Now normally I’m not a great fan of graffiti, but one sign on the Via Panoramica between Como and Menaggio has my full approval. In letters half a metre high somebody has written (on a concrete wall – natch) ‘Basta cemento’ – enough cement. And sure, it’s time to call ‘Basta’ on cement, concrete, brick, tarmac, and all the hard stuff that is relentlessly eating up the green space on the shores of Lake Como.
There are basically two industries on the lake – tourism and building. Don’t say it too loudly, but two or three big building companies have a stranglehold on planning decisions up the length of the lake. When you think about it, the building companies are much bigger than any of the tiny comunes along the lake shore. Starved of income since Berlusconi did away with property tax (except for second home owners), comunes will apparently agree to almost anything in the hope of bringing in some euros, even if it means digging up every last garden and bit of terreno left, in order to build boxy apartment blocks to be sold to foreigners.
Well, you might say, with some reason, aren’t you one of those foreigners who’s been lured to the lake by its climate and heart-stopping beauty? Erm yes, but we took a decision to buy a place in an antico borgo, a historical village centre, like scores of others, that’s just full of neat little houses just begging to be renovated. These villages, and the lovely stone houses, have been around for three hundred years. Two centuries ago the industry on the lake was much more varied, but included textiles, farming and hatmaking. These industries supported a strong working population, and this, more than the scenery, explains why there are so many villages around the lake. The houses have walls half a metre thick and are warm in winter and cool in summer. Why don’t foreigners buy these up? Well, two reasons. The first is practical and concerns cars. Understandably, people want to be able to park near to their holiday home. That’s fair enough. But does everybody have to have their own garage? And their own pool? The second reason is because, presumably, new build is more profitable for the construction companies than restoration. It’s a shame. The old villages can’t be demolished because they are ‘heritage’ (unless, that is, somebody wants to widen the road), and so more and more of the greenery, that brings the tourists, gets eaten away by cement. And all for a tourist season that only lasts four months of the year (more about that to come!)
OK, rant over.