Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Living with the Past: the Naked Remodel

It looks almost like an architectural drawing. Somebody sliced away half of this palace and then left it like that. The remaining structure is still very much in use. The other half is now a vacant lot. I sure wonder why these things happen.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Living with the Past: the Naked Remodel

Ancient housing, modern communications. (And nakedly repaired - or removed - chimneys.)
How do you blend the old and the new?
The answer seems to be that if it's above the roof, you don't bother to blend. In fact, you consider yourself lucky if the installation guys don't destroy the roof in the process.

At street level, though, with a little care and a little paint, the electrical can be fairly unobtrusive, as with the house on the left. The plumbing is a tougher assignment. If you use copper, it can develop a nice patina. The house on the right chooses a less decorative approach, but it has a certain rough honesty to it, straight and simple.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Reading at Sullivan's Pub

Readers at Sullivan's in La Honda come in all ages, genders, and styles. Here's a sampling. Among the readers are Tom Devine,
Kathy Wolf,
Tom Lichtenberg,
Terry Adams,
Joe Cottonwood,
Thomas Krempetz,
and Billy Nick.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Living with the Past: the Naked Remodel

I love how stone and brick buildings tend to reveal their history:

But sometimes, as in the case of this church, they seem downright immodest in how much they expose:

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Living with the Past: Hardware

I call it a whale's tail. What's the official name? Where can I learn more about it? I assume it helps to keep the brick wall of the church from collapsing.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Living with the Past

The city of Lucca dates back to about 300 years before Christ, though settlements existed during the Stone Age. In the 16th century the city built its fourth and final wall around itself, a wall so massive that now an entire city park sits on top of it including this slightly out-of-plumb light pole and this stone lion.

The light pole and lion are relative youngsters, given the history of the place, but they maintain the old-time vibe.

The sign is announcing Barsotti Construction, which is building something behind the wire fence. Whatever they construct, I bet they make sure it blends in. On this spot we have 2000 years of blending already.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Living with the Past: Hardware

In the American West, when you rode your horse to town, you tied it to a wooden rail. In Siena, Italy, your horse had more elegant accommodations.

Hand-crafted, I assume, to explain the slight (and charming) differences.

The bricks remind me that the pigment colors "burnt sienna" and "raw sienna" are named after the color of earth in the town of Siena.

Somewhere out there in internet-land, surely somebody knows more about these metal fixtures (such as, for starters, what is their proper name?) Whoever you are, would it please somehow chance to happen, perhaps through divine intervention, that you read this blog and feel moved to tell me where I can learn more about these old fixtures?

Thank you.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Living with the Past: Hardware

The Palazzo Pubblico again.

It's such a massive chain, I have to wonder how deeply those holders are embedded into the stone. And how are they set?

Are there reference books about this kind of old hardware?

As always, you can click on the image for a closer view (and see a nice pattern on the chain).

Friday, June 19, 2009

Living with the Past: Hardware

Same old building. This one's for tying your horse. What's that red stuff where the surface is chipped: rust, or lichen, or paint? From the style of it, can anyone figure the age?

You can click on the image for more detail.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Living with the Past: Hardware

Gryphon, swallowing snake, swallowing light bulb. The Palazzo Pubblico was built in 1281 and remodeled many times, the last time being 1908. When the gryphon appeared - and when the light bulb appeared, later - I have no idea.

You can click on the image to see more detail.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Living with the Past: Doors

Sometimes you improvise and hope it doesn't collapse before you get back to it ... maybe ... later...
Vernazza, Italy

Sometimes you've got a whole house to fix up, and the door will just have to wait...
San Donato, Italy

Sometimes you've got a church that's fallen on hard times, and new hinges just aren't in the budget...
Piacenza, Italy

Sometimes you go your own way...
Monterosso, Italy

And then sometimes you get it mostly right: not too grandiose but nicely, simply styled in harmony with the ancient city you're a part of. You're sorry about the kickplates, (and maybe you wish you'd used a dark bronze) but it's a tough neighborhood, and money's kinda tight, and the people who installed that gas meter on the lower left already messed up a couple of stones. Life is a compromise. You deal with it.
Lucca, Italy

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Living with the Past: Doors

When you built a palace in the year 1275, say, or 1580, you wanted a door big enough to drive a horse and carriage through. A door 12 feet high, at least.

Later, maybe centuries later when you no longer have a retinue of servants opening and closing the doors for you, the thought occurs that it's a lot of work to move those massive portals. So you find a carpenter to cut a smaller door-within-a-door.

A very short carpenter, apparently. Almost every door-within-a-door that I saw would require major crouching to pass through. Some are only 60 inches tall. What were they thinking? The Italians are such masters of good design, I figure there must be some good reason for these inadequate doors-within-doors. But what?

Sometimes the shape of the cutout was clearly dictated by the design of the existing door, and a nice blend was achieved.

But other times, not so much.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Ferramenta, Lucca, Italy

It seems to be a one-man operation. At this ferramenta you can get a key duplicated or buy a metric hex-head bolt or deal with any of those funky home-owning chores. Or you can do what's important in life: You can put some fantastic hardware on your front door.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Living with the Past: the Naked Remodel

When you visit old cathedrals, you're supposed to think about the architecture, the art, the history, the soaring grandeur, the holy spirit. Me, I think about the bricks.

At least, that's what I was studying at the Basilica di San Antonino in Piacenza. The first church on this location was built around the year 350. Then in the year 850 they disassembled it and moved it - yes, moved it, according to my guidebook - to a town more than 100 kilometers from here. (Or maybe something was lost in translation.) Anyway, the existing church was begun in the year 870.

