AND NOT A DROP TO DRINK

In Los Angeles, water arrives automatically and reliably from the DWP. In the countryside, in Italy, not so much. Our house had a well … and it didn’t take long for us to realize it didn’t work all that well.

The pozzaiolo, Dario, became an early friend, along with his wife, Cristina. He’s a boxing enthusiast with a dog named BoomBoom, so he liked us immediately. He explained how to adjust the switches from one cisterna (the underground holding tanks, of which we have two) to the other … inspected the old well … cleaned the old pump … loved my cookies. He came immediately whenever I called … and always started the conversation by telling him if it was an emergency or routine, not wanting to rely on the kindness of a stranger-turned-friend. But I’m sure the panic or calm in my voice said it all.

Cat and kumquat … plum crazy.

We began to conserve water. No strangers to drought, we knew about quick showers … filling the sink to rinse dishes. We stocked up on bottled water. We loved that San Benedetto was 25 cents for 2 liters … rather than the Italian market’s price of $1.75 for a 750ml bottle. We remembered and laughed that San Pellegrino called its downsized bottles “elegant.”

Our first raspberry … back by popular demand, strawberry fields.

Despite all the adjustments, our tanks were filling too slowly. A liter a minute … no one mentioned how fast it should be, but all agreed that was slow. The solution seemed obvious to us. Drill deeper down the well to find more water, maybe a new pump. But none of the three other families with whom we shared that well wanted to discuss it … not even our champions, Roberto and Giovanna. Everyone seemed hesitant … because … the agency that provides public water has been promising that our area would get service next year. 35 years … next year.

We then learned why they were “waiting” and didn’t want to spend any money on the old well. One of the villa owners had dug a private catchment system, and the other two owners had alternate arrangements with a nearby neighbor. Oh good, maybe he will help us, too. Every time his name was mentioned, horses in the neighborhood brayed. Oh the horror! We made the “hooves rearing” gesture with our hands …

But we couldn’t continue this way … certainly not if we wanted to live in the house year ‘round. Dario said our first step was to see if we had water under our property. He called the expert … a nameless, older man whom David quickly called Acqua Dio, Water God. He found a branch from a nearby chestnut tree to make a divining rod, and slowly walked through our yard. He stopped. Here, he said … there’s a vein here from the mountains, pointing toward the Apennines. I thought David would kiss him. He walked around some more, and confirmed his location. He then took a plumb bob, and swung it in circles, counting each one. Trentanove … 39 meters. How did he know that??? We were more amazed. We put some stones and a steel stake to mark the magic mystery spot.

Giovanna came over with a divining rod and confirmed the location of our water. I was impressed that divining was an actual skill, not merely a suburban legend. They were happy we were drilling our own well … and not rely on the neighbor (oh the horror!) … better to be independent.

Later that fall, Dario and the well maker drilled. He emailed photos of their progress every so often. As predicted, there was a vein of water around 40 meters. It was decided to drill deeper, to find a richer vein. 58 meters … liquid gold. Well done. We breathed a sigh of relief.

Happy ending? Happy … saga.

We were relaxed when we arrived the next summer. And the summer after that. But, apparently, a pump that sits for 11 months a year gets … lazy. Bloccato, they said. And it doesn’t last as long as one that works steadily. Newton’s law of motion. So when we ran out of water, we were shocked. Dario pulled up all 58 meters of tubing, laid it across the yard, and replaced the pump. Water returned.

We relaxed and welcomed guests. But, apparently, an old motor is simply an old motor. And when it stops, no water is delivered to the house. Ciao Dario, sei occupato oggi? Cristina and I sat in the shade and talked of love. New motor … water returned.

We relaxed and welcomed guests. But, apparently … it’s not enough to be clever and make sure the faucet outside doesn’t freeze when the temperature dips below zero. The motor, which sits in a damp cement pit near one of the holding tanks, needs to be well insulated, too. Dario suggested a towel. High tech. Once the lines thawed, water returned.

Then … and now (salad with cucumber, cannellini beans and orata in vinaigrette)
Before … during … after (sauteed in olive oil with garlic and pine nuts).

