Here is an all-too-real Italian story that may amuse you.
In 1999, we bought this old farmhouse in Italy along with 3 Italian families—one married couple with two young girls, and two other young-ish bachelors. They are all very nice people and we get along great together.
Everyone was excited about building a swimming pool to complete the landscaping around the house. We didn’t really care one way or another, because we rarely use a pool, but we agreed with the others to support their vision of Tuscan perfection. We all worked hard together to get through the local planning approval process so we could begin the project. Finally after much negotiation, the plan was approved.
It took 4 years to finish the house—a little longer than we expected. The pool took a lower priority during that time, though enthusiasm remained high. The neighbor on the end of the house imagined himself swimming laps. The neighbors with the daughters were sure that the pool would be a big selling point to encourage the girls to want to leave the city for “country” life. The third neighbor thought it was a good investment.
We had several meetings with the architect over the years to make sure our plans were complete and ready to go when the day came to actually begin construction of the pool. We decided on the design and materials and really felt that we had all our ducks in a row. We were very excited.
After about 5 years into the project, we were surprised to find that it was necessary to get an additional “official” approval. So we had to file more documents of our intentions legally with a Notaio, the person who hovers between judge-dom and lawyer-ness and whose sole task it is to make everything legal in Italy.
One bachelor was a stickler for details so we went around in circles trying to decide how much each of us had to pay. The “normal” payment for commonly held improvements is usually based on square footage of the individual’s house. But for a pool?? We actually had the conversation about his part of the pool and the humorous idea that he would not be able to swim in the whole pool. The neighbor who pictured himself swimming laps wanted to be sure that the pool would be large enough so that he could comfortably get his daily exercise. OK. Didn’t matter to us. If that’s what it takes, then all right. We can agree to that. All the conversations took extra time, but it was worth it to make sure that everyone was happy and comfortable with the process.
Finally, we had the “preliminary” approval, but of course that really meant there was a built-in wait time for the “final-official” approval to be granted, so we could actually begin construction. Doing the project right was our objective and we were all persistent.
In year 6, we went to finalize the plans—for real this time. But to our surprise, all the other neighbors unanimously voted “ni” when asked if they wanted a pool. In Italy ni is a combination of no and si, and means basically not sure anymore—not really no, not really yes. It’s more of a very firm, middle-of-the-road maybe. It had been so many years since we started the process that everyone’s life and needs had changed.
Majority rules, so we decided there would be no pool. We then went through the process of undoing all of the approvals, which was about as difficult as getting them in the first place.
By then, it was year 7 and the neighbors’ kids had grown up, the stickler bachelor sold his place to the family of 4 because he married and the apartment was too small, especially with his little one on the way. Other important remodeling projects took priority. But then the question of what to do with the designated pool area remained unanswered.
After 8 years we decided to simply landscape the common ground with modest, low-maintenance plants. Relatively simple, right? We thought so.
Tuscany sometimes experiences a shortage of water, so to proceed with the landscaping, we really needed to have our own pozzo, which is a well, to make sure we could irrigate properly. It made sense. We certainly didn’t want any new plants to die.
Approval for the well actually included a negotiation with the “water police.” Finally in year 9 we got permission for the well, but then we had to wait for better weather because the ground was too soft for heavy equipment. No big deal. Another year wouldn’t really make that much difference after all the time we had waited.
Finally, they successfully drilled the well! At last, we could begin the landscaping of the common ground. Right?
Not exactly. Once the well was finally finished, our neighbor insisted that we needed a new cistern to store the water so we could adequately irrigate. After all, the original one was pretty old by then, and had always been too small. As of today, the cistern project is still waiting on bids from contractors, 10 years into the overall process.
We hope to begin landscaping in the fall of year 11. As we say in Italy, piano piano, slowly, slowly, one step at a time. Pazienza, patience! Con calma, with calm! Usually this last phrase is yelled loudly while standing on a chair in the middle of a room, frantically trying to calm everyone down.
We wonder if there are cistern police.
Update: November 21, 2011 we were on the verge of beginning the work on the trimmed down phase 1 landscaping project, only to discover an unexpected legal glitch that will not allow any work to begin until the spring of 2011 at the earliest—che sarà sarà, what will be will be.