The Well in Pollone: Chapter Two

Eventually we reached Pollone, and I was not disappointed. It was a charming village, and everything nice that Umberto had said about it had fulfilled all my expectations. We drove at speed through the little lanes and along the wider roads and then turned down a very narrow lane, so narrow that there certainly wasn't room in case any other vehicle should be coming from the opposite direction. We passed one old lady, dressed completely in black, who smiled and waved a friendly hand at Anna. I had realised whilst passing through Pollone that Anna seemed to be known to almost everybody, as there was the constant calling out of: “Ciao, Bella,” and “Ciao, Anna,” to her and “Ciao, Bello or Ciao, Bella,” from her; and I knew instinctively that I was going to love being among these lovely friendly people.

Halfway down the narrow lane we stopped beside a huge, old wooden door in the wall and Anna jumped out, took a large brass key, similar to a Yale key, and opened the lock. It was a triple throw lock, and she opened the door inwards and we both entered.

We stood in a tree shaded courtyard.

To the right was a set of simple open wooden stairs with a handrail.

Those open stairs led to the little area where Umberto had his simple “apartment”. It was a conversion from some sort of bucolic arrangement. Umberto’s living quarters were on the first and second floor and were comprised of three rooms.

His “apartment”, and those of the other tenants, appeared to have formerly been either hay lofts or some form of open fronted storage; part of a farm building; perhaps. Or perhaps I was being too romantic and they had always been dwellings. Three or four of these “conversions” overlooked the central area which contained the great chestnut tree and a beautiful old well. Umberto’s accommodation comprised a large open area with a kitchen at the back and an open wooden stairway to the bedroom; off that a large open balcony. Not so much a flat as three rooms overlooking a fairly spacious courtyard.

Having entered through the great door, we stood in the tree-shaded courtyard.

Anna turned to the right, and pointing upwards to an open fronted balcony with a rustic wooden balcony rail, turned to me and smiled: “Umberto’s. Yours”.

Then taking both my bags, she bounded up the stairs to the second floor. I followed, and she quickly showed me around. Then, although not using words, but simply by gestures, she let me know that she had to be somewhere else, but would return later for “Pranzo”, indicating eating by putting her fingers to her mouth, “Mangiare, mangiamo”; to eat, we would eat.

Then, as she was obviously in a hurry to be that somewhere else, she came down the stairs. As she was leaving, and we were saying our “Arrivedercis”, she stopped with her hand on the big door that led to the lane outside; casually pointed at a door in the wall that faced Umberto’s apartameneto. “Gabinetto,” she said, laughing. “Questo è il tuo gabinetto”.

And there it was. My gabinetto; my lavatory. Directly opposite my new home, on the other side of the courtyard, was a wooden door; behind this door was the lavatory. Had Umberto told me that I must use that as there was no lavatory in his three rooms? I can’t remember, but my first experience of the lavatory at Umberto’s home was traumatic.

I’d seen “gabinetto” on the train and knew that that meant “lavatory”. In fact I’d read a lot of words and phrases which I assumed meant something that I would need one day: On the aeroplane I had been assured that la salvagente è sotto la poltrona and I assumed that that meant that if we fell out of the sky I would be saved by looking under my seat, or my throne, to find it… possibly a life jacket. I had been encouraged on the train to non getate alcuni sulla fenestra, which led me to believe that I shouldn’t throw anything out of the window… and aqua potabile was an easy one… but what about aqua non potabile?


I was on a roll. If I could cope with all of these, I was pretty sure that I would never make the mistake of eating a cat on the train; or at least not admitting to it. And the thought of losing my wet nurse at the Central Station in Rome was hardly likely

Anna left. And almost immediately, I heard her car start up and roar up the narrow lane. “Thank God,” I thought. I didn’t want her to go particularly, but I hadn’t used the lavatory since I was on the train from Rome. It had been a hot day, and I had drunk water and limonata to quench my thirst, and several cups of caffè espresso, hadn’t helped. The cups were tiny, but coffee is a diuretic, and caffè espresso is more so. I was absolutely dying to use the lavatory… my gabinetto.

