Villa Oleandra, a large mansion on the shores of Lake Como in Lombardy, currently belongs to George Clooney. I have walked past the luxury home several times this summer on one of the hiking trails between Moltrasio and the pretty village of Laglio. The Hollywood actor has bought not only the lakefront property but also the house and land across the road behind. He has built a bridge and covered walkway between the two. There are curtains at all the windows to prevent gawking passersby such as myself catching a glimpse of the famous resident. But if I can’t see him then he probably can’t see me. This will certainly work in my favour. It means he is unlikely to be watching when I deliver my goat to his garden. Yes, that’s right. I am going to deliver a goat to George Clooney’s garden. A goat I hear you ask? A goat in George Clooney’s garden? Don’t panic. I haven’t imbibed too much of that divine Italian chianti I am so fond of. I merely think it is the best way to ensure that I become the new owner of Villa Oleandra in ten year’s time. Allow me to explain. If a goat belonging to you eats the grass on a property belonging to someone else for ten years, then the property automatically becomes yours. George’s garden looks fairly substantial and I am told that he spends a lot of time away from home, so I am confident of finding a nice, grassy corner where my goat will go undiscovered for a decade. It is clearly the quickest, least complicated way for me to become a property owner. I know. It’s a very silly scenario. But it’s also a very silly law.
From goats to goldfish. In 2005 the municipal council of Rome passed an exceptionally well considered law stating that it was illegal for fish to be kept in private homes in conical bowls. Apparently round bowls cause fish to go blind. The law stated that rectangular shaped full-sized aquariums must be purchased by all fish owners. The Roman council began patting themselves on the back for preventing cruelty to fish. “It’s the kind of thing a civilized society is judged on,” one local politician was quoted as saying. The local council indeed had so much faith in the city’s residents that they could never have anticipated what happened next. Most fish owners in the capital refused to purchase new homes for their beloved fishy friends and many of Rome’s aquatic pets met with a ‘flushing’ end. Not necessarily a better option than life going blind in a round bowl I wouldn’t have thought. I also can’t help thinking that local law enforcement must have been pretty chuffed at the amount of faith people had in their ability to uphold this law, which also stated, out of necessity one assumes, that it was no longer permissible to offer your fish as a prize at a fairground or circus.
Some of Rome’s luckier fish were simply relocated. This is not a novel idea. Every year hundreds of Italian fish end up taking a summer vacation of their own in the fountains of local towns, villages and major cities. The fish lovers among you must be ready to throw your arms up in horror and start protesting. But I think it is worth taking the time to look at this from the perspective of the fish themselves. After months, maybe years of swimming around in a tiny bowl without company or any source of formal entertainment, (and going blind into the bargain), you are suddenly delivered for four weeks break at, for example, the Trevi Fountain. For those of you who don’t know the Trevi Fountain I can tell you it’s a pretty impressive place. I imagine that in terms of accommodation for fish it might rate five stars. You get a large swimming pool, lots of goldfish friends to mingle with and the added bonus of hundreds of tourists throwing money at you all day. Sounds good to me. If you are a really fortunate fish your owners might even forget to pick you up at the end of the holiday and you can spend the rest of your life living in luxury with twenty twenty vision. The chances are good. Apparently it happens all the time.
If you feel are feeling a bit depressed after flushing your fish down the toilet then think about travelling to Milan and cheering yourself up there. The city seems an obvious choice perhaps, what with being the fashion capital and offering shopping, culture and food to rival any in Europe. But in fact you will be required to smile when you are there because a local law says it is illegal not to. Council has, very considerately, exempted people at funerals and those visiting hospitals.
If however your murderous guilt really gets to you and you are considering doing away with yourself, for goodness sake don’t do it in Falciano del Massico. Since March 2012 it has been illegal to die in the village fifty kilometres from Naples. The mayor issued the decree because the town has no cemetery and the death of it’s citizens was creating “a logistical problem.” The next village has a cemetery but because of a feud between the two towns it is not available for the use of the people of Falciano. Recent reports in the press state that the law has been generally well received by locals in theory but that in principle “two residents disobeyed this week alone.” If you can’t avoid dying there at least make sure your friends know that your coffin must be made out of nutshells. If any other material is used they will face a hefty fine.
The list of illegal activities in Italy is quite lengthy. It’s illegal to wear wooden clogs in Capri, illegal to have a picnic on the steps of a church in Florence, illegal not to walk your dog three times a day in Turin and illegal to open a kebab shop in Lucca. In Eraclea it is illegal to build sandcastles and in Lerici it is illegal to hang a towel out of the window to dry. In Eboli it is forbidden to kiss and have sex in a moving car. In Rome’s historical centre you may not sing, eat or drink in groups of more than three. Don’t think about feeding pigeons unless you have deep pockets; in Bergamo the fine is three hundred and thirty three Euros and in Venice a whopping five hundred. Painting your gondola in any colour other than black will incur a fine of a similar amount as will feeding a cat that does not belong to you in Cesena. Being naked near any public fountain is even more costly, so if you chose to dispose of your fish in the Trevi I hope you were fully clothed at the time.
All over the country it is illegal for a man to wear a skirt, illegal to tell a man in public that he “has no balls” lest it damage his reputation, illegal to attach a padlock to a public statue or building, illegal to serve cocktails containing eggs, and, my favourite, illegal for a man to touch his genitals in public. I guess I don’t have to point out that some laws are more successful than others.
You may be starting to wonder how on earth one has any fun in Italy. That’s easy. You grow marijuana and go out and pinch girls’ bottoms. Pardon me? Yes, go on, it’s just a bit of harmless fun. The Italian High Court says you can do both. But only if the marijuana is grown in small amounts and the girl has given you permission first. Oh, and I nearly forgot. Don’t forget to buy a few goats.