Saturday, 17 November 2012

Finding the Garden 8

From In A Tuscan Garden, published anonymously 1902
The few friends I had in the neighbourhood raised a chorus of remonstrances when my projects were unfolded to them.  The house stood very near the high-road on one side, and an Italian friend made his wife write to me to say he felt it his duty to warn me of all the dangers to which we should be exposed; and my banker, when he heard that I intended being my own clerk of the works, exclaimed that for a    signora forestiera to begin on her own account to deal with workmen appeared to him a very poor prospect.  I had offered a quite moderate rent, with the proviso that I would myself do whatever was required inside the house, but stipulated for the entire use of the piece of ground attached to it.  In making this offer I was not aware that that it was precisely the arrangement best suited to the person to whom it was proposed, who hated to be “bothered”, and who would certainly not have undertaken such alterations as I wished to make.
In Italy it is always best to avoid any arrangements with a landlord which provide for his undertaking alterations that the tenant wishes to have done; the result is always unsatisfactory, both in the quality of the work accomplished, and in the friction engendered on both sides.
Of the first of November I took possession of my new residence, but some kind friends insisted on my spending a week with them so as to allow of one or two rooms being put into some sort of order before I commenced what was certainly the roughest time I have ever experienced in my life.  I had my own invaluable Scotch maid, and engaged an excellent Italian woman as bonne à tout faire till I got into order, and, for the next three months, I may say we lived with the work-people.  Partitions were taken down, indeed I narrowly escaped pulling down the main wall of the house.  We were spared this disaster owing to the visit of young Scotch friend, an architect, and have always felt that he deserved a memorial tablet on the wall of the house!  There were no bells, and old Giuseppe, who took a deep interest in our proceedings, could not understand  why one in each room should be deemed necessary.
“Surely” he said “one to every three rooms would suffice.”  During all that fatiguing time, and indeed to the end of his life, he remained our staunch friend, and was always ready to help us in any way he could. I put in two additional windows in the drawing-room, and several open terra-cotta stoves, for there were only two fire-places in the house; and when the brick-layers, masons, and bell-hangers had departed, they were succeeded by the painters.    

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