Well, let’s hope, after just the eight years, that it is a little more than mezzo. At 9.50am on the appointed day I arrive at the tribunale for the ‘conciliation’ intervention by Citta di Castello’s brand new, and only, fully toga’d (as opposed to honorary) magistrate, Dr. Cenci.
Our lawyer has a stand-in because she has an ’emergency’ in Perugia. At 10am both the lawyer of James Fat Boy Stephens, shared with his scrofulous geometra, and the lawyer of the builders are present. It appears to be a fortuitious beginning. But where are their foul charges?
The lawyers for the opposition announce that they ‘interpreted’ the magistrate’s letter as not requiring the presence of their clients. In other words, that a conciliation would be conducted without the presence of those to be conciliated.
So does Fat Boy’s lawyer have a conciliation offer? Not really. He too is a stand-in lawyer and has not read the file. He starts to read it. The builders’ lawyer suggests that his clients could come up to our house and do a piccolo lavoretto (a nice use of the double diminutive: a little small piece of work — perhaps adjusting the position of a plant pot, or somesuch). I suggest to him that having builders who left you with a roof that leaked in 12 places, who then came back for just half a day under threat of litigation and still left a roof that leaked in 12 places, come back again is not powerfully appealing. ‘Ho capito,’ he says.
I divert myself watching a male, 40-something lawyer whose gait, suit and shoes mean you simply know he would deflower your 14-year-old daughter (should you have one) given one-tenth of a chance. Does he like adolescents to call him papi, like someone else we know? He has already had his uninvited arm around two women in the magistrate’s ante-chamber in half an hour. I ponder whether he lives with his mum and decide probably not, though I would refuse a significant wager on the matter.
At 11.24 by the watch of the tall and curly-haired Dr. Cenci, we enter his studio. He kicks off with a pleasantry about it ‘not being like this in England’. I agree that it is not quite like this in England and immediately wish that I had not. It seems to indicate I have something against Italy or Italians. I don’t. I like where I live and I like most of the people. I just, increasingly, don’t like the self-important, state-maintained professional classes: lawyers, geometras, notaries, a large sub-set of doctors, and possibly a significant sub-set of magistrates. Italians moan about their political class. I suspect their politicians are merely a reflection of a more common cancer: the well-dressed, self-serving, indolent, amoral and unprofessional ‘professional’.
Inevitably, Dr. Cenci isn’t fazed that the others have ‘interpreted’ no need to show up. I suppose it is only like a state surveyor who spends three times the stipulated maximum time to do a court-mandated survey or a lawyer who fails to show for a trial: we mustn’t be judgemental, especially in court.
The builders’ lawyer asks that the surveyor be sent back to the house for a third time. Having not got what his clients wanted from the second visit, which the builders also requested and then failed to show up for, this is only logical. We point out, however, that it is also an absurd request. Fat Boy’s lawyer, from a (presumably expensive by local standards) Perugia firm, is a little more subtle. Although a stand-in, he seems to have read enough of the file in the hour-and-a-half waiting time to be concerned for his clients in the event of a final decision. So he suggests, in efficaciously unctuous terms, that if the magistrate deems it sensible and appropriate that all parties come before him, then perhaps we should do exactly that.
In normal times, this would probably buy another year and keep the lawyerly clock ticking happily round. But these are not normal times. The mercurial Dr. Cenci opens his diary and responds that he’ll see us all in a week. Mamma mia! Not since a pope was last found to be the father of multiple children has such a shocker been laid before central Italy. After a moment, the first lawyer responds that he cannot possibly do next week. Then the week after! The other lawyer responds that he cannot do that. Then the week after that!. They have nowhere to run. The date is fixed for just three weeks hence, a fraction of a nanosecond in Italian legal time. The sheer audaciousness of the diary entry sends an electric buzz through the building.
But what will happen? My cynical self says not much that is good. As usual, I leave the tribunale feeling physically sick. I spend the afternoon gardening.