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Preface

Everyone in this world has a dream, or many dreams. But how many of these dreams are actually achieved? Fontana del Papa is the compelling story of an Italian family who could vividly see their dream and were willing to sacrifice almost everything in order to achieve it, only to find that they risked losing it all. Even if you have never had the opportunity to visit Italy, this story will endear you with the history of the beautiful Etruscan town of Tolfa; it will inspire you with the story of the restoration of the beautiful Fontana del Papa; it will anger you with the Italian governmental bureaucracy; it will sadden you with the story of a family fighting to stay as a family and fulfill their dreams; and you will cheer for those who appreciated the beauty of the dream and helped to save Fontana del Papa. There are no words to describe Fontana del Papa, the place that has become the Italian home away from home for many people around the world; and for Assuntina, Claudio, Luca, Emma and Andrea, the family that makes it the special place that it is. Here is a story to inspire all, and, for those who have visited Fontana del Papa, it is a story that only increases the beauty and uniqueness of this heaven on earth.  (Laura Owen)

I am pleased to call Assuntina Antonacci my friend. She has written a book about how she and her husband, Claudio Pierotti, came to own Fontana del Papa and it is an astounding story. If you have ever read “Under the Tuscan sun", or seen the movie, then you know how difficult it was for a foreigner to buy and restore an old home in Italy. Assuntina's story is so much more than that. There are so many challenges they had to overcome and the actual renovation of the property was the easiest part. For a local resident it is, at times, alarming what she and her family had to overcome in order to make their dream vision an unbelievable reality. As her story unfolds, you will find some gems of history, architecture, and old world ways that are still used today. And perhaps as I have done, you will begin a love affair of your own with Italy. I can see this as a great premise for a major film. I told her as much and suggested that George Clooney play the part of Claudio, even though the real main character and moving force in the story is Assuntina herself. I so enjoyed reading about how this slightly built dynamo of a woman took on not just the town of Tolfa but also the regional and "state" governments. What is even more enjoyable is visiting this unbelievable place. The beauty of this story is that Fontana del Papa actually exists. (Torre Newman, Washington, D.C.)

Fontana del Papa

The Past...& the Pasta”

 

"An Italian Renaissance tale of one family’s tenacity and the challenges they faced, to achieve their dream of restoring a 16th century farmhouse and create a home that stands true in today’s world."  

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It was a dream so vivid and specific that I can still remember it today.

            I’m standing on a landing at the top of a flight of stairs, the light on my shoulders. As I’m descending the stairs, I calmly glide into the air, I suddenly find myself airborne! Soaring, I see everything far down below me: the countryside, its people, the sea in the distance, the church, the municipal building, the “palazzo Camerale”, the public fountain “la Fontana Tonna” …  The swallows are my companions in this dream of flight; I feel the fresh air on my skin, restoring and invigorating my breath . . .

          The stairs from which I’ve departed these stairs are my house. Those stairs are my house. I recognize this landing and the stairway one day, in June of 2000, when …

For the first time I’m actually at the Fontana Del Papa.

*

2000

A Little History Fontana del Papa and its land

The name is a happy one: “Fountain of the Pope”. But there are no rich fountains made with Carrara marble statues here. The fountain in this area is just water that takes away thirst- the thirst of those who work in the June sun harvesting wheat for animals and for the winter, and for those who take care of the summer gardens.

The water of Fontana del Papa gave help to the peasants, with their skin burned by the sun, when they came home after a day of hard work. “Del Papa” meant that the water it was so good it could have been for a pope. While it’s true that the Tolfa hills belonged to the papal states in the past, it could also be that one of the Popes stopped here – hence the name. The pope was like a living god, owner and master.

           Fontana del Papa has always yielded a good “light” water, the best a pope could drink. The fact is that this water has particularly good properties for it comes out from the source at 14° and is filtered by a type of silt that gives it special virtues. It is a water diuretic with little potassium. 

70

         The Fontana del Papa once belonged to a rich family, the Bonizi, who lived in a small imposing palace in Tolfa until the 1950s.. They had two mills, one for olives and one for grain nearby where the water ran down the steep falls to form natural tubs or, as they call them here, bottagoni. During the hot summer days the kids used to dive in during the day to cool down. 

The last of the Bonizi was a general in the army who lived in Rome, while Fontana del Papa and his other properties were cared for by the peasants of Tolfa. Fontana del Papa until 1950 was lived in by Basilio and his family from Tolfa. Basilio even today remembers, he has said “When I lived there, I was never hungry, for there was everything”.

All the grace of God is on this land. The olive grove and its precious oil, the garden, the fruit trees for every season, nuts, chestnuts, the sweetest  prunes that Emma, my daughter, likes so much, the cherries,  hazelnuts, figs,  apricots, blackberries.

The men worked the land and cultivated the garden and they took care of the cows who, besides giving milk and meat, also kept the land clean. The donkeys, with their baskets, were the means of transport for the products they brought to market and for the women who carried the laundry down to the wash house of Fontana del Papa.

---o0o---

. . . On our way home that Sunday evening, the moon shone down brightly in the dark of the night. We had almost reached the edge of town when, as we swung around a bend on one of the road’s many curves, we came upon a horse and his handler in the middle of the road. We had to swerve, swerve sharply, to avoid plowing into them. When we’d lurched to a halt, we found ourselves on the side of the road, confronting a gate.  It was the gate of Fontana del Papa.

            This fine autumn evening, with the air calm and clear, and the moonlight raining down was an enchanting, imperious force that imposed its strong will on everything it touched.

            Above us, in the distance, the electric lights of Tolfa silhouetted the profile of the town against the darkness. The intense light of the moon both bathed and traced the outlines of the looming, imposing Rocca, the fortress at the top of the town. And on the far side of the gate by which we’d come to a halt, a soft light illuminated the lineaments of this place, this Fontana del Papa that now confronted our eyes. Its outlines were delicate, and a gentle breeze moved, now, through the crowns of its trees. It was a painting, a work of art, composed of highlights and contours sketched in shadowy lines.

*

 The Hills of Tolfa

           This place is strange, “so near to Rome and yet so primitive” is how Teresa from Sydney described it. That’s how Tolfa is. Seen from afar surrounded by a wild and luxuriant nature, a town wrapping itself around its ruined castle, it is stupendous. The old peasant houses are small with man-sized windows and doors lacking decoration. One’s house was the place to return to after a day of hard work farming, wood cutting and carbon making.

          The imposing old palaces of the alum mine owners which were built around the end of the 1600s-beginning of the 1700s were fine houses with   a large entrance door and cotto tile floors. The main floor, “piano nobile” was for the owners and the upper floors for the servants. The large windows gave light for those who spent the day indoors, such as the women who passed the day embroidering and chattering, and the servants who did all the hard works.

          Palazzo Panetti where I went every day to pick up the just baked bread was like this. The aroma of the bread crust attracted me, as did the perfume of the buns with icing that slid down the sides and the still warm pizza with sea salt and rosemary attracted me. The warmth inside the rooms enveloped me, warming my heart, as did the ways of the humble baker.

           Along with the early morning fresh air, one breathes in a fascination of abandonment and docile degradation as one enters the large door with its original pavement. Every time I stop and look at those  streets and  those  closed windows   I  think how life here goes  by slowly  in  the fresh air one feels especially in  the early morning hours .  

          The Tolfa hills are part of the ancient Etruria territory that seems to be immersed in centuries of enchantment: here an extremely rare combination of intact nature and human presence that has been continuous for at least three thousand years creates a strange and mysterious contrast. The secrets of Lazio’s Etruria are revealed to those who love to explore its streets and forgotten byways.

          Our countryside is an open air museum rich in vestiges of Etruscan civilization in addition to the buildings that remind us of its medieval and Renaissance past. To explore the Tolfa hills territory along its ancient country roads is to discover the pleasure of enjoying the silence, and perfumes of this uncontaminated landscapes. The countryside offers us panoramas that help the mind and thoughts wander in immensity.

Anna  and the Bread

Little Anna slept   wrapped in a smelly old military blanket atop  the flour sacks, forming a small warm  hole with her  light weight.  The memories  fade and  come back to life: that  of the  rickety, abandoned door   in the narrow alleys of the houses embracing the old walls of the Frangipane  castle. The  oven where the baker  known as “the red head’s daughter”  was  close to  the majestic doorway of the Palazzaccio. Every evening it was Anna’s  mum job  to fill up the oven with long pieces of every type of wood. The best was olive wood but  when that  wasn’t  available   The baker’s husband , Bellino, known as the poet, brought  all  types of wood  up to the oven by  donkey. Chestnut  wood  was excluded since it  would send sparks  flying over the  bread which was baked  in couples.

 The work of the fornara, or baker, was  very special and  difficult. It   began  at three in the morning when  the baker awoke at her house on Via Ripa Alta, walked a dozen metres down to  the large room  where  the fire  in the oven was quickly lit thanks to dry wood set there the evening before.   Half closing the oven mouth, she   would glance  at   the list  of the various housewives who had signed up   for  cooking their bread. Often she  used  a piece of carbon  to  write  the  names and since she had a good  memory , one glance was enough  before she  went into the dark night   to call them. She recognized  every house and  every doorway. A strong knock at the door and a shout, “Four o’clock   for five!”.

The women hearing her cry, would quickly  uncover the large  lump of  bread dough that was divided in four or five pieces,  set it on the  wooden boards borrowed  the day before from the baker  and dust it with some  flour .  When all was  ready, the boards were placed on top of rolled up cloth known as  curoja and balanced on their heads, When well covered  they went out of the house at four in the morning for the bread had to be at the oven at  five  o’clock when  the baking began. There was no thermometer  and to know if the oven was at the right temperature, Assunta placed a  cardoon leaf  in the oven: if it  wilted, then the  oven was ready, if it became black  it was too hot.

But first there was the “count”,  to see who would get the center, who  the side area and who would have to place their loaves at the oven entrance. At the sides  it cooked too much,  at the entrance  too little, but the center  was perfect. The women chatted, knitted  and often times  arguing until the baker  calmed them down.  Not long after the  precious golden food would be ready and then brought home  where it was set in the bread chest  or madia.

Once it was finished and the oven had cooled a bit, then it was time to cook the sweets. Many people cooked  apples  cut in quarters and placed   at  the back of the oven to dry.  Apples  covered in bread dough were another delicious snack.

They were hard times and  her husband  Bellino  needed  all the vegetables from the garden for the table or  for sale. When there were lots of eggs these were traded  for a bit of  Eva’s olive oil   while ham  prosciutto   was exchanged for  rustic  flour  farinaccio  while the  ham shoulder  remained at home.

 Anna remembered these days with tenderness and passion, when there was no water indoors, nor even a bath. Food was poor yet  rich in invention, the zucchini were cooked in many ways,  beans were considered a princely dish, and meat was eaten  only during  the holidays. It was due to this life of sacrifice that the children  understood  and had a  respect  for  food that today   has disappeared .