The octagonal tower was built in two phases, first in the year 1004, then the upper section with windows in the late 12th century. If you click on the picture to enlarge it, you can see in the octagonal tower a change in the color of brick at two points - and that's what fascinates me.

Bricks that are manufactured in different centuries are going to look different. So is the workmanship of the craftsmen who apply them. Also different will be the amount of wear and tear.

I couldn't get close to the tower, but I could get as close as I wanted to the pronaos - that thing in front with the huge arch. So I studied the bricks of the buttresses of the pronaos.

There are at least four phases of brickwork in just this small section. I don't know which are repairs and which are simply changes of material in the original process of construction. The mortar changes, too, in both color and style of application. I like to imagine those rounded, smaller bricks near the bottom as salvaged from some ancient structure. I'm a little worried about the lack of visible mortar among them - but I assume somebody's keeping an eye on things. Above those rounded bricks, I like to imagine the blackened ones as recovered from a fire in some earlier era. I like to imagine a swarm of craftsmen over a string of centuries manufacturing bricks in big ovens or hauling old bricks from ancient ruins in groaning ox-carts. I see them mixing mortar, troweling, embedding, scraping, leveling, squinting with one practiced eye, assembling scaffolds, climbing ladders, hoisting and tuck-pointing, arguing and sweating, drinking, taking long breaks for lunch, going home to their children and watching them grow, teaching them how to lay bricks in a good and workmanlike manner. For me that's the soaring grandeur, the holy spirit.

Living with the Past

Simply wonderful public space. It's in a tiny town - Alvito - in the mountains south of Rome.

I love so many things here. This picture could serve as an index for many of the topics I want to explore: Doors, both the grand and the weird. Naked remodels. Laundry. Roof gardens. Windows. Texture. Appreciating the old and embracing the new.

How, oh how, - and why, oh why - is that new rectangular door cut into what appears to be the base of a three-story stone wall?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Living with the Past: Cobblestone

True cobblestone.

And you don't have to worry about cars on the streets.

Lovely textures, everywhere.

It's an ancient little town in the mountains south of Rome.

It's more modern than it first appears. Besides the drains cut into the path, there is a cutout in the foreground that must be for a utility of some kind. Then there are the overhead wires and, not visible here, the TV antennas on the rooftops.

The narrow winding road leading to this tiny town reminded me of West Virginia (without the banjos). I'm told you could buy one of these houses for $20,000. Heck of a commute, though.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Living with the Past: Cobblestone

A typical narrow street in old Piacenza, Italy. Some random thoughts:

Who cleans up? Cigarette butts, oil stains... It used to be horse droppings and human waste. In Piacenza I saw a tag-team approach where a man wielding a twig-broom (the old) would be followed by a mini-streetsweeping machine (the new).

Compromise: The street can barely accommodate cars - and yet you will encounter city buses! (Small buses, but still...) There is no place to park. The sidewalk is too narrow to feel safe and wouldn't accommodate a wheelchair. In practice, people overflow the sidewalks or ignore them and walk down the middle of the street.

No asphalt, no concrete. Instead we have quarried setts for the roadway, granite slabs for the sidewalk. Built by craftsmen for human use.

A theory is making the rounds among urban planners to give streets back to pedestrians much in the manner as they exist here, where the car is the lower priority and has to make its way, politely, among the crowds. This theory, in the USA at least, is still in the crackpot category.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The trouble with words

It's always bugged me that the truck bringing concrete to your construction site is called a "cement truck." Yet if you call it a "concrete truck," people will look puzzled and say, "You mean somebody built a truck out of concrete?"

"Cement truck" means, in the popular mind, the truck that delivers concrete. We can't change it.

So I have the same queasy feeling when I use the word "cobblestone" to describe a variety of pavings, some of actual round cobbles and some of flat quarried stone. You even see brick paving described as cobblestone. You can't fight the consensus. I'll try to be as accurate as possible, but I try to be a writer who speaks in the popular language. We'll see how it works out.

In the previous post, I managed to avoid describing Piazza Cavalli as having cobblestone, but I used "cobblestone" in the title because it is part of a thread on that subject. Language, like living with the past, is an ongoing battle. Sometimes, so as not to break up the flow of a sentence with a parenthesis or a footnote, I'll have to call a paving stone a cobblestone. I'm sorry, I know it's like dropping a cigarette butt in the middle of somebody's beautiful craftsmanship. I ask your tolerance.

Living with the Past: Cobblestone

I'm not much of a world traveler, but I've been to Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China. It's ugly. A disaster. It has all the charm of an empty parking lot. It was created by destroying a marvelous old neighborhood and paving it over with concrete. Then it became the site of a massacre of unarmed civilians.

The goal of the Chinese government was to create the world's largest urban square. In this they succeeded. Unfortunately, the design was inspired by Stalinist Russia, which, as choice-of-models goes, is like hosting a banquet inspired by the Donner Party.

Tiananmen needs everything: benches, fountains, trees, statues. They could start by ripping out the concrete. Such a contrast with something the Italians have known for centuries. On the left is a small section of an open urban square in Piacenza that embraces the past and feels welcoming, comfortable to the eye. And it all starts with what's under your feet.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Living with the Past: Cobblestone

The narrow cobblestone streets were designed for horses, not Fiats. The lovely intersecting arches of stones, endlessly repeating, are the work of hands, strong backs, bent knees.

The price of such beauty is compromise. They are noisy to drive on and laborious to repair. They are not amenable to underground utilities. They are bumpy for bicycles.

Do Italian children play hopscotch? How do they draw the lines?

Even the name is a compromise, at least in the English language. A "cobble" is a round stone created by water or ice. Most streets are now paved with flat quarried stones called "setts."