Life in a Dol house
2018  -  Week 23

A Konoba in the house

With the disappointing news last week that there has been no progress on my application for the unification of my land parcel numbers, a necessary step before the building plans can be deposited with the local authority, I have been revising my plans (again!) for what needs to be done and when.

With my Triumph Saint garaged in the big Konoba, it has required some gymnastics and two thick planks to get it in and out over the old stone threshold

You have to go back to when I moved in, to understand how I came to have a 35cm lip on the outside and a 15cm drop on the inside.

Every old home here has one or more Konobas. The official Croatian translation would be "Tavern", but whilst here on the island, there are some establishments in the towns and villages that call them selves 'Konobas' - restaurants where wine is served, often in an old konoba building - when it comes to the Konobas at private houses, a winery would be the more accurate description, and as you dig into the past, before the time of tourism, that was exactly what they all were. 

The place where the field produce was turned into an eminently drinkable red, rosé or white liquid.

I have two, the large one measuring 10 x 5 meters, which had two huge 13 cubic meter wine vats, together with smaller vats for olives and storage for olive oil and bottled wine.

These wine cellars are always on the ground floor, to make bringing the grapes in easy. 

Sometimes they have elaborate chutes so the grapes can be dropped from a donkey cart on the road outside, straight into where the fruits are processed. 

During the early 20th century wooden vats were changed for larger concrete structures, then latterly for stainless steel. 

Go into any local Konoba today and you will see one or more large stainless steel vat being used to turn the grape juice, through the fermentation process into a drinkable elixir.

​I realised at the outset that I am and never will be a vintner. 

I turn the grapes I have into fresh juice to be drunk, and the few new grape vines I have planted are all table varieties. 

With vast numbers of local producers, I would rather grow things that are not readily available, like avocados, raspberries and drupes.

My big Konoba was barely watertight and certainly not vermin proof.​

The old doors had seen better days, but for the purpose it was intended, they were sufficient.

I had to employ a couple of local guys to demolish the reinforced concrete wine vats because I needed the space.​

That took time, considerable effort and some fairly hefty power tools.​

The smaller and less strong olive vats, I demolished on my own. 

Then I made some strong doors and drip strips to keep the rain out. 

Facing south, the direction of summer rain storms, I needed something to turn the water away.​

At this time the driveway outside was higher by some 20cm than the Konoba floor, so I also added mortar onto the stones to prevent 'run-off' becoming 'run-in'. 

And this has done its job over the past three years.​

When the first ground works were started in February 2017, the driveway, which had a down slope of 12% from the house towards my gates was removed so that the dump truck could actually get into the fold yard area.

​I had hoped that under the 1950's concrete we would have found the original stone sets, that I have in the outer courtyard. 

Sadly, under the concrete was just sand and sandstone "touf".​  I have dug this out by hand to get the inner courtyard something like level. 

I want to have a nice paved courtyard, but there is no earthly point in laying the finished yard when the building work has still not taken place, so sand it still is.

With the yard levelled sufficiently to allow for me to bring the car in and out, there has been a step up of 30cm to get into the Konoba.​

I did leave a very small raised area by the gates, to make it easier to get my bicycle in and out. But now with the possibility of building work receding into the autumn, and a heavy motorcycle to move in and out, I looked at my plans and have brought forward the changes to the entrance to the Konoba.

With no rain on the horizon, I felt it was an opportunity to remove the threshold steps, so started by removing the mortar I had put down. I needed my big breaking hammer to smash the sandstone near the gate, so I could remove the pieces of stone.

All this debris has gone on the pile which is due to be removed before the building work starts.​

I then excavated down around the stones.

​I had thought there were several stone sets that had been used, but I found that there is in fact one single, large and very heavy central threshold stone, with a smaller stone at either side. 

I was able to establish a finished courtyard level because the district surveyor kindly left a mark establishing the level he used for the survey. I just knocked a couple of pieces of steel into the touf and levelled them with the mark.​

This is a job which was going to have to be done at some time, I have just brought it forward because it will make life easier for me in the long run. 

Next I had to carefully remove the threshold because I want to re use it, but lower, on a level with the future courtyard and Konoba floor, then it had to be set in concrete to fix it in place. 

