Friday, October 5, 2012

Construction, etc.

The total re-do of our bathroom began Monday and is proceeding about as speedily as possible. The workers, unlike some previous ones with whom we’ve dealt, are professional. They are not slackards, as some have been, but work diligently. They show up early every morning, do the noisy stuff before 2:00, which is when we in our building begin observing quiet hours, and work quietly until 3:00 or 4:00, when it’s time for their own meals and siesta.

We wouldn’t want them to work any longer than that, because every day until today, they’ve had to remove the toilet first thing and put it back last thing. I mean, they place it where it was without bolting it down or connecting it with any water. A big bucket of water substitutes for the tank.

During the day, we take turns going places like the internet cafĂ©, or coffee shops, or wherever there is a ladies’ or a gents’. It’s also good just to get out of the house, away from the noise and dust.

At night, there’s an old sheet hanging in the doorway for a modicum of privacy.

So far, the 6-inch thick, concrete “false ceiling” has been removed, the new plumbing arrangement is in place, the gas lines have been moved, and today the new, high ceiling is being plastered and smoothed, together with the walls. What remains is the tiling of walls and floor and the installation of: the toilet, the new sink and cabinetry, the new washing machine, new shower, and new radiator, the kind that doubles as a towel rack. All that, if you can imagine, is to fit comfortably in a space that’s little more than a meter and a half along each wall.

Every morning the paleogis (“pah-lee-ode-ZHEES”, gypsy junk man) comes around in his truck with a megaphone, calling for people’s cast-offs, but we had no need of his services. Christos, Demetrios’ brother, wanted the clothes washer; the one he has isn’t very good, he says. (Ours is, but it's too big! New one measures 45 by 60 centimeters. Somehow it still takes a full load of wash...) Christos got himself out of bed, where he now spends most of his time most days, and drove into town from an hour away to fetch it. He wanted the old sink and mirror and radiator as well.

His son, Phideas, carried everything out of our apartment and into the car. Then, per his father’s instruction, he unscrewed all the handles, knobs, hinges, and light sockets from our beat-up old cabinetry in the junk-heap outdoors. Christos had him rescue all the screws, nuts, and bolts, too.

Christos is in terrible shape. He weighs 80 pounds and his doctor says part of his breathing problem is that he doesn’t even have enough muscle left to move his diaphragm properly. Just the drive here exhausts him; he has to sit and rest and have strong coffee and then sit and rest some more before he’s able to drive home. He looks like he can hardly hold his head up; in fact he usually doesn’t. Most of the time it kind of lolls to one side and he looks at you sideways. He has advanced emphysema, the most severe case of osteoporosis Demetrios has ever heard of, and a life-long malfunctioning digestive system which puts him in frequent excruciating pain. He can only eat bland food because anything else disagrees with him; and only soft foods because he has virtually no teeth. (Demetrios once gave him money to have his remaining teeth fixed and buy dentures, but he spent the money on something else.) We sent him home with some ducosate sodium capsules, same ones we take, and a can of Quaker Oats. Until now, he never knew oatmeal (porridge) existed. We hope he will like it and that it will provide fiber and vary his diet some, the monotonous diet being one reason he doesn’t eat enough.

I haven’t yet heard how or whether Christos, once home in Katerini, solved the problem of getting everything back out of the car or up the stairs to his flat, because Phideas didn’t go with him; he lives here in Thessaloniki. All I know is Christos was safely home and resting when we phoned him in the evening.

He hadn’t yet tried the porridge or pills.

Our building’s President, Zisis, and Thomai his wife have each been here twice, inspecting the work in the bathroom. (While they’re here, they always manage to take a look into each other room, too.) Dear Thomai brought a plate of freshly-baked spanikopita, realizing I cannot cook in all this hullaballoo. Zisis was concerned first that we not remove anything weight-bearing; we assured him we had checked all that before beginning the project. Then he was worried that the 40-plus bags of broken concrete, brick, and tile that had to be removed must not overburden our elevator. No problem, our workers spent a long time, one upstairs on our floor, one down in the lobby, sending the tiny elevator up and down, removing the rubble little by little. (Our elevator holds 3 people at a time, provided they are all on very friendly terms, or one person and two suitcases.)

It’s a big mess, and predictably is going more slowly than scheduled, but in a few days we hope to have a new, bright, sparkling bathroom with a bit more room to move around in, a less claustrophobic feel now that the very low ceiling has gone, and a bigger shower so we won’t always be bumping our elbows on it. If it ends up looking as we envision it, it may even have a touch of glamour – insofar as such a tiny space can have.