Monday, 19 February 2007

The house above the cork forest (4)

Things go from bad to worse. It turns out that the land attached to the house is surrounded by common land, the boundaries of which are time-honoured but undefined. There seems to be a goat path running along the north-eastern edge and curving down to the well, which doesn't belong to the house but to anyone who wants to use it. It will pass across the area Joost plans to pave and convert into a patio. What do you mean? he says. Anyone? He can't believe it. He wants to know exactly where the lines are drawn. E. shrugs and tells me to explain that it doesn't matter, if it's common land it's as much his as anyone else's. Besides, once he's bought the house he can get the boundaries sorted out. Or ignore them. He can even buy the right to the common land. Everything can be done as soon as he's bought the house. He has to buy the house. But Joost shakes his head. He wants to know exactly where the lines are drawn.

Afternoons are spent with pots of paint, the four old men leaving strings of conflicting red blobs on stones, the trunks of trees, odd clumps of grass, like join-up-the dot drawings drawn on a giant scale. Joost looks around him with a sort of weary unbelieving desperation. Inside the house, the rain has started to coat the upper floors in mould. He's holding his little map still, now covered with pencilled lines, but nobody's interested in the map. Even the surveyor, who drew the thing, seems to regard it as an object of little value, as though it were less reliable than hearsay. He nods when Alessandro, or one of his brothers, starts to talk about a stream that's no longer there, as though its ghostly presence were still decisive. What stream? says Joost.

Joost sends me emails at the rate of five or six a week, from all over the world. Buenos Aires, Lisbon, Prague. But wherever his body is, in whichever international hotel or airport or sushi bar, his mind is on the house above the cork forest. He wants us to set up meetings with the vendors, their immediate relatives, their neighbours. He wants to know how much it would cost to have a certain kind of window shutter. He wants new maps drawn up and faxed.

He wants closure. And who can blame him?

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