I looked into it and although I was dying to relieve myself I found it difficult to enter. I am sure that if anybody had been watching, I would have been seen to recoil; recoil dramatically.

It was a room a little over one and a half metres square with a rough concrete or stone floor with a hole. On either side of the hole were two raised shapes; the size of a footprint. It was obvious what they were for. Put your feet on the foot shaped plinths - guide and lower yourself to within a safe distance of the hole… and defecate. I couldn’t do it. I knew that even in a dire emergency, that I could never squat within a safe distance of that hole and aim my poo at it with any accuracy or safety. But I had been travelling all day and had stopped in Biella for an espresso and now my bladder was telling me in a very loud voice that no matter my fears of falling down the hole in the near or far distant future it wanted to be relieved, and to be relieved at once.

Of course the hole was far too small for me to fall down it, but I wasn’t going to take any chances.

I entered the little room behind the wooden door. I closed the door as securely as I could; considering there was no lock; just the remains of a wooden bar which at one time had slipped into a notch… my arm stuck out behind me, holding the door closed with one hand, I stood and I urinated… I peed with what care and accuracy that I could muster, down that hole and was horrified to hear my piss splashing metres beneath my feet in what I assumed was some massive amphitheatre of sound. The gushing sound of my piss embarrassed and shocked me. I felt that half the population of Pollone would have heard me. But when I eventually took courage and opened the door of the gabinetto and peered outside, my worst fears were unfounded. No one was there. Just me and an empty courtyard. The sun filtered down through the leaves of the chestnut tree, a bird chirruped reassuringly in the distance. All was at peace. No one had heard.

Suddenly from behind me, a door opened and a very old lady darted out of a door on the ground floor. She carried a brush and a pail of water in her hands. She entered the gabinetto. There was a sound of brushing and sluicing and scrubbing, and then, after a few moments, the door flung open again, revealing the old lady, happy and smiling.

This episode, brief as it was, reminded me of one of a pair of lovers in a Tyrolean chiming clock. The pair of lovers who come out on the hour and on the half hour; one from a little cabin on the left; one from a little cabin on the right. They came out at the chiming clock’s call and met in front of a tiny little Tyrolean castle; bent briefly; kissed even more briefly and then turned to resume their places in their little huts to wait for the next half hour.

But in this chiming nightmare, there was no chiming clock; just the sound of a closing wooden door. And rather than a pair of Austrian lovers; he in a military uniform; she in a dirndl skirt, with her hair in yellow plaits, there was an old lady with a brush and a pail of water.

Buongiorno” she almost shouted and then a string of Italian that I didn’t understand at all. Basically I think she was saying something like: “You’re the one who had a piss and emptied your bowels and I cleared it up for you”. Before I could respond; before I could tell her that I had only peed down that ghastly hole, and that I hadn't even attempted to open my bowels, she had darted back through the door she had come through; and no doubt lay there waiting for the next person to use the hell hole I had just vacated. Should I have tipped her? Should I have said anything?

“Thank you!” I muttered, feeling my face darkening with embarrassment… “Thank you”.

She stuck her head out of her doorway for a quick look at me:

Prego!” shouted the old lady and darted back into her little home; room; cupboard.

In the whole time that I live in that apartment, I never heard her say anything apart from “Buongiorno” or “Prego”, the classic Italian word that shows acceptance of a compliment, a thank you for a thank you. “That’s all right” or “My pleasure”.

The well was everything that the gabinetto was not. The gabinetto was a sordid little room behind an old wooden door; a door that was so old and cracked with age that I was convinced that anybody could see into it from wherever they were in or overlooking the courtyard. I had sworn, after the first time I had used it on the day that I had arrived that I would never use it again… unless in an emergency or under cover of darkness. For whenever I had seen anybody use it, whoever it was, that old woman with the brush and the pail of water would scuttle in and clean it. And make such a fuss about doing it too. Every time she finished she would bellow “Prego!” at anyone who had used it.

