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Archive for July, 2006

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Busy season

Monday, July 24th, 2006

Sorry, but I don’t have any good pictures this week. We are coming up on our busiest time of year and between painting the building and taking care of guests I just haven’t been able to get away from work. True, I did go down at the beginning of the week to re-supply but that was pretty much all I did. I did have a few hours away on Tuesday night. I went up to Rifugio Bonatti to meet up with our friend Monika; the one I had mentioned was hiking the Tour de Mont Blanc. She was with a friend and her parents. Her parents are very funny. Her father is from Saxony, the same part of Germany my own ancestors are from. He moved to the US after the war and worked for many years with the Chrysler Co.

Since our airlift is very close to the Bonatti trailhead, they came to watch it. We hope for this to have been our last flight of the season. We had such a big one at opening that this one wasn’t even that big. I was able to transport everything in our van. The logistics were kind of annoying though. Usually we do our flights from a parking lot just below our hut but the guy from the Hutkeepers Association who is organizing the flights said that the new helicopter company didn’t want to land there. This makes our rotation almost twice as long and, at $25 a minute, the cost adds up. The reason, he said, is because they don’t transfer from one hut to the other with the hook and line attached. This would mean they would have to land, take the hook out of the basket and attach it before they could begin our rotation which adds time to the shared transfer costs. He also said that the company told him to tell us not to be late because if we weren’t around the pilot would just leave without doing our flight. The nerve! I have never known ANY helicopter company to be on time and this is our third company in three years. Not only did the helicopter arrive an hour and a half late but it arrived with the hook and line attached and immediately did our rotation after letting out the helo-techs. Ce’ qualcosa che non va, mi sa.

The flight itself went smoothly in the end, even though I had to transport the goods to the helo-pad myself and had to pay twice as much for the flight. Monika’s father got some good pictures, too. I think I found the right caulking for the cracks in the façade but I still haven’t tried it yet. The stuff is called AcrilOne. Acrylic instead of silicone. I also got a palm sander to sand the rusty spots off the roof. The sander is great but the sandpaper I got to go with it is total crap. The moment you put the paper to the metal you could see all the sand come off it. I used the last of my good stuff on the rustiest spots and for the rest I had to improvise. Extension cords cost a fortune so I decided just to buy some heavy duty wire and build my own for a fraction of the cost. No problem. I also bought some wire-brush tips for my cordless drill which ultimately took the place of the crap sandpaper. The problem was that a battery only last so-long. The good thing is I always buy 12v drills for this very purpose. I first took the outlet part of some extension cord tips I had laying around and wired a socket onto my 24V > 12V converter. The hut has a 24v PV system and I convert it to 12v for various appliances that use a cigarette lighter outlet. Then I built wiring harness for the drill with a plug tip. Now I can plug the cordless and extension directly into the 12v power supply to make an improvised angle grinder which I used to finish prepping the roof for painting. To be able to improvise in this way comes in very handy up here.

It can also be handy in Antarctica but, surprisingly, the Company highly discourages it. I looked into getting a job back in maintenance when it looked like our field positions might not materialize. They got back to me saying that this year they are being “sticklers” and to get a promotion I would need five years of experience in the “Utilities Technician” field. Since we only do four month seasons, to get five years of experience at McMurdo it would take 15 years of service to get a promotion. To get the same position I was in two years ago, they told me I would have to reapply using their on-line application. I could have argued about current level of experience but what’s the point? I am beginning to think by “sticklers” they mean they are on a campaign against improvisers. Now we have contracts with a department that works FOR us rather then AGAINST us. My boss actually made an appeal straight to the appropriate government agency proposing a new position for me. And, best of all, they respect the ability to improvise.

