Old Cosimo doesn’t sit on his plastic chair at his front door any more. Every morning I hear the latch on the wooden gate click, and there he is: coming through. In one hand he carries a plastic bucket, and under his arm he carries a plank. At the edge of our terrace he turns the bucket upside down, puts the plank across the top, and sits.
There’s important work for an old man to do on that terrace: for just below the Big Blu are putting in our swimming pool. Little Bobcat diggers totter precariously on the edge of the hillside moving earth and rocks and all the time old Cosimo sits on his bucket waving instructions. The workers smile and acknowledge him, they too have old grandfathers to care for, possibly even living at home with them, for this is Italy and the Italian extended family is still prevalent here.
Our pool is perched across the curve of a steep hillside, and it is a stunning position, chosen by Leo Agostino, our geometra (surveyor). At first we did not agree with the positioning, as we wanted it tucked under the three tall cypress trees close to the house. This is where Jurgen fancied it, and as he had to sign the ‘permesso’ for it, it was to become quite an issue.
Permission would take about three months, and although Leo Agostino did not foresee any problems, we were anxious to get the papers in before the house actually changed hands: that way the pool would be ready for our first summer. Standing watching its near completion made me think back to that very tricky day ….
We are sitting in Leo Agostino’s office. He is charming, a young, 40-ish, good looking Italian with a gorgeous smile and shy brown eyes. Jurgen is perched forward on his chair, anxious and irritable. He is adamant that his positioning of the pool is right, and Leo Agostino is adamant that his positioning is the only one.
Leo Agostino explains the beauty of his spot, and the privacy – in case of new neighbours that may be intrusive. There seems to be a proper stalemate, and to calm things down I ask about a pool fence. ‘No! No!’ says Leo Agostino, ‘That would ruin the view and be ‘brutta’. You cannot have a pool fence there.’
‘Well where I come from it is law,’ I say, ‘and if anything happened to any of the neighbours’ children I would never forgive myself.’
‘No! No! You do not understand.’ he replies, ‘In Italy the mothers look after their children.’
‘How about a ‘garden fence’ running right across the property below the pool?’ asks Liam. ‘That way no children or wild boar can get in, and if we dig it down deep it will stop the porcupine as well.’ Leo Agostino nods his head.
‘But I am worried about your lack of land down there’ he says. ‘Where I want to site the pool the one corner will be very close to your boundary with Margarethe. Can you not buy her land below you? I will come with you now and we can have a look.’ But Jurgen is still not happy, and insists that Margarethe will not sell at any price. We jump into Leo Agostino’s 4×4 and follow Jurgen down our stony track.
Once there Jurgen finally sees the merit in Leo Agostino’s positioning. I leave them discussing it and wander up towards the house. I stand looking up towards the arched windows, wondering if we can incorporate big terracotta geranium tubs into the buttressing that we are about to undertake.
Just then I hear a movement behind me and it is Margarethe. I have met her only once and already I worry about her. She seems very distrait … she’s old and plump, her breathing is awful and she is clearly uncomfortable with us. What has Jurgen told her?
Best smile from me and I say, ‘Wouldn’t you like to wander around the garden with me? As we stroll around the garden I take a flyer and say ‘Margarethe we would really like to buy your entire bottom garden.’ She flips and waves her hands in the air ‘No! No!’ she cries, ‘My daughter wanted to make a garden here!’ (Her daughter runs an expensive hotel in Italy, never appears, and has no intention of even helping Margarethe sell.)
So I say ‘OK, second best is we would really like to buy this ‘strip’ below the stone wall from you.’ More head shaking and I leave it, and talk about Liam’s keen gardening skills, his mother as a botanist etc. She beetles off back into her house and I think ‘Oh well, my Dad says, if you ask they can only say no, and so what have you lost? It was no anyway!’
Shortly after this Jurgen comes out of the house to say ‘Margarethe says you can have the strip, she has agreed to sell it to you!’ Done! Back we go to Leo Agostino’s office to draw up the agreement.
But once there, Leo Agostino is adamant that the carpark should be ours too. ‘The commune will not give permesso for half a strip of land.’ he says. ‘If you include the carpark it should not be much more money. You must speak to Margarethe. It is very important.’
I think that Margarethe will be very unhappy.
The following morning we stop by Leo Agostino’s office to pick up the written agreements. The first document is the agreed water rights to one third of the shared borehole. This is important as we do not know who the two new neighbours will be. The final two documents are the agreements to buy Margarethe’s thin strip of land below the carpark, and the carpark.
We drive down to Jurgen and walk up the steps to Margarethe. Finally we sit around her kitchen table, and she agrees to it all. She signs off the strip of land, the carpark and the agreement to shared water rights.
So at the end of the day it all seemed so easy … but little did we know that, in the not too distant future, it would all come back to bite us …
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