I never knew if she was paid to clean up after everyone or whether she owned it or whether she just enjoyed sluicing down every time it was used, but I never defecated in there once during the whole two weeks I was living in Pollone.

My gabinetto and my bagno became the stream which was over two stone walls and across three meadows. Not fields; fields are places where people grow things; meadows are expanses of grass; wet grass where cows graze and leave cow pats.

My bathroom; my gabinetto, my bagno, was that stream over those fields and walls.

In the heat of the August midday sun the enclosed courtyard would have been stiflingly hot, but a large sweet chestnut tree grew in the centre of the courtyard, pushing its massive trunk up through the heavy, rough hewn stone slabs. This courtyard was overlooked by the three, or more, other sets of rooms belonging to other tenants.



I never discovered how many people lived in the dwellings overlooking the courtyard. I would see people coming in, in the afternoon for their lunch, or perhaps I would catch a glimpse of someone, in the morning, when I went to the well, but that was all.

There was nobody there during the day as the other dwellings were owned, or rented, by the people who worked in local industries; on the farms surrounding the village or as servants perhaps in the big villas further up at the other end of the village. The population of the whole village numbered a little over two thousand.

The well stood beside and under the chestnut tree. It was built of local grey stone, and beautiful in a charmingly rustic manner. Two solid stone pillars rose to hold up the simple tiled roof. A solid wooden beam stretched between the two columns; an iron handle, for turning, stuck out at the side; turning that would draw up the wooden bucket which hung in the mouth of the well. There was a little stone skirt, or step, which ran around the base of the well for one to stand on or for a resting place for the bucket when it had been drawn up with water from below.

I loved that well and the sweet water that I drew from it each day.

During my all too brief stay in Pollone, that well became an intrinsic and much loved part of my morning ritual.

I was woken before dawn by the Clonc! Clonc! Clonc! of the cow bells hung around the necks of cows as they were driven up into the low mountain pastures for the day. I lay in bed and listened and then perhaps dozed off to sleep again; enjoying the glorious mountain air, and then the smell of someone making coffee in one of the other homes nearby.

Umberto had told me to use whatever I found in the kitchen and to call the place mine for the duration of my stay. Yet, on the second day, I discovered a little negozio, a shop; just at the end of the lane that Anna had driven down on that first afternoon. Everything that I should need to make my breakfast was available there: panettone, a wonderful home made albicocca conservare (apricot conserve), latte in a carton, and Lavazza caffè grounds, my favourite.

I had discovered an espresso caffè machine in the simple kitchen, and ignoring the large plastic bottles of water, wrapped in plastic, would go to the well, draw up a bucket of cool water from it and then set about making my breakfast. It was an idyllic existence.

The espresso machine was capable of making vast amounts of caffè, and I would sit on the wooden stairs in the sunshine; drinking the caffè in a huge coffee bowl, and eating the panettone with fresh butter and the sweet but tangy albicocca conservare.

Then, as unobtrusively as possible, I would take my towel and soap and saunter off to take my morning bath in the stream that I could reach by crossing those damp, dew drenched morning meadows. That stream, fed by the melting snows from the mountains that rise above Pollone.

I splashed in the near freezing water like a child. I threw water in my face and over myself like a young boy again. I squatted silently and as secretively as possible and used the fresh water where toilet paper would usually be used.

One morning I was laughing and chattering to myself in my bath, my bagno, my gabinetto. I felt that eerie feeling one experiences when one is being watched, and turned to see a lone cow, watching me with that gentle look only a cow can show,

Buongiorno!” I called to her, and continued washing myself as if I were the only man in Northern Italy.

