16 December 2012

Stufa II

Stufa II

Are we becoming slaves to our stufe? We now have two wood-burning stoves, heating the whole of the ground floor.

The second one went in last week. It should have been a doddle compared to the first one, which required holes through floor and roof and other such complications. All this one needed was a metal plate in the existing chimney, through which to pass the stove’s flue. But our smith, whose head is clearly muddled by the havoc wreaked in his shop by last month’s floods, just couldn’t get it right. First, he removed the hinged valve which was up there already: you pulled a chain to swing it open whenever you lit a fire in the fireplace.
“I’ll just make the plate this shape,” he said.
“But that’s on an angle,” I said. “The new one needs to be flat.”
I don’t think he was listening. He came back with something that in no way resembled the shape of our very crooked chimney.
So we made a cardboard model.
“Don’t forget,” I said, “it’s all very crooked in here.”
I don’t know why I didn’t insist on putting the stove in, to check how high it had to be, and how off-centre the point was where the flue entered the chimney space. Because what he came back with was useless: too far up for the metre-long piece of stove pipe to reach, the hole for the flue way over to one side.
A day and a half later, a job which could have taken two hours was finally finished, hurrah! But now we are waking up to the time-consuming reality of being a two-fire household.

Nowadays there’s little opportunity for one of us snoozing in the morning while the other makes the fruit salad for breakfast: one does the fruit, the other cleans and lights the fires. Then there’s the constant attention they need all day: I’m forever popping up and down to make sure there’s a flame in each. Which is, I have to say, good for not being stuck for too long in front of the computer. But then again I’m already an expert in finding reasons for being distracted from whatever I’m doing, so that isn’t necessarily a plus.

And there’s the wood-hauling. One piled-up wheelbarrow load is enough for both fires burning hard all day. Just one load, you might think – and so nice to be forced into the open air for a breather. But you’re also forced into the cold and driving rain. And then there’s the stacking in the baskets and the sweeping up the debris.

And of course there’s the going out conundrum: is it really worth shutting the house up and venturing into the cold, knowing that while you’re away the fires will die and you’ll come back to luke-warmth at best, cold if you’re out for too long? You think twice – if not more – about every move.

So why have we done it?

Well, first and foremost, there’s the heating bill. If we were to heat even the bottom part of the house to a reasonable temperature most of the winter, we’d be looking at LPG bills of well above €3000, as opposed to no more than €500 a year of wood at those times (and, disgracefully, they are the vast majority) when we haven’t cut and hauled any from our own property. We just aren’t willing or able to face the larger financial burden. Then there’s the comforting feeling of being part of a cycle: the fuel we burn comes from well husbanded woodlands around here, is processed through our clean-burning stoves and what comes out the other end is a small quantity of ash which goes into my garden in one way or another – directly on fruit trees and roses or into the compost bin. Then there’s the heat, a very different heat from the dry, drying heat of radiators. In particular I like that secondary heat, the soft just-right warmth radiating off the flue which passes through our bedroom and keeps it exactly the right temperature (for people like us who hate sleeping in over-heated rooms). The same will happen very soon in C’s icy room (having three outer walls isn’t conducive to warmth-preservation), when I have a long window cut out of the masonry which currently encloses the stainless steel pipe from the chimney where the smoke from newer stove passes.

So the pros beat the cons. And our slavery is voluntary. Though there are moments when… well, let’s focus on the positive side.

The whole world outside is soggy. It has now, thankfully, warmed up slightly, after our ten days or so of round-about-zero existence. But every time I think of going into the garden, my heart sinks as I squelch outside the front door and realise that anything like weeding, or even leaf-raking, is impossible (and anyway, most of the leaves haven’t fallen, so what’s the point in doing it now if I’ll just have to do it again next week? Oh dear, how winter lethargy has set in!)

So today, faced with a warm Sunday afternoon and no desire to do anything in particular here, we headed to San Casciano dei Bagni to wallow in the hot thermal water – in the funny little stone tubs below town, not in the snazzy snobby-chic thermal complex (which, however, is better if you feel like a proper swim, because the pool is large and deep). A lovely thing to do on a winter’s afternoon.

This week I have been playing with Twitter. I find it ineffably dull. But I thought I’d see how many new followers I could get by being diligent about sending out my musings for a few days. The answer? Two. Pathetic. Mind you, as L says, perhaps if I said more about gardens (as my T-name @GardensInItaly might suggest) and focussed less on informing hardly anyone about goings-on in Rome and Venice, I might cut confusion and attract attention. But I have my doubts.

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About Gardens, Food & Umbria

I am a garden designer, working throughout central Italy. I have lived in Italy for over 30 years – for many years in Rome but now in the wilds of Umbria where I have fixed up one wreck of a house, am working on another, and tinker endlessly with two and a half hectares of land, some of which is my garden.
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