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Restoring the House in Calabria

Part Three

Tammy is a courageous Canadian single mom who decided to start a new life in Calabria. To discover how Tammy's journey began I'd recommend you read the first part of her story here.  Then come back here for the latest instalment...

Coming back to Calabria this trip was filled with much mixed emotion, for so very many reasons. The nervous excitement that I had been living with had somehow managed to turn to a very heavy uncertainty on my shoulders. It had been nearly 5 months since I had been here, what all had changed with the property and the process? What had not?

When I left in October I had a rather emotional moment standing in my ruin, for what I had believed to be the last time.

There was not a lot of communication between myself and the man who was to oversee the project in my absence during this time, but over the months, I did gleen that there had perhaps been a miscommunication during my last visit between us in regards to the paperwork and granting of permission for the renovation project.

Hence, I learned that I would be returning to see my lovely ruin still standing. And in fact, it was.

One thing that was present in the many months between my last visit and now was the concept of "if you would not accept specific interactions and people in Canada, do not accept them anywhere else in the world".

I suppose that this project is again reminding me the importance of remaining true to who I am in core values and what I know that I need, above all else. That being said, there is always tradition, culture and foreign laws to factor in. It is a balancing act that is well worth the effort. And this trip, I have discovered a returning joy due to working out this balance.

I have chosen to relieve myself of the 'project manager' and set forward with this journey on my own accord, with the knowledge that the construction contract, electricians and plumbers were already in place.

I do have a good circle of support around me both in Italy and in Canada to assist when issues will arise in the future months. To aid in off setting some of the potential for this, I have met extensively with the architect, whom had actually been the main coordinating person of all estimates etc. thus far.

During the lengthiest meeting, shortly after my arrival, one in which all confusions, miscommunications and expectations were cleared up, I was lucky to have my dearest friend with me from Belgium who is fluent in Italian. She was a great support that day and will continue to be as I move forward.

We were able to establish a lovely rapport for working together with the contractors on this project. I found that by the end of that day, the weight had lifted from my shoulders and a renewed excitement for all I was embarking on had emerged.

As I have chosen to work with the local builder in the village, I kindly requested of him to begin the deconstruction phase of the project while I was there. He had his men arrive at my ruin two days later to begin the work.

I was elated to tears for this kindness and acceptance of how important this project is to me.

As such, my girlfriend and I chose to celebrate the beginning of the process the day before the demolition began by having a picnic breakfast on my terrace, and thankfully, it did not collapse as we set out sun chairs and just enjoyed the moment. Yes, a few of my neighbours that passed by, slowed their cars even more than the hill necessitated and looked at us rather peculiarly.

I am not sure what I was expecting for the deconstruction phase.. But I must say that I am more than impressed with this small team of men. They are taking my ruin apart brick by brick... By hand. The first step was to remove the clay roof tiling one by one, stacking it carefully before removing it from the site so that it may be re-used..

The House in Calabria

And then the sledgehammers and a small truck with an open bed began to be prevalent. These men worked tirelessly for two days.. Opening up and removing most of the top level of the ruin.

Everything was becoming more concrete and a reality in front of my eyes…

Knocking down the house by hand
Truck in Calabria

As it stood when I purchased it, it was three levels. However, I had only gained access to the main level. Now was the time to see what treasures and surprises I had in store. On the upper floor was the appearance of a lovely bread oven in a small room. In the larger room was much old furniture and some clothing left behind. None of these items were salvageable and hence were all to be tossed into my garden by the end of day 2 for eventual removal.

At the end of the first day.. They had cut back the neighbouring trees and cleared some of the garbage from the property beside.. And I finally had a lovely view of the old stone wall on the upper edge of my property.. It is beautiful and will remain.

They had also pried open the metal door on the lower side of the property, and left it unsecure at the end of their work day. Suddenly it felt like Christmas for me as I was able to get into the garden, put my feet on the ground and take a deep breath for the first time. And this is what I did.. After clamouring over a pile of rubble.. I was suddenly viewing the beautiful original lower level.

Lower level of the House

Still more rubbish to clear in the property beside .. but it will happen as the job progresses! I love this wall!

Garden Wall

The lower level of the structure is old stone, and appears to have been animal housing. The ground surrounding is littered with oranges and old doors...various remnants of days gone by were seen inside the structure. I did not venture in, as it is now in a state of demolition and safety is a priority.

It is clear to see now that the original structure would have been a small livery habitat, and the upper two floors had been built atop in much more recent years and is mainly built of clay brick, whereas the lower level is primarily rock.

Oranges in a Calabrian garden
Lower floor stone walls

Views to the sea from the garden level.. finally!

Sea views from my house in Calabria

The second day of work saw much change as I peaked in on the progress. The roof was completely taken away for preservation and re-use..

The house without a roof

The upper contents were tossed into the garden.. oh my! I am thankful they will tidy this all!

Building Rubble

At the end of this day, after the workers had left the property, I ventured over to see and discovered such amazing views at sunset. I think my neighbours will be pleased at their increased views as the house will not be as tall as this current one when it is completed.

We learned during the last visit that the structure had been an illegal build on the property, and as such I have had and will continue to have some hurdles to jump over. The one that I was faced with on this trip was arranging for electricity to be supplied to the property during construction.

Luckily.. the concept of knowing a friend of a friend of a friend means that I am getting the work done within a few days, but unfortunately because there was never power going to it in the first place, I am encumbered with the cost of a service pole and all else. This is one of those times to simply smile and accept it as a hiccup in moving forward.

