Restoring a Damp House in Sicily, Part 3

March 1, 2010

The roof’s been fixed; the rain’s been staunched.

Old Terracotta Roof Tiles on a Sicilian House, copyright Jann Huizenga





I turn my attention to the interior of the house.

Please find me some old stones, I implore. Vi prego. There must be stone under the many layers of plaster and wall tile. Let’s expose it!

“What do you need old stones for, anyway? asks the project manager, tossing his head impatiently. “If you want stone, we can put pietra finta, fake stone, on the walls.”

Fake stone? Could he be serious?

“It’ll be faster and cheaper than looking all over the house for old stone. It looks better, too.”

“But,” I wail, “I love old stuff! We don’t have old stuff in the Stati Uniti!!!! That’s why I’m in Sicily!”

I long to wrap history around me like a well-worn cape. Sicilians, having lived among ruins for millennia, want to shed the old cape for something flashier.


A week or so later, I get a call in Rome. “Non c’e pietra.” There’s no stone.

I’m stunned.  This is an old Sicilian house. There has to be stone. Or have I managed to purchase the one and only stone-free house in all of Italy?


There’s a new twist to the plot. My husband decides to travel from the U.S. to far-flung Ragusa Ibla to see for himself what’s going on. It’s the first time he and the house will meet—nearly a year after I’ve bought it—and I’m nervous. His interest in the project has not been keen. What’ll he think?

When he arrives at our mossy-smelling home late one afternoon, there’s rubble wherever you look. He wears a fixed frown and raises an eyebrow.

Then he hunts around for a tool. There’s nothing in the house but a vintage can opener. He climbs a ladder in the salone and starts scratching at the vaulted ceiling. He claws away with his rusty little can opener until fingers start to bleed.

“So who says there’s no pietra,” he yells from atop the ladder. “Look at this.”

Peeking through the plaster is a hint of beautiful stone.

Ceiling of a Sicilian house undergoing restoration, copyright Jann Huizenga


He comes down from the ladder and steps onto the balcony with a wan smile. Plaster has settled into his hair. The sky is full of evening light; the bells toll as if they’re going mad. The small smile transforms into a dual-dimpled grin.


San Giorgio Cathedral at dusk, Ragusa Ibla, Sicily, copyright Jann Huizenga

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5 comments to Restoring a Damp House in Sicily, Part 3

  • Diana

    Great article Jann, we too are restoring an old stall and house in San Giacomo, about half an hour from Ragusa Ibla and had to laugh at your story about your husband not seeing the place for about a year. I also bought our place by myself when I was in Sicily visiting a friend, and it was almost a year before he saw it! We have started renovating long distance, but I did spend 7 weeks there this fall, working with the Sicilian crew. A “wonderful” experience!! We are from the States, but currently living in Fiji.

    • Jann

      Diana–thanks for commenting! I would love to meet you. I SERIOUSLY considered buying a house in lovely little San Giacomo!! I wonder if it’s the same house–there aren’t that many!

  • I take it your man quite liked what he saw then. Good luck with the rest of the project. I’m sure Sicilians aren’t that easy to deal with.

  • ahhh! I’m glad your husband is onboard with the project and found you your stone wall! Did it really take him a year to meet the house! Molto interessante!

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