Thursday, 9 July 2015

Usta Wars

If you do any building renovation or repair work in Turkey you need an Usta. The word means "craftsman" or "master tradesman" and it is worn as a badge of honour. If I was such an individual I would be George Usta. 

We needed a stonemason and there were two obvious contenders in the area. Their talents seemed  to divide the community, with supporters equally passionate over who was the better.

One was recommended by a close friend (we will call him Usta A) and we invited him to look at the project to rebuild the old stone animal shelter (ahır). But he was unable to start until August. 

So when in July we began work on what we call "number two", the second of two old stone and brick houses on the plot, we needed a second Usta to build up the stone walls into the roof space. We found Usta B up a ladder in Tire working on a centuries old covered bazaar (bedesten), prestige work commissioned by the local council.

He said he would come and do two hours of an evening after work until the walls were completed. But within a few days, before he had started, he had some kind of falling out with his project manager and said he was available full time.

By now another crew (working in temperatures that topped 100 degrees F) had removed all the roof tiles from "number two" and much of the wooden supports, except for the mish mash of old tree trunks and branches that the original builder had used as joists and purlins. These we were determined to keep and Usta B's skills would be stretched to the limit to build up the walls around the crazy wooden skeleton. 

We had chipped all the plaster off the walls in one room, exposing some lovely stone work including an inset and also an old shower area. They would have to be carefully and lovingly pointed. Some websites recommend using a lime mix, which apparently gives more flexibility than cement and allows walls to "breathe". But Usta A pointed out that lime was eight times more expensive than cement (which is around £3 a bag) and not necessary in the circumstances.

The walls in the adjacent room had to be left until a nest full of baby starlings had learned to fly. We decided we would add a coat of "swirled" plaster to these walls and decorate with a few randomly positioned stones.

 Usta B soon proved his worth, creating a lintel out of steel bars and carefully weaving stone around both the lintel and the random pieces of tree.

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