is a facet of italian life which is universally loathed, but apparently impossible to eradicate from the system. One of those many make-work positions that the Italian authorities have dreamed up (along with that of geometra and, to a significant degree, bookkeeper) is that of condominial administrator. These people do nothing - apart from endlessly seeking opportunities to line their own pockets at the expense of condominial members - and charge significant amounts of money for the privilege. In any building where there are more than four seperate households, any one of the householders is legally entitled to register the building as a condominium, which then requires the services of an administator to jump through all sorts of unnecessary bureaucratic hoops on behalf of the condominium, at the end of which process nobody is any the better off (apart from the administrator, who is smiling all the way to the bank). And the annual meeting of the condominial members with their administrator is the aforementioned and deeply disliked assemblea.
When we first bought the property in Via Fucini, it seemed a good idea to register it as a condominium, since there was one other householder in the building at that time, and it seemed a practical means of getting them to pay their share of the buildng costs such as connecting the house to the town drainage system, and stripping out the baroque accumulation of gas, water and electricity pipes which festooned the walls of all the common parts, as the result of many previous decades of uncontrolled installations. The first administator we appointed was lousy beyond description - there was no sign of her actually having done anything, not even summon a condominial assemblea, after more than five years! - but her existence did at least serve the purpose intended, and all of the condominial upgrade programme went through more or less without a hitch. When the Technical Dept then pointed out to her that for her to submit an annual bill in these circumstances was nothing short of a joke, she took umbrage and resigned. Which you would have thought would have been the end of it, and the condominium concept could have been allowed to sink into nothingness. Nope. Not a bit of it. Once a condominium has been conjured into existence, there it is......for ever. Administrator No 1 had to keep on maintaining the books until a replacement had been found and appointed.....or is it annointed?...in her place, and she could pass on the baton of grasping incompetence to her eager successor.
Who in this instance was Signora A, a dumpy woman with badly dyed hair and a voice that suggests she is the crossbreed offspring of a corncrake and a Black and Decker drill. At high volume. Entering into the spirit of things with gusto, her first action as administrator was to declare that the condominial electrics were not up to code, and lo-and-behold she just happened to have an electrician who would be able to re-do the entire system.....for a price which was only slightly more than double that which the TD then managed to get from a competitive supplier. To the annoyance of Signora A's tame electrician, and I imagine also to the increasing pangs of hunger knawing in Signora A's back pocket (but, never mind - the next time the drains needed cleaning, she was there in a flash with a plumber she 'happened to know', whose subsequent bill was sufficient to keep both himself and Signora A's back pocket happy for quite some time...) For four years now, there has been a constant fight between her and the TD about payment for condominial cleaning....which we organise, pay for, and charge back to the condominium - but which the ghastly Signora A sees as an unexploited back-pocket opportunity, into which she hasn't yet managed to get her grappling hooks. Once a year, she charges for submitting a tax return for the condominium....400 euros (ker-ching!)....and another 600 euros, merely for existing (ker-ching!); in the most recent accounts, she included one charge for maintaining a register of the names and details of all members of the condominium, and another charge for putting a label with her own details on the back of the front door to the building (ker-ching! ker-ching!) ...not one centesimo of which translates into value for anybody who actually lives there. Does she circulate the accounts for the condominium every quarter, as it was agreed several assemblea ago that she would do? Nope. Does she submit competitive quotes for consideration by condominial members whenever work is to be done? Nope. Does she actually do anything at all which is for the practical benefit of the people who pay her? You tell me......!
So, why do we put all put up with this dreadful woman, and subject ourselves once a year to the painful process of a condominial assemblea? For the simple reason that it removes - or at least reduces - the opportunity for conflict with the neighbours. Any sensible group of intelligent adults ought to be able to sort out condominial issues amongst themselves. You'd think. But, on the ground floor in Via Fucini, is a resident .....well, in italian, the word would be stronzo.It isn't a polite term, and it isn't a complimentary one, either. But I can't really think of a better one - and any of the english equivalents are more or less unprintable. Our fellow condominial members go in fear and loathing of this man, and would do anything in order not to have to deal with him directly. On occasion, they have independently or together come to ask if TD would deal with 'him-downstairs' for them in relation to some issue or other where some degree of agreement was necessary...or else they engage in the most complicated acrobatics in order to have rushed through an announcement, followed swiftly by the commencement and completion of some work to their own property all while they know that 'him-downstairs' is away on holiday, and that the work can already have been finished before he will have returned.
And we aren't alone, it seems, in having a 'him-downstairs'. The Paoli have one in their own building, where the presence of their own administrator serves the same purpose (with exactly the same collateral damage along the way - for example, a construction of relatively bog-standard mail boxes in their condominial hallway, the cost of which was an eye-watering 2,000 euros!). It appears conceivable that the length and breadth of Italy, the extensive existence of a tribe of 'him-downstairs'es is behind an entire industry of Signora A's and their hungry back-pockets. And a parallel tribe of condomial members, whose occasional passing references to the fact that they have to attend an assemblea sometime soon are met without fail with sympathetic faces and possibly a reassuring and encouraging pat on the shoulder. There are no words sufficient for the occasion.
At our latest assemblea, last week (held in the apartment we still own in Via Fucini, but where nobody lives...so there is no heating even in winter, and the assemblea generally finishes quickly as the threat of hypothermia becomes ever stronger), I did suggest that we hold off reappointing the appalling Signora A, and that we have a competitive vote for administrator appointment in say, six weeks' time. It got nowhere, of course, as that would have involved having another assemblea - which nobody in their right minds would choose to do - and anyway, as Margharetta put it, before she fled to her own central-heating upstairs (and in the full hearing of Signora A, glowering in the shadows), she has never heard of an administrator that anybody is actually enthusiastic about, and so we might as well have this one as any other.
Which leaves it open to have another candidate in place for the next assemblea, this time next year. And we have in fact heard of an administrator who works out of Cascina, of whom good things are actually apoken.
It may be counting chickens, but I like to imagine that the dying cries of a Black-and-Decker-corncrake can be heard, however distantly, coming in on a westerly breeze.
One can but hope...