During the 1970s on a hitch hiking trip through Italy I got tired of the road and fetched up for a while in Assisi. I stayed for a month in a little monastic room just off the main square with a view looking out over a cluster of renaissance rooftops. A bed, a table where I could set out my notebook, a chair. It was almost perfect. There was just the problem of the window. Something had punched a hole in the glass about the size of a small espresso cup in one corner. It was spring and at night the wind whistled through the gap and left me shivering on my iron cot.
I spoke no Italian and Sandro – who owned the pension – spoke no English. After one particularly cold night I pointed the hole out to Sandro and begged for another blanket. But this wasn’t good enough for Sandro. He looked as shocked as a man could be who has discovered a hole in the window of the room occupied by his esteemed guest. I was given to understand that things would be taken in hand, the window would be fixed before the day was out. That night I was invited downstairs to meet the family. We had a fine time chatting away in mutual incomprehension drinking red wine from chunky glasses on Sandro’s patio. Eventually we said our goodnights and I returned upstairs to shiver through another night in the garret.
For a week nothing happened. I met Sandro on the stairs. Evidently he was having trouble sourcing a piece of glass the right size. But I wasn’t to worry. Everything was under control.
There were more evenings on Sandro’s patio. The swifts arrived and now as I sat at my makeshift desk I could watch them screeching across the jumbled rooftops. I got to know the Giottos well in the Chiesa Superiore. The nights were losing their chill.
And then one morning when my stay was almost over Sandro met me in the hall and announced that everything was ready. Tomorrow was going to be the big day. He’d located the necessary glass. I needn’t worry any more. The window was about to be mended.
Nothing happened the next day either. But just as I was going to bed there was a tap on the door and in waltzed Sandro ready for work. A little bemused at the timing I asked if I should leave while the job was done. Sandro waved my suggestion aside. Beaming, he held up the elusive piece of glass. It was about the size of a large espresso cup. He squeezed a bead of glue around the hole in the window, pressed the shard of glass over the top and stepped back to admire his handiwork. The entire operation had taken less than a minute.
I’ve always felt that when faced with a job Sandro’s ratio of time spent sitting on the patio to time spent working was a useful practical guide. He was at my shoulder this morning when after days of planning I managed to sink several quarry tiles into the lawn to take one of the repositioned bee hives.Now I need a lie down.