Someone once told me that if something is really important, it is worth waiting for…or something like that. Well, I have been waiting a long time to write this letter and finally it is time. As you probably have guessed by now if you have been reading these letters, I really do like La Antigua. It has been a pretty great place for me to rest, to work, to be creative, and to explore new things in my life. But ever since I moved here, there was something that I wanted to do to make the house even a nicer environment. I was lucky in the fact that I didn’t have to reform the entire house when I bought it – when I walked in the first time, I realised that this is where I wanted to live. Sure, I have done some re-modelling; I have designed and built some furniture bits, made some lights, made massive changes to the courtyard, but still I longed to make one more change. This week the construction began on a small pool on my roof terrace.
Of all the bureaucracy and language challenges I have faced since moving to the village, this one has been the equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest. All I wanted to do was build a little pool on the terrace that I could use for exercise (Oh, sure. And if you believe that, I have this bridge for sale too). I researched buying a pre-fabricated fibreglass pool; researched the pros and cons of putting a traditional above-the-ground pool on the roof; but in the end, it was clear to me that the only sensible thing to do was just build a pool out of cement and block. I had even gone through the effort of making architectural plans of the construction of the pool, but then made a mistake. I decided to ask the village authorities for permission to build it. Now in all fairness, I really think that this was the right thing to do, but it has added almost two years to my timeline and the actual work has only begun this week.
Day one of the project: the whole concept of ‘day one’ seems a bit odd to me, as I have been working on getting this bloody thing built for so long, it seems like this is actually day 500 or so, but none-the-less, the workmen actually arrived this morning. The plan was to reinforce one of the walls first. This really hadn’t been an issue until visit number 5 or 6 by the architect. He was exhibiting a bit of panic about the weight of the finished pool after it was filled with water, and at that point, even I was thinking that a pool in my guest room or the kitchen was not the best of ideas, so the workers were first going to expose the top of one of the walls to install some reinforcing steel rods and hormigon (or-mee-gõn, cement). They arrived just after 0730, and after a bit of explanation from the architect of what they were supposed to do, out came the heavy tools and the fun began. I hadn’t been too thrilled with the start time being so early, but because it does get very hot here very early each day, getting as much work done before the temperature crept into the 30’s did seem like a rational idea.
So the workmen arrived, and as always I greeted them at the courtyard door to introduce myself and find out their names. I was a bit caught off guard when they introduced themselves as Andre and Vadic. Okay, so we are off to an interesting start – my workers are from Poland and they speak a little Spanish and tons of Polish. I, on the other hand, don’t know a word of Polish and my Spanish is probably on a par with theirs…but probably not with the same vocabulary to work with. Well, life is a learning experience, so off to the roof terrace we went so they could get started.
After four hours they had managed to beat the crap out of the edges of the terrace where the pool would be going. As the technical architect had told me, the workmen would need to dig down inside the existing house walls to get rid of any rubble that had been hiding there for the past donkey’s age and replace it with steel reinforced concrete. This was the excavation part of the project, and it made me nervous as hell. They started with a hammer and concrete chisel, the moved up to a small electric hammer; progressed quickly to a monster electric hammer; and by 1100 had brought in an electric hammer that looked as if one slip would take them all the way to the other side of the world. I thought it would be a smart move to let them whack away on the walls whilst I retreated to the relative safety of the living room. Sadly, I didn’t have any earplugs so I turned on some music, but even that was drowned out by the pulsating hammer, sending vibrations throughout La Antigua. Clearly today was a two 1,000mg ibuprofen day.
Day Two: my new Polish friends didn’t arrive at 0730 today - it was because they arrived even earlier. Luckily, I was up and ready for them (in my own way). Within a few minutes, the neighbourhood was filled with the sounds of their monster electric hammering tools, pounding the perimeter edge of the new pool locations into submission. I was becoming more and more impressed by the work ethic of these lads as they broke rocks straight through until they stopped for lunch at 1400. Whilst I am always intrigued by how things are done – and this project is no exception – I did try to not appear to be standing over them, trying to avoid them feeling that I was just the Spanish island version of Simon Legree, overseeing my plantation workers. By the end of the day, the entire excavation project was complete and they were chest deep in the wall.
Day Three: Well this day was a bit of a problem as I was going to be away all day at a photo-shoot on the other side of the island so Heckle and Jeckle didn’t show up. My problem, not theirs I guess.
Day Four: The plan for the day was to begin to fill up the now gaping trench with new hormigon and reinforcing steel rods. I really did understand the need to reinforce the walls as I didn’t want to wake up some morning and find one of the spare bedrooms not having a ceiling anymore, but it also seemed a bit odd that only two days earlier, the lads from Warsaw (or wherever) dug all the rocks out. But by mid-morning, the trenches were filled with steel rods and the re-filling process began. Yes, this was a bit challenging for them as they had to mix the cement at the bottom road, then have it brought up ‘mi calle estrecho’ (Spanish for ‘a street barely wide enough to get a scooter up’) to the house, then hoist it all up to the roof terrace…in buckets. I was both amazed at their commitment to ‘alternate’ building technology, and the speed with which they were able to complete this phase of the project. By the end of the day, the trenches were full and Valdic and Andrek were dead knackered.