It took me 20 hours but now the roof is clean and ready to paint. All I can hope is that the weather cooperates. Today I couldn’t start because it has been pretty much steady with people. Last night there was a constant trickle of people all night which is typical of this time of year. During the day, we had a few teams from various routes on the north face and reservations for 14. In addition to the 14 people we had reserved (all Italians with two Germans), two Spanish arrived right before dinner, and two Germans from the night before arrived down from the climb just after dinner and wanted to eat. Then, about 11:30pm two Americans arrived from the Tronchey Ridge and woke us up for coke and chocolate. At 1:30am we did breakfast for the 14 (actually, Luci does the early breakfast; I’m useless that early in the morning) and, at 2:00am, two English arrived from Walker Spur wanting cake and hot chocolate. At 8 am we cleaned up from the evening breakfast and began the morning one. It stretched on until 11:00am with the English finishing breakfast as the first of a group of about 20 began to order lunches. Not much time for painting. This does typify this time of year and it is when we do most of our business. I am glad I got the façade done when it was still relatively tranquil.

Ideally, something of the sort will keep up for the next couple of weeks before he numbers begin to drop again. We just got news from Vasco and Co. this week that they are not coming up until the end of August or beginning of September because their mountain guide, who is doing their security, is on vacation in the US. This means that they will be cutting into OUR US vacation time at one end while the Company cuts into it at another. We just found out this week that they are doing three days of orientation and training in Denver instead of the normal one day in Christchurch. Che palle.

I want to finish by talking about living in Italy as usual. Looking back over my entries I began to think about the sensitive topics that I have been covering. Luci often gets upset with me but then turns around and makes the same kind of observations. She says she is justified because she IS Italian but I shouldn’t because I am a foreigner. I, by no means, intend to offend Italians. As an Italian friend of mine who spent many years in the States remarked, “[You make] a perfect portrait of Italy that Italians will never admit [to]”. All I want to do is point out these peculiarities that Italians find normal (even though they are often common inconviencies) but Unitedstatesians might find odd. For example…

In the States if you want to deduct a tax-deductible purchase from your taxes you need to keep the receipt. Well, in Italy, they take it a step further. In Italy you need to get a fatura which I think translates as “invoice”. It has to include your own fiscal information including your personal sale tax number (partita IVA) and fiscal residence. Often times you have to pay an extra fee to get one and other time you get a discount on the goods if you get one. I haven’t figured out what the difference is and Luci doesn’t know either. If having to request a special receipt for tax purposes isn’t enough of an inconvenience, if you need to get reimbursed by a different company than your own, than the fatura has to made out in THEIR name. The real clincher is that Italians don’t ever get a tax refund they just get a tax credit in case they ever have a tax liability in the future.

But this is just background to explain what happened to me the other day when I tried to exchange a light bulb. As I mentioned before we have a photovoltaic system for power up here at Boccalatte. Because of our non-standard power supply we have non-standard lighting which requires non-standard light bulbs. When I came up to open the hut this year, I wrote down the model numbers of the bulbs so I could go on a hunt for spares. Before our opening flight I went to an electrical warehouse where they have all kind of different bulbs. They had the two types I was looking for so I bought them and had them make out a fattura to the Italian Alpine Club who was going to reimburse me for their cost (which was a total cost of not more than 5€). When I got them up to the hut I realized that one of the bulbs had a different type attachment than the existing ones. Upon closer inspection I realized that I was lacking one letter in my model number. No problem; I still had the fatura.

When I went down to do the shopping for the airlift this time I went to the warehouse to exchange the bulb. I went to the counter with bulb and fatura in hand and was ignored twice. No problem, this is common; I’m not in a hurry. When I finally present my case the kid at the counter said he would have to talk to his boss. After a brief interlude, where I entertained myself looking at a chart of different intercom configurations on the countertop, the kid returns with the supervisor who was visibly worked up. He commenced, what I have to say, was a very unexpected tirade about how it was impossible to exchange merchandise if I had requested a fatura for it. I could only return it if I had a recivuta fiscale (your run-of-the-mill receipt). He caught me off guard on two fronts: first that he would be so visibly angered over such a simple request and, having just a common receipt was BETTER that having a fatura. So, I told him that I still needed the correct bulb and this one doesn’t do me any good because, very simply, it is the WRONG one. I also explained my predicament (being up at the hut and all) and that I would have brought it back earlier but…for whatever reason this just made him angrier and he walked off grumbling something about bringing an example next time. This is all over a bulb that cost less than three bucks. In the meantime, the kid was looking up the bulb that I need on the computer and says that it would have to be ordered.

