One of the first things I realized when Alan, Orson (the World’s most handsome cat, in my opinion) and I moved into our rental apartment in Orvieto was that I wanted a new kitchen. Though our building was built as a school in the 13th Century, the inside is totally modern, and as you can see from the pictures below, the existing kitchen appears to be quite adequate. It looks like there was a fair amount of storage, but in reality, all of those cabinets had just 1 shelf along with a lot of empty space. And if you stood at the 10”-wide sink and tried to wash a plate, you would immediately realize that 10” was not quite enough room to accommodate the faucet, your hands and the plate, leading to chipped rather than clean dishes. And then if you wanted to slice a tomato, your choices were the small table behind you, the metal drain board for the 10” sink — and I hate working on metal drain boards — or holding the tomato in the air and stabbing at it with a knife. The room was not a bad size, but very little of it was useful or convenient as a kitchen.
It could be pointed out that I don’t cook as a general rule, but even if all I did was open a can of cat food for Orson a couple of times a day, this kitchen was destined to be an ever-present source of frustration that would ultimately smother any joy I had in realizing my Italian Dream.
Alan led the enormous pack of those on the side of thinking the idea of putting a new kitchen in a rental apartment was “unwise” – the word he judiciously chose to use instead of “insane” — although others weren’t shy about using the popular phrase: “throwing money away”. I stood totally alone, armed only with my determination and credit card.
There was one (and only one) fact to slightly justify a new kitchen. In Italy – as well as other European countries – you can take your kitchen with you. If you put it in, you can take it out. So it really is OUR kitchen, even though it’s difficult to imagine moving out with a stovetop under my right arm and a sink under my left, while Alan leaves with the counter tops strapped to his back.
The other point about this plan that made people use the word “naive” behind my back was that we started looking at kitchen shops as soon as we arrived in mid June, and it all had to be done by September 14th. On that day, friends were visiting and the primary reason they were coming was to cook fresh porcini mushrooms on our stove. Our Orvieto friends felt the odds of this working out were similar to the odds of a 60-year old winning the Boston Marathon. It could happen, but it was highly unlikely.
While it’s true that Alan thought this whole project was “unwise”, he nonetheless threw himself into the task of planning, visiting kitchen stores, and helping to translate our ideas into Italian – albeit with somewhat resigned enthusiasm.
It took a month to find someone we wanted to work with (Emiliano) and then pick out the cabinet style, faucet, sink, counter top, etc. That took us to the middle of July. Emiliano kept pushing us to finalize our order so the manufacturer could start fabricating our cabinets. Thinking we had 2 months till our guests came, we asked why the hurry. His answer: “Because no one works in August”.
The other important player in this drama was our landlord’s architect brother. He had access to all the workmen necessary to do things like plumbing, electricity, etc. He suggested they take out the old kitchen at the end of July. Why? “Because no one works in August.” We originally thought this was one of those Italian generalities, like “all Italians must eat pasta at least once a day”. However, in this case, it turns out to be true. (And now that I think of it, so is the pasta-everyday rule.)
So for the month of August, our kitchen consisted of 4 walls with a few electrical wires, a water pipe and a capped off gas line. We decided that since no one was working in Italy, we’d head to Germany, where we could still get service, and at least it was cooler.
When we returned on September 1st, there was no sign of activity. A week later on Monday, September 8th, there was still no activity. Our guests were arriving on Saturday the 14th — less than a week. We were just a bit nervous.
And then there was a knock on the door. In came Paolo the electrician along with the Federico, the muratore or wall man. 13th Century buildings do not have wallboard. Their walls are like solid mortar and therefore there’s no threading wires behind them. If you want an electric outlet 3 feet from an existing one, the muratore uses his small jackhammer to gouge a channel out of the wall. The electrician then inserts a conduit through which he feeds the wires, and the muratore plasters over the conduit. Paolo and Federico worked as a team all day Monday and Tuesday, with only an hour lunch break each day. The noise and dust were truly impressive.
Wednesday, the 10th, Emiliano and his gang delivered the kitchen cabinets, stove, exhaust fan, sink, dishwasher (!!!!), shelves, lighting. There were men everywhere.
Thursday the cabinet gang was back along with Paolo to hook up the appliances. Late in the morning the counter tops arrived, fitting perfectly, the plumber came to hook up the water and gas, and by early afternoon, the kitchen was totally done and everyone was out of the apartment – THREE DAYS EARLY!!!!
Yes — we were unbelievably lucky to have such an incredible team of workers. Without Emiliano pushing us along it could never have happened. As for the architect brother’s role, certainly if Alan and I had tried to gather together a muratore, electrician and plumber, all at the right time, we’d still be stabbing at tomatoes in the air. We no longer make jokes about Italians not working in August. Now we say: “It’s not how many months you work…. it’s how much you get done during the months you work”.