Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The End of Year Drought

Capodanno a secco, blared the headlines. “It will be a dry New Year’s Eve”. Not “dry” in the American sense of the word, mind you. The prosecco would still be flowing. Unfortunately, the water taps wouldn’t be. We’ve been without water since Friday last.

The main pipe that brings water from the Sibilline Mountains to the Tronto Valley, in which Ascoli rests, ruptured, leaving us and about 150,000 other people high and dry. Friday night they said that water would be restored by Sunday. This being Italy, and knowing the pipes to be extremely aged, I figured if we had it flowing again by Monday we’d be doing good but tried to be hopeful. My main concern was for the toilets. Two days of this and things were bound to get a little ripe.

Fortunately, fortuitously Bryan had not taken the load of empty plastic water bottles down to the recycling yet. On Saturday we had an appointment northeast of Ascoli, so we loaded up the 1 ½ liter bottles and headed for the hills where water comes in from a different line system. Ripatransone’s fountains were spouting forth and we tapped up seven bottles. Bryan is a handyman kind of guy, so when we got home he managed to get the plastic flush cover off the wall in order to fill the toilet tank. Phew. One disaster averted, at least for the time being.

But Saturday’s newspaper brought gloomy news. Water “may” be restored again on January 2. Or maybe the 3rd. Pazienza, the mayor requested. It is an unpredictable occurrence to have a rockslide take out the above-ground water pipe. What’s that? Did I read it correctly? Above ground? Yes, indeed. In the piazza we heard snippets of grumbling among the old men who gather to talk, especially when there is something big to really get grumbling about. “Just shows how vulnerable we are,” said one. “Yes, terrorists could easily bring us down and it’s our own fault with stupid infrastructure like this,” groaned another. A water tanker pulled into the piazza and drew an immediate crowd shoving to get their bottles filled. It was for show, pulling into the piazza. After that first load, the future filling stations would be set up in three locales less conveniently located.

Some of the coffee bars were not serving caffe (gasp!) because they don’t possess storage tanks and the machines require water to create steam to operate as well as for the actual coffee brew. Others cleverly rigged the machines up utilizing bottled water; at least we wouldn’t have to be caffeine-less.

On Sunday morning it was announced that they would tap into another line temporarily, one that services another sector of the province, in order to provide some water for a daily two-hour period to the Tronto Valley. Flow would be much reduced, at 1/8 the normal flow rate but people could at least clean up, cook something, and flush. At our apartment, located on the second floor (American third) and up a hill, the water was about 1/20 the normal flow…just a thin stream, actually. It took more than 40 minutes after the “turn-on” time to start trickling through our lines. Then we spent more than an hour slowly filling up every bottle, pan, large bowl, and bucket we possessed. We filled the laundry sink, tea kettle, and pitchers. I tried to turn on the shower, but it was no use. Not enough pressure.

We were truly in need of a good cleaning. Both of us had horrid hair and felt icky. Bryan was looking scruffy with three days’ beard growth. Then I remembered having once noticed shower facilities at a newer Autogrill, the roadside rest areas found throughout the nation where you can get good caffe, a panino or salad, and find generally clean bathrooms. We packed a small toiletries bag and set off on the autostrada, stopping at each one until we hit on one with the coveted facilities. It was a smaller one, so there was only one shower stall, but we went in turn and felt great relief at being clean again. You know, ready to face the world and the water crisis again.

Then we saw the aforementioned headline. A dry New Year’s. The caffe and restaurant owners were lamenting what to do with reservations out the wazoo for the biggest big-ticket night of the year. No problem, said the mayor. We’ll deal with it. Water will be brought in. Porta-potties will be brought in. It will be fine. Yeah; fine for those with large water tanks to be filled. As for the porta potties…I counted six in all for the entire centro storico, which does not seem much like party preparedness to me. And those six, you should know, had the padlocks affixed through the outer ring so that the doors could not be securely closed once you were inside. Brilliant planning, no?

The end result was a much smaller crowd than last year, many having opted to escape to wetter locales. Still, it turned out to be a fun party. We went out to the piazza after dining with friends. A so-so band cranked it up and the mayor took the stage only a couple minutes until midnight, instead of giving a droll speech for 15 minutes like last year. He is no fool; he knew he would not be well-received. And indeed, as soon as he made his entrance those around us started screaming, “eh (bleep) accende l’acqua!” (Turn on the water, dude!) Then they started lighting off their loudest fireworks to drown him out, some even aiming Roman candle-type pyrotechnics in his general direction. They settled down only when the countdown from 10 began. At “one” a volley of prosecco corks buzzed through the air and more fireworks started being lit. We opened our own half-bottle, toasted and kissed in the new year.

Firecrackers here are some of the loudest we’ve ever experienced. Bangs that sound like bombs and reverberate off the stone walls made us jump. I knew from last year that we’d be hearing them for hours. With the thunderous booms and the water rationing, not to the mention the fact that the little piazza near our apartment is currently in rubble, we got a little taste of what Ascoli must have been like during the war. We ran into some friends who had made the same observation.

We dragged ourselves home, not accustomed to being out and about until after 1:00 a.m. We poured water into the toilet tank and called it a good, albeit dry, night.


anna l'americana said...

Having lived through several seasons of summer water rationing in Rome several (SEVERAL) years ago: You do not need to fill the toilet tank to get the toilet to flush, just dump a 1/2 bucketful down the bowl. Gravity takes care of the rest. Try it, it works.
We used to "fill" the bathtub during the 4 "daily" allotted hrs of water (sometimes the middle of the night!) and after using that water to bathe & rinse out our unmentionables, instead of draining the tub, we left the stopper in, and with a bucket, used the "used" water to flush when needed (we became experts at recycling water!).
This was of course in addition to filling every other receptacle we could find to use for cooking, washing up, etc.
When available, the rationed water came in in drips and dribbles so I use the word "fill" loosely, of course. We would have to get up in the middle of the night and literally spend all four hours filling receptacles....
Ah, the memories!

Anonymous said...

Ah, the memories--is right! I spent a year in Gaeta, south of Rome in 1972-1973. There were several periods during the summer when we scrubbed the bathtub in the morning and filled it up because we might not have water from the tap later in the day. Knowing how very much has changed in Italy (and the world) since that year, it is oddly comforting to me to know that some things haven't changed much at all.

janie said...

Good luck Valerie. What a way to start the New Year!

Valerie said...

Anna - thanks for the suggestions. Alas, no bath tub in our home :( We're used to conserving water, having lived in the desert for 20 years, but not having *any* is a new experience for us!

Anonymous - my parents spent several months a year in Gaeta for 3 years. It was one of the first places in Italy we visited and really liked it. Glad you're comforted by the unchanging qualities of Italy. I think. ;)

Janie - thanks, we're coping.

Buon Anno!

sognatrice said...

Ugh, what a way to begin 2008...things can only look up I suppose ;)

Anyway, happy trails for your trip to the US!