JUNE 2005: “The Ol' Construction Blues...”

Don't Ask Beginning in June, we became more involved in the construction process at Casa Ingaso, or I should say with changes and errors in construction. Up till then, most of what was going on—foundation work and slab creation, block walls and boquets of rebar—was not what you'd call "hands-on" stuff to us. But, when window openings, doorways, and other features began going-in, we engaged—especially when things started going in the wrong places!
First off, let's just say that construction practices here would never get permits in the States. I cringed when I looked at the block walls going up. They were full of cracked and broken blocks with mysterious holes through them. Rows of blocks were set unevenly or out-of-alignment. Some rows were even missing blocks! It wasn't pretty, and it didn't instill a lot of confidence. I had to keep reminding myself that homes being built here last, that they don't fall down the first time you slam a door. And, that became my day to day project: keeping myself positive. Until one day we noticed a "real" mistake.
Now, we all know that my memory has more holes than a Catholic confessional screen, but I think the first transgression we noticed was our bathroom. It was too small. Criminy, you couldn't pass each other on the way to the...well, you know. We pulled out our floor plan and scrutinized it and scrutinized it, then took a measuring tape to the lot and measured distances and walls and the size of my shoe—exactly 12 inches, for those interested—for stepping off rooms quickly: "...toe-heel, toe-heel...." At first, we couldn't figure out what was wrong. It seemed like the whole master bedroom wing was off, but then we discovered the problem: TC's office and the walk-in closet (the rooms on either side of the bath) were bigger than they were supposed to be, thus squeezing and eating up much needed bathroom space. "Ay carumba!" (Translates as something like: "Egads!")
Bathroom We were devastated. Originally, we assumed (still a mistake) it was the "slab illusion" all over again—it just seems small without the walls. But, now, all the walls were already in place, with water pipes installed in the blocks, electricity, drains, rebar, and windows and doors and holy moley. We were screwed! It was too late to change things now. All we were able to accomplish was making the shower stall smaller so we could enter the bathroom without turning sideways. Damn!
Crestfallen, chagrined and bewildered, we couldn't beleive that we had gone to all the trouble of designing this "perfect" house but were going to get stuck with a porta-potty for the master bath. Not a good time for us, but we bucked-up, set our chins, and stuck with it...not me so much as TC. I'm a pussy, so I pissed and moaned and complained and made TC's life suck, but just for a little while. No, really, just a day or two—I won't include her thoughts on that.
I think the kitchen island was our second major "misplacement" discovery. It wasn't off by much, maybe ten inches, which in the right circumstances could be good luck, but in ours it meant the distance between the stove top and the island would be narrower, narrower than bodies such as ours would prefer. What to do, what to do? I mean, like the bathroom, the island wall was already "set in stone," so to speak: concrete blocks cemented together and to the slab, electric conduits and drains and water lines already coming up from the slab through the blocks, not to mention all the rebar anchored in the slab and growing up from the wall like alien antennae. Again, we thought, "It's a done deal." Wrong!
Maybe in the States you'd have to take someone to court to get them to correct a mistake like that, but here in Altos we discovered, when you bring up an error, Eleuterio says, "No hay problema." (That's "no problem" for those of you who don't habla the Español.)
Actually, when we finally got up the courage to say anything—and we stewed for days as to whether we should just learn to live with the hip-bruising space or speak-up—he jumped right in: "It's in the wrong place, isn't it?" He already had it on his list to talk about, so we were off the hook: the change would be made. Amazing! We were expecting a knock-down drag-out with much rending of garments and gnashing of teeth, but "no hay problema."
A few days later the wall was moved...but too far! Instead of moving the wall the desired 10", the wall was now 18" farther away from the stove top! Again, what to do, what to do? In the end, and especially because our "great room" of 40' was now more like an "okay room" of 29' due to lot width limitations, we decided to ask for another correction. "No hay problema." Really? Seemed to us there was a problem, since errors were being made, but at least Eleuterio handle them with aplomb. Still, we realized that we needed to stay on top of things.
Unfortunately, all the stress must have weakened my immune system, for I came down with my first Panamanian chest cold. Damn! It knocked me out for a week. And here I thought I had left that stuff behind in the States. Guess again. On the other hand, TC was never better, free to drive around without me, free to do things without considering Bobo. She loved it! (Click on this picture, if you don't believe me. That's her enjoying her office-to-be. Ain't she pretty?)
During this same period we also experienced our first Altos thunder storm. Very exciting. It was the kind that rattles your filiings, makes you drop everything, go out on the balcony, and observe. Oooowee, it was fun. I recorded a little bit of it and, if you want to listen, click on this link (it's a minute long Quicktime file and will take a little while to load): Altos Thunder Storm. It also helps, if you turn up the volume on your computer. Otherwise, the thunder is kinda lost in the rain noise.
Also in June, we adopted our dog-in-waiting: Bo (click his picture for a larger look). He's a cutie, and we'd been petting him and cooing at him and walking with him and even feeding him for a while. But, in June, we more or less decided that we'd make him ours when we moved—no pets in Lamelot. We asked around and no one laid claim to the "perro loco." It was a phrase that popped-out of people when we mentioned Bo, because he chases every car that passes. Anyway, we bought a big bag of dog food. As long as Bo doesn't mind waiting, one day we'll be able to spoil him rotten!

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