We recently bought a pellet stove for our house in the Lunigiana. Why? Well, foreigners pay more for energy in Italy. Evidently a lot more. Heating, even in a mild spring or fall, was pretty darn costly. So, we wised up. We saw our neighbor Francesca’s stove and asked her where she got it.
It turns out she had a cousin who sold stoves. He even spoke English. That’s where she got hers. She’d even drive us to her cousin’s place to get ours.
So we went and ordered the stove. It cost about $1000 less than it would cost in the US. It even has a clicker. You know, the kinda thing you use to change TV channels.
It arrived last week. We arranged with Giuseppe, the cousin, to have it installed by Gianpaolo. Gianpaolo would take cash. About €250 of it. He would arrive at 8:30 on Thursday morning. Today.
Well, Gianpaolo arrived at 8:15. He put a hole in the roof and installed the chimney. He found some roof tiles broken. He replaced them, too. Clean installation, no problems
We had been having some problems with mold in a corner of the bathroom, however, so he tool a look. He found the problem. Roof problem. He showed me the picture he took with his cell phone, then shimmied back to the roof and did a quick fix. He would have to come back with some copper sheet to make it exactly right.
At three o’clock the stove was putting out copious amounts of heat, burning off the new smell.
Gianpaolo was ready to go. “How much,” Martha asked, expecting to add a small pile of big bills to the original estimate.
“€200,” said Gianpaolo. He then proceeded to argue that he had to buy extra parts besides having to supply the new roof tiles himself, because we didn’t have a clue as to where new ones might be.
Yessir. €50 under the estimate. And he fixed two roof tiles and the problem with water in the corner of the bathroom.
Dammit, why did this have to happen to me?
Shoot, I’m a travel writer living in a foreign country fer god sakes. These Italians have no damn right to just fix things up and leave.
Here’s the thing: I can’t get rich if locals I hire just up and do a job like they’re supposed to. It’s not like Italians just renovated the big house in “Under the Tuscan Sun” and then left to do another fine job. No sir. They screwed it up. Like they’re supposed to. A cloud of plaster dust rose from their incompetence like a fuming Vesuvio to consume all. Well, most.
If you’re not a writer, or even a reader, let me clue you into something: this story has tension. It will (did) sell like hotcakes. When the load-bearing wall in Cortona is knocked down and the roof caves in, the owner slaps her educated forehead just like Ollie and the workers shrug their inadequate shoulders and you’re thinking, “oh my God those Italians! What will happen next with these third-world dunderheads!” Eventual, of course (Phoenix-like (without the cactus)) a house of incomparable beauty will spring from the ashes. All is well that ends with a beautiful house.
You see, when that hole went through my roof, the whole deal was supposed to collapse. Then I would slap my forehead, too. (I would also think of my dwindling bank account, but then again, I am neither Diane Lane nor Francis Mayes.)
Eventually, the lovable goof-up in my story would fix the roof, paint a fresco on it, and do the job he was paid to do so beautifully you’d think the stove was some sort of modern day Stradivarius. I’d add one pellet the size of a rat turd every two days and live comfortably warm through the winter. He’d come to tune ‘er up every once in a while and we’d share some Vin Santo and he’d give me a prosciutto.
And I’d write a book about him. Then, I’d rip out the damn stove.
Yeah, I’d finally be rich enough to afford the gas.
I gotta go. It’s hotter than hell in here.