A bit of history

          The name Tolfa is an uncertain origin; Some say that it derives from “Tulphae”, to lift up, referring to its geographical position. Or perhaps, as some suggest, it is simply the Etruscan name.

          The territory is extremely rich in archeological finds.  Densely populated ever since the Stone Age, it has vielved a wealth the implement fashioned in copper and bronze. The inhabited parts of territory were concentrated in well - defined and defendable areas like Tolfa, Tolfaccia, Elceto and Monte Rovello. The Monte della Rocca was inhabited in the Bronze Age, then came a period of seeming abandonment or less frequent use until the gradual occupation of the territory by the Etruscans who, with their small villages, were known for the chamber tombs made from stone or cut into the tufo rock.

          What happened after Roman times is little known until the first mention of the name Tolfa in March 1201, in the document – register “Margarita Cornetana

          At the beginning of the 13th century the territory was part of the Patrimony of St. Peter’s and property of the Holy See.

          It was occupied by Viterbo in the 14th century and became the subject between Ludovico and Pietro Frangipane, who ringed the castle of Tolfa with walls that are still in evidence today.

Alum

          The Mountain of Tolfa, which sits at an elevation of about 600 meters, is located only a short distance from Rome became very important around 1460 with the discovery of deposits of the mineral alum by Giovanni Da Castro, who noted the presence of plants in the territory that indicated the presence of this mineral. Alum was precious for the textile industries as a fixative color and for the wool, and paper industries. It was needed for the leather industry and, thanks to its haemostatic uses, useful in medicine.

         The industrial exploitation of the alum mines began in 1462 and went on for over three centuries. After 1500 the production of alum intensely increased. Facilities for extracting and processing the mineral were constructed along with an aqueduct and a village for the workers. The town of Allumiere became autonomous in 1826.

          The present town of Allumiere corresponds with the places where the workers lived during the time of management by the Senese nobleman, Agostino Chigi.  Many of the workers were prisoners from the papal prisons who were offered this strange form of exemption.

          The alum industry caused a sudden increase in development and in 1530 Tolfa became an independent town bursting out of its walls.

          The alum mines brought wealth to the territory and the  income served to finance the war against the Turks  as reported in  the Vatican Archives’ documents dated 1513,  “Appaltum Alluminum Sanctae Crociatae” .

          Until the end of the 1700s the quarries of the Tolfa hills were Europe’s most important source of alum;, then after 1788 a deep economic crisis began due to the discovery of alum mines in Spain and the discovery of artificial alum.

          In 1870 the Tolfa hills area passed to the ownership of the Italian state and the inhabitants of Tolfa and Allumiere were able to harvest the fruits of the earth, graze their cattle and pay rent to the public company that managed it.

          The civic uses preserved the territory, which could neither be bought nor sold, nor built up.

*

 1984-2002

Our house in Tolfa

          We lived here in Tolfa for about 20 years and our three children grew up here.  Our house was nestled in the heart of Tolfa town at the foot of the Rocca Mountain, with windows overlooking the old piazza.

          A large fireplace stood in the center of the main floor,  wich contained as well a large kitchen and a study,  the bedrooms, on the upper floor, had  windows  opening onto  a roof that opened up to the sky.

          How many beautiful evenings full of stars my children were able to enjoy from the warmth of their beds. It was a warm welcoming house with nearby shops that allowed our children to be able to experiment with a perception of freedom, going out of the house on their own. It was enchanting in the bright clear winter days.

          In spring, after lunch with my still small children, we would go up to the castle of the Rocca: a place full of unique emotion that each time pushed our sights on the enormous, wild landscape to the horizon. Even today when I go up there I feel the same deep faraway sensations.

How easy it is in this land of ours, which is known on the names of both “Etruria” or “tuscia” to find oneself walking along an ancient Etruscan ”tagliata” the early word for road! Visitors to our area have enriched our ppreciation of it. Its great beauty and uniqueness, the healthy simplicity of its food, the serenity of a walk in an unspoiled environment where fruits ad rare plants mark the passage of the seasons.

 *

1994-2002

 Gemmetto’s cantina

          It was July of 1994 when Laura arrived to take care of four year-old Emma and ten year-old Luca for Andrea had just been born. Laura was a pretty blonde twenty year old from the Scottish Highlands, determined but quite disorderly.  Very often like a regular bossy “Italian mother” I had to intervene to get her to clean up her room.

          Usually in the morning Laura went to the city park with Emma and Luca while I took care of my work as a French and English teacher for local children who had to do their school year exams over.

Those summer days usually ended with long walks around the Tolfa hills, each day to a different place: the Farnesiana with its stupendous neo-Gothic church  and hamlet in ruins, the excavations at Cencelle, Piantangeli and the remains of an ancient abbey and the panorama over to the Cimini hills and the heart of Tuscia, the  faggeta of Allumiere and the ancient alum mines, the Bagnarello with its curative waters at 42° just close to Fontana del Papa, the Trinità hermitage  beloved by Sant’Agustine, the Etruscan tombs at Pian della Conserva. 

 As I saw these places through the eyes of Laura, along with the children, new images formed in my mind, it was as if I had never seen these places before.

          Prior to dinner Laura usually went with the children to buy a litre of red wine, as usual, at the “fraschetta”, a place of ancient origins. In the medieval times the producers of wine, especially in the Castelli Romani, would hang a leafy branch outside the entrance to their cantinas to let everyone know the wine was ready for drinking.

          The cantina of elderly Gemmetto was just under our house in the center of town.  It was simply furnished: the wine barrels ran along the sides while the clients sat on benches in front of battered tables.

          The rudimentary ornaments along the walls included typical tools needed for wine making. In the back of the room was a grotto dug into the hard but breakable rock, that wound down a hundred metres. At its end there was a widening with a constant 12°C temperature where Gemmetto’s wine was kept.

          The place had no kitchen, and offered only a bit of bread, ham and olives were served in order to prepare the palate for the tasting of this “nectar”. It didn’t matter since the local men (women rarely came here) arrived prepared with bits of meat and porchetta they had bought at the nearby alimentari shop. And so between one card game and another they tasted the year’s wines.

          Laura, holding the children’s hands, stayed to hear the sound of the men’s voices as they called out the numbers in the morra game, observing the opening of their fists and trying to guess the sum of the numbers of the open fingers.

          The houses in the center of town all had these grottos and cantine. Every family had their own. They were dug during the long winter days when there was nothing else to do, when time had to be passed by other means than sitting in front of the fireplace or chatting in the piazza.

The earth accumulated during the digging process would later be used by master workers during the good season, to make mortar to build the walls of new houses. These grottos were all different depending on how much the owner of the cantina could spend. The more hands dug, the more the cantina would cost.

          I remember one in particular underneath an ancient farmhouse where they made cheese. The stairs were about a metre and a half wide and at the bottom of about 30 steps there was a large room no more than two metres high with a well in the corner.

         When I went in with Laura it was full of a clear water and in the beam of our flashlights the surface of the rock shone with a pinkish hue. I had never before seen these grottos. Up above instead, in the ancient cheese rooms (caciara) there was still the salt works with its walls full of the putrefied smell of cheese and salt ….

           Laura and I wanted to buy this place, but unfortunately the grandchildren who had inherited it, were not able to agree on a price. Like many young people who go around the world alone, Laura was a lively girl, sure of herself, jovial but with a bit of anger that was part of her past. She always said “OK” but then her decisions could change. A part of her was secret. Still this girl changed our lives.  We only followed her thought, her project. I learned a lot through her eyes. We learned to appreciate the value of our land. 

*

 The Laundry “la Bucata”

          When the day came for the bucata (laundry), the women at Fontana del Papa followed a special procedure. They began by sifting the ashes from the furnace and fireplaces that had been put aside during the previous days. These were not normal ashes but usually came from olive, oak and elm, leaving out any wood, like chestnut rich in tannin, that would stain the laundry.

The laundry was dampened and then rubbed where spots were visible with Marseilles soap, a rudimentary pre- wash cycle. The container or paiolo was then put over the fire in the fireplace and the water was brought to a boil.

A rough, strong cotton cloth was placed on top of the pieces to be washed and then the ashes were placed on it. Then abundant boiling water was poured over this cloth, mixing with the ashes, and filtering down through to wet the clothes. The liquid so obtained, the lisciva, gave a whitening action and disinfected the laundry. The laundry was left to soak for some time and later taken out to the washhouse to be pounded and rinsed. The ashes on the rag were not at all thrown away but left to dry in the sun and used to wash the pots, pans and dishes in a sort of perfect recycling, as a consequence the impact on the environment almost zero.

The unmistakable perfume of fresh, clean laundry was everywhere after this treatment with water and filtered ashes. In the spring it was a feast for the eyes. The heavy white linen sheets embroidered with the bride’s initials shone on the luxuriant green fields, absorbing the fragrance of the aromatic herbs, mint, sage and lavender. A strong perfume of cleanliness then invaded the nuptial bedroom. 

Basilio

One day   in the summer 80 year old Basilio and  his wife Luigina returned to Fontana del Papa.  His walk was sure and it was touching to watch him. Basilio returned to his history, his past, his youth, to the memory of his mother Rosa and his father Giovanni.  He told  of  his father  and his  omnipresent terracotta   pipe where he would  slip in a straw, “How many times I had to go to the town and buy him tobacco”.

His eyes and  heart guided him safely, “Here, here was my sisters’ bed, they slept in the room with my mother and father while over here there were   two  cots  for my brother and me. The fireplace smoked and the window  was drafty.”

I asked him about  how they managed  for a toilet. 

A pail for the night and then we went over there”, he said,  nodding  his head towards the olive grove.

And  what did you do for water?

Ah, it  was heavy  each time and  my sisters  took it at the fountain and brought it to the house. When we had to wash, the water was heated on the fire in a large pot, a handful of Marsiglia soap and one by one we would wash ourselves in front of the fire. In the summer instead  we boys would wash at the   bottagoni

There was lots of work from dawn to sundown in this  store room (Cinabro)  we ate here, how good everything was, so much wonderful  acquacotta, lots of sweet fruit.

In this room instead (Pungitopo) we would put the  olives as they were  harvested and  every evening we   moved them around with a shovel.

In the autumn with the chestnuts the olive harvest…five, six, seven girls came from Tolfa, and began early in the morning. No, there were no  nets, everything was done by hand, a  pail and a strong apron and the hands that became fast   rakes, the olives  gathered in bunches from the tree and one by one those that had fallen to the ground. There were about  eight hundred trees. At the end of the harvest, just before Christmas, Nunzio came with his truck and brought it all to  Vetralla  for the  crushing. The mill had two large stone wheels, that  broke everything down, mashed, mixed  the paste. Then with the large   blades  of about  20 centimeters the paste was spread on large sorghum mats . The miller followed all this with sure movements not leaving any  droppings escape from the large circles which were piled one upon the other on the  axis that would  let them be pressed slowly, very slowly: the  squeezing. The oil came out and was collected  at the base  towards a channel and  funnel…  here it was  a thin thread  of gold began to come out, got larger, became dark green, the oil was put in large  damigiane  covered with straw, one after the other the truck returned with the precious  load of oil . One year  we  had collected   94 quintali of olives and  got lots of oil that we then sold for 300 lire a litre”.