Buongiorno!” came a sweet voice, and I turned and I looked; my body and mind transfixed; two young children watching my every move. The boy turned to the girl, and then, laughing, they ran off across the dew drenched grass. I could hear their sweet voices calling out as they ran; their laughter filling that magical morning meadow.

After my bath, I would amble back to Umberto’s home… my home; enervated and happy from my stream. Then, I’d dress and wait to see what my friends had planned for my day.

Living there was charming in the extreme. It was a chance for me to relax, and to just be myself. Nearly all of my meals were taken away from Umberto’s home, which I was already treating as my own, as he had encouraged me to do. Anna had taken me around to meet others of Umberto’s friends and they all made a point of making me feel like an honoured guest, but at the same time, part of the social circle. The new friends I made differed remarkably in many respects from each other: from Madalena who owned the bar, to Anna, of course; then another lady, Olga, who took me very much under her wing and made it her mission to introduce me to some of the best restaurants and little eating places I have ever experienced. Everyone was charming, as only the Italians can be.

I was invited out for lunch or for dinner at so may people’s homes, villas and apartments; but more usually, I was taken to restaurants, mostly during the daytime, so that I basically didn’t have a chance to prepare or to have a meal in Umberto’s home until the last evening of my stay in Pollone. I was only there to sleep and to take breakfast, which became quite a ritual.

Biella vecchia

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Comments 17 comments

Sunnie Day 5 years ago

WOW Ian!!! I felt as if I was on holiday there. Ian I remember as a child going to Italy and the first time I had to use their restroom facilities..it was quite an ordeal for a child to comply..lol with saying that...

I loved this story and found it so charming..it is a little piece of heaven on earth. I loved the bathing in the stream and the well parts of the story..both so rustic, peaceful, and a natural way of life. You bring this story to life.

Thank you,

Sunnie


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. Author

First caller and a lovely comment. Thank you, Sunnie. I have to put a link at the bottom, and then (as it is already written), add chapter three.

And it's true.


A.A. Zavala profile image

A.A. Zavala 5 years ago from Texas

I laughed out loud reading this. It is European thing about privacy during these times of "solitude." In Germany they have old cleaning women called putzfrau's. They will clean around you as you do your business. They will even wait on you until your done in public restrooms. Can be really awkward if your shy...


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. Author

A.A., Thank you for the visit and thank you for the comment. I am a shy one and was in France some years back when I found two lavatories close together. There was a Dammes and a Hommes. Great, I thought, I don't have to have the women too close... But when I went down the stairs, the two entrances led down and then became one large room for both sexes.

Eeek!

By the way; thanks for laughing out loud. That's what I like to hear.


mckbirdbks profile image

mckbirdbks 5 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

You certainly set the stage. Vivid descriptions. You traveled back in time without a Victrola. Those Italian courtyards are beautiful. You mentioned three lock doors, Chapter one maybe, I thought those were great. Quite a

journey.


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. Author

Let me entice you with more words, if I may.

Thank you for reading, Mck. I appreciate your kind comments.


Becky 5 years ago

Another entrancing chapter to your memories.


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. Author

Dear Becky, where do you come from? Not Hubworld, I feel. How did you find your way here? I am intrigued.


Becky 5 years ago

No, not Hubworld. I found Ghost32 looking at alternative building methods and got hooked on reading people's stories. I find someone whose comment looks interesting and go look them up. I am half worried someone might look at me as a stalker.

I am from Reno, Nevada but live in Tennessee since 2001. We arrived in Tenn. on Sept. 11. My husband is disabled Army and we have 3 kids. He has 2 more that lived with us when they were 1 and up.


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. Author

If you are a stalker, Becky, then I love being stalked. You have been a real encouragement to me. I love writing, as you no doubt know, but you seem to see a little more in my scribbling than some others.


kallini2010 profile image

kallini2010 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

Well, I was reminded of two films - one that I love "Under the Tuscan Sun" - did you see it?