Day Five: Shit…the steel reinforcing rod for the bottom of the pool was not delivered so nothing was accomplished on the project. That probably isn’t a fair description of the day, as I was able to go into Palma and buy the skimmer-doo-wah thing and the pump assembly. Besides, I was thinking that the actual construction part of the project would take a week, so I set my mind on it taking two weeks…this is, after all, Mallorca and most projects seem to operate under a different time system than I was used to before moving here. So whilst it is day five of the project, the lads have only been on the job for three days – I think things are going well.
Day Six: Vaudic and Andrej (I really do need to find out how to spell their names I think) were here at 0730 again and within minutes were on the terrace talking through the next steps of the project in Polish. Well I am assuming that is what they were talking about; they could have been saying how much they hate the Brit who thinks having a pool on the roof terrace is a great idea. Today’s project work turned out to be double-check all the reinforcing rod, followed by building a small retaining wall for the floor of the pool; all of which was completed by 1000. By 1100, they were mixing, carrying, slogging, lifting, and pouring the new cement. And then as a real treat, Vladik, after dumping ten or so buckets of hormigon onto the floor of the pool, used the mother-of-all-vibrators to get it to settle. By 1400, they were done and buggered off to lunch, coming back to clean things up a bit and get organised for the next part of the project.
Day Seven: The project is quickly reaching completion. Well, the main phase is reaching completion at least. The way I have been viewing the project is that there are four main phases; the planning (which was painfully slow); actually constructing the pool (moving along smartly); the drying phase (which I am told could take two or three weeks); and the tiling. As I need to go to London and Frankfurt next week, my hope was to have the construction phase completed before I had to leave, enabling half of the drying phase to take place whilst I am away, and from the look of things, we are spot on with the timing. When the lads arrived, I asked them what their plan was for the day, and was told that they would be putting up the wood frames for the walls, inserting the reinforcing rods and then with some luck, pouring the hormigon. It turned out they were wrong.
Days Eight and Nine: V & A (notice I have completely given up trying to spell their names) have been assembling two large wooden boxes, one acting as the support for the inside walls and the other for the outside walls. I think their work was slowed a bit to install the piping for the skimmer assembly, the water jets, and the desagua (drain). My plumber (Big Tony) was supposed to do all this but as he is from the village and a Mallorquin from birth, he seems to operate on an entirely different time schedule. Twice he told me he would arrive at a specific time, with the second time being only three hours late. Actually, that wasn’t too bad for Tony, but it was pissing me and the lads off a bit. Having said that, V & A operate on normal commitment work time (and with a work ethic I am more used to), so their framing work was delayed quite a bit. When Tony did actually arrive, we had another delay as he struggled to climb over the pool wall framework – Tony is a tad large – much to the amusement of the Polish lads.
To catch up, the lads skipped lunch on day nine (now that is an exceptional work ethic I think) so they would be ready for the hormigon delivery. At 1500, a dead-twin for Danny DeVito appeared with his magical mystery hormigon mixer and the fun began once again. A little mixing, a little driving the slop up the hill, a little hoisting it up in buckets, a little somewhat careful pouring the bucket-loads into the wall space, and a lot of words being spoken in Polish that I didn’t understand (but I think I do know what they were saying, and as the cross-section of recipients of these letters is a bit mixed, I will let you guess what it was).
Day Ten: This day began as other days the lads were here, with them strolling through the courtyard door at 0730, rabbitting on in Polish. I was on the terrace, trying to help get things organised a bit. Yesterday had been a bit of a madhouse, with Valdic and Andrec tossing wood and metal bits around, desperately trying to get the wood framing up before the hormigon festival began once again. But they did manage to finish everything up, but only after a 12-hour plus day with no lunch break. The term ‘work-ethic’ does spring to mind again. The plan today was to rip all the framing off (desencofrar), exposing the cement to the drying rays of the sun.
This project, whilst being a bit complicated with all the bureaucratic complications of getting permission to actually build the bloody pool on the roof terrace, then having to contend with the vacillating level of nervousness about the entire project on the part of the contractor, and then sort of being trapped at home whilst the work was being done. But as the lads were only here eight out of the ten days, and they still finished the work, I am nothing but pleased as punch. The next step will be to have them return in a week or so to do all the tiling of the pool and then turn my hose on and wait until it is full.
And in case you were wondering (as I have been for the past two weeks), I asked Vladic / Valdik / Vladeck how they actually do spell their names whilst they were on their lunch break – a cunning plan on my part to find out what their names really were. They both smiled knowingly, then in Spanish, explained that their native tongue (Polish) was a real bugger, and then told me that they were Waldek and Andrzej. Right. I wasn't even close. I gave them some beer and they whizzed back to work.
and the work commences
some serious excavating going on
no gold, no oil, just rubble being found
installing the reinforcing steel rod
looking strangely like it did before, but with steel protruding
getting things to the roof can be a challenge
a challenge from either end of the lifting
el jefe and the lads, probably contemplating suicide
ready for the hormigon
mixing cement, the alternate way
the not too Posh vibrator
building the walls
pouring the walls
tired lads (not sure exactly why)
keeping a guest room ceiling where it should be
copyright 2005, 2006, 2007, James B. Rieley