Tuscan Tales Chapter 12 – Stone Cold Swimming

"the poppies ... are just showing off"
“the poppies … are just showing off”

We’ve arrived early – 10.45 Pisa- and we decide to take a shortcut through Mercatale … see if it’s quicker. The rain pelts down all the way – too much for the windscreen, but still, in the short time we have been away, Spring has really arrived. The trees are losing their lattice effect; the leaves have popped out in the vineyards, and the poppies? Well they are just showing off.

Past the little wayside shrine of the Madonnina we turn left into our white chalk road. Below the newly pruned olives is a riot of delicate white flowers, something like parsley. The old English couple’s house on the hill still needs the stone wall repaired. Long, bare roots of an olive tree trail down through the sand and fallen rocks.

We drive over the rough bridge under which our stream tumbles, and squeeze down past old Cosimo’s front door. Manuela’s washing lies limp in the damp air. We’re home!

Not bothering to offload, we walk through the gates and into the garden, dying to see if there is any improvement on the desert waste of terrain that we left behind. The huge chestnut tree is simply ablaze with pink and white flowers and every bee in Tuscany must be here. There’s a steady hum like the sound of an inboard motor of a well-kept boat. On the west terrace the roses are starting, the tiny ceanothus is a riot of blue, and Reiner has finished the fence.

"there's a steady hum ..."
“there’s a steady hum …”

We stand on the terrace, looking down towards the pool and the lower olives. Great tracks of stony brown earth have been moved to begin levelling for a lawn. Huge coils of red piping stand nearby, ready to be laid as conduits for water, electricity and gas. After the last near-confrontation with our neighbour Marciano, we’ve decided to direct the rain water from our roof through our land, over our road and into our fledgling olive grove. Although everything is a mess Liam and I feel as if things are moving forward, and we walk down off the terrace to have a look at the new boundary fencing.

The main thing is that it is up! It’s a neat fence, running from the wrought iron railings of the car park, right along our southern boundary, turning a corner at the road and running back up north to meet the huge boulders just below the pool.

So Marciano has kept to his word and allowed the fence to proceed. The fence is built on land that we have paid for, and which we think we own … and land in fact that Marciano also thought was ours, but now disputes. We both know that some day we will have to sort out this surveyor’s nightmare, but not now … we’ll let the dust settle and build up good neighbourliness with Marciano and co.

We move across to the edge of the pool. The water is a light turquoise and exactly as we had planned, the grey mosaic giving it a silvery shimmer. I love this pool, perched high on the curve of the hill, with the land falling away below it, and the vineyards rising up on the hill beyond. ‘I’ll swim a lot this time,’ I think as I gaze down into the deep end.

"I love this pool ..."
“I love this pool …”

Right then I can hardly believe my eyes, for deep below through the clear water are two huge ugly rocks, sitting on the floor. Next to them lies something that looks rather like an old dishcloth. My heart sinks. Who has been rolling rocks into our beautiful pool? Vandals? There are no vandals here. There’s nobody down this quiet cul-de-sac into our valley. Old Cosimo’s grandchildren? No – wild young things that they are they would never do this. And those two rocks are too big for them to lift.

That leaves our new neighbours, Marciano’s family. Is this part of an Italian culture that we do not understand? Having chatted long and earnestly over espressos in the kitchen – about the positioning of the fence – they seemed happy for us to go ahead. Was that mere surface politeness? Are these two great rocks at the bottom of our pool a stalemate … well you go ahead, put the fence up, and we’ll make life difficult for you?

My heart sinks, for we have bought into this tight community knowing that the four families that live under one large Tuscan roof must get on. Dejectedly we turn away and trudge back to the car to unpack.

Lunch is fresh asparagus bought at the market as we passed through Greve. There’s a knock at the door and it is Reiner. He’s come down on his scooter to show us the progress he has made in the garden while we were away. ‘I have a little problem’ he says, ‘and it’s all because of the Kosovan.

Our local Italians are wary of foreign labour. Mostly it’s the Albanians … they’re bottom of the list and are happily and conveniently blamed for anything that goes amiss in the village. ‘Lock your doors at night,’ I was told, ‘For although you live down an isolated valley the “Albani” could come through the woods while you are asleep.’

Kosovans are next on the list. In the little piazza in our nearby village these poor chaps hang around hoping for a day’s casual work. Mostly they don’t seem to get it, but Reiner had found one, a tall strong young man, willing to dig all day. His name was Agron, and he was here the day we left. Silent, watching us while he worked.

‘Well,’ Reiner said, ‘Agron was digging below the pool and he chopped right through the outlet pipe. Water simply cascaded out and rushed down the road into old Enzio’s olives. Agron went on digging. Eventually I heard a terrific noise … old Enzio was singing a cantata. I was on the west terrace, and by the time I got there it looked to me as if half your pool was about to disappear into Enzio’s orto –vegetable patch. And that bloody Kosovan just carried on digging. I didn’t know what to do, so I stripped off my clothes, just to my underpants. This, in front of old Enzio’s horrified eyes … he even stopped his cantata for a minute.

Then, taking a big rock with me I dived into the pool and tried to block the outlet. Then another rock came in with me and I tried to push my vest between them. Now I have fixed the pipe. How can that Kosovan stand there and watch your pool disappear down the valley? Maybe next time I’ll find an “Albani”. I am very sorry.’

Imagine Reiner’s surprise when we both started laughing. ‘We’re so glad you’ve put the rocks in our pool.’ we say. Reiner’s face says it all … now these foreigners really are strange.

Later Elena drives past on her way back from her florist in Mercatale. She and Marciano stop to say hello and ‘benvenuto’ – welcome back. We chat about the unseasonable rain, and they tell us how old Enzio has come and painted the trunk of our tree on the terrace blue. He is trying to stop the centre rot and the ants crawling up. ‘That is so kind of him,’ we say, ‘thank you.’

"Old Enzio has ... painted the trunk blue ..."
“Old Enzio has … painted the trunk blue …”

‘It’s a pleasure,’ Marciano replies ‘my father-in-law cannot see a plant die. He will get yours to live.’

All is right again at our beloved Fontana … for after all, we are living “in commune.”


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