At this moment I realized that this whole scene was not worth my time. I told him not to worry about it, I threw the bulb in the trash and left. I still had a half hour before the next store I had to go to opened so I just sat in the car waiting and thinking about what just happened. I just couldn’t get over how farcical the whole thing was. It took such a bizarre incident to make me truly appreciate our system of taxation and the annoying guy in the hardware store that is always asking you “are you finding everything you need?” This is what I love about living abroad.


Monday, July 17th, 2006


I don’t have too much to write this week. I have spent the whole week painting the façade and metal storm doors. The façade went pretty quickly but the storm doors dragged out until yesterday. There was a lot of cutting in to do which made it take much more time than I thought it would. But now it is all done. It got kind of tricky at times having wet paint on our tiny porch with guests coming and going all day. I still need to caulk the cracks and paint them. I have asked a couple of people how to say caulking in Italian but I get blank stares. It is not looking good. I won’t be happy if I can only find silicone.

I’ll find out soon enough. Tomorrow I go down to do our second re-supply. We are hoping to only have to do this flight to last us the rest of the season. As soon as I get the rest of the materials (including a sander) I get to move on to the roof. This place is going to look brand new by the end of the season. At some point in the next couple of weeks we an look forward to visit from Vasco and Co who usually leave the place looking worse than before they arrived. I am waiting to paint the area where they will be working in anticipation of destruction.

I may be meeting another friend from Antarctica tomorrow. She is hiking the Tour de Mont Blanc with some friends and is going to be in Val Veny tomorrow. This has been the summer for friendly visitations. We recently discovered that a friend we worked with at the AMC in NH is now living and working very close in Switzerland. She is planning a trip up sometime in August.

Still nothing from our Antarctic employer about our medical clearance. We asked our dentist to FAX a signed statement declaring that the requested work had been done but have heard nothing from either him or the medical department.

In closing, I want to lie to rest my World Cup coverage. Italy won the if you hadn’t figured that out by now. People are still talking about the now-infamous head-butt given Materazzi by Zidane. In Italian you could say he made a brutta figura. This literally means he “made an ugly face” but its meaning goes deeper. Its true meaning is more akin to making a fool out of oneself. The score was tied, France was playing very well, and this was to be Zidane’s last game before retiring from soccer. When, in front of the world, in the finale of one of the most followed sporting events in existence, he decides to make a blatant statement which results in his expulsion from his last game, that is a brutta figura. I believe that Italians’ sense of self-control is rooted in the concept of the brutta figura. I think this is how Italians can get away with not having a drinking age (I think they have one but no one can tell me what it is). Americans love to make brutte figure when they drink. It is pretty much part and parcel of the experience. Image is everything to Italians. It is very important to remain composed in social situations because making a fool out of yourself in public risks irreparably damaging your reputation. When Italians drink they tend not to exaggerate for fear of making a brutta figura. So you can imagine: a blatant brutta figura during the world cup final = media coverage for weeks.

4th of July

Monday, July 10th, 2006
IMG_4243.JPG Happy 4th of July. This week has been considerably slower than last. We had only one zero count night though. Compared to last year when we had 11 zero counts up to this ... [Continue reading this entry]

Alpine Circus Club

Sunday, July 2nd, 2006
IMG_4215.JPG Happy birthday Mom! Despite a string of intense thunderstorms, we have had a steady flow of guests here at Boccalatte. Last night we had our busiest night of the season so far: 16 ... [Continue reading this entry]