Some years ago, when my three sons gave me my website for my birthday, they also gave me the name. ‘You must call it ‘Hemispheres Apart’ mum’ they said ‘for that is how you live … trying to pull the two together.’ I think about this often. How similar the worlds of Tuscany and the Cape are … the Mediterranean climate, the olives, the vineyards, the blue skies and the friendly people. But the most topical of all may well be water. For as Cape Town experiences one of the worst droughts ever, where gardens die, baths are a memory, taps are sealed off and the lucky few drill desperately for borehole water, why, we have had the same nightmares right here …
They could have filmed Manon des Sources down our valley – and for that matter, several of the sequences yet to be filmed. No municipal water flows in nice round pipes down our road and into our gardens and house. Yet the vineyards and olives surrounding us look green enough, and so, when we finally signed the contract for the cattle wing of the big stone house of Fontana, we didn’t really bother much about the small detail of water. Sure the previous owner advised us to do two things … learn Italian and dig our own borehole, but he glossed over those pretty quickly, and so did we.
The borehole we inherited is shared among three of us, and all three of us bought into this valley at the same time. Sebastiano owns the little stone cottage perched high above our very large house, and he is first in the water line. Then come our direct neighbours, with whom we share a party wall … old Enzio and his large extended family. That makes us the last in the water line, or bottom of the heap so to speak.
Our first summer at Fontana was absolutely sweltering. The heat shimmered off the land, only rising to do battle with the sun, which in turn simply beat our plants into submission and finally death. And sure enough, one dismal morning I turned the tap on to fill the kettle and nope, nothing came out. Not a drop. It is the most depressing sight. Up the hill we trudged, for the shared borehole is situated next to Sebastiano’s house. ‘Terrible’ he and old Enzio said, ‘Niente aqua … no water.’
Near the top of our dirt track lives an old man, Senor Bardo. Next to his house he has a large plot of land, and right in the middle he has a concrete cover. Under this must lie an immense amount of water, for he never seems to run out. On the day that our pool was filled he and his water lorry had made countless trips to and fro while we stood by slowly watching the level in the pool rise. His charge then was huge, and we had hoped never to see him again. Now sadly we had to phone him and arrange for him and his water lorry to deliver water once again. Our holding tank is small, and so the last bit of water remaining in his lorry we tipped into the pool.
Then we had a meeting. Sebastiano and Old Enzio came and sat around our yellow wood table, and I served coffee. ‘The only thing to do’ they said ‘is for us each to get our own borehole. We know all the locals and we will get the geologists, the diggers and the drillers. That way, as there are three boreholes to be dug, they will give us a special price.’ ‘Excellent idea’ said Liam, whose pockets were still smarting from the, round about double for everything, price that we have to pay as foreigners.
It was not long before an extremely smart young man arrived from Florence, in a suit. He came bearing copious amounts of paper and explained in very technical terms the fault lines below our hills. ‘Here’ he said ‘in your car park is the place to drill, and water should not be too far down.’ The depth of our shared borehole is about 30 metres, and as he was to charge by the metre dug we felt comfortable with that.
Still, I was a little uneasy. How do you know there is water down there?’ I asked. ‘In Cape Town, my uncle was a water diviner and he found good water for me. I have heard that there is an old man over at Lamole who divines – shouldn’t we get him?’ ‘No, no, this is a highly technical business,’ the expert from Florence assured me, ‘the water will be running between the fissures of the rock seams on the chart.’
Back we went to London, and when the day came for the actual drilling, sadly we could not be at Fontana. Liam fielded the calls from his London office, backwards and forwards to our Tuscan car park. Thirty metres. Nothing, Forty metres. Nothing … 50, 60 70 metres, when would they ever stop? Finally at 140 metres came the cry ‘We’ve got it! Lots and lots of water, plenty enough for the house, the newly dug pool and even your garden!’
Expensive, but worth it, we rationalised.
That first summer of the borehole we were surprised to see no new boreholes for our neighbours, but, we thought, as long as we don’t have the hassle of sharing, that’s OK too. We even ignored the fact that no water lorries came down to fill the old shared holding tank – or had ever for that matter.
The second summer of the new borehole was another blighter. Once more the heat beat down and the house fell silent as those who could took shelter inside – the thick stone walls and small windows mercifully kept the cool in. One morning Liam came in from the car park. ‘The red light is on and off intermittently and I think our borehole is only giving a trickle now and then.’ ‘Can’t be,’ I said, ‘it just cannot be … all those experts from Florence and 140 metres down? Impossible.’ ‘Well that’s the story,’ said Liam, ‘and what is more I have tried to turn on the tap that gives us water from the shared borehole and nothing comes out from there either.
Once more our neighbours assured us they had no water either. ‘I shower at work,’ said Marciano, ‘and old Enzio is illegally pumping water from the stream below the house.’ We didn’t chat to Sebastiano – we just presumed he was the same. So once more we hired the services of Senor Bardo to bring us water in his water lorry, and once more I watched as my plants died around me.
And once more our neighbours did not buy in any water at all.
And that is how we limped through several summers. The worst month was always August, as that is the month most of our visitors arrive. It is the time of lazing around the pool, truly under the Tuscan sun. Restaurants are open late at night and in the cool of the evening there is nothing better than to stroll around one of the hilltop Chianti villages enjoying the nightly passeggiata.
But for us the worry was always there … what if our limping borehole gave in altogether?