It is a real story, the writer wrote the book first and then there was a film adaptation. I did not read the book, but then I tried to read "the second part" - another book and it was just impossible - I think I only got through one fifth of it. She even included recipes... However, it gave a very interesting portrayal of Italy, very detailed to the point that you would never imagine anyone going into those details. Yet, it left quite an impression and a trace - something like - that Italians really like bitter tastes...

The second film is "Eat, pray, love" with Julia Roberts and it also shows her "amazement" at how few conveniences are in Italy (I think she was staying in Rome). I did not particularly like the film, but I liked the Italian part and I liked Daniel's reaction.

It was the first adult movie I took him to (I mean to watch in a theater, at home he does not mind at all) and he asked what it was about. I said

- It is a romantic comedy.

- What is a romantic comedy?

- It is a funny movie about love.

- Mom, there is nothing funny about love.

I will never forget it. Later, when Julia Roberts was rejecting the love of her life out of fear of FAILURE, Daniel cried and told me "I told you. Nothing funny."

Anyways - it is funny that you can tell the story about the Hell Hole - I would be too shy... I cannot go if...

We were on a boat once and it was too long a journey (over ten hours), the boat had no washroom, it was not that kind of boat, so we all had to pee. For men it is easy - just overboard. For women - we had to be held over and even though we made a curtain out of the sail and nothing could be seen, but all this activity with calling names and the sound of peeing... I was the only one who could not do it. I tried, but... I was risking my bladder to burst.

There is nothing more horrible than lavatory stories and I know - Russia is not Facilities Paradise.

Again, Voinovich was joking that the monument to the Soviet Regime should be made out sh-t and called Pique of Communism for all the sufferers of terrible public washrooms. They could be so terrible so a lot of chloral is used so that your eyes hurt.

However, you survived that minor inconvenience.

And to wrap it up on a happier note, there is a quote from the book that I mentioned:

=========================================================

Happiness, divine and banal word, a complex proposition which shifts its boundaries constantly, and sometimes feels so very easy. (page 12)

Happiness? The colour of it must be spring green, impossible to describe until I see a just-hatched lizard sunning on a stone. That colour, the glowing green lizard skin, repeats in every new leaf. “The force that through green fuse drives the flower…” Dylan Thmas wrote. “Fuse” and “force” are excellent word choices – the regenerative power of nature explodes in every weed, stalk, branch. Working in the mild sun, I feel the green fuse of my body, too. Surges of energy, kaleidoscopic sunlight through the leaves, the soft breeze that makes me want to say to word “zephyr” – this mindless simplicity can be called happiness. (page 6)

From Frances Mayes “Bella Tuscany (The Sweet Life in Italy)”.

=========================================================


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. Author

I still think, more and more when I read your writing that Daniel is a very lucky boy. I loved that little vignette of going to the cinema and "love isn't happy". He will grow up into a person with his senses working all the time. I think you are a wonderful mother; he appears to be your child, first and also your friend.

And I do no mean that nouvelle vague crap about "My mother is my best friend and we go down to the Mall together and choose clothes together and..."

I mean a real friend.

Yes, Italians like bitter tastes. Here a few words from something I am writing... slowly:

The sap of a tree that I leant on once in a hot West Australian playground. The sap was bitter and pleasant and dusty.

Bitter and pleasant like the Campari I drank on a terrace at the Villa Bocca in Pollone once when Signora Bocca served afternoon tea and Campari sodas to me and Princess Olga. Afternoon tea, alla Inglese. Earl Grey tea and panini.


kallini2010 profile image

kallini2010 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

Oh, Ian, thank you, but you are really touching an open wound. No, I am not a good mother. So far from it - I was crying yesterday because some music made me think of Daniel (he is with his Dad for a couple of weeks now).

