A Beautiful Hassle

Pompei, Italy

Above: a photo I took of a man killed in the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in Pompeii. You can tell he’s thinking about why his fountain stopped working. Again.

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The written story (below) is far superior, but I've also made a short video about the joys of fountain ownership, if you prefer that route:

Rambling with Ryan 3: Add a Beautiful Hassle to Your Yard

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Add a Beautiful Hassle to Your Yard

I dare anyone to spend any amount of time in Italy and not come home convinced that what their yard needs is a beautiful new Italian fountain.

You encounter fountains everywhere throughout Italy, from the oversized, breathtaking ones that entire piazzas are centered around, to small quaint ones that gurgle away in home courtyards and cafes. They are simply stunning! Your professors and tour guides will have you fascinated by how such an early civilization was able to figure out the complex dynamics of making water flow through these majestic beauties.

But what I find even more fascinating, is how all these years later, and after all of our modern advancements, we apparently still have not figured out a way to make the water pump easily accessible in a fountain that you purchase for your home.

Anyone who has a fountain purchased within the last century knows what I’m talking about. You simply cannot get to the water pump, without taking the whole damn thing apart.

Every. Single. Time.

It’s not like we are salvaging these fountains from actual antiquity and are stuck with the cards we were dealt. No, we are manufacturing these, brand new!

So why has no one thought of a way to incorporate some kind of easily accessible pump chamber? Some process for getting to the pump that doesn’t involve buying beer for every vaguely muscular person you know and trying to trick them into coming over each and every time a single stray leaf flutters into the fountain and clogs up the pump?

The fountain I chose for my front courtyard is a relatively small one as far as fountains go, but still each of its multiple concrete components weighs close to 1,00,000,000 pounds (I’m pretty sure…). And there’s always some part of the assembly process that involves having to basically hold each excruciatingly heavy piece up in midair next to its companion piece, so you can run a pump tube up through the center of them all. If you think it’s hard to imagine, just know that it’s infinitely harder to actually do. Be sure and budget in extra time for all the divorce threats and impassioned arguments you’re about to have. See? You’re getting into the spirit of Italy already. Is that the romantic sound of gondoliers I hear in the distance, as we embark on Hour Five of messing with this fountain? So magical!

I hate to spoil the surprise, but the fun doesn’t end here. Because next, you are going to realize that if your fountain is not perfectly balanced — and we’re talking on a scientifically-exact, almost molecular level— then that fountain is going to produce its little stream of water almost exclusively on one side, and one side only. Like an I-Dream-of-Genie ponytail made of water, streaming down from the top. We would make endless micro-adjustments, trying to level it, which just caused the water ponytail to move to a different side. Maddening.

Eventually I decided to just point the ponytail towards the street, and hope that passers-by would simply assume my fountain did that on all sides. Why wouldn’t it?! They do in Italy!*

*It is possible gravity works differently in Italy, due to a combination of how sexy and loud everyone is over there, combined with the centrifugal force of all the circling mopeds.

A fountain isn't just beautiful, it also provides hours and hours of endless fun! You’ll be transported right back to Florence, as you assemble and reassemble it, time and time again, every time a stray leaf flutters in and clogs up the pump. So beautiful! Who wants gelato?

Above: Surrounding your fountain with beautiful caladiums and begonias will ensure that it’s almost impossible to get to each time you need to mess with it.
Above: Surrounding your fountain with beautiful caladiums and begonias will ensure that it’s almost impossible to get to each time you need to mess with it.

Typical of cats, my lion fountain also does whatever it wants. The pump it came with seemed to have just two settings: I can achieve a high-intensity, sort of exorcist-style projectile beam of water that shot half-way across the patio, or I can get the lion head to do a kind of half-conscious, heavily-medicated, drooling type of thing. Delightful! Am I back on the Amalfi Coast?

Birds and squirrels, impure thoughts, a gentle gust of wind or an especially fast-flying bee— all possible contenders for why your fountain is performing erratically or has stopped working entirely. And trust me, at some point it will. Stop working.

And that is when you’ll be tempted to say, “Screw it. From now on, this a non-working fountain— more of a tiered birdbath, really— and I’m fine with that!”

No you’re not.

Have you ever seen a mailman run? I have. I thought he was just on a fitness kick until I realized that every day, he was trying to sprint past the infested, algae-green, mosquito sanctuary that is now my stagnant fountain. Mmmm.I’m sure that every time he sprinted past it and hurled the mail towards my door from several feet away to avoid my new (Italian?) mosquito swarm, he was transported, and could almost taste the fresh baked focaccia bread of an Italian cafe. I know I certainly feel like I’m gearing up for a hike across the Siciliano countryside as I slather myself with bug spray each morning, just to walk to my car (which involves walking in the mere vicinity of my front yard fountain). Such a treat! Like running to catch a trolly car on the Isle of Capri! Who wants limoncello?

Don’t be tempted to selfishly hide your fountain in your backyard for you alone to enjoy, no, put it out in front! They are great conversation starters. For example, you can get to know your neighbors by inviting them to come inside and go on an emotional journey with you each time one walks by and asks, “But why do you never turn it on?”

“You’re going to need to sit down for this,” you can say, as you explain your multiple theories for why it’s not presently working, reasons it hasn’t worked in the past, and maybe even trap them for longer by showing photographic proof of the brief times it did work. “Isn’t it pretty? No, don’t look at it out there , look at it here in this photograph. This is what it’s supposed to do. Also, have you been working out? You look vaguely muscular to me… Do you have any plans for, say, the next five hours?”

Maybe break open some grappa at this point.

I jest. I really do love my fountains (when they are working properly), and sometimes they really do remind me of being back in Italy. I used to wonder what became of all those coins that people wishfully throw into the Trevino Fountain each day. Now I know. As a proud and habitual owner of several garden fountains, it becomes quickly apparent that you have to continuously throw massive amounts of money at them if you want them to work.

Above: photo I took of a man killed in the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in Pompeii. You can tell he’s thinking about why his fountain stopped working. Again.
Above: photo I took of a man killed in the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in Pompeii. You can tell he’s thinking about why his fountain stopped working. Again.

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Join me in (actual) Italy HERE!