As I removed one of the small stones, I realised that the visible crack in the top of the threshold had in fact gone all the way through and the stone came out in two pieces.​

Having excavated down deep enough to take some concrete foundations, I laid in steel rebar, and then with my neighbour Steve, mixed and poured a concrete base.​

This was left for 24 hours to cure, before the stones were set back in place in mortar, but at the height of the finished courtyard. 

The work over, I raked in the sand I had recovered and then used expanding foam to fill the gap under the doors to prevent rodents getting in,

​There will still be work to do after the construction work has been completed, but I now have an almost level threshold access to the Konoba with just the drop outside where nice courtyard stones will be laid in due course.

If only the stones could talk! 

I am certain that this is the original entrance tot the building. 

There are the wear marks to show its decades of use. But at the back of the Konoba, there is evidence that there was an earlier building here, before this one was built around 130 years ago. 

Running along the length of the back wall, there is different, older stonework up to a height above the soil of around a half meter. This then stops and the current, recessed wall of the Konoba goes up. 

This newer wall is 70cm thick. 

Where the older wall is, the stonework is more than a meter thick along the full length of the wall.

​Inside, the Konoba is below the outside soil level, by about one meter. Part of the building work to be carried out, is to damp proof this north wall. 

I have a plan for the inside of the Konoba. It will be a heated living space, with double glazed doors that open out onto the courtyard. 

A wooden staircase will be created so that there is access from the upstairs living area into the Konoba - currently the only access is via the outside courtyard doors. 

While I was making mess, I cut a channel into the side of the door, where the uneven stonework stuck out , so that the new double glazed doors will be slightly recessed at the bottom and flush with the wall, the rest of the way up.​

The building delay is regrettable, but it just means that work which was planned for the end of the project, is being undertaken now so that time is not being wasted.

Late on Friday and into Saturday we caught the edge of quite an active thunderstorm. 

Overall we have had a fraction under 50mm of rain (2" / 50 liters per meter²) with 22 mm falling in the first 20 minutes. 

The courtyard was completely submerged, the first time it has ever happened, but the new stone work kept the Konoba dry. 

With the finished level of the yard established, I now need to install the rainwater harvesting system,so that the Konoba doesn't flood when the courtyard is tiled, but also to ensure that when it rains, I put the water to good use in the orchards rather than just letting it percolate through the sandstone and into the underlying strata.

We are at the peak of the Lavender flower season.​

The purple blossoms are visible in fields everywhere. It is still a crop on the island, with many tonnes being harvested every year and the essential oils distilled out. 

The oil from the island is said to be some of the highest quality, but because of the other crops, olives, grapes and rosemary, together with the reduction in the number of fields that are still growing the crop, the actual annual production is dropping.

The distillation plant in Dol has not been used in years and is slowly rusting into oblivion, which is a shame.

What you do see everywhere are the clouds of butterflies that are feeding on the Lavender.​

This is a Clouded Yellow, Colias crocea.

But there are also many Two-Tailed Pashas, and these Silver -washed Fritillaries,  Argynnis paphia.​

Also the Meadow Browns, Maniola jurtina.

I was removing weeds this week in he drupe orchard when I happened to look up. 

I have quite a few Apricots ready, so I picked them before the birds do.​

There were only just over a dozen, but this is only the tree's second season. 

It is a Portici, which I planted it in early 2017. I really didn't expect any fruits this year because of the late frost we experienced when all my plum trees were in blossom. 

The tree seems to have settled in very well. It likes summer heat and dry conditions - something we get a lot of here in Dol.

My old established plum in the top orchard has few fruits this year, and previously I have literally picked buckets of the sweet, juicy fruits. 

At least with a few cherries, I have enough fruit to make a nice apricot and cherry pie or crumble this winter. 

I will gently poach the fruits after halving and de-stoning them, then preserve them for the winter.

While going through some Lavender to remove grass, I came across the evidence of a recent snake visit.​

The reptile had shed its skin under one of the bushes, gossamer thin and with translucent grey scales on top and white underneath.​

From the colours of the skin and the shape of the scales, I suspect it is a Balkan Whip Snake, Hierophis gemonensis, a non poisonous species. 

I have very occasionally seen fleeting glimpses of snakes in the garden, but have found several skin moults in the same area. 

The next door garden is untended and surrounded by ancient dry stone walls, ideal places for this species. 

Just don't tell my felines!