Thursday, 13 December 2012

Finding the Garden 10

From In A Tuscan Garden, published anonymously 1902
The bedrock of the Tuscan character is suspicion; and, while the doors stood open, a piece of old torn wire-netting was placed across the opening, for fear we should presume to enter  and pick their lemons.  Nor was this all; they had always kept their own stock of wine in the cellars beneath the stanzone, and they, their wives, and their children, had  the right to come and pester us at all hours, under pretext of getting out a flask of wine, but in reality to pry about and see what we outside barbarians were up to!  Partly on this account, and also because the avenue gates stood open, there being at that time no porter’s lodge, I put up a wooden gate inside the stone arch.  It was brought home and placed there late one evening, and next morning when the head-gardener presented himself, a barrel of wine on his back, and found this out-work, he dropped the barrel on the ground and – used language.
Later in the day I had a polite note from the secretary, begging me to give this man a key of the gate!  I had foreseen the probability of this request, and had had the gate made keyless, opening by a spring from the inside, so I could truthfully reply that we had not ourselves a key, but if the gardeners would ring the bell, they would at all times be admitted.  This of course they never did, but made tracks through the shrubbery and gave us as much annoyance as possible.
Quite apart from their visitations, the gate was, at that time, an absolute necessity, for we lived mostly with the hall-door standing wide open, and beggars used to walk up the avenue and would not have scrupled to walk into our rooms.
I had several pieces of old English silver standing on shelves in the dining-room, and when we met any friends, it became a regular joke to enquire if the silver had yet been stolen.  In later years a porter’s lodge was built, and the gates kept closed, an immense improvement.  And when out first term of two years had expired, I made it a sine qua non that I should have possession of the stanzone.
A day or two before it was due to pass into our hands I found the two gardeners carefully laying in a supply of wine, and pointed out to them what a foolish proceeding this was, as the wine would spoil by removal; sure enough, when the day came that delivered us from their rule, they represented that this would be the case, and implored me to allow it to remain.  I stood firm, and pointed out that as I was then paying for the use of the stanzone, it was not likely that I should keep it for their use and advantage.
From that time we had peace, to a certain extent, but they have never forgiven us, and they were both men of the worst Italian type, absolutely false, sly and dishonest, and sticking at nothing to serve their own purposes.

There was yet another very unfortunate discovery to be made, and a much more serious one, because practically irremediable: the water supply was very deficient.  I can blame no one, not even myself, for not having seen better after this all-important matter, because when you are shown a large house cistern  and two garden cisterns, it is difficult to realize, if you have never been dependent on rain water only, how extremely uncertain a thing it is in a climate like that of Tuscany.  There was no well or spring on the whole property; the former English owners had made what were practically inexhaustible cisterns at the big villa.  These Italian cisterns are underground brick chambers, and are most costly things to make.  No doubt an Italian family living in our house would have found the water supply sufficient, but for English people requiring daily baths, and with friends frequently visiting them, it was another matter.  With regard to the garden, of course, it was my own affair if I planted it so extensively as to require a larger supply than existed.
Our contract gave us the right of fetching water for the use of the house at all times from the big villa, but not for garden purposes, and we have frequently been obliged to have it brought in barrels from a considerable distance.
It is only experience that  can teach one such things as these. If I were again taking a place in Tuscany, I should now be able to judge if the square m├ętrage of cisterns would suffice for our consumption.
But I think these were the only two blunders we made as regards our contract, and in the work done indoors everything was satisfactory, with the exception that in two of the rooms the stove-pipes were somewhat smaller than was desirable.
There is certainly a Providence watching over stray and forlorn people!

1 comment:

  1. Might have been our old Castagneto neighbour Pisaneschi in person - I guess it's the definition of a peasant, paranoid about giving up any of their accumulated hoard of small advantages - which of course added together can amount to something quite large, but the conception was never large.