Pontedera, Italy

The Stendardo family has been part of our Baha'i community in Vernier for many years, but now that Luigi has retired as a librarian at the World Trade Organization, they have bought a house in rural Tuscany near Pontedera, between Florence and Pisa, with a big enclosed garden and swimming pool for their severely autistic son Simon. This will become their new residence for part of the year, since their upstairs apartment in Vernier has no garden and Simon needs space. Their older son Nabil is at the Aspergers end of the Autistic spectrum and very good at computer programming, with a M.Sc. from the University of Geneva, so his needs are quite different. Taking care of the two autistic adults is a great challenge, so I do what I can to help. I made several trips to help them during the year.

In a six-day visit the first week of January, I did both garden work and house repairs to help them begin settling in.  This included cleaning up many wheelbarrows of construction materials from around the garden and organizing the useful bricks, building two bins for composting garden waste, and constructing a garden workbench for potting. In the house, I weatherstripped almost all the windows, and painted those that had weathered, with a noticeable increase in heating efficiency. Vida's sister-in-law and two of her children came to visit while we were there.

Stendardo house . Luigi in the garden . part of the garden from the house
The house and part of the large enclosed garden; a small part of the garden and orchard seen from the house

the family at dinner . another dinner
Two dinners with the Stendardos and visiting family

clearing a space for compost bins . clearing a space for compost bins . hauling debris
Moving construction materials and waste to make space for composting; hauling construction rubbish to clean up the garden

inauguration of the compost pile . inauguration of the compost pile . Luigi and Vida in the garden
Luigi and Vida inaugurating the two-bin compost pile

new compost bins . garden by the compost bins . working until after sunset
The happiness of a place to compost; in the west of the garden; working until after sunset

Since rain the first day leaked through the windows and flooded several rooms, I weatherstripped almost all the windows and painted some window frames that had weathered badly. The weatherstripping available locally was too wide, so I had to cut all the strips in half lengthwise to fit the window frames.

Nabil, me cutting weatherstripping weatherstripping weatherstripping painting windowframe
Nabil on his phone, me cutting weatherstripping; weatherstripping the windows; painting a window frame while Simon is eating

The first week of April I returned to help some more. Luigi's brother and sister-in-law were visiting, and Vida's sister-in-law and two children came again.

lunch in the garden . Simon having lunch . Luigi and Simon at the barbeque . Vida's nephew rugby player
Family lunch in the garden; Simon at his own table; the barbeque; Vida's nephew plays rugby

lunch in the garden . dinner in the garden . dinner in the garden
Meals in the garden

lunch . lunch

resting in the garden . talking in the garden . talking in the garden
Relaxing on the lawn

Simon in the garden . Nabil and Simon . Simon on the swing
Simon loves being out in the garden, and swinging on the swing; Nabil and Simon

breakfast with Luigi . me and Luigi in the garden . Luigi and me
Breakfast before work; Luigi and me in the garden before my return to Switzerland

In the house, I finished weatherstripping the rest of the windows, and repaired tiles, sealed and waterproofed an upstairs terrace that was leaking into the room below. There were also some dining room chairs to glue back together.

repairing the terrace . Luigi and me on the terrace . gluing chairs
Sealing and waterproofing the terrace; gluing chairs back together

In the garden, the main project was painting a wrought-iron pergola, a swing, 20 lamp posts and a clothesline, and restringing the clothesline and laying a walkway underneath. There was also some time to plant some flower seeds and to burn accumulated branches in the outdoor pizza oven which makes an excellent incinerator since open fires are not allowed.

painting the pergola . pergola
Painting the pergola in the middle of the garden
painting the pergola . Luigi painting the pergola . painting the pergola

swing for Simon . lamp post .
Newly painted swing and lamp post, one of 20 around the garden

the house . remains of a barn . garden
The house with lamp posts in the garden; remains of an old barn; garden with fruit trees in blossom

house and cherry tree . Vida and fruit tree . burning branches in the pizza oven
There are many fruit trees, and space for another orchard; the pizza oven is also a convenient incinerator for uncompostable garden waste

view of the garden . view of the garden and pool . view of the garden
Views of the garden and trees from the house

garden by the entrance gate . view of the mountains . garden and mountains
Front garden by the gate; mountains in the distance

Vida raking . Vida at her garden workbench . Vida composting
Vida raking grass, potting flowers at her bench; adding to the compost pile, which I had to enlarge

Nabil in the garden . me planting a flower garden . house and clothesline
Nabil also helped occasionally; preparing a flower garden; the clothes line

old water tower from the back gardenold water tower . old barn from the back garden
In back of the garden is more space and an old water tank with a well and pump for irrigation

space for a new orchard . artichoke .
Many more trees can be planted here; an artichoke survivor in the old vegetable garden

swing and lamp post . pergola . watering vines for the pergola
Views of the garden

restringing the clothesline . restringing the clothesline . restringing the clothesline
I painted and completely restrung the clothes line
tiles for clothesline walkwaytiles for clothesline . finished clothesline
With some extra cement tiles, I laid a walkway under the clothesline

Clothesline with new lines and paving

Cuckoo clock bird house . cuckoo clock birdhouse . view from the house
A broken cuckoo clock became a bird house

In August, I accompanied another friend, Jean-Paul Vader, with his pickup and trailer, to drive a load of furniture down to Pontedera. We also bought some necessary items of furniture at Ikea and assembled most of them before returning to Switzerland.

arriving in the pickup . warm welcome . eating out
Arriving with a load of furniture: warm welcome; dinner out

breakfast . shopping and lunch at Ikea . dinner out
Breakfast; shopping and lunch at Ikea; dinner out

on the terrace before leaving
Relaxing before departure

In September, I spent another week in Pontadera mostly helping in the garden. The Stendardos arranged for a number of fruit trees and other plants to be delivered and planted while we were there. There were invasive weeds with deep roots to dig out. The compost pile I had built in January was overflowing with grass cuttings, so I tidied up what I could. I built a ramp for their new tractor mower. Another Baha'i friend, Gian-Franco Mazzoni, was also there that week helping in the garden. We are gradually creating a little paradise for the Stendardos.

entrance gate . garden . new bougainvillea
Entrance gate and garden
the house . living room . ruins
The house; living room; ruins of the old barn
dinner with Gian-franco, Simon and Luigi . with Vida and Gian-franco . old barn from the house
Gian-franco, me, Simon, Luigi, Vida; old barn from the house

ruins of barn . burning branches in the pizza oven . compost pile 
Garden workbench against the barn wall; burning branches in the pizza oven; overflowing compost too dry to decompose

relaxing . dinner in the garden . relaxing
Relaxing (not very often); dinner in the garden

with newly delivered trees . me with the Stendardos . old water tank
With newly-delivered trees; the old water tank

gardening . newly-planted trees . newly-planted trees
Cutting out dead branches; newly-planted trees

spoiled with watermelon . getting ready for departure . getting ready for departure
Spoiled with watermelon; getting ready to depart

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Last updated 3 November 2016

Photographs copyright © Arthur Lyon Dahl, Luigi and Vida Stendardo 2016