Basilio’s eyes shone when he talked about the “nuts” .  “We had planted them at the foot of the fountain where the water  comes out and the ground is always humid, perfect for  cultivating peanuts. We would pull them up by the roots  and there were  large bunches. We would sell them to Boby in Tolfa and how much money  he gave us !”

When Basilio  was 11 years old, in  1940 , he came to live with his family at Fontana del Papa and today he remembers ,  “When  I lived here  I was never hungry, there was everything”.

The property was much larger then and included another  farmhouse down near Santa Lucia  ditch plus  two windmills down at bagnarello.

The rent we paid  every year was  500 thousand lire, a lot of money, almost the same as the cost of a house, but  what came from the land was a wealth. The animals  helped us  in cleaning the land, they ate the grass and added compost to the earth, the cows gave us milk that we brought  to town to sell daily. The olive grove and the precious oil, the  kitchen garden, the fruit trees for every season :  chestnuts , sweet prunes, cherries,  hazelnuts,  figs, peaches, apricots blackberries… the land was full of the grace of God.

The men worked the earth,  cared for the kitchen garden and  the animals and other heavy work. My sisters and my mother   also helped with the  farm work and the housework. We worked all together. The donkeys  with their chests were the  mode of transport used to bring products  to the nearby town. “

In 1951  Basilio and his family  were forced to leave Fontana del Papa,  and he still spoke about this with sadness.

As  Basilio   said goodbye to return home, leaning on his cane,  I put a red terracotta pipe that I had found during the restoration   into his hand . He looked at me smiled and said, “ but this is my fathers!”

He grasped it in his fist and turned towards the olive grove and the  mountain topped by  the ruins of the  castle, towards memories and love of long ago, towards his father.  

  Margherita

          General Bonizi did not have children, so at his death the property was inherited by Signorina Margherita, the family’s housekeeper. She had lived her entire life as a maid in their home in Rome.

          Social conditions being what they were, after the death of the owner it was difficult to see in Signorina Marherita, a new boss. After only few years, having grown tired of having to ask the occupants of the land for a share of their harvest, she decided to sell.

A company from abroad bought the entire property in 1990, but by 1994 had abandoned it.

          For Fontana del Papa a slow, unstoppable decline began, due local people occupied the land, put their donkeys, cows and horses there neither cultivating it nor keeping it clean.

          The only cleaning was done by the animals as they ate the weeds. The   farmhouse was abandoned and began to deteriorate as huge crack developed in the walls where water filtered in during the rains season, undermining its stability.

The roofs started to fall in and the walls were covered with ivy and weeds.

             A wild fig tree poked out of the wall of the courtyard, dangerously breaking the thick walls of the stables with its long, large roots.

 

          We had to act quickly, for Fontana del Papa was at risk of collapsing. Claudio had an ingenious idea, and we were able to secure the eviction of the person staying there through legal means.

Finally we took possession of the Fontana del Papa at the end of June 2000.

http://www.lacasadicampagna.altervista.org/disegno_Andrea.gif

Andrea’s family

          So on a hot early summer afternoon Fontana del Papa became ours and we were all there: Luca, Emma, Andrea, Claudio and I. The battle, a hard one, had just begun. *

“The olive tree is the richest gift of heaven” wrote a poet

          Actually we knew nothing about the boundaries of the land, or about its contours was. The olive grove was a jungle filled with trees of wild prunes, and ivy brambles had developed gigantic trunks.

          We sat at our “thinking place” and asked, “What are we going to do…where should we begin?  We need to clean the olives since they’re the most important thing, before the mortal embrace   overcomes the trees.”

          The passion for what we are undertaking, the love for nature that surrounds us, allows us to know the trees from the thin, tender buds are the only ones that can breathe in the darkness.

          We are able to secure a rusty old tractor (christened Domè). This, along with a powerful machete, makes it possible for Claudio to clean the underbrush of the land. The olive trees, in the end, were freed, one by one, from the enveloping ivy and brambles. 

          Each tree seemed to return to life day after day, emanating a soft warm light breath. The breath of life flowed through the branches that soon began again to yield their precious fruit.

  We had a number of trees we called by pet name: one was the “Signora” another was the “elbow tree” yet others were “Christ” “the dove” and” the chickadee”.  Each of these trees had a special significance and value for us and a story behind it.

          The DNA of the olive trees is studied at Perugia National Research Center. Professor Fontanazza, the Director of the olive research institute, comes personally in January 2001 to see the extreme state of abandonment. The olive grove is impenetrable.  The cultivar seems to be rare or perhaps modified by time, having adapted itself to the area’s temperature.  A similar cultivar can be found perhaps in the Umbrian mountain areas, and in fact our trees seem to have been planted by monks from Umbria.

During the work of restoration we ask the Archeology Superintendant for an archeologist who can better help us to understand the history of the area.

           Shards are found during the excavations, especially inside the house and adjacent to Fontana, were many of interest as they came from varying periods. As we worked on the different rooms we came upon various artifacts, all of which we saved: shard of plates and jugs bearing typical Deruta designs, even ceramic pharmacy jars.

           This is the explanation that emerges: the monks very likely came from Umbria, at the time when the alum was discovered in the Tolfa hills, and the area was thus enjoying a period of economic prosperity. The monks would have found in the area natural environment, an ideal with well drained land perfect for growing olives, a fertile rich soil for their gardens and medicinal herbs  and not least, the precious water.

          The stables beneath the main house still had a kitchen and atrium which were built in a much earlier period. Numerous pieces of Roman amphorae scattered in the area around the Fontana and farmhouse, further attest to the rich presence of history at the site.

          The friars enlarged the farmhouse as their needs grew. Where there was the kitchen before they built a small chapel where eventually the kitchen would stand. Before we restored, we noted some traces of a vaulted ceiling and small window surrounded by bricks and tiles in the next room, probably the refectory, next to the courtyard and inside a small animal annex and stable for the donkeys and horses.

           On the upper floor were the storage areas, and during the excavations we also discovered   smooth stones that formed canals for the water arriving directly from the upper source. The monks had running water inside their house! They cultivated olives and medicinal herbs and even today an attentive observer will find rare curative herbs growing nearby.

          Many, many years of intense work were necessary to clean the place up. Now the olive grove is a park of serenity and energy. Also the architectural structure of the Fontana del Papa is unusual for these parts, but very similar to Umbrian and Tuscan country farmhouses. 

          In January 2001 we, definitely, became the owners of Fontana del Papa. It was the realization of a dream come true on a once – neglected piece of land that contained an abandoned farmhouse. Since then we have transformed it, creating a locale that welcomes guests from all parts of the world into a prosperous environment offering fine olive oil and an abundance of vegetables and fruits.  We see our house and our children growing. It seems like a bargain but it was also a huge commitment where we put everything we own; absolutely everything, on the line in order to obtain our dream. 

          The building index for the property is practically nonexistent, since it is farm land. We do not want to build. We want to restore what is already there.

We love the extraordinarily luxuriant farmland and we are tied to the place where we are born and where our children have grown up.  We begin a period of intense continuous work; there were no Sundays and holidays, only obligation and lots of fatigue. Unfortunately, something we could have never have imagined also began to materialize.

2002

The house in the woods

          After we sold the house in Tolfa, we rented a small house in the woods. The only one available was a very cool vacation house where it was pleasant to live in the summer months. During the day we were all busy but, we met there each evening.

          The children will remember that winter as a very strange tim y cool in the summer  e; they couldn’t wait to get out in the morning and go to school to keep warm. The old seldom used radiators did not work and the only warm place in the house was near the little fireplace. The bedrooms were frigid and we slept dressed with socks, double pajamas and woolen hats, for the cold was terrible. 

          How the kids missed their old, warm house! In the morning we lit the heater in the bathroom but, it wasn’t enough. As soon as we woke up we had breakfast and were ready to run off. It had been my habit to get up very early to work at the computer, as I continued to do that winter. I put on a jacket and gloves with the fingers cut out, and with a blanket around my legs, I sat down to begin work. The temperature in the house often went down to 9° C.

As soon as it was possible to leave the house in the woods we were very happy. The children were not jet able to come to Fontana del Papa, for there was nothing there. We decided that for a short time they would stay at their grandmother’s house. It would still be warm and they would have a decent meal at lunch time.

The absence of our children bothered us, especially in those moments when we had finished work and we were free of other thoughts about our various problems. But time went by quickly and now it is only a memory. 

*

2002-2004

The restoration of the farmhouse

          Thanks to our new economic situation resulting from the sale of our old house and the need for our family and our kids to have a place to live, we actively began to restore Fontana del Papa in April 2002.

          There was so much to do:  for the house was in very bad shape. The walls were still standing but held together by a mortar that turned dust.

 Where now there is the dining room it was full of earth and you can see the small window of the kitchen

          During the work of restoration it was not rare to uncover a rats nest or a group of snakes hiding among the stones. Everything was missing, everything still had to be done, including reinforcement of the foundation to the roofs which had to be demolished and reconstructed.

The first group of workers was there for a week before they decided to abandon the place. “Too complicated, dangerous and costly, do you have all the money?”

          We answered, “Yes, we sold our house and now we will be getting a mortgage and we are doing a lot of the work ourselves. “The worker shrugged his shoulders and made a face.

          Actually, thinking back, we were guided by a kind of recklessness. We were venturing into a realm where our financial resources were completely inadequate; we were alone with a dream that was way beyond our concrete resources.    

But, we never hesitated pursuing the beauty of our dreams.

          We had faith in ourselves and we worked. For others it would have been easy to find a thousand reasons for our failure. In town they called us crazy. “Who knows what they think they are doing?”  They would say and we were finding it difficult to find people to come and work. The local masons were unimpressedby our offers of  work, they came for a look and when we called them back for an answer they declined, saying they had other work. A few construction companies in the area, when asked for estimates, sent back outlandishly high amounts. 

          At the end of the day we put an announcement in the papers. Two Peruvians, father and son Ramon and Edoardo answered. We bought scaffolding, materials, work tools and finally began to work.

          The solidifying of the walls was done with great care due to the dangerous condition. Enormous lines were set up to hold and block the main building on four sides. And great care was taken in using already existing materials.

          Then the geometra to whom we had entrusted the restoration works in the summer of 2002, unexpectedly informed us that he was leaving the job. The roofs had not yet been completed. Some had to be demolished. The tiles and bricks were restored one by one.

          We began to think that something was not right.  Still, even if we were now without a director, the work went ahead with the wooden floors taken down and put aside to be used for doors. We needed a house to reunite all the family, to bring our children back home.   Edoardo and Ramon were perfect master bricklayers; who knew how to work and even if they were a bit lazy at times, they were able to reinforce the ancient walls perfectly.  They had the genes of the ancient Incas in them. Two workers and the two of us: laborers and supervisors.

