I haven’t written about this sooner because it makes me so angry that I prefer not to think about it, but sometimes it’s hard to avoid, especially in the summer.
N and I have some agricultural land right outside the town walls. It’s part of a lot that N inherited together with his mother and his siblings when his father died. His father had inherited it from his parents; it had been part of a much larger estate that was divided among numerous heirs. N’s father’s lot didn’t have a suitable house on it, so he rented it and its small casa colonica (farmhouse) to a tenant. The tenant had a son, who growing up on the land, came to think of it as his own, and indeed, he began to act as though he were the owner, and it took an acrimonious and drawn-out court case (which N’s father nearly lost due to both perjury and bribery by the other side) to finally evict him. Sadly, N’s father didn’t live long enough to see that happen.
While the tenant’s son lived there, he allowed several things to happen that irreparably damaged the land. The worst of these things was allowing the builders of three nearby condominiums to avoid connecting the buildings to the town’s sewer line by simply letting the untreated waste flow out onto N’s father’s land. As soon as N’s family discovered this, they reported it to the authorities. There was a trial, the town fined the owners of the condominiums, and the police were charged with ensuring that the situation be remedied. N’s family gained hundreds of enemies, as the inhabitants of the condos were required to pay a share of the fine (they spent a decade shitting on someone else’s land, but they felt that they had been wronged), the town made some easy money, and then nothing happened. I think it helpful to add here that among the residents of the condominiums in question was the mayor of the town.
And so we have some agricultural land that cannot be farmed because there is a stream of untreated waste that flows through it, more or less uninterruptedly. It cuts off a portion of land that has perhaps twenty olive trees on it, making them hard to reach because of the wide swath of saturated terrain that must be traversed to do so. It flows by several fig and orange trees, providing a constant source of fertilizer for poison fruit that cannot be eaten. We have a walnut tree that produces every year but all it’s good for is a bit of shade. (If you like to sit downwind of a stinking canal of excrement, that is.)
When N’s father died, his family looked into developing part of the lot. I think that they wanted to find a way to keep it in their family yet forget the bad memories associated with it (including the sad truth that N’s father had spent decades trying to take possession of HIS OWN LAND and died before he succeeded.) But it’s zoned for agricultural use, and it doesn’t matter at all that it’s useless agriculturally. I think it helpful to add here that the town several years ago availed itself of some adjoining agricultural land, which happened to belong to the aunt, to build a pay parking lot. Apparently, what can be built on agricultural land depends on who is doing the building.
I remember how insistent I was to N about doing something, anything, about it when I first heard the story, and I couldn’t understand his or his family’s inaction, their seeming shrug in the face of injustice. It took years for me to grasp, finally, that they had already done all that they could and that they were tired of fighting and wary of letting that piece of land consume their lives that way it had done to N’s father.
We are torn between wanting to sell the land and wanting to take up the fight once again to resolve the problem. If we sell it, then all of N’s father’s efforts will have been in vain, (and we suspect that if we sell it to someone more well-connected than we are, it is likely that permission would be given for it to be developed.) If we decide to fight, we risk wasting years on something that, frankly, looks like a lost cause. And even if we were to win, how many years would we have to wait before we could be sure that the land was no longer polluted by all the nasty stuff that people flush down toilets (and here I’m not talking about human waste?)