Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Moving to Italy: The Well--Part Three

On Thursday of that long ago water-deprived week, we turned the corner. Dario and George finally finished cleaning the well and installed the longer pipe. They returned the water they had taken out, and pumped some up to the cistern. As soon as it was full, I asked permission to do one load of laundry. Marino agreed. I still couldn’t dunk the children into a tub full of hot water, but I sponge bathed them all. 
On Friday we actually cheered as two tanker trucks drove slowly up the grade, and one at a time, emptied two tank loads of spring water into our well. It cost Marino about two weeks’ worth of grocery money, but it was worth every cent. At last we could all bathe! However, until we started to get decent rain again, we agreed to stick to a modified rationing program of flushing and dishes once a day, bathing once a day, and fewer loads of laundry. The boys still wore clean clothes to school, but I had to lower my standards for play clothes. I had always laundered them after one day’s wearing, but I learned to evaluate them so we could squeeze one or two more wearings out of all but the dirtiest of pants and sweaters.
This episode was a source of major discomfort to us, but everything is relative. I swallowed my complaints when I got a letter from my brother, Gordon, and his pregnant wife, Carol, who were trying to adapt to the Canadian wilderness with no electricity and no well, just river water. His letter said they both developed giardia from the water because they were unknowingly drinking from a river that was downstream from a cow pasture.
Suddenly I felt spoiled.
Rain finally arrived in early November, but it wasn’t a sudden, exciting downpour that dissipated to sunshine, as we had been used to. It was one relentless stream, followed by another.  Unlike winter in Southern California, where we could expect rainy days to alternate fairly regularly with sunny ones, at Gabi, the winter sun was a rare sight, and the gray clouds drifted low over the hills, chilling the air. Drying laundry in the wet weather was solved by the central heating radiators. I draped the wet laundry over all of the upstairs radiators. Not only did it dry, but as it dried, it released steam that misted the windows above. Good for the complexion, and as an added bonus, drawing funny faces on the misted windows kept the children amused. It wasn’t an efficient drying method, because we’d have to wait for one load to dry before we could drape the next. However, it was a lot better than my Canadian winter experience of hanging clothes in the cold wood shed and waiting three days before they stopped dripping, or chipping ice off them before we could bring them inside the house.
I didn’t resent not having a clothes dryer at Gabi. After the first three weeks of washing by hand, I was happy with just a washing machine. And after the one week of strict water rationing, I was delirious about running water. Before we left California, these were the kinds of sacrifices I had imagined we would have to make if we lived on a farm. What became a problem was the sacrifices that I hadn’t anticipated.

City water pipe on left of driveway where our house begins (color changes)

When we revisited Gabi in 1987, city water had finally reached the farm. Rosemma, George’s cousin, had inherited and remodeled (and painted) Zio Remo’s house, and she lived there permanently. And by that year, more and more of the absent owners of the houses at Gabi and Bertola were using them as weekend getaways. The drive from Turin was just an hour, and in summer it was considerably more pleasant in the hills around Gabi than in the city. The increased population finally justified the expense, so the town had run water pipes up to each house. The cousins had hired a plumber to attach it to the pipes inside their houses, but since no one lived at our house, our city pipe stopped to one side of the driveway. For our brief stay, Cousin Rudolfo and Zio Silvio attached a hose and snaked it up to the roof to fill the cistern. The electric tank over the bath was still the only source of hot water, but at least the house was no longer dependent on the well.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Moving to Italy: The Well--Part Two

When Dario arrived on the second day, he and George positioned the additional long ladder, and then they climbed down inside the well once more. If either of them fell, he would be badly hurt. I worried about George flailing about, scrubbing on such a long ladder. Dario was used to it, but George was not. George wasn’t worried as his newly strengthened body gave him confidence he could manage. I crossed my fingers and tried not to dwell on it. 
They scrubbed for four hours straight, then Dario left for his usual two hour lunch, and when George came upstairs, I asked him how it was going. He said it was not pleasant work and it was slower than we had hoped. Since the well was large and the residue was stubborn, we would have to cope with no water for a little while longer. As per the local custom, after lunch George slept for an hour, and I woke him when I heard Dario driving up the hill. Fed and rested, they descended back into the well in mid-afternoon and returned to the surface around seven o’clock, sweaty and dirty.
On Wednesday morning when I woke up the children, all four of them had wet their beds. I tried not to exclaim too loudly, but the sight of all those wet and stinky clothes was too much. They had just soaked the last of the clean pajamas and the last of the clean sheets. I had already planned to recycle their day clothes, and I knew then that I would have to recycle those urine-soaked night clothes. I took a deep breath to steady myself. Paul and James looked ashamed, but it wasn’t their fault, neither the wet beds, nor the dry well. 
I thanked my lucky stars that Margaret Ann and Matthew had toilet-trained themselves during the summer. It had been a competitive thing. Each of them would try to outdo the other performing on the toilet. It was cute, but drove me crazy for a couple of weeks, because I had to run back and forth to the bathroom every few minutes, hoist them up, watch them squeeze out a few drops, then all three of us cheer their efforts as I lifted them down. But at that moment I was very grateful that I didn’t also have their stacks of dirty diapers in the laundry.
I knew it was useless to urge the men to work faster. They were already going as fast as they could. After working down inside the warm, damp well, George wasn’t able to take a bath either, and the grime was beginning to build up on him. He was as anxious as me to get the job finished. I hung the children’s wet nightclothes and sheets on the line and hoped that the ultra-violet rays from the sun would kill most of the germs. There wasn’t much else I could do. I prepared breakfast, watched them eat it, then I dampened a facecloth and wiped down the boys before I sent them off to school. It was very hard to keep a positive attitude. 
I think that day was close to my breaking point. I was tired of looking at, and smelling, dirty children, dirty dishes, dirty toilets and dirty laundry. I was dirty and sticky too. When Dario, George, and his parents gathered at the well for the next descent, I asked them, pointlessly and grumpily, why the local government couldn’t extend the municipal water up the hill from the village to the farm. They said the demand wasn’t high enough. Indeed, later that winter, when most of the gravel was washed away by the rains, and the driving was treacherous on the steep, slippery road, Marino went to the town of Cerrina and asked them to distribute more gravel. They told him he would have to pay for it, as the road served too few people to justify the expense. He paid up. Government offices all over the world seem indifferent to personal problems, so when I asked about the considerable expense of running pipes up miles of farmland, they must have thought me hopelessly na├»ve, but they were too polite to say so.