13 – italian time

* photo by John Morgan

So we were left with the possibility of buying the deserted farmhouse with the large acreage of land.  However it seemed that even this property had problems attached.  We discovered that there was an ancient clause in the deeds, regarding an ecclesiastical livello” attached to one of the sections of land, something similar to a tithe agreement.  It appeared that this land had once belonged to the church and via a half-tenancy, half-freehold arrangement had probably been let out to a local peasant, contadino”, who worked the land.  In return he was bound to give a share of his produce to the church.  After a certain period of time the tenant had the right to acquire the land and pass it on to his heirs.  The church and parish no longer existed, however the clause had still remained in the deeds, so it was possible that the church still might still technically hold an interest. We were told that this agreement would have to be legally cancelled by the current owners.   Giampiero, the estate agent, said that this would only take a couple of months, however talking to our geometra” Rocco,  we learned that this could in fact be a long drawn out, complicated task.  The local Church Committee apparently only met once a month, and if the proposal was brought up at the first meeting, the matter would not be considered until the following month.  If there was some problem or opposition to the cancellation of thecontratto di  livello” then this matter could take six months or even longer to resolve.  This concerned us deeply, as TIME was the one thing we did not have.  We were anxious to get my parents relocated here in Italy, so that we could all be reunited.  Being an only child, I had no brothers or sisters to keep a watchful eye out for them.  Since we had left them behind in the UK back in April, they had been left somewhat “in limbo”, anxiously waiting news of developments as the months were steadily ticking by. 

However, there is one thing you have to accept in Italy – here things just cannot be hurried !!!  “Italian time” greatly differs greatly from “British time”, and not just because the Italian clocks are set one hour in advance of good old “Greenwich Mean Time”.  If a shop displays its opening hours on the door, this does not in any way mean that it actually sticks to this timetable.  Most shops tend to re-open after the lunch break, siesta or riposo, at around “4…ish” in the afternoon.  However this may depend on: the day of the week, the length of a snooze after consuming a huge Italian lunch, what’s on the TV, a game of cards, or other possibly more or less important engagements, to mention but a few.  Then there is the time concerning appointments.  Normally when setting a time to meet they say verso”, meaning around, whatever the intended time of the meeting.  Verso” can be anything from a quarter of an hour, half an hour, even three quarters of an hour or more after the scheduled hour.  If you are a punctual type, like my husband, you are said to be preciso”, and to keep toun orario tedescho – a German / Swiss timetable!

Then there is Rocco time“.  Rocco, we have learned through bitter experience, is always late for appointments, come hell or high water!  So many times we have been left waiting, shuffling our feet, outside an estate agent’s office, 15, 25, 45 minutes after the set time of the appointment.  While making small talk with the agent Paul apologised profusely for the delay, in a very British manner, whilst I desperately kept trying to make contact with Rocco by mobile phone.  Eventually we would succeed in speaking to him and he’s nonchalantly say sto arrivando” which translates as “I am about to arrive”.  Don’t you believe it !!!

5 minutes later, 10 minutes later ….. 15 minutes later ….. he’d still not turned up.  Sto arrivando” in “Rocco speak“,  means, “I’m just leaving”!  20 minutes later he’d finally arrive, to our great relief.  But seeing that he had often been willing to give us his services for free, we couldn’t really grumble.  He seemed to be able to solve many of the problems we were encountering in about 5 minutes flat, and if he couldn’t sort it out, then he always seemed to know someone who could.  Therefore his unpunctuality was a small price to pay, and after all – it was the slow pace of life that had attracted us to move to Italy in the first place !!!

Rocco advised us that the casale” and its vast olive grove offered plenty of potential, and would be an investment for the future.  With the huge size of the land this gave the possibility of building another house or some smaller chalets or bungalows that we could let out to holiday makers.  Or perhaps we could do Bed & Breakfast or even turn it into a campsite, if we could get permission from the local council or comune”.  It seemed that the council of the province was keen to promote tourism in the area, and grants were available to help local farmers to combine traditional farming with tourist ventures – in Italy this is known as “agriturismo”

However, there still remained the piccolo problema” of the livello” How much would the legal work cost to get this clause taken out of the documentation?  How long would it take to get the church to cancel this ancient agreement?  We learned that it was usual to offer a donation to the church in compensation.  I joked with Giampiero, the estate agent, that if we paid the church a handsome donation, we would expect St Peter to supply us with “keys in hand” to enter the pearly gates of heaven.  This resulted in much laughter and frivolity, but Paul was concerned that the church might expect a larger donation, perhaps for a new church roof perhaps.  However, having taken advice from various professional sources, we thought that in reality the livello” would not be too much of a problem.  The parish church to which it was that it was linked apparently no longer existed.  In the last 50 years the owners had never been asked to pay anything by the church, and many pieces of land come with such livellos

Rocco also advised us to go to the Technical Department of the local “comune”, and ask exactly how much extra we could build on the land and whether we would be allowed to use it for “agriturismo” purposes.  We held our breath as the official at the town hall checked though various old documents and worked out calculations.  From the horse’s mouth we were told that, as the law currently stood, we could build another ample property, and the possibility of adding more agricultural storerooms / barns.  There were big sighs of relief all around.

After considerable thought we finally decided to start negotiations with an opening bid, as the asking price was supposedly  “trattabile”,  a low offer as we thought that we might have to pay to get the “livello” clause annulled.  The vendors had 5 days in which to accept the offer, or turn it down, so some patience on our part was required.  After some to-ing and fro-ing through the agent an acceptable price was established for  both parties, which we formally backed up with a “proposta”, a written offer accompanied by a cheque of a thousand or so euros,  to confirm the seriousness of our intent to purchase.  Historically, this cheque was held by the Vendor, but more modern laws now state that it must be held by the estate agents.

We arranged to view the property with  an elderly fellow who looked after the property for his niece and nephew.  He showed us around the downstairs part of the house, which had previously always been locked, it had simply been used for storing tools and equipment for olive farming. 

Eventually we managed to negotiate a price with the vendors, and Giampiero, the estate agent, set about preparing the documents for the first stage of the purchase contract known as the “compromesso”.  We were aiming to complete the purchase as swiftly as possible. 

We went up to visit the casale” several times, measure up and see the lie of the land, and we began to make plans for the renovation.  We took Salvatore and our fellow camper Vittore, the builder from Rome, to take a look around. Vittore said that the building itself seemed to be sound enough, however he advised us to put in a damp-proof membrane downstairs.  The roof also needed water-proofing under the tiles.  There was a small existing bathroom with some very basic pipe-work leading to just outside of the property, however there was no septic tap or sewage system at the property.  Thus any waste products literally plopped out of an open ended pipe.  Perhaps that was why the olives trees behind the house seemed to grow so well !!! 

So … we’d needed to get a new septic tank, as well as new plumbing, electrical wiring, central heating system, gas tank.  Apart from that it was fine!  We had thought that the work we’d done to our last house back in the UK was a big enough DIY project !  Vittore said he would prepare a modest quotation for the work that needed to be done.  We also needed to think about organising the connection of water and electricity, and a perhaps a phone line as soon as possible.

* photo by john morgan


Chapter 14  –  first dose of culture shock


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