Nature lavished too many vices on me and Daniel suffers from the lack of attention from me. First it was illness.... mostly illness still. This process of "normalization" takes way too long. When I read that on the average it takes about eight years (for patients who acknowledge the diagnosis and cooperate, because a lot of people with bipolar disorder just keep running away from doctors while their condition deteriorates), I was appalled. Now it has been six years and I am doing much better...

But as far as a friendship, you are right, but it is my general attitude to everyone - I am a friend - there is nothing I value more than friendship.

Daniel is not my possession, he is my responsibility, but I love him more as he grows up. Some mothers tell me that they prefer babies or children before they reach five years of age because they don't talk back!

What idiocy! I loved him dearly when he was a baby, of course, but not from day one - it took about two months to realize this little boy is my son, not just some strange creature that turned the whole life upside down. Which is normal, too - there are "numbers" associated with development and Daniel and I were right on schedule. Everything, but speech.

I love that he talks back, I love to communicate with him, I love that I can know now what he thinks.

=========================================================

Campari... I loved Campari even in Moscow. Here I buy it sometimes. And recently I was treated to a dinner in an authentic Italian restaurant - it was such a pleasure.

Ok, I will be reading the next chapter.


kallini2010 profile image

kallini2010 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

I came back as I remembered something that I wanted to mention. Speaking of restaurants...

There is a restaurant in Toronto called "La Vecchia", one of my friends happens to like it and I was there a couple of times.

"La Vecchia" means "an old woman" - I thought "What an ODD name for a restaurant!"

Yours "Biella Vecchia" - I would not bet on the meaning - the translator gave me - "old connecting rod". At least "old" must be right.

I think I would have picked Italian fast enough.

Now, there is another "connecting something" - "La Vecchia" - Toronto - Italy - Ian - my friend - and I pass that restaurant at least once a week when I go dancing.


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. Author

Every Italian city, that I know of, has a "vecchia", Biella Vecchia (old Biella). Usually it is just called Citta Vecchia,... the old (part) of the city, or the original city.

I know about il Vecchio - the old man... or simply Vecchio.

It is a lovely language to pick up on a rudimentary level, for an English speaking person. because the rules of grammar are fairly similar... but there are millions of cases.

If you ever want to have your mind spin, look at the conjugations of the verb "to be". essere... They are frightening in their complexity to me, but maybe you have a plethora of different endings in Russian.

But the Italians are so understanding. If you just try, they love you for it and never criticise in a negative manner, but just encourage.


kallini2010 profile image

kallini2010 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

It is funny that I don't realize how many Italian words I do know -

Russian is probably more complicated than Italian, cases and endings and everything to make you a madman.

I don't mind it - I just don't need Italian or Spanish at the moment.

Today I was talking to our cleaning lady (I think she is from Argentina, "g" is in "h")

and I said something from a song - her English is very bad and she was trying to communicate with another lady (snobbish if you ask me). The lady was complaining about something - I could not hear - I only saw how Nilda (the lady from Argentina) was pointing to her head understandingly

so I said:

"Me duele la cabeza"?

It is not even a question, as far as I know - my head hurts - rather "to me hurts head" (more in an sense like a heartache from love not from physical pain, physical pain is "dolor").

Nilda immediately switched to Spanish, in a heartbeat -

she later told me that my accent is such that it is even hard to say that Spanish is not MY language.

It was the same thing - I said to some guy on a bus "Ciao, bello!" - he stopped in his tracks and missed his stop. "Are you Italian?"

Si, claro.

Verdad.

Whatever - I pick easily and speak easily. I love languages, I love traveling and I love people. And usually they like/love me, too. Because I always make an effort.


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. Author

The greatest compliment I ever received in Italy concerning the Italian language was not that I conjugated something properly (although I could say "male testa" - headache) was that I said something, and one of my Italian friends said, of my accent:

"La lingua Toscana, nella bocca Romana" = The Tuscan tongue in a Roman mouth.

The Tuscan language in the mouth of the people who speak Italian (Tuscan) with the nicest accent.

Unfortunately I no longer make the right noises.

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