Tuscan Tales Chapter 21 – High Hopes

Pasquale has a problem. The simplest of souls, there are two tasks he cannot resist. Firstly he enjoys nothing better than setting himself a simply enormous project, and then starting it – the end of which in all the years we have been here, I have never seen. Then again he seems fascinated by taking things apart, but the getting it back together bit, why that seldom happens. Rusty tools, electrical wires, old beds, broken farm implements … Tracey Emin of the unmade bed fame need have looked no further. It all lies here. A photograph or two and she would have immediately shot to fame.

It all lies here
It all lies here.

Close to Pasquale and Manuela’s section of the house is a verdant piece of land, stretching from the white gravel road downhill towards his borehole. It flattens out a bit as it goes and this summer Pasquale decided to enclose this huge area for a vegetable garden – an ‘orto’. First he would fell some trees, and then sink the poles deep into the ground, possibly with cement. Then he would twine wire between the poles thus keeping the porcupines at bay. And finally he would plough and plant.

… perilously close to the road …

We arrived down our hill a quarter of the way through the pole stage. Wooden poles lay entwined with spades, rolls of wire and a pick-axe or two. The cement mixer waited expectantly in the background. As he had started at the hillside end of his project he was standing on the road to greet us. The holes he had dug for the first two poles were perilously close to the road, and the soil was already starting to shift off down the hill. ‘Buongiorno!’ he said, ‘Bienvenuto – welcome back.’

The soil was starting to shift downhill
the soil was already starting to shift off down the hill …

Buongiorno,’ said Liam, ‘I do hope these holes are not going to erode the road away?’

‘Never!’ said Pasquale. ‘I am going to make a new little muro by packing stones up to form a small wall.’ As he had hectares on his side, we could not quite see the point of all this extra woe. The poles could simply have been set two metres further down the hill. ‘Well, it is all going to be lovely.’ we said, our hearts dropping.

... the deer will stay out ...
… the deer will stay out …

‘Yes.’ he said. ‘Not only the porcupine, but the deer will stay out and I will bring you tomatoes and beans.’

We left Fontana after a fortnight, and once more drove past the poles, wire, spades and a pick-axe or two. The cement mixer remained at the ready. But by then he had tired somewhat and in the centre of the land small rows of tomato plants were springing up, surrounded by a much simpler protection of canes and wire. How far do you think he will have got in a month’s time when we are back? I asked Liam. ‘I am afraid the task is greater than the man.’ Liam answered sombrely.

And sure enough, when we returned a few weeks later there it all lay – the spades, the axe the whole lot. ‘I wonder where he can be?’ I asked. ‘Oo Oo, just look!’ said Liam as we drove past Manuela’s washing. And there on the narrow road lay heaps of scaffolding.

Old Cosimo, forever at the ready to offer news, called out from his swing seat … ‘Look at Pasquale – there he is! He’s putting up the scaffolding so that we can have a new roof. The section above their bedroom is leaky, it’s ‘rotto’. It needs to be fixed before the winter rains. ‘Which winter?’ muttered Liam under his breath.

But Pasquale stuck to his task. Day after day the searing heat shimmered down and up the scaffolding he went. He refused any help from anyone, and all day long he clambered down to mix more cement. The whirring of the little machine that pulled the bucket up for him became the noise of the summer. ‘Come down,’ we would call, ‘It is far too hot.’ ‘No, rimango qui! – I stay here!’ he would call.
‘Maybe he is in such a hurry as while they have no roof they have no bedroom of their own,’ smiled Leila, our neighbour on the other side. ‘We Italian families all live together, but sharing a room with your parents-in-law, even for Pasquale, is a bit too close for comfort …’

I stay here
No, rimango qui!

One particular day the heat seemed to go crazy. The temperature seared to forty, and all you wanted to do was stay inside the house, protected by the thick stone walls that those Tuscans of long ago so wisely built. Around about lunch time we heard a tremendous crash Then silence. We hurried outside. Pasquale had fallen off the top section of scaffolding and landed on the middle section. Up Liam shot, and, helping him up, said ‘Now you simply must come down.’ ‘Never! Not until it is finished’ said Pasquale, and with that he promptly climbed back up again.

‘What on earth can we do?’ asked Liam, turning to the small crowd of gathering neighbours. They glanced back up at Pasquale and then looked at Manuela. ‘Absolutely nothing’ said his long suffering wife. ‘I can only threaten him with hospital – he is simply terrified of that. He has only been admitted once in his life and vows never to go again.’

‘Oh, what happened? Did he have a bad experience? I asked.

‘Terrible!’ came a voice from up high. ‘You know how sometimes everyone likes a bit of a party? Well one night I had a good few glasses of red, and went to bed. In the middle of the night I woke up with the most unbelievable thirst. My head was banging and I had to have water. So I leant over, and, in the pitch dark I felt for the bottle of water on the floor. To my relief I found it, and drunk the whole lot – in one gulp.’

‘Only trouble was it was floor cleaner.’

Unfinished fencing, half-finished roof, one eye and a floor-cleaner drinker. What ever could he do possibly do next??


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