Friday, 6 July 2007

More Horrors Unfold

Our Renovation Epic continues to veer back and forth between black comedy and tragedy. It's getting worse. I am beginning to wonder how we will pull out of this with our skins on.

There are still no deliveries of new building materials. Throughout this week the laborers showed up less and less frequently, and they buggered off early when they did arrive. There are three of them, and they spent short periods very slowly stacking tiles up on the roof, preparing to lay them into rows and cement them into place. (They're recycling the tiles they removed initially.) There are mixers, but there's no cement out there. Mario, the boss, is staying away. Fran, his charming assistant, is unwell, we are told.

The demolition of the second floor timbers and floorboards is complete. The debris is all cleared out of the house shell; they even swept the floors and stacked the wheelbarrows neatly against the walls. All the work that can be done with the material on hand is just about finished up. They're doing what they can with what they've got, and they're running out of things to do.

I was upset by the bill collectors coming here last week looking for Mario, so Paddy had him come over on Wednesday "for a little chat." He very dramatically pulled Mario into the cave-like despensa where we're now sleeping, and told him "If we have to live in here in Winter, we will die." Mario assured Patrick the job will be done by mid-August, that all his bills were now paid-up and things would start moving smoothly along from here on out. Paddy, always ready to believe the best of his fellow man, (and left with little option otherwise), said "OK, get on widdit."

Mario lied.

This evening, a ferret-faced man appeared at the gate, the man who owns the building materials company. Mario owes him 8,000 Euros, he says, money for the floor boards and tiles, skylights and windows, things that are all sitting in the warehouse waiting to be installed here. He's not delivering it, he said. No money, no stuff.

And what can we do? We can't get blood from a turnip. We don't know what Mario's done with our money, and we can't MAKE him give it back or pay his bills or get over here and at least finish our roof and put back some kind of second floor. We don't know the legal system here. We don't speak the language. We don't know where to hire a big beefy dude to go pay him a visit.

One of the workers says Mario is coming here tomorrow, and the building supply people want zip over here and ambush him. Maybe then we can get some kind of idea what's going on.

It is all very sad and distressing for us. After all the months of searching for a builder, waiting for them to not show up, having them show up and immediately leave when presented with the job, or being simply strung-along, this is not so very different, I guess... except it involves large amounts of money and demolition of large parts of our house. We are objects of pity in our town, and it's hard not to feel like fools.

We are facing down the possibility of losing a year's worth of wages and being left with a shell of a house that still needs major work -- and we'll be back to zero when it comes to finding a builder to finish the job. Worse off, in other words. Living indefinitely in a cave.

But it's not happened yet, so I can't let myself get upset or depressed. The ups and downs make for good blog fodder. And all the Expats Abroad books include long harrowing chapters on similar tribulations. Misery makes good copy. It's just living it that's a bitch. I guess we'll see the loveable characters and charming anecdotes emerge at some point, but so far it's not happened in any comprehensive way.

Despite a lingering sense of doom, the days just get more beautiful here. Paddy and I agreed not to let this house business hurt Us. We try to get on with our ordinary pursuits: reading, writing, hiking, playing with the critters, chatting with the pilgrims and neighbors, fixing what we can, trying to live day to day and not to dream too much about the future. I put out the porch umbrella today and we had Vichysoisse al fresco, playing Ella Fitzgerald on the stereo. The roses are blooming like mad, at night the owl screeches and the sky is completely spangled with stars. We still gotta live, so we do. And well, in our own scruffy kind of way.

Call me Pollyanna, but somehow, deep in my heart, I still believe it's all going to work out beautifully in the end, perhaps in some way that's impossible for us to imagine right now. My mind goes over a lovely old "pie in the sky" hymn from my childhood:

"Cheer up, my brother
live in the sunshine,
We'll understand it all
by and by."

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