          New heavy chestnut beams went into place. New bricks and tiles, along with the repaired old tiles were put on the roofs. The structure was consolidated and the coverings returned to their original look. The roofs and old coppi tiles had been cleaned one by one, and they shone in the sun and under the rain. I remember being up on the roof, legs dangling on both sides, setting the bricks and putting them one behind the other along the smaller beams.

          Claudio had set up his tools to be able work on our own, the bricklaying materials, plumbers’, and the bob-cat to move the heavy objects. We participated in the work with emotion and an energy that came from somewhere unknown.

          The olives had been set out like a crown around the ancient farmhouse; now they were released from the fatal embrace of the brambles and shone with a pearly green color.  We could feel them getting back their life and energy. We perceived it every time we sat around chatting in their shadow. There is no tiredness when one loves his work, when a project begins to take shape, when you believe in a dream.

          As when one is in love, one goes straight along the road without seeing anything else. We could not conceive of the morbid, disloyal attention that was beginning to tighten around us, like a noose.

          Still without a director of the work and with the roofs finished, all our troubles were beginning. I have to recall some of the episodes. The preceding owners had sought for a permission to restore. However, the town hall had instead granted permission for “extraordinary maintenance”. A substantial difference between what was asked and what was conceded.

          The restoration, or recuperation, whatever this work was, in fact had to be done and that meant demolition and restoration. The maintenance instead permitted only small interior repairs and not the redoing of roof and floors.

Who would have thought that a weaver was in the shadows?  A question that at the time we never asked; we could not “see” the devil   and why should we have? Not even the director of the work had pointed out the irregularity of the building concession.  

*

2002

Demoethnoanthropological

          Suddenly at the beginning of November a document denouncing us denunciation arrived. The accusatory notice was sent to various recipients including the Carabinieri, the town, the superintendent for archeology in Southern Etruria, the superintendent for architecture, landscape, historical, artistic and the demoetnoanthropological   patrimony of the Lazio region.

          Demo-ethno-anthropological? (demographic – ethnic - anthropological) What was that about?  We did not know what it was, we never heard about.

 We knew that the person who signed it was over 60 years old and had only an elementary education. How had he typed it, if in all his life he had only used farm tools?   We did not know him nor had we ever spoken to him. What did all this mean? Someone had obviously written it for him. But who?

          Only some time later, looking through and reading carefully all the papers, I found other documents almost identical to this denunciation. The same style, the same expressions and words in some parts, the same typewriter characters.  On these acts the signature was of another person. The circle was closed. We were incredulous. Why? Was this a way to put us in difficulty?

          At the end of November the Carabinieri, State Forest Corps, city police and the geometra of the town’s technical office came to Fontana del Papa for an inspection. It was a large group, each with an official car, and they invaded the large lawn in front of the fountain and the house; from the road it looked like a scene from a police film.

           “What could they have done?” the people who passed by that morning on their way to work, must have asked themselves. In front of my eyes passed the images of Goya’s painting, “The shooting of May 3, 1808” which happened out in the open with, in the background, the hills and countryside. Just like what was happening to us.

          On the left are the condemned (which was us), and on the right the execution platoon in their dark uniforms. On the left are the “good guys” in brighter light, (this would be us). On the right side are the “bad guys” since it’s the dark side of the painting (this would be them).

          They do not carry guns. They have paper, pens and cameras. The light shines from us, the persecuted ones.  We have not yet gotten down on our knees but in a while we will. We immediately catch the eye of those in front of us. We are dressed in white, we are the guilty fighters … guilty of not being down to earth, but with our heads in the clouds, we are setting a bad example. We must be shot…  We feel like two poor characters. 

          This is the end, I thought. “These are the investigators, later they will come to shoot us”.  Since I always say what I think, I shouted out, “When are you organizing the execution platoon?”

One of them answered me sharply, “Watch out, Signora, what you say!”

          As far as the Archeology Superintendent was concerned,, the work of digging had always been done directly under the eye of the local inspector and the objects found given to the Tolfa Civic Museum. The group   that had so upset us wrote that everything was in order.

          The town geometra,   three days after having signed  the papers like the others, wrote another report   saying that he had verified   that very serious building  abuses had been committed by us,  and included measurements   that he took from who knows where.  The report of the geometra arrived at the Procura, and a mountain of accusations to damage us began to be built. The geometra,   who besides being a competent and fine writer used his fantasy with the numbers.  We now had to think about defending ourselves, demonstrating the opposite and, this that would not be easy.

*

2003

Our New Home

          As spring 2003 began, Claudio and I finally went to live at Fontana del Papa and the work went ahead until the summer of 2004.

          During the day we worked hard and there was little time to think but the problems and worries were always with us. They never left us, but we didn’t have time to talk about them, and this was good.

          At this point only one room was finished with a door, window and bath. We had nether telephone nor electric light and all the other rooms were still to  be completed; there was  so much  interior work  to be done  that  needed patience,  commitment and,  of course,  talent.

          Our days began at dawn and proceeded with various activities.  Systematically we positioned the under floor heating in every room. I was in charge of the various rings to be created and Claudio connected the terminals. We had chosen this way of heating in order to save energy. It was certainly the most elaborate and costly but also gave the best results. Then there were other jobs:  plumbing in the baths, measurements to be made, organization, plastering, laying floors, painting, doors, windows, balustrades and handrails. Once a room was finished, we moved on to the next, and slowly the rooms began to have form and color.

            The painting of the walls is determined immediately is the color of Cinnabar, which is a mineral-looking tan already known at the time of the Etruscans and Romans also used extensively in dyeing clothes and walls of houses.

 The Cinnabar, in large masses is right here with us at Bagnarello where are the hot springs.

 The rooms turn pink and red, the same hues of dawn.

          The workers were responsible for those things that were too difficult for us, like the plastering, the walls, and the floors, while we moved on from one job to another with passion and energy. Laying the floors was a separate story.  We used the cotto bricks typical of the Etruria area.

          The sizes were exactly the same as those we had salvaged, but since so few remained   we used them as models and recycled the originals as windowsills. In that period during the laborious search for materials to fill our needs, both for price and for quality, we visited a large number of churches in Tuscia, the southern part of Etruria.

We did not want to reproduce an anonymous floor as would have happened if we had entrusted the work to a regular worker. Completely identical floors would have been easier to install and thus cost less. Since we were going to do the floors ourselves, after having “stolen with our eyes” from Edoardo how to do it, we were wealthier. We had the time and willingness to create a beautiful thing, which was another source of richness to dip into that we had never hoped for.

          We gave a wide latitude to our imagination and fantasy when we did the floors. The passion for what we were doing and in what we believed in was a great gift for us. In every room, we created a unique design and combined the yellow, pink and red cotto bricks.

          We had a book on the castles and medieval churches of Etruria on the basis of which we let our imaginations run free. A mosaic of embroidery and light that only the warm tones of the cotto are able to give took form in every room.  We elaborated on paper a design using the various colors and sizes.

          While Claudio began to lay the bricks, the worker cut the profiles and put the bricks in water and placed them out ready for setting them. The interweaving of colors extended and sent out beams of light that seemed to enter the windows and doors that weren’t yet there.

          The   groving between the joints of the bricks was my job.  I painted with a large spatula, putting my entire attention on the total filling of the cracks. After a few days when the stucco was completely dry, I began to clean the surface of the cotto using a floor washing machine.

          Muriatic acid and lots of water was used and then taken up by an aspirator before it became absorbed. No one could come in the room that was open by day and closed by night until the floor was perfectly dried. After a few weeks, if the weather was good, I continued with the laying of abundant quantities of r row linseed oil.

          The parched bricks absorbed this quickly and then more oil until the bricks shone. Other days went by and I then proceeded with the aggrappante, which caused the wax and linseed oil to bind, then more days to dry, and finally I used wax to close the pores of the bricks. Then they shone and reverberated in the light. The joined bricks formed a splendid carpet with magnificent designs that materialized before our eyes.

It was time to put up the doors and windows. Almost all the windows were made of chestnut wood. Raffaele, “Ace” with his old boards from floors, made the external doors using the same methods and the secrets of the job he had learned from his father and grandfather.

          The doors seemed original since through the wood became so hard over the years and it is easy to work. The handles were bought in Umbria at Città di Castello. The inside doors, bought in Siena, were of chestnut; shiny and perfect they cost too much. We had an idea: we bought them rough, stained them the brown dark color we wanted, and after they had dried applied the wax – and lots of elbow grease! The results at the end were excellent and the man who sold them to us said, “To be honest, I prefer the ones you did”.

          Claudio took care of the plumbing, the pipes, and the heating ducts.. With the wiring we were not so lucky and there was a coming and going of electricians, for we understood very little in this field.

          The days of the long 2003 summer went by. During the day a sandwich, some fruit, a coffee and back to work. In the evening we fell into a restful sleep that gave us back the force to be ready to begin again the next day.

          The morning was a special time. The colors of dawn announcing a new day was our alarm clock. In the bedroom which we would call Cinabro, we uncovered a fireplace which we reopened and it was the only fireplace that never smoked. It is located behind the room Fragola, right behind the room we slept in.

          The fireplace was closed with rocks. On the bottom there was a large piece of square black peperino stone, certainly the cover of one of the many Etruscan tombs spread over the territory of the Tolfa hills. Many of these remains are still visible on the walls of the houses in Tolfa and have been used as cornerstones thanks to the precision of their cut. We did well to reuse it, cutting it into three large pieces that became the base of the fireplace. The result was a large, welcoming   fireplace.

          The first winter we lived in Fontana del Papa there was no heating and the only warm place was the fireplace in the Cinabro room. We arose very early and the first thing was to relight the fire and prepare breakfast. The evening before I set a piece of olive or oak wood near the fireplace and put small pieces of wood near the fire in order to have wood ready to light in a few minutes.

          We didn’t have a kitchen and the camp gas was often finished. There was no time to get a refill. So we adapted. I discovered the ashes and took the carbon pieces that were still hot and hadn’t gone out during the night, set the pieces of wood and prepared the coffee by setting the coffee pot on the fire. After a bit the perfume expanded all around, creating a happy invitation to a new day and the many things to do.

          Lunch was usually cooked over the fire a bit of panonto dusted with wild fennel and sea salt, bacon or lard. The bread cut in slices, along with hunger and a good glass of wine made this one of the tastiest meals.    

          These were happy moments. Claudio laughed, participated with funny remarks with Dario, Stefano and the workers setting off   a series of heartfelt laughter.

          Bartolo, our Bob Tail dog was with us; our silent, friend who followed us through good and bad. Then one day in May of 2008 he left us with our pain and we buried him under an olive tree. The children joined us once in a while.

 

bar

Bartolo!

 *

2003

The spring and summer of our troubles

By May 2003 we had been living for a while at Fontana del Papa.

          The Procurator asked for clarification of the geometra’s report. The architect, engineer and the police man arrived to the house saying they had to take measurements. They wandered around a bit, measuring the façade, spoke a little and looked uncertain. 

