Life in a Dol house
2017 - Week 43

Running a little late

I've not stopped this week. Really! 

It's amazing what a little pressure can do to speed things along...  I have been anticipating some building work starting on my old cottage.

​I have hunted all over the building for a building date, but have been unable to find one, however the surveyor who has been working on the application for planning permission believes it is probably the oldest building in the group.

Today in rural areas of Croatia, in many respects you could be forgiven for thinking you have just stepped out of a Tardis in the early 20th century. 

Life still generally revolves around the seasons. The months of the year bear no relationship to most Latinised European names, common in most EU languages, instead they describe the seasonal work to be undertaken or natural events and are drawn from the ancient Slavic language.

August is called Kolovoz - the month of driving the (ox) wagon for harvest. November is Studeni - the month of cold, and October is Listopad, the time of falling leaves.

It is normal to find several generations of one family living under the same roof, or in extremely close proximity, as they have done for generations.

The early maps of Dol show the area where I live as being owned by the Roić family. And even today many of the people living within a couple of hundred meters of my home are called Roić or are descendants through marriage of a Roić. 

The letter "Ć" in Croatian - it is a letter, not just an accent over a letter - is the equivalent of a 'ch' sound in English, so the British English phonetic pronunciation of the name is Roich.

Thus it was in the late 19th century, three brothers built three houses, one for each of them and their families, surrounding the old cottage, which had a well and a communal kitchen with a large wood fired bread oven.

Outbuildings for each building included stables for donkeys, a pig sty and goat shed.

I still have several hitching rails for donkeys, which I am keeping.

​I mean I have to have something to tie the car to, to stop it going for a drive on its own.

The buildings were stoutly built, straight onto the underlying bedrock. 

In the case of the cottage, part of its foundations are carboniferous limestone, and part are vertical sandstone columns, called "Touf" here.

The walls are a solid 80 cm thick and the roof is the traditional stone slab style.
​It has been repaired in recent years to keep the rain out, although it has failed during my time here and I have had to cover a part of it with plastic to stop water getting in.

​I have also watched as a large brown rat has scuttled under one of the slabs and into the loft space, so it is somewhat "porous". 

Alterations have been carried out, a new door and window let into one room, which was being used as a bedroom by the previous occupants. 

A water system was installed in the 1950's, consisting of a large pump connected to the two wells I have at the top of the garden. These were constructed in 1909, according to the stone on one of them and were created with some dynamite to create a large hole in the bedrock.

I now need both to make the roof watertight and also create a usable space in the loft, for a storage area. I wanted to replace the roof with the traditional stones, but there are now perhaps just one or two master craftsmen on the island who still know how it was done and under close inspection, many of the stones are not capable of reuse.

There is also the question of the stability of the building. 

Many people will have seen the photographs of the tremendous damage caused by the earthquakes in Italy earlier this year. The report into why some buildings survived with minor damage and why many were destroyed has focused on roof repairs.

When a traditional roof is restored, a huge reinforced concrete under roof is constructed, before stone slabs are replaced on top. This has the effect of a guillotine in an earthquake. 

The roof and reinforcements move as one sold mass, shearing away from the walls below and collapsing down onto them.

Whereas a timber roof weighs considerably less, is supported by the walls underneath and moves or sways with the building. You might loose a few tiles and have some cracks appear, but that is about it.

There is a fault line just to the north in the Brač channel and we had a very noticeable earthquake here in Dol just over a year ago, so I am conscious that alteration must be architecturally sensitive, but also capable of surviving climatic and natural events. 

So I have decided to replace the old stones with a modern structure.

Having accepted the quotation for the work, I had asked the builder for a little notice so I can prepare. 

I worked out that I needed about a week to get everything ready.

He called at lunch time on Monday to say he was starting on Wednesday! 

His idea of "a little notice" was somewhat different - it is the unspoken understatement we have in English, which does not translate well. There is nothing quite like a deadline to concentrate ones mind on the actions required.

Fortunately, the start day was put back to Thursday, so it meant that by the end of Wednesday, I had achieved almost everything needed for work to commence. 

There were still one or two odd things to do, but they were minor and I could do them, without disrupting the building team.

All the overhanging Pomegranate trees have been cut back, the patio has been cleared, all my vines which run round the periphery of the courtyard and cottage, have been pruned - a bit early - but 'job done'.

Planters and pots have been moved to safety, tools and ladders stowed away and everywhere now look generally presentable.

On Thursday, the building team arrived on time and worked hard all day, removing and salvaging the stones they could, clearing the rest, cutting away the tree trunks which formed the single purlin and ridge pole, and the rafters.

​Then the concrete over the bread oven, dated 1942, was removed with a pneumatic breaking hammer and at the end of the day, all the rubble was removed.

​Friday saw a decision to remove all the ceilings of the ground floor rooms, rather than just the bad ones.

The rooms underneath still were in use and there was no where to move things to, so I just have to accept that there will need to be a deep clean once the building work is over. 

Still it is only years and years of accumulated dust and debris and the odd piece of stone. 

One gable end collapsed when the floor was pried up.

It is amazing what four guys, with a little support from me, can achieve. 

The wooden ceiling was removed, the beams lifted, substantial new beams installed and a new loft floor laid, all before lunch. 

Then the walls were built up with new stones and concrete, to the level of the floor.

​To get the concrete where it was required, a "ski jump" had to be created from the donkey track down across the citrus orchard and onto the roof formers. 

Then in mid afternoon work started on laying the new concrete roof over the summer kitchen. 

By six thirty the work was finished and everyone packed up and went home. 

I was concerned about whether the new concrete would be damaged overnight. However on Saturday morning, there were just half a dozen paw prints. 

I held an identity parade of the likely suspects but could couldn't identify the culprits.

It' wasn't me. Look at my paws, they don't fit the holes!
Work continued apace on Saturday. 

First the blocks for the new walls were delivered and hefted onto the loft floor.

Then the walls were built up very quickly. 

These blocks are rather like using LEGO, but with cement​. 

Finally beams were laid across the new walls and plastic put on top, because we are going to have some rain on Sunday.

​All this has of course meant that I have not done much more to complete the study. 

I have connected up the electrics, moved in my workstation and study desk and done precious little else. 

Equally, apart from bits of weeding here and there, I have done little in the orchards.

But being outside in some lovely autumnal weather has been very pleasant.

We have had fog on the Stari Grad plain several mornings, which here in Dol because this is a Thermal Belt, it just translates into a heavy dew.

Within five minutes of the sun appearing, the fog has burnt off although it lingers for longer on the Plain and in Stari Grad.

​So working long days has resulted in some considerable progress this week, even if it means I am running a little late with getting the blog finished.

I'm looking forward to my weekend. I hope you are too.