Restoring a Damp House in Sicily, Part 5

March 20, 2010

Chink chink. Whack whack. Hammers bounce off chisels. Lumps of plaster drop like overripe fruit exposing ancient stones, ghosts of centuries past.

I’m giddy, over the moon. And look! A stone arch where an ugly closet used to be! I love going backward in time.

But like the Sicilian saying goes: Quantu cchiù autu è lu munti, tantu cchiù profunna è la valli, the higher the mountain, the deeper the valley.

Neighbors—a stocky elderly couple—knock at the door one day just after I’ve arrived back from Rome. “Signora, there’s a problema.” They seem agitated. “Come see.”

I follow them up a flight of steps into their home. The houses in Ragusa Ibla are fitted together like jigsaw pieces; neighbors live over me, under me, to the right and to the left. The couple waves arms around and jabbers in sync. What in God’s name are they pointing at?

When my eyes adjust to the semi-darkness, I see what must be dozens of cracks like spider legs crawling over the walls. Bad news indeed, but what do these blessed spider legs have to do with me?

“Signora, all the pounding away in your house has ruined our walls.”

For a minute the room lacks oxygen. Are these cracks really new? Sicily is on a fault line. This could have happened years ago. I want to bring up these ideas, but of course I don’t. Instead I say in a voice sharp as a prickly pear, “Let me speak to the project manager. We’ll resolve this.”

Things are getting tangled up. Cu’ havi terra, havi guerra, Sicilians say, owning land is like fighting a war.

What will this cost? I’m hemoragging cash. The dollar is at an all-time low. I consult with Sicilians in the know.

Mason: No way we could we have done that. Impossibile. You’d be a fool to pay a centesimo.

Friend 1: Sicilians see Americans as a giant slot machine. Don’t pay.

Project Manager: It’s possible we did cause the cracks. We’ll never know. Pay up. Keep the peace.

Friend 2: It’s extortion, pure and simple.

Have they typecast me? The lady with the American dollars? Have I destroyed their walls? Do I now have two houses to restore? What to do?

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

  • Nell

    Vorrei tornare a questi due con un esperto masonary per determinare quando questi si è verificato, anche informarsi non hanno una foto del muro che è recente, prima della presunta crepe! Poi vorrei decidere ciò che è necessario da fare .. also take your time about it, don’t let them rush you.

  • I have been to Umbria before. Previously we have stayed in Montafalco e in Gubbio, and of course spent a day in Assissi. I got to know Letizia through a friend on Facebook and as a result of befriending her, have gotten to know a whole little circle of friends that live in Umbria. We were already planning a trip to Italy in the fall and I had started making decisions on what we would do and where we would go and had pretty much settled on Val d’Orcia, Bardolino and Liguria, but after meeting all these great people in Umbria I decided to veer off into Umbria for a few days to meet everybody there.

  • I love all Letizia’s ideas! You should be breathing normally again by now with those brilliant suggestions …and after finishing off a couple of glasses of wine! (I feel like the internet is getting smaller and smaller, I “know” Letizia too through the internet and am going to stay at her place in the fall – can’t wait to meet her faccia a faccia! We are just one big happy family aren’t we!!??!)

    • Jann

      Letizia’s B&B ( looks adorable. Have you been to Umbria before, Melissa? I like it better than touristy Tuscany.

  • sandee wheeler

    I love the sentence “For a minute the room lacks oxygen” because that is exactly what I was feeling as I read this!

  • sandee wheeler

    In my family we have a saying “Let’s sweep our problems under the rug…..where they belong!!” Could you try that?

  • PS. I am surprised your project manager does not defend you at all. May be you need a more honest one.

  • oh dear, oh dear. Housing project are a pain, for everybody not only for expats.
    Old houses are difficult beast, you move one stone everything else falls down.

    Of course it is possible your masons have caused some damage. First of all I would try to assess if the damage is recent. You need to get back into the house of your neighbor with a strong flashlight (and possibly a geometra) and look into the cracks. It’s generally possible to see if the cracks are fresh. If there is old dust and spiderwebs, well than you are not responsible for that.

    If on the other hand the cracks seem new, you might want to ask other neighbors. If the whole house has moved and everybody else has cracks, than it’s not your problem.

    If these people have cracks near where your masons have been working then most likely the works in your house have induces the cracks. However I am not sure you are that one who is supposed to pay because your masons should be insured for these sort of things.

    POssibly we are not talking about a big amount of money, it culd be that ha hand of paint will solve everything. Even if it is agreed that you have to pay something in the end, don’t just get intimidated into paying large amounts, as a preventivo first.

    Do you speak Italian? Try to contact a consumer association to know the legal aspects of these type of problems.

    good luck!

  • let’s start by pouring a big glass of red wine….take a deep breath and then go for a walk and remember why you are there in the first place! Breath! Un abbraccio virtuale!

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