The village folk have been so warm and wonderful. This was the longest I have stayed in the village itself, and it quickly became evident that the gaze of curiosity was turning to a welcoming smile by many. No matter if I was walking through town alone or with various friends, arranging for gas bottles to be delivered to the apartment for heat, on the roads around town for a run, or standing staring at my ruin, most everyone had a lovely greeting, smile and wave for me.

I had the opportunity to identify myself and attach myself in words to my ruin when I went to request gas delivery. The man was elated to meet me, as I had hired his brothers contracting company to do my renovation works.

He spoke very happily about some of his family history and I gained a clear understanding that many people in this village are still related to each other. He also offered me the gesture of coming to his store if I was in need or confused about the village lifestyle.

Such dear people.. True, honest and caring about each other. Many took it upon themselves to check and see how I was doing and a few of the local residents insisted that I stop to say goodbye and meet their families on my day of departure. I feel at home here, well cared for and that in the end I have made the right choices in my ruin and the life that is in front of me.

There were some light humour moments during this time, and after a minor catastrophe with a stove top Moka it was determined by one of my local friends that I had 'began my journey to becoming italian' and it took nearly three days to clean the coffee grinds and stains from the plaster walls! When these lovely things decide to "explode" they really can cause the brewing coffee to cover great distances.

I was fortunate that it exploded the Moka apart at its natural seam. I have seen photos of the actual Moka blowing apart akin to an incendiary device and causing injury/damage. I think I will be satisfied to never experience more than I did in this instance!

One morning as I wandered the street to do an errand, I met Beppino and his owner near my property. Let me explain, Beppino is the mule and his owner is in the range of 80 years old I believe. He felt I needed to ride his mule that day, I politely declined.

Then I learned that Beppino provides the firewood to the homes in the village... Up and down the hills and stairs, at times his owner can be seen holding onto his tail for assistance in getting back up the steeper inclines to town. I am forever charmed.

Calabrian mule
The firewood mule

I also spoke a number of times to a woman who will be my nearest full time neighbour. She is my age, and lovely. She seemed most pleased that I am coming with my dog... As she is hopeful for a friend for her dog. She excitedly asked me about my dog many times during the two weeks.

As I have mentioned before, my immediate neighbour is a group of chickens and a lovely garden. The one day as I was staring at the beginning work on the house, I met the lovely owner of this garden. He is a patient, kind and curious man. We discussed in my very simple Italian the concept that I was renovating the house in order to live in it full time.

On my final day in the village, he came to visit me again as I stood in the street. We continued our conversation and as he understood that I am hoping to grow vegetables in a small garden on my property, he excitedly offered me his garden for sale!! He did however advise me his brother may not like that idea because they are his chickens.

I am also learning the importance of central heating in a stone house, even if it is in the Mediterranean or southern climates. If I wondered about the expense of central heating over the expense of using a simple stove ( gas bottle or pellet), after two weeks in an apartment without central heating and having a gas bottle run out in the night, the numbness in my hands outweigh any logic I thought I had in contemplating not installing central heat to my home.

During the short visit with my Belgium girlfriend we did some sightseeing in Belvedere and later in Diamanté, with one of the ladies who has become very dear to me. The weather went from sunny and warm to a strong wind. But none the less, we made the most of it

The view of Belvedere, Calabria
Castle in Belvedere

Throughout the old town of Belvedere, surrounding the castle, there are many art objects - paintings, writings and such. A great place for an afternoon stroll with girlfriends!

Belvedere wall sign

We spent the afternoon strolling the Murales in Diamante and had some fun at the waterfront in the chaotic wind. Taking photos of the Murales does not do them justice, so spectacular.. you must visit them yourself!

The sea front and promenade at Diamante!

Seafront at Diamante
Diamante Promenade, Calabria

To prevent me from hovering over the work crew on the second day of deconstruction, I took the opportunity to explore a neighbouring village that had also been of interest to me, however had not explored it during the time I was making my decision on property. It is a stunning village nestled in the mountains. Peaceful. I can see myself spending much time here in the future.

Mountains and villages in Calabria
Spectacular scenes in Calabria

Looking across to the Grotta della Madonna di Lourdes…

Grotta Madonna di Lourdes

Wonderful views from ‘il santuario’

Next door village

And I think I will always be amazed at the presence of cactii… not only on my own property, but here at an elevation that gets snow in the winter!

Cactus Calabria

Lovely ruins such as this dot the country side, if you look closely behind the Olive trees, you can see Santa Domenica Talao perched on the side of the hill.

Ruins dot the countryside - Calabria, Italy
Santa Domenica Talao Countryside

As I return to Canada I have a clear understanding of what will or will not occur in my absense, and I am hopeful for what that means until I return again.

I have been asked many times if I am concerned or stressed about how long it has taken to begin the work and the projected completion dates, and to be completely honest, I am not. It will get done, in its own time- in the Italian way. The reality is that I will be contentedly moving to my village of Santa Domenica Talao before it is complete and become part of this lovely village. I appear to have secured accommodation that is perfectly suited to my needs in close proximity to my property and will be able to be present as the finishes are completed.

Calabria and its people have truly become part of my heart… it is home.

  1. Home
  2. Italian Photo Galleries
  3. The Dream Begins (Part 1)
  4. Buying the House (Part 2)
  5. Living in Calabria (Part 3)

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