bedraggled and squelching about as much as me. We now turned our faces up to the little church on the outcrop 100m above us. It drifted meaningfully in and out of the low cloud and occasionally disappeared behind a sheet of rain. M. waggled his eyebrows at me somewhat less meaningfully, we took a deep breath in unison and started upwards.
After a couple of minutes it was clear that if the strada statale was awash with water, then the mulattiera (the twisty-turny unpaved remains of a mule track that leads up to Carmine Superiore and home) had become a river. No-one had had a chance to dig out the old gutters that would have directed the water into gulleys, streams and down to the lake. Instead, the water directed itself with some force down the path, at some points cascading down from outcrops, at all points dribbling off the tree branches. We waded up in grim silence. It was gone midnight.
Reaching the forest of scaffolding that was the path directly to our door, I fumbled for the keys and we tumbled into our building site. I reached for the lights. Nothing. As so often during adverse weather, the electricity had gone out.
We shook off our waterproofs and felt for the candles. M. lit a fire in the hearth – the first hint of comfort after a very long day. Slumping down on the twin inglenook benches, we started to unwind with glasses in hand.
In the candlelight quiet that followed, we both listened to the insistent patter of the rain and the thundering of the rivers down the valleys on either side of us.
Drip, drip, drip.
I think we both heard it at the same time.
Drip, drip, drip.
Not outside but inside.
Bloody hell! It was raining inside!
On investigation, every room in the house seemed to have sprung a leak, and some places were becoming muddy with rain. In the makeshift lavatory, a particularly spiteful leak dropped headlong onto me as I took a pee in the darkness. Upstairs, the walls of the room we were hoping to turn into a bathroom were, appropriately, running with water. The cement floor in Ezio’s old kitchen was awash. In Luigi’s kitchen, a stream of water from the ceiling plink, plink, plinked onto one of M.’s large cast iron frying pans and then plop, plop, plopped onto the jar of Nutella that had been there since 1994 (but that’s another story).
Wearily we staggered to our feet and started a tour of the house with flashlights and receptacles of all kinds, locating leaks and placing buckets, potties, saucepans under them. We sopped up puddles and moved bedding to drier spots.
At about 2:30am we were back at the inglenook, with the second bottle, and some bread and cheese. We were exhausted, damp, tired beyond sleep. We stayed up, staring into the fire, until four. Companions in adversity.
When I finally carried my candle up to the dripping bedroom, I sent up two prayers to any of the Carmine gods who might be listening : the first was a prayer of hope that this would prove to be the worst day of our renovating lives; the second was a vote of thanks that we were not, after all, made of sugar.