Tuscan Tales Chapter 31 – Water, part 2: Thy shalt not covet thy neighbour’s goods …

‘I’ve been thinking,’ I said to Liam one day. ‘I know that our borehole is the problem, but it does pump intermittently and in winter there is so much rain around it is unbelievable. I think that what we’ve got is a storage problem. If we had, say, five tanks storing 10 thousand litres per tank, we would not have a water problem at all.’

Nearby there are a team of brothers who have done excellent work for us. Damiano arrived to have a look. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘The tanks are huge but we can do it. We can level the area just below your car park, where the land drops steeply into your overgrown olive grove. It is such a drop that no-one would even see it. I’ll come and level it with my digger, and meanwhile I will put in for permesso from the commune … you will need permission.’

… there are a team of brothers, Fratelli Lepre … Brothers Hare …

And this is where foreigners fall foul of the book. First missile back: ‘No permission to site the tanks there. Although it is your land, your olive grove has been neglected for so long we have decided to declare it ‘abbandonato’ – natural forest land –  and you may not touch it. You may not even dig down and put tanks underground.’ Our land?? Our olives, apple and pear trees?? Not to touch it? Nonsense!

But Damiano absolutely refused to put the tanks there – even though he had already levelled the ground. ‘I will get into too much trouble,’ he said, ‘and I will lose business. I’ll ask the commune where else we can put them.’ The commune gave us no choice … two 13 thousand litre tanks under the car park. Plus we were to remove the soil by lorries to a dump somewhere near Siena. ‘Absolutely not!’ said Liam, ‘I’m not carting the soil halfway across Tuscany. That is where I put my foot down.’

So at great extra expense two tanks, exactly half the amount of water I had estimated would get us through a hot summer, were put under the car park. Plus a 5 thousand litre holding tank in the bee garden.

Damiano did a good job and once finished, it was as if nothing had occurred. As it was by now the beginning of summer Senor Bardo arrived and filled the new tanks with water. We were taking no chances of the intermittent borehole trying its best to fill them. ‘Well that’s that, we are all set for the summer …’ said Liam. The two of us sat back and raised a nice glass of Chianti red on the terrace. ‘Perhaps we can now sit back and relax, as our visitors do.’ I said.

The following week we had to go back to London. It was the beginning of summer and we were to be gone about ten days. After that we were looking forward to a lovely long summer filled with close friends and family. We left with happy hearts – for as we drove out of the car park we knew that underneath the two cover lids lay 26 thousand litres of lovely stored water.

… underneath the two covers lay 26,000 litres of water …

A few days later, the line between Chianti and Liam’s London office practically crackled. It was Damiano, and he sounded as if he was about to have a heart attack. He had been down to our house just to check that all was in order, and he had lifted the covers to the tanks. Not one drop of water remained in either tank. ‘There must be a leak,’ said Liam, ‘Check all around the area and see if there is any moist soil or green patches.’ But there was no moist soil and there were no green patches. Our water had gone.

Now down our valley there is plenty of talk of bandito in the woods. And for some reason our neighbours seem to have it in for the Albanians. Although I have never seen one anywhere near our area, most things are blamed on them. For instance we tend to leave our keys on the outside of the doors when we go out. We are after all at the end of a valley, with a pretty impassable road to negotiate, and if that isn’t enough, in order to get to our front door you practically have to drive over Pasquale’s feet. He seems to have inherited the white plastic chair from old Cosimo and there he sits, just waiting for something to exciting to happen. Even so his wife Manuela will say ‘Take the keys out of your door. Per favore!  One day the Albani will come up through the woods and take everything you have.’

… one day they will come up through the woods …

But despite Manuela’s knowing nods, even a very thirsty Albani is not capable of drinking 26 thousand litres of water. Advice flowed in from all our friends. It ranged from installing CCTV to isolating one tank, dropping a fair bit of arsenic in it and waiting to see which of our neighbours fell off his perch.

However none of this seemed sensible. What would we do with the ‘evidence’ once we had it? What if it was, say, old Enzio and we saw a hose pipe connected to the garden tap at our front door and leading through his house and into his tank? What on earth would we do? After all we do live ‘in commune’ and he does give Liam three kisses, a hug and some eggs when we arrive. No, we decided, if there was even the possibility that it was a neighbour, we would rather not know.

Not long before the loss of our water we had been to lunch with some mutual friends. They have a beautiful property near Castellina and after lunch my hostess and I wandered around her garden. It was there that I had noticed the cover to a well, firmly bolted down and locked. When I asked her about it she said ‘Oh yes, it is quite common to lock your water in Tuscany. It is such a valuable commodity.’ Now Liam and I discussed it. ‘Makes sense to me’ I said, and although Liam was worried about our neighbour’s feelings, our own needs won the day.

The next week Marteo the plumber arrived with eight new tap heads and unfortunately a different key for each tap. Then Rafaello, the wrought iron man arrived and welded hasps at each end of the iron borehole covers through which an enormously strong bolt slid and was then firmly locked.

And once more Senor Bardo arrived to fill the empty tanks, and once more Liam and I finally sat back on our terrace, poured a good glass of Chianti red and said ‘Well now we shall live life under the Tuscan sun, just as our guests do, and we shall worry about water no more.’

We poured a good glass of Chianti red …



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