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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Tuscan Tales Chapter 30 – Water, part 1: The Expert from Florence …

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 …
The University of Cape Town closes taps down …
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.
… 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.
… Restaurants are open late at night …
  But for us the worry was always there … what if our limping borehole gave in altogether?  

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