          After a bit they went away and in less than a month they came back this time with a fishing pole, a string and a notebook to use as a writing desk and, this time, a sureness about what they were doing. I see in my mind the scene, those faces, reliving the same feelings of disorientation. 

          Neither Claudio nor I were able to understand. The argument of the two technicians did not match their thoughts. I was sure of this. I   rethink the memories of those days, the vivid confusion of those first summer days. The geometra stated that there was a building abuse, but surely he was mistaken. Something was not right. What did these two women think? What should they do? The measurements of the two technicians went on all morning. Cord, pencil, eraser and the 7 metres long fishing pole would be used for the heights. The architect   put down the measurements. The engineer   pulled the cord, in some cases they helped her and I followed them, even though I felt like I was caught up in a web, trapped inside a ball of yarn with no way out.

          As the morning finished and the sun was high, the architect did not drink at the well. She refused the water I offered. She washed her hands. First one, passing it over her arm up to her elbow, then the other forearm. The movements were slow and her chin was raised up. The water runs off, cleaning the conscience I thought as I observed her thin lips, her profile aggressive which gave me a shiver of bad foresight.

          The engineer on the other hand, accepted the glass I offered. After a few days a colleague of the two technicians came when Claudio and I were alone. Turning her back on us, she said, “You’ll never be able to resolve these penal problems, You would need lots of money that you don’t have. The legal battle… is long and you will never be able to work without proper permits and permissions. It would be best to sell”.

          We were incredulous. “We’ll sell. That American offered us two miliardi (of old lire)” then this person turned toward us with an expression of one who knows something more, “No, with all the legal problems on this farmhouse it’s not worth more than 800 millions.” The number surprised us; it was exactly the amount of the mortgage on our property. 

          One morning in the beginning of July, I was at the town hall in front of the Technical Office when I heard chatting the two technicians who had done the measuring and Irealized they were talking about us.  I stopped.  The architect said, “If this story goes any further the only one who will be saved is her”. As I entered, the architect had papers in her hand. What did she mean by that remark?

*

2003

Big obstacles on all sides

          For some incomprehensible and mysterious reason we went ahead. We still had a tremendous positive energy that kept us strong and united and kept our thoughts focused on bringing the work to an end, to putting in the doors, the windows and then, reuniting our family.

Regardless of everything, we saw a clean, serene and winning future. Every day there was a new job to do; we finished it and went ahead with another.  With great effort and courage we were sure we would be able to do it. The problems at the town hall would be figured out.

During this time we were fighting to get electricity. The main office was making it impossible and asked for an estimate for deposit of about   10-20,000 euro. After about nine months of living in the dark we asked for help from the Electricity Company central office in Rome. We made a special formal request to the main office and the guarantee authority. Finally we got our electricity, on the day after Ferragosto, August 15.

With the telephone it was the same problem with it being activated in September, after a year of arguing, with the intervention of the Authority and thanks to an employee in the Telecom central office in Rome.

*

The Weaver

         One day, around the middle of July 2003 at around 3.30 pm we were relaxing in the shade of the laurel trees near the fountains where the swimming pool is now. It was very hot and we were surprised at an unexpected visit from the town councilman for urban problems and two additional people.  The three of them had come to visit the farmhouse, the land and us.

          Claudio was with the councilman and one of his friend. The latter insisted on talking about projects of thermal tourism, perhaps because the Bagnarello baths and properties of the Confraternity and public lands were adjacent to our land. I was with the woman speaking about the potential of this area. At the end of the visit she said, more to herself, than to me: “This is like a Relais et Chateaux” When I asked her what she meant, she answered, “I can see it in the details and the place is absolutely enchanting”.

          The councilman, whom we considered a friend, had often been a guest at lunch or dinner, along with the mayor, while we were still organizing cooking weeks in the old villa. We did not suspect anything; there was no reason to. If the Town Hall had made mistakes, it was the fault of the technicians, certainly not of the councilman or the mayor. This is how we reasoned. That day, however, the councilman was strangely taciturn and we could not understand why. Nor could we understand the reason for his visit. Later we would discover that the two people with the councilman were interested in tourism and real estate investments.

*           

The plot thickens

          About ten days later the Urbanistic office of the town of Tolfa denounced us for “building abuses” on a protected building and sent the document to the Procura of the Republic in Civitavecchia. It was a very serious accusation. We didn’t have a lot of money, the casale had only one door and window, the kitchen didn’t exist, the children were far away and we had only a house that wasn’t yet a house. Fear began to be our inseparable companion.

          It was difficult to understand in those moments the thousand doubts that invaded our minds; the works, the materials, the huge absurdity of the penal denunciation for building abuses.

          We often went to our thinking place, an enormous stone just next to a hillside for comfort: in the winter it was covered with soft moss and in the summer it was shady with views over the valley as far as the Cimini hills. We went there to think but there were no answers. We could not find any and the only thing to do was go ahead. The weight of our misfortune began to take form and consistency.

          The hot summer became hotter with papers and false declarations. The architect and engineer declared, that changes in the Casale of Fontana del Papa were now blocked by architectural tutelage and they accused me of having committed serious building abuses completely different from the building concession I had been given.

          The geometra only mentioned that the heights of the house’s rooms had been raised illegally while the engineer and architect made our legal position more serious. In the meantime, at the end of July also the second director of the works abandoned us. Our future became a flat horizon, a sea. We looked around and we did not see even the shadow of a rock to hold on to.  

*

Cops and Robbers

          The days passed one after the other, fast and hot, and we heard nothing more about the denunciation at the Procura, so we began to think that the office beaurocracy was obtuse, that the geometra had made a mistake; it can happen, everything will turn out.

          The politicians, the mayor and councilmen assured us, “It’s a mistake, you’ll see, it will be alright”.  Of course we believed it was the truth, “Ah, we made a mistake” a professional politician told me as he sat   rocking on his armchair.

          Meanwhile at the beginning of August the head of the police started “hunting” me. I would meet him in the piazza and he would say, “Come up to the office, I have to give you something”. When I asked him what for, he responded, “What? You don’t know? You have to give me a domicile, a legal residence.”  I asked if there were proceedings against me and that if so, he should provide me with a copy of the proceedings.

          Bothered, he answered, -“You always want to do things your way. The Technical Office has discovered an abuse and you have legal responsibility. You must give an address for the communications I have to send” I answered back, “But if there is no penal process why do you ask me to elect a domicile?”

          The police officer didn’t give up and a few days later, along with a colleague, he came to the Fontana del Papa. Even though the gate was open, they did not enter, but called me loudly. I was sitting on a pile of bricks in the shadow of the old stable where the kitchen is now, Claudio shouted back, “Assuntina isn’t here”. The chief of police shouted out his reason for coming. “There are papers your wife has to sign”.  “Ok, I’m not signing and my wife’s not here”, Claudio repeated.

          That afternoon another two policemen came, I remained hidden, feeling like a thief in my own house. Claudio was furious as he spoke to them and threw the papers on the ground.

          The day after the police sent everything to the Attorney, without my signature and domicile.  The policeman himself had declared where I lived.

*

Orders to suspend the works

          Around August 15, 2003 the architect and engineer in charge of Urbanistics signed the order to suspend our works. They ordered us to stop working. We were amazed and began not to understand anything. We were demoralized and decided to contact by mobile, the mayor whom we considered our friend. “What is this, Why this Order?”

          The mayor did not answer. It was not possible! Why? I was where now there is the garden, I walked back and forth among the debris, the dry grass, stones, cement, and bricks. He didn’t want to speak to me? The mayor is young, an Onorevole, a European deputy. He couldn’t possibly not want to understand, he could not negate the truth. By the way, he has never responded to any of my numerous letters.

          This was an obvious injustice that my family and I were submitted to. I called another council member, a cousin of my husband who called the mayor so I spoke to the mayor asking him what was going on.

          I spoke with the Mayor asking him what had happen, he said he didn’t understand then raced to finish the conversation, “Ah, yes, look, with all the awful stuff they are doing...they came and bothered  you…”  and then  he  tried to smother a  laugh.

           I knew that I must write to as many people of authority that I could; to the mayor, the council, the Technical office, the entire city council, the Urban council man. Through my writing all my anger exploded. I knew no other way but I knew that documentation must exist. I screamed the truth, our truth, the only truth we knew: We have not committed any abuses. We have dirty trousers, shoes encrusted with cement, and our hair is sticky and dusty. We feel the others taking their distance from us, laughing at us behind our backs regarding this complication, our story, our truth.

           The Mayor is an Onorevole, that is to say, he has honor to sell, the technicians are professionals, what have they gained by getting mixed up in such an absurd story? How can they believe me if all of a sudden everyone thinks we are the “crazy ones”, Claudio and I. It would be so easy to find a thousand reasons for our failure. We got into a situation above our economic possibilities, where our dreams were larger than our concrete possibilities. We are worried, the future is uncertain, the anger of not being believed, the possibility of our family falling apart. Now we are really alone, only two friends, both named Gianfranco, who come once in a while to visit. We are really down and no one believes what we tell them. 

          Everyone at the town hall admitted that there was a huge error which had to come to an end immediately.  The Administration promised to work with us   and organized a meeting, pretended to help us. It was October 2, 2003 Claudio’s birthday. That evening we were called to attend a special council meeting.  Reading through the papers several times we could not find anything to help us with our problems. This law was not going to give us any help. What did the lines mean:  “the attics, alternation of the façade, new openings of windows, no modification of the urban weight, the raising of gutter lines to guarantee the underneath rooms, etc”.

          Incredibly and with sarcasm they made fun of us. It was very evident. That special deliberation was not to help us, and since I was sure of this, I wrote to the mayor, the council members and professionals, but no one answered. 

          This sham of making fun of us was deliberate. They had decided to anticipate the demolition notice, to see what effect it would have, and they called me to the city hall. I was so upset, like one who is about to be thrown into a well. The deliberation had been done only the day before and we were still digesting the sequence of events. In the room were three fourths of the city council and an architect, who slowly began to speak, to pronounce phrases continuing one absurd, heavy word after another. “The destruction, the dismantling of all the roofs and the demolition of one, two and three meters of wall, etc”.  He was telling me, tranquilly and surely, that I had to demolish my home!

The architect’s expression was controlled on the scene, “No, unfortunately, we must proceed with the other Ordinance, since it must be read.”  And she continued.  Confused, I watched the orator and others. It was laughable and I laughed while the others were serious and quiet, for they knew the ending.  I didn’t hear the applause, rather I saw it in the eyes of the administrators and a while later I started to cry. That was why three fourths of the council were silent and only that imperceptible tension of the assassin who was about to come in for the kill.  Someone had decided and they were there to do their job. Who had begun this design? Who was the weaver? Who had studied how to proceed against us and put us out in the street? Who wanted our property? 

          I could not find the logical answer. And as I left laughing to myself, I said, “You know I’ll write a book about this. You want to demolish the only beautiful farmhouse in the Tolfa countryside. You mayor, what do you say?”  He kept his head low. I looked at them, one by one, but they looked the other way.

*

The Demolition Order

          It was a bright warm autumn day and I was in the garden near the fountain when Giuseppe, the town messenger arrived. “I’m really sorry, but unfortunately I have to give you this stuff, what a shame. I didn’t want to come”

          October 3, 2003 the day after the council meeting “to help us”, the Technical office of the town signed the demolition order for the works they considered abusive. All the roofs of the Fontana del Papa, our home. If we didn’t do as it said, the house would pass to the town of Tolfa and they could do with it what they wished, even sell it. After such a declaration we had only one huge doubt, “What shall we do, pay the lawyers to go against this order or pay for the doors?”

          We decided to continue to work towards our dream and to bring the children home. It was too crazy; this story of demolition, the town hall must be mistaken. Everyone said so. Or better yet, it was too absurd to be true. Demolishing was not possible. Even the architect that had signed said, “You wouldn’t really think of demolition?” Everyone including the mayor and his vice, the council members repeated reassuringly, “It’s a mistake, a solution must be found! We continued to work even with the two serious procedures, the demolition and to suspend the works.

          The council member who had come to visit in July telephoned and came by  to tell us that he had done us a favor; “I was able to lengthen the time for the demolition to 180 days”,  where as the law had imposed 90 days. “In the meanwhile let’s see what we can work out with the Technical office”.  He also brought some papers with laws about demolition. To thank him we gave him two bags of salad and he was very content.  Later we understood why he was so happy, It wasn’t for the salad. Claudio sat on a bag of cement when he left said to himself, “I don’t trust them, don’t let any of them in here again, he seemed to be a priest, throw him out”

2003

Mental proceedings and accurate studies

Mental proceedings, exactly.  

          After the demolition order I could not think of anything else to write and began to send notes to a huge amount of people, famous politicians, women’s’ associations, European commissions. Almost none of them answered except for the commission and European civic defender   who informed me about the no competence for proceeding. The President of the Bellisario Foundation, On. Lella Golfo as soon as she read my email she called me. I couldn’t believe it. She wanted to understand and one day came to visit and when she read the papers she said, “It’s not possible, It’s not possible” as she ruffled through the papers.

          A hint of light! Someone was finally listening to us and wanting to understand. And a woman. Instead at the town hall they continued to enjoy themselves. What harm was there, they are all young and do not know any better.

My notes full of desperation are archived in a file entitled “List memorandum – Various bullshit” with even have a protocol number. 

             The communications from attorney’s office (Procura) continued   and the accusations kept getting worse.

            My lawyer friend advised me to ask for the acts preparatory to the ordinances to suspend the works and demolition, and I did so.

           The architect and engineer answered immediately. “Mental proceedings and accurate studies-these acts are not transferable”.  I read this many times, “mental proceedings?  Accurate studies “What were they writing?  They were telling us to demolish our house and as a motive they wrote, “Mental proceedings and accurate studies.”  In addition to the damages, they continued to humiliate us and also laughed and making fun at us.

           Meanwhile at the end of October 2003 we were officially informed by the Carabinieri that we would be investigated for a very serious crime. Just as if we had demolished the Colosseum and built a villa in its place.

           The Substitute Procurer, after having read, “abusive work on a protected building”, had the obligation to proceed with the inscription in the book of investigated persons and to start the penal proceedings against us. It was over, we were being investigated. Formally we were delinquents. We only had to think about defending ourselves. And now the incredible and difficult series of situations that are hard to talk about on the part of the city workers. In a note sent to the editors of the Regulatory Plan, they tried to correct the name (Fontana del Papa) in the zoning maps of the territory.  It is mistakenly moved from what is its real position. They tried to move the localities on the cadastral map. It was not possible. It was not possible!  

*

2003

November’s truth.

           In November someone who knew our story well but had gone away suddenly told us interesting news: the Casale had no constraints or bond for architectural tutorage and the land adjacent to the Bagnarello baths has a building index that is incredible. We found it hard to believe. But then what was the story all about?  The city of Tolfa’s planning rules when we bought (January 2001) showed that on our farm territory the building index was almost null, in other words it was permissible to build only a small tool shed.

         Instead after a little more than a month that we were the owners, the building index changed into “farming zone with touristic and receptive use, through integrated programs of public or private intervention”, according to the General Panning law. The building index was very interesting. It corresponded to about 8,700 cubic meters, equivalent to about 30 villas on approximately five hectares of land.

           We did not know about this enormous opportunity for building also because the certificate of urban use was asked for before we bought and with our approved project, thus we could not have known and no one ever told us.  Not even during the meetings with politicians and technicians.

           Meanwhile I asked the Ministry of Beni Culturali if my house had some form of block for architectural reasons. At the end of December 2003 the Ministry sent a certificate of negative outcome. No bond existed in the general variant of the general Regulatory Plan. Not even this had ever existed. And still the two professionals and the town geometra had declared and signed that it was bound, even surrounded by a red circle. Absurd. Nothing was more false. From the town hall they continued without disturbance to sustain the thesis of the protected building. In November that same year, the town geometra gave a certificate declaring “On the existing building the rules for protection are applied according to Article 35 of the variant of the general regulatory plan”. In other words, “the Fontana del Papa” is under the binding of tutelage.”

           I had written black on white more than once, “Casale Fontana del Papa is not bound and I did not commit any abuses of raising roof lines that we have been accused of,” I shouted and cried without obtaining any answer. I had gotten stuck in a swamp of troubles with the worst accusations: serious building abuses on a protected building, even though we had worked carefully and conscientiously. The negative outcome communicating was immediately brought to the mayor’s attention, to the entire city board, the secretary, the council members, the entire city council and especially to the engineer, architect and geometra. None of them answered.

*

2004

Too many truths. They have too many truths.

           On January 23, 2004 exasperated by having been   made so much fun of by, the impudence and illegality of the politicians, and professionals, I sent a strong note to the Commission of Architects and Engineers, to the council members, Mayor and technical office of the town.

           A few days later, the two technicians went to the council member (the one of the salad) and to the mayor, asking permission to do another inspection at the farmhouse and to be accompanied by the head of the local police, the Carabinieri and state the Forest rangers. I can only imagine the two technicians led the group.

           Meanwhile on February 4, 2004 the council board of Tolfa gave a lawyer the job of consultant in matters of town planning. Here is the written explanation by the architect, “The proprietor of Fontana del Papa, has given problems of a town planning nature” and took over the job and consequences of this question regarding our so called building abuses.  The architect was to do everything.

The Way of the Cross had begun for us.

They wanted to take the house away, the olives, the dreams, and destroy us.

          Claudio thought we should just go ahead and work. They will never stop us. If we do stop, we are lost. 

          On March lst, 2004 I sent a telegram asking to annul the deliberate to the lawyer. I also informed them that I had important documents ones in our in my favor, to share with them.

          They were playing too dirty. The entire story was set up on totally unfounded elements and would have destroyed our family. The property would probably go to auction or the town would have gotten it free of charge.

          Going back to the 180 days that the council member  ( the one of the salad)  had allowed us so magnanimously as if we were condemned prisoners; as the end neared,  the town  had to get a legal  opinion  and the architect would do  what she knew how to do.

           In other words on March 3 we had not demolished any of the roofs and the time for the town to appropriate our house had matured. In order for them to do so, the two Orders (demolition and suspend of works) had to be defended   by a legal opinion. The architect wrote out the deliberate, working finely and with very clear intentions.

           We never heard anything more from the lawyer named by the town. Verbally we were informed that there was no one available. When I spoke to him one day, he said over the phone, he said“I do not want to hear anything more about this story. Signora, you have done a great, worthy work. Find yourself a good, honest technician…”

           Left on our own by the lawyer and not having a legal opinion, the two professionals   asked to the Attorney (Procura) the permission to make an inspection on March 5, 2004 and that same day they told the mayor and urban councilman.

           The Substitute Procurator answered on April 2, 2004, “Make the inspection at the farm house of the property of the investigated”. Strangely enough, no one from the town came to make this investigation. Two years later, February 24, 2006 when the Procurator insisted in having an answer, would seven people present themselves to measure every corner of our home.

But back to 2004.

           On May 7 the two technicians after receiving permission of the Substitute Procurator  to make a new  visit, asked the mayor, the Urban councilman and the town secretary  as well as the assistance of a Judiciary policeman, who probably was to point a gun  at us while they made their measurements, to arrange the visit?

 In July 2004, I asked   for Certificate of Urban Destination of my property but one that was true, not false.

          By now it was all clear: the land usage change with the very high building index, the non existing architectural protection, the false building abuses. The cards were on the table and the battle was on.

            At the end of September 2004 the town geometra gave a signed  declaration (Certificate of Urban Destination) that declared, “On all the buildings in farming zones of particular historical interest the laws  Article 35 is applied  for architectural  protection  and the building  falls under this protection. “ 

Again, another falsehood.

            A lawyer wrote to the mayor and town secretary for us asking for an annulment and for evident errors and facts not corresponding to the truth, such as the Certificate of Urban Destination.

          The lawyer and I can see the acts, the secretary said, but about the falsity of the obligations, not a word.

           Meanwhile on the 25th of the month, the architect and engineer sent the mayor and his council a note lamenting that I had written notes on many different arguments, made defamatory comments and invented repeated visits to the technical office characterized by menaing and offensive acts.  If this had been true why hadn’t they denounced it? Simple because it was not true. The three had declared and signed again another falsehood.

           The two professionals and the geometra wrote that they had acted in all honesty and transparency. They declared to have been unjustly called up by the professional order they belonged to. They asked to defend their professional and moral image…Above all they confirmed to have had a member of the Judicial police at their side when they will make the measurements at our house.

           The town messenger brought the note to everyone at home and in some cases had it signed by the mother or father of a few politicians. The town secretary answered that the two professionals and geometra    and asked to name a new lawyer indicating a person of their choice to make another on site investigation.  

*

2004

European Funds and support for Female Entrepreneurs

          In the summer of 2004 we had finished the project, recuperated the farm estate and started production in the olive grove and garden, restored Fontana del Papa and started offering hospitality. A little bit of money was like manna from heaven for us.  The work on the inside of the farmhouse were finished only the Olivella room had to be finished and a few other things left to be done. Santino was the last worker to arrive at Fontana del Papa. Originally from Umbria, he is a quiet, sensible man. With Santino creativity took place with little lakes full of goldfish and giant carp, arches, a bridge, oven, pergola, fountains. Santino knew how to translate the fantasies in our heads and gave form and beauty to the scattered rocks.

We were ready to begin our real work and above all we had honored and paid all of our suppliers.

          The Finance police following a report from the Region had controlled all the bills and expenses and verified that they really had been done what the European funds had conceded to us, everything done in respect of the laws, Said their documents, only the building abuse that bound the building was still unjust. 

*

          Victoria and Meg from New York were our very first guests, now our best friends who had taken part from the beginning in almost all these problems. Their arrival was fun; their vacation with us was unique and certainly unforgettable. Victoria   remembers that every time she went back to her room she would find something new.

          We were able, not withstanding all the problems, to bring our children home. Finally we were reunited but, in order to do so we had spent all our savings and our bank account was dangerously low. We were counting on the European funds, expected to arrive in September. An official note had come from the Lazio Region informing us that approximately 30,000 euro, the first part of the 55,000 euro for the project we had presented,  were due to arrive.

The project consisted of the restoration of the rural building of Fontana del Papa and the creation of an agriturism activity.  Then, if there were no problems, we would be able to ask for and obtain the entire sum. We were able to request only the first part of the funds hoping that the administrative and penal situation would in the meantime be cleared up. We were eluded in thinking of that an act of penitence would come to the conscience of the technicians and politicians. We hoped that their hearts rebelled at the evil they had been capable of doing

          One day in the beginning of November I received a phone call from an official of the Lazio Region who said he knew I was having legal problems and that I had committed a grave building abuse.

          I knew I couldn’t give up and pretended not to be surprised. So I said to him“If you think I should write   because I have problems, well write to me officially with the reasons. The town as far as I am concerned is in total error and bad faith”. The official did not answer but the European funds did not arrive and the bank account began to sink lower and lower while the date for the mortgage payment came closer.

          At Christmas that year we were in deep desperation, our children were Andrea 10, Emma 14 and Luca 20 years old. We still were able to make the nativity scene and Christmas tree but were blocked by the thought, “how long will we still be here?” and we kept the answer to ourselves since it was too painful. There was no sign of a light at the end of the tunnel.

          In January the money did not arrive, the bank called once in a while, then more often. The children began having nightmares. Claudio began to have terrible headaches and the only cure seemed to be to stay in the dark all day long. Opening his eyes and seeing the light gave him sharp pains in his head and above his eyes due to the stress and worry. It was too much. The problems the town had caused us would have been enough to kill a buffalo.

         In the room next to our bedroom, the library, I wrote. I put wood on the fire and cried desperately in silence. I had anxiety over the discouragement of Claudio and his suffering and his problems with High Blood Pressure worried me a lot. There was nothing left for me to do but write and write.

         Before Christmas I wrote to the agriculture regional director of the Lazio region to ask for the concession of the European funds that had been blocked without any formal reason.  In January a signed declaration by the architect was given to the Region outlining the reason for the blockage of the funds in my name.  The cold clear days of January were no match for our desperation.

          Claudio began to be really ill. Anxiety, the fear of not being able to guarantee a future for his children, the possibility of losing the house and everything else was too big and intense. The pain entered into the bones and the gelid cold enveloped us.

           Only those who have heart and courage and believes in truth can understand. Few words can be given for the lawyers.. Three “princes “of the law took a lot of money from us. “Conference discussion” That is all. One answered. The other when I revoked his work, really frightened me by what he was able to say. I had never been convinced by their shifty eyes, I could perceive that imprecise something that had no justification.

          The politicians, the mayor, council members and technicians, they were not fooling around, they had gone ahead and it was now very clear that they were using their public power to bring us down on our knees. Even today I am not able to understand with such daring that they could have knowingly done so much evil.

*

2005

A woman saves us

          Dr. Andreina Raponi, an official of the Lazio Region was responsible for checking the documents concerning the various false accusations we had received. She immediately acted, in full respect for the law, to remove the obstacles and to help us have the anticipation of European Funds. As the bank payments were coming up a situation put us in the condition of losing everything. Our economic situation was so bad that we could not have paid the mortgage. The European funds for agriculture, about 30,000 euro, did arrive at the beginning of March thanks to the correctness and interest of this official of the Lazio Region.

           A woman had understood the pain of another woman who refused to accept the swindle and did not run away from her responsibilities even knowing that someone would not have been happy about it.  We were thus able to honor our debts and overcome the serious situation of health and anxiety that had been created also, and especially for our children. Their sleep had been full of scary monsters.

The plot of the Weaver's warp had also stolen the lightheartedness of three young boys.

          Also my father who was very elderly had nightmares,  “A huge group of  wild dogs barking and showing their teeth  were attacking, but you were completely blind and deaf to their violent aggression, you continued to work on what you were doing as they came closer. You entered the house closing the door behind you and they dissolved like fog in the sun. A great peace and silence came down upon Fontana del Papa and everything ended”.

          Claudio instead had risked his life. We had run to the Tarquinia hospital twice. Hypertension   caused by stress was the doctors’ diagnosis. In many cases the psychic stress influences to such a degree as to cause hypertension and be considered a principal cause. Among the most risky conditions   are: anger kept inside, rage, intense emotions, responsibility. At home we with us were, Emma and Andrea who were 14 and 9 years old. Luca was in the army in Viterbo.

          We had the good fortune to have on our side the bank director who, with great intelligence and humanity, waited for the regional funds to arrive. After this we could start to hope again. A refinancing of the mortgages gave us the possibility to get rid of our debts. 

*

A bit about us.

          I think I have a strong character, I am a hard worker and have a university degree that I had to work for and no one has ever given us anything. I always was a day dreamer.

           I already knew the places and pictures of my new house for in my dreams as a little girl I would fly up above them. I knew the stairs, the light behind me, the arch and the view out into endless, infinite space. Nature, the plants, fruits, grass, lady bugs, cats and chickens, the frogs that at night   tried to keep a balance that is life. Almost all of my dreams had come true. I have three splendid children who unfortunately have had to pay for some of the debts that were not theirs.

          I love solitude; I sometimes make people mad and angry. At the time I dreamed and Claudio planned. Claudio is a person of great intelligence and intuition. He was sensible and knew how to guide every one of our decisions. In all of the adventure he was our point of reference, for he understood the validity of the project. It was not easy for him to go on, for other injustices in the past had deeply wounded him.

          Our union was a perfect fit yet it brought about all this, the purchase of Fontana del Papa. Unfortunately we had been unable to predict so much dishonesty. The common feeling around town was to feel sorry for two crazy people who wanted to follow a dream and construct a future for their children. It would have been very easy to predict that it would finish badly because we didn’t have so much money. In other words, we bit off more than we could chew. 

          Also the commission of the professionals … the architects and engineers to whom we had sent a note because the architect and engineer made false declarations, archived everything. We did find comfort in the positive perceptions that never abandoned us, especially when I went close to the olive trees. Those hundred year old olive trees were almost destroyed but then after suffering for years, they had been reborn.

          One morning of Janurary 2005 when the European funds were still blocked, with the mortgage due and the bank account 100 thousand euro in red, very early, when the sun had not yet come up, I had the strong desire to go outdoors. I went up to the elbow tree, the one in front of the children’s room and put my hand on the trunk. There was not a breath of wind. I cried for we were without any hope and I spoke into the darkness and the silence to the tree, “We gave you back your life, we have worked, we have done all we could, what must we do now, tell me what must I do?”

 All of a sudden a warm wind pushed the branches of the olive down towards me.

           “We’ll be all right, yes, we will be alright”, I said to Claudio who in that moment was really, sick, “We’ll be able to do it, we’ll be able”.

          I was searching for comfort and certainties, and called to Professor Fontanazza, a researcher and agronomist to whom I had turned to ask about the different types of olive trees we had when we first bought Fontana del Papa.    He came one winter afternoon and I only remember that he said, “it will be beautiful”.

          I called him for I had understood his great kindness and told him a bit about our troubles.  He believed in us and his answer given from the heart took away every doubt.

           “You see, Signora, all my life I was interested in olive trees in a scientific way, I studied how to make them more productive. Now that I am retired I want to say what I feel. If you had an apple orchard, or almond or nut tree it would not be the same thing as the olive grove that you have. The olive tree is a tree of peace, of life and the only one that remembers   being abandoned by man.  You have worked with passion and love and have given life back and the olives will give you the energy   you need to face all your problems. The energy of the olive is strength and life. You will see that everything will return to the light even the mistakes of those who falsely accused you and made you suffer so much. It will all came back to the light like the tender leaves that you restored to the sun’s light.” Those words were of great comfort and gave us new hope.

 2006

The Search with Warrant

          The Substitute Procurator had me inscribed on the book of investigated people. The two technicians had asked permission to make an onsite investigation.  They received the authorization and now, after two years of silence on the part of the town hall, they wanted an answer. Was it true or not that I had made a building    abuse on a protected building?  This is what they had declared at the town technical office. This is what the Procurator wanted do know. Was it true or not? The town hall was upset for they had to answer to the Procurator within five days. The very next day the municipal administration sent a technical group to take measurements at Fontana del Papa.

          On February 24, 2006  seven people, all paid by the town, arrived: the geometra responsible with three helpers   all kitted out with various instruments adapted for the assigned work: portable distanziometro of the Leica company  disto Classic,  a total TOPCON  GPT 6005 station  (number Wv0834) without auxiliary reflecting prism   as written in the verbal declaration .

          The measurements this time had to be perfect. Then there were three local policemen and the town architect.  In the living room the fireplace was lit and all the were rooms in order. The only way to describe this tribe of explorers was “search with warrant”.  Claudio was out with some guests, it would have been unthinkable for them to get mixed up in this embarrassing episode. The children were at school and it was painful for them to find these intruders when they returned.

          They measured every corner, shelf, height and cubature. The architect photographed every angle, every room, every bath, everything. It was disgusting to see them enter in the rooms without asking permission, especially the kids’ rooms where the various things were in a healthy disorder. They were strangers, complete strangers but they had the right to move the beds and furniture, to step on the children’s’ belongings, to offend their young lives.  We had been unable to protect their rd privacy.  Did they not realize how much suffering they were able to do? They had offended our dignity in the deepest parts of our heart. We asked ourselves, “What kind of parents are we that we are not even able to protect and defend the liberty and privacy of our children”.

 Impotence and deep anger were all we could feel.

          One of the various urban council members who was added to the list and who had come to our house as a visitor with his wife and daughter. They had eaten with us, shared the bread of our work and the water of our hopes He told us that it was an unbearable thing to continue and promised to clear things up. Then later he voted in favor of the search. Another behavior that is difficult to understand is that of two of Claudio’s cousins, both in the town government who obviously had added their “yes” votes to this inspection.

          In the afternoon, the seven “measurers” were outside in a pouring rain continuing to take measurements and photos with every tool. The report they produced was sent to the Substitute Procurer who could do nothing more than open a criminal proceedings against me. Since they could not change the numbers they wrote about a serious “Change of use” for the entire house.

          The stable which once housed the donkeys had become the kitchen; the chicken house had become the heating room. Evidently when people built three, four centuries ago how could they should have known that one day there would be heaters, and bathrooms?  Who knows if at that time they needed regulatory plans. Incredibly, I was accused of having changed the use, in other words we were guilty of the restoration of a ruin to live in. Clearly they had nothing else to attack us with.

          The able and serious architect who organized my defense gave a huge laugh when he finished reading the report that had been sent to the Substitute Procurer. He laughed because the hefty report of the measurers    released me completely from the accusation of abusive elevation of the roof, the blockage of tutelage was not even mentioned and the change of use was the apologue.

          Instead for the abuses connected to the heights and the relative demolition down to 2, 20 meters they had thrown around and the architect had complained about, the engineer and geometra were far from every truth. Also the accusation of abusive heights was a false one.  The Geometra commissioned and paid for by the town declared, “The heights of the buildings have undergone variations lower than 10 centimetres”. Now there was something to laugh about.

          We were without words.  Defending ourselves was a continual tangled mess. There was no beginning and no end. We shouted with no more voice and it seemed that our credibility had come to an end. The only two friends left who had listened calmly and patiently, were seriously worried for us.

          A few days later Gianfranco wrote, “As much as we were able to see and realize your dream, it was improbable. It is easy today to figure out how you were able to do it. Certain times, when we would arrive here and see your car parked but you were not answering because you were busy elsewhere, a big fear would grab me. I was afraid I would find you all dead. How could you hold up in a situation so full of tensions and injustice? I cannot forget seeing you eating lunch sitting on a stone in the middle of dust or, walking around the tubes and debris while I listened to you say that this is the kitchen. 

           When seated at the computer, the field mice would run between the wall and my feet. Outside it was cold and they were our guests in the warmth of the house. That is until Costanzo and D’Artagnan, the cats, arrived.  Gianfranco was right. How had we done it? Who could ever repay us for the pain, the sickness of Claudio, the suffering of our children? 

            February 24, 2006   was one of those dates we will find difficult to forget. IT was a dark, rainy cold day but power is power and with power one can dispense destruction and decide for the life of others.

          The situation we were in obliged me to unjustly give back,, the European funds of the law 215/92 for positive action of female entrepreneurship. About 50,000 euro for projects finished but not rectified since it was under the heavy accusation of abusiveness on a protected building.  That money was rightfully ours yet we had to give it back, euro after euro, all together with no possibility of installment payments.

          I went to the law court for the first   trial   three days before Christmas of 2006 and like the other times, “my” lawyers   were not to my liking since they did not take care of my downtrodden rights even with all those documents in my favor. Everything would soon finish, it was a constant trickle of fear, of money thrown away for each trial, about 3000 euro at last count. 

          A very good architect finally concluded with a detailed report contesting point by point every one of the charges on my count.  The bill was high, about 7,000 euro right away and another 6,000 euro   to conclude the operation. In the first days of May 2007   the administrative part was closed and the first part of the problems cleared and the town of Tolfa gave us the “permission to build”   those parts built later but admitted by the regulatory plan. The farmhouse had no blockage of tutelage. Now it was clear.

Twenty days later Claudio had a stroke.

It was a period of intense pain and suffering.

          Meanwhile the penal trial went ahead and we could not see how it would end for something was not clear, the doubts on “how” the lawyers were defending me became stronger.   Why didn’t they deposit the documents that would bring a resolution and close the penal problem, the “permission to build” and the architect report for my defense? 

          During an internet search I met a young “clean” lawyer of Genoa. With patience she read all the papers, about 270 documents that meanwhile I had published on an internet site. The lawyer immediately put the situation on fire… and in a month’s time there was the deadline for asking damages…and we were just in time.

          On a morning in June 2008 I took the train for Genoa and that afternoon the lawyer of Genoa sent the extra judicial request of damages against those who had declared falsehoods, including the mayor.  We had made it just in time.

          In September of 2008 Lawyer went to the courthouse for the last trial deposited the acts and the penal event against me was closed. Lella, Andreina, Elisa were the three women who had saved us. Not one of them knew us before. But they had believed us.  For the request for damages no one had ever answered.   Only an invitation to stop and “do not forget” …”we have the power, we can use it again”

I understood…

          I stopped and continued to work. A radical change in Claudio’s character after the stoke has put us all in serious difficulty. There was too much pain for the three children through no fault of their own.

 No one speaks more. No one has ever answered. 

          Professionals and administrators  who had demonstrated that they knew how to hurt, to be perfectly capable to do so, to  have the face and know how to govern, they knew how to wound, how to put our very lives at  stake, they have  taken serenity away  from the children.

Home at Fontana del Papa

          Time has gone by the penal and administrative problems are now old stories, life has taken a regular course, the olive grove is luxuriant and rich with fruit, the garden blooms and gives us every sort of Nature’s gifts for our table. The wild orchids, the cyclamen and violets embroider the  fields of the chestnut grove in spring  and in autumn the porcini mushrooms go directly into the pan with parsley, garlic, wild fennel and our oil and the perfume of these natural ingredients invites everyone to the table.

          Every October we begin the olive harvest. The large   nets are laid under each tree and the compressor with the olive pickers is attached to Domè, the tractor as we call our faithful tractor. The olives that fall on the nets are put into well aired cases and that same evening are brought to the olive mill. The first phase is the removal of the leaves and then a careful washing. The milling, or crushing of the pulp and   pit, is followed by the gramolatura that mixes the pulp and pit separating into the water nearby. The mill man has many responsibilities; the temperature must stay low, the light should not arrive and he must be careful with the timing of the whole procedure. The last phase is the extraction of the oil   that can be done with a vertical press or by centrifugation. The oil is stored in steel drums in a dry place far from any light source.  Our oil is on the table by November every year!

          A short  stone path which in the past centuries brought   people up  from  Casal dè Frati  to the source of Fontana del Papa has been brought back to light and  uncovered   while other excavation works will be done in collaboration with the  Archeology Superintendent for Etruria.

           The lower land, which was famous for its high building index, has thus become the site for archeological digs. After an investigation by satellite and on the ground, many objects dating from prehistoric times, including the Copper Age have been found. The site dates from before the Etruscans, so life, past and present, continues at Fontana del Papa, the “golden triangle “of studies by archeologists. A mine, a paradise   in which our family, our children have become “History”.

          The Fontana del Papa   has become a home away from home   for a wide range of people from all parts of the world, so in reality the world has come to us.

          In every part of the world, in every faraway place there is someone who remembers us, our family, our home and the serene moments passed here together and chatting with Claudio about Italian wines. We can count thousands of friends from different cultures, of different colors and races spread all over the world.

          More than just the work we do with our guests with great passion, we have opened our hearts to hope. Each of them has a story, a culture different from ours. If only for a few days, they have become members of our family. Many of them are Italo- Americans who come to search their past roots, the far away memories of their grandparent who immigrated to American during the early 19th century and who never learned to speak the new language. They were proud people and although they brought with them suffering and poverty, they kept their family united.  The grandchildren were taken care of by the grandmothers who also taught them Italian, or an ancient dialect. Many of the guests still remember the dishes that their grandmothers cooked for them and ask to eat them again. It’s not difficult for these   poor and simple foods are our natural diet.  Ben wanted “macaroni”, Janet asked for “pasta e fasule”, Tricia insisted on “I fiori è cuguzza”.  No problem, for the kitchen garden is a triumph   in summer with these ingredients.

Joseph remembered how his grandmother called him, “Giuseppino mangia, mangia”.

          We cannot forget Joanna who came for two days and   stayed more than ten. She wanted to paint and she did. The third day much to our surprise, she began to speak a language that was incomprehensible, but familiar. What had happened? She was using the colorful Campanian dialect sprinkled with archaic terminology.  She just started to speak, and speak, but how could this be? She felt so much at home, in family, that she had returned to the time of her infancy.

          Her mother had immigrated to America at seventeen as had Joanna’s father, when he was eighteen. The father was a worker, the mother stayed home and had lots to do with the eleven children she brought into the world. Joanna was the youngest. Joanna’s mother never learned English and spoke to her children in her native tongue, the dialect of her homeland. The dialect had lost a bit of its vivacity and some of the words were twisted so the children grew up learning the mother’s language. Joanna learned English at school and had a hard time fitting in. Joanna’s mother died at 92 and right to the end she only spoke her ancient, mother tongue. Joanna is now a wealthy, important manager of a chain of hotels and with us she found again those   pleasant ancient memories of long ago.

          Dan instead remembered that when his father would hear him speaking in Italian, the language he learned from his grandmother, he would get a beating. His integration into the new society had to be quick and Italian was getting in the way. Yet Dan remembers with great tenderness and gratitude the grandmother who took care of him and prepared him pasta and gnocchi.

          And Linda, with her little Joseph, who searched for her roots and found them in Tolfa, at the house in Via Annibalcaro where her great grandmother Ofelia was born. 

And so many others. One by one we remember each one of our guests, each   with a different story.

          But this is another story, one that started with a project, a dream, the love for life and fraternity of all men in the world and that became a reality at our house, at Fontana del Papa.

            “An enchanted place where  I found  again the sense of silence in intense and long moments of serenity, the deep joy and laughing at nothing,  the fullness  of  the eyes   embracing   huge remote images, the heat and  joyful snap of the fire, the vital and solitary  murmur of running water. Dawn with its uncontrollable, violent colors that announce the day that is coming…and the stars, yes, I discovered that the night sky has stars, many, bright, vivid, not reachable but near me…” F.L.R.

To my children

This is the story that I have wanted to write, the story that is ours; but not even my most easy- flowing words have availed me to say the things that I’ve  wished to, and time has been stingy with the moments of quiet that might have permitted my expressing it all – the joy, the passion, the anger  and bitterness and disbelief, the exhaustion, the awe… and finally, the sense of disastrous dislocation we’ve all been living with for these past ten years.

It’s been my aim all along to understand what’s befallen us; indeed, even now I’ve struggled to grasp  it, to explain to myself how all of this has unfolded: I’ve had to return here – of this I am certain – to the splendid and crazy events that have receded behind us, the events for which as yet I have no found answer.

To capture our lives, to record our dreams: in my best effort to make them vivid for you, I find myself having to replay my own life, plunge back into the day-to-day of things, to retrace a course that was still un-charted when first set out together.

I’ll find my way again by planting both feet before our very first door and setting out all over again, our dreams in our pockets and our full wits about us.

This enterprise could be troubling for all three of you. Then again, perhaps not. After all, there are so many things you know already, matters that have embedded themselves in your skins, or, even worse, burrowed deep into your bones.

Were all exhausted now from what we’ve had to go through in spite of ourselves over these past many years to get it all done. Nor did it go as we might have wished.

We’ve battled with success against many injustice, we’ve laughed and had patience, knowing that we stood in the right, we’ve managed all sort of legal outrages and violation of the low, we’ve put, all alone, our shoulders to the wheel. We have never depended merely on the splendor of our dreams. We have maintained so very much faith in ourselves.

It has been a central trait of our lives, your fathers and mine, to conquer fear with joy in our wanting to create to give life, to have a family. Others, perhaps, in our situation would not have sought to do has been for the benefit of the three of you, even though at points you might have been too young to know it, and even when you had to pay in unexpected ways.

What I’ve written here is dedicated to your father, whose great intelligence and humanity have enabled him to meet such stiff challenges and problems, and who has paid for his fortitude with the gravest of prices, that of his health.

  For Claudio Luca, Emma and Andrea

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”, Eleanor Roosevelt

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