We relaxed and welcomed guests.

Then, not so long ago, both tanks were empty. Thursday night … empty. Dario has retired. We called Gianluca, our plumber extraordinaire, and he arrived Friday morning. Good Friday. All 58 meters of tubing were pulled up and laid across the yard. The pump was too muddy, but the secret ingredient to clean it … water … wasn’t available. He took it home and cleaned it, then adjusted all the lines and connections and fittings. The resin that seals the electrical components needed time to dry before lowering the pump. Finally, the moment of truth was at hand.

In the meantime, we called the water delivery truck. Ok, he said, later this afternoon … and around 5:00 p.m. the tanker (labeled latte … a truck of milk … a cat’s fantasy!) arrived. 5,000 liters and 130 euros, at least we had water without waiting. I asked for his phone number.

But … there still was no pressure. Drip, drip, gurgle. Not outside, not inside, not upstairs (where the bathrooms are). The motor was dirty, clogged with sand or mug … Gianluca tried and tweaked and adjusted and altered, but it wouldn’t work for more than a minute. A part or parts needed to be replaced. At 6:00 p.m. on a Friday, the plumbing shop was closed. Monday was Pasquetta … they would re-open on Tuesday.

All I can say is golf club membership has its privileges. And they provide big towels.

Having no water makes any weekend seem looong. Tuesday finally arrived. After

priming of the pump, purging of air, and positioning of valves, everything was working. There was joy in the land.

We relaxed. Until drip, drip, gurgle. On Friday. Rather than fiddling every few weeks with a temperamental motor, Gianluca arrived on his white horse … well, his white truck … with a temporary motor, and the next Monday he installed a brand-new, powerful, up-to-date, electronic motor.

We relaxed. Until a week later when the dreaded drip, drip, gurgle returned. Gianluca said that the motor had simply over-heated. We had been so worried about freezing that we moved the motor/electronic brain into an above-ground enclosure. But then the motor did what motors do without enough air circulation … they overheat and stop working. Ventilation, he said, was the easy fix. There was joy in the land.

We are relaxing …

ALMOND MACAROONS

These are soft and chewy. Make these when you do a batch of Bussolai … to use the egg whites. I sometimes make them with a mixture of almonds and macadamia nuts. MACaroons.

2–½ cups almonds, toasted and finely ground
⅓ cup sugar
2 egg whites
1 tsp. almond extract
Pine nuts … for decoration

- Preheat oven to 350° F (170° C). Line a cookie sheet with a silpat.
- In a large bowl, combine the ground almonds, almond extract, and sugar.
- In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Gently fold into the almond mixture.
- Using a mini ice cream scoop (since the dough is rather sticky), shape into small mounds and drop/place onto cookie sheet.
- Press a pine nut into the top of each cookie.
- Bake for 18–20 minutes until lightly browned.
Makes about 38–40 cookies. (If they start to harden, add a piece of orange peel or apple slice to the cookie jar to keep them soft.)
Enjoy!

BUSSOLAI

These Venetian ring cookies are buttery and irresistible. Make these when you do the Almond Macaroons … to use the 2 egg yolks.

4 oz. butter, softened
½ cup sugar
3 egg yolks
Lemon peel from 1 lemon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups flour
Pinch salt
1 egg white (for glaze)
- Preheat oven to 325° F (160° C). Line a cookie sheet with a silpat.
- In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar. Then add egg yolks, lemon and vanilla.
- Stir in flour and salt until well blended.
- Chill the dough in the refrigerator for an hour or so to make it easier to handle.
- To form the cookies, take a walnut-size piece of dough … roll it in your hands, and shape it into a slim log about 2–3 inches long and ¼ inch in diameter. Shape it around your middle finger to form a ring, and press the ends together. Place on cookie sheet.
- Brush the rings with the egg white. (Note … I always cook the leftover egg white, and give it to the kitties!)
- Bake for 15–18 minutes until very lightly browned.
Makes about 40 to 45 cookies.
Enjoy!