Friday, February 19, 2010

Life's overarching moments


     There is an overarching theme to life here at Yellow House: someday, Lord willing, we will finish restoring this casa colonica. As we did for a decade down the road at La Casetta Rosa, we pick one project to do every year. We are unwilling to experience the unabated nightmare of construction for longer than six weeks at time. After that, it won't matter how long it takes because we will no longer be living at Yellow House: we will be moved into the closest asylum.

    This year we chose to work on what we had euphemistically called "the laundry room" for the past three years. You may see it to the right. Beautiful, isn't it? Since it shared a wall with our too-small living room, the idea was to join the two, creating more space for living and entertaining. We called Lucio, the geometra who is our ever-ready project leader. Lucio called Donatello. Piero and I met with them amid the junk piles. We decided that what we needed was an arch. 

    The arch. Don't take it for granted.

     According to Wikipedia, an arch is a structure that spans a space while supporting weight (e.g. a doorway in a stone wall). Arches appeared as early as the 2nd millennium BC in Mesopotamian brick architecture, but it was the Ancient Romans who began systemically using arches in their buildings. 

    Donatello (Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi; c. 1386 – December 13, 1466) was a famous early Renaissance Italian artist and sculptor from Florence. His sculpture of David in the Bargello Museum in Florence is considered almost as important as the David by Michelangelo. 

    With the Romans and a namesake Florentine sculptor as his inspiration, Donatello of Umbria set to work. This is a man who is a muratore (stonemason) and plumber, but when faced with the prospect of creating an arch he turned into an artiste.

     First Donatello prepared the support beams, inserting six steel bars into the wall above where the arch would be. To skip this step would mean our 200-year-old two-story house would most likely fall down in a heap of rubble. Next, he began tearing out the stone, piece by piece, of what turned out to be a solid wall almost a meter thick. The pile of stones outside grew...and grew.

     The air was heavy with summer and yellow jackets were swarming everywhere. Our living room furniture at one point was moved outside, along with boxes of liqueurs and aperitifs taken from the bar. At one point, there was so much heat that a bottle of homemade plum wine simply exploded all over the terrace and every bee on our strada bianca was there in seconds to have a drink. (Afterwards, they fell in drugged stupors on the lawn furniture).

    One day the men arrived with an "arch form" they had made. We had an artistic conference, to discuss how the aged bricks would work with the stone in the arch. Donatello was a man possessed; was he embodied by the spirit of the great Florentine sculptor? We chose to go with his design of two bricks turned sideways intersected with a row of bricks set on their narrow ends. How in the world would they put this together without it all falling down on their heads? Aha! They inserted the form into the space and somehow, some way, managed to install the bricks by blindly arranging them on top. Amazing.

    After two days' drying time, Donatello removed the form and voila! we had an extraordinary arch. There was much more work to be done, but this was the centerpiece, the creative experience, the moment of supreme satisfaction. Che bello!

No comments: