Friday, March 22, 2013

Mauro Ferrara

As we arrived in Battipaglia on February 1, one of the first things we saw was our church. It is located in a very nice part of town only about 100 yards from our apartment complex. It sits behind a red fence composed of vertical iron bars. It has a beautiful lawn in front about 100 feet square. There are several beautiful trees as well. There are a couple of lemon trees, an olive tree, and, my favorite, a Rangpur Lime tree.
Panarama shot of our building after church our first Sunday

Our Rangpur Lime Tree
The Rangpur lime looks like a mandarin orange tree, but the fruit is sour like a lime. When we first arrived, the members told us it was a “wild, evil” tree because the fruit tasted bitter and sour. In fact, the D’Andolfo children named the olive tree the “tree of life,” and the Rangpur Lime the tree of “knowledge of good and evil.” On first glance you expect a sweet Mandarin Orange. The tree didn’t receive much attention and there was rotten fruit scattered  all around underneath the tree. I was curious and looked on the Internet for sour mandarin orange and found some information about the Rangpur Lime. So, I picked a few of the “limes” and squeezed them to extract their juice. I then looked for a limeade recipe on the Internet and found several. So, I boiled ¾ cup of sugar in water to dissolve it into a syrup, cooled it and mixed it with about a cup of juice, then added fizzy mineral water to fill a 1.5 liter bottle. It was wonderful! It is now my favorite drink.
Ingredients for Rangpur Lime-ade: Sprite and Limes


Organ Loft left of Sacrament Table

InAnyway, I really like our lawn, trees and flowers. Inside the church there are four levels. The lowest level which is seven steps lower then ground level is a large room where we hold Relief Society and Gospel Doctrine class on Sundays and Institute on Tuesdays. We also use it for our initial and closing group meetings as we teach English later on Tuesdays. In addition to the large meeting room, there is also a kitchen. The first floor is about 12 steps above ground level and serves as our chapel. It has a stand in front with a sacrament table and a pulpit. There is also a nook where a very nice organ sits. The Second floor is composed of three rooms of about equal size which are used for Primary, Young Women (of which we currently have none), and a Branch President’s office. The fourth floor has a couple of computers and a storage room and is only used at this point for clerical activities. There is a bath room on each floor and an additional bathroom off the Primary room. It is basically a nice, four-story home converted into a church.
Church and Front Lawn

Sister Scherbel and Gino Carullo getting the lawn mower

We also have a small garage on the ground level. It has a ping pong table and a fussball table, some soccer goals, a lawn mower, some old chairs and a few broken desks and tables and other no-longer-used stuff. On Tuesday nights a fierce fussball and competition follows our English lessons.
Garage with Fussball and Ping Pong (and soccor goals)

On Sundays, we have about thirty in attendance on a normal day. For Flavia’s baptism, we had nearly double that and the building handled the extra people pretty well. So, I like our building quite a bit.

The one serious problem we have is all the stairs. One of our members is severely crippled and some are a bit elderly. Going up and down the stairs is definitely a challenge. We are not very handicap friendly.

One of the first things I learned about our building is that we have decided to leave it for another building. The main reason is that our Landlord is not cooperating with some needed repairs, and he sold a portion of the front of the lawn without our permission to some developers who are building some new, very colorful, apartment buildings across the street. I understood that when we first leased the building, it was from the current landlord’s father. He passed away and now his son is our landlord. He isn’t even answering our phone calls and refuses to meet with us.

This situation worries me a great deal. Changing buildings is a difficult process. When I was a young missionary, we had to find a place to meet in nearly every city I worked in, and it was never easy – even for a small congregation. Our congregations are now much larger and finding a new building is even more difficult. We like ground floor spaces with no stairs. We also need to be close to public transportation and within easy access of main roads. We like to be in nicer areas. We need to be where our meetings don’t bother our neighbors. The ground floor of an apartment building, for example, is usually not good since we meet on Sunday mornings and sing while those above us are trying to sleep in. In Europe, adequate parking is frequently a challenge. And, for some reason, anytime we change buildings, we tend to lose members.

As we were looking for another apartment for a set of Elders, I met a Real Estate Agency named Frimm, and an agent named Gian Luca Leverani and his assistant, Daniella. He helped us find a suitable apartment for the missionaries in one try. We wanted a furnished apartment located near the center of town, yet close to the church. We hoped it would have a good heating system, hot water, air conditioning if possible, and appliances that worked. It needed to be in a safe area and, most of all, the landlords had to be willing to have two young Elders live there. The Church has an iron-clad rental contract which they had to agree to entirely as written. As it turned out, Gian Luca had a two bedroom apartment, newly furnished on the third floor of a walk up building. We went over to see it and loved it immediately. It is a bit small, about 50 square meters, but it has two bedrooms, a bathroom with a nice shower and a new washing machine. There is a kitchen/living room combined with new kitchen appliances including a microwave oven and new furniture. It also has a large terrace/patio which has an amazing view. You can see all the way to the Mediterranean Sea – spectacular.

We liked the landlords immediately, and they seemed to like us. We were a little reluctant to bring up the fact that the apartment was not for us, but, instead, for two young male missionaries. They said, “Do you mean those young men who walk around town with the black name tags in dark suits?” We said, “Yes,” fearing their next remarks. They said they would love to have them rent their apartment. It turns out that the landlords are an elderly couple who, judging from their beautiful home, are doing very well. They also seem to know many of the movers and shakers in Battipaglia. The wife said that her brother, who is a doctor, lives right next to our church. Based on the fact that we sing on Sundays and play ping pong and fussball on Tuesdays, I was really fearing her next sentence. She said her brother has nothing but good things to say about the Church. Our address is Via Moncharmont 17. His addess is Via Moncharmont 15. Our building is literally 10 feet from his home on the side yard. I was amazed at her answer for I expected exactly the opposite. Anyway, things worked out and the Elders will be moving in within a couple of weeks and a pair of sisters will move in where the Elders are now – right across the hall from us.

So, I told Gian Luca that we were looking for another building to meet in. He said he would do some research. In the meantime, I realized that if the brother of the apartment landlord’s wife lived next to our church, he might know our hard-to-reach landlord as well. I asked Gian Luca to ask them if they knew a man named Mauro Ferrara.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, President Kelly and Brother Arena (head of all facilities in two stakes and one district including ours) had seen the buildings being constructed across the street. They are very modern to say the least. They wanted to talk to the builder to see if we could rent some space in the new buildings. There is also a large commercial area on the ground floor of the building they just finished which would be really nice for our meeting place. Since it would be right across the street from out current building, the location would be perfect. So, I asked Gian Luca if we could talk to the builder to see if there was a possibility to rent some of his current or new space.

Yesterday, Gian Luca phoned me and said he had some information and a couple of locations he wanted to show me for possible new locations for our church. He showed me some ground floor space in a couple of apartment buildings. He was on the right track, but I didn’t think the people living above those spaces would appreciate a church meeting under them. He agreed. He then said that he actually knows the builder across the street from our church quite well and had discussed with him the possibility of us renting some of his space. He said that a supermarket had already rented the commercial space. It was more than 900 square meters. We only need about 250 square meters. The supermarket rented the whole space with an option to buy. The only other part of the project that would be suitable for us was already promised to the City. In order to erect the apartment buildings and commercial space, the builder had to give something to benefit the town. The town then widened the street and installed some street lights which really improved the neighborhood.  It seems a post office might occupy the other space we could have used. So, that possibility seemed pretty much impossible.

Gian Luca also gave me the telephone number of our current landlord. He is a friend of a friend. I decided it was time to give him a call. Other options were currently looking a bit bleak. I said a fervent prayer and dialed his number. He answered immediately – surprise number one. I introduced myself in my poor Italian and asked if we could meet sometime to discuss our building. He said, no problem – surprise number two. I asked when would be a good time and he said, “How about now.? – surprise number three. I had a bunch of things I needed to do, but felt this was more important than anything else, so I said, “I’ll meet you in five minutes outside the church.” He said that would be fine.” – surprise number four. I told him I would be holding an orange umbrella, since it was raining as it has nearly every day since we arrived.

Me with my orange IKEA umbrella
I then walked over to the church and waited. Nobody came. President D’Andolfo had warned me that he hadn’t come to a previous meeting they had scheduled, so I thought he was probably just taking me for a ride and was probably watching me from somewhere standing out in the rain waiting for him. I walked into the grounds and paced around for a while, then back out onto the street. About half an hour had passed since my call. Just as I was about to give up, a car drove up and parked across the street. A young man got out and came toward me. It was Mauro Ferrara, our much maligned landlord. He seemed like a nice enough young man, and we went into the church so we could talk where it was a bit drier. As we sat down, I asked, what kind of renters we were. He said, “The best.”  Surprise number 5. Pleasant surprises turned out to be the order of the day.

I asked him if there had been problems in the past – any unresolved issues. He said there were – mainly that they had agreed to refinish the exterior stucco on the building. It was peeling badly in several places. Also there was some brick/tile work outside lining the entry and garage entry as well as the outside steps that needed work. He said that the reason this work hadn’t been completed was that they were still trying to recover from the death of his father. There are three boys in his family. He has been appointed executor of his father’s estate. His father was only 65 when he passed away. They discovered an inoperable brain tumor, and even with the best medical help they could find, nothing could be done. His father had passed away just over a year ago. When the discussions were being held regarding the building, he was at his father’s bedside in the hospital in San Giovanni Rotondo, a famous hospital called “La Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza” (The home for the relief of suffering) designed and built by Padre Pio, now considered a Saint in the Catholic Church.  The hospital is near Foggia on the east side of Italy, about 220 kilometers from Battipaglia. He said he was right in the middle of his father’s illness and his subsequent death as we were trying to get some work done on our building. Even now, a year later, he is still working with the courts to get things straightened out. (I know how difficult this can be in the U.S. I am glad I don’t have to worry about this kind of thing in Italy.)

I told him we liked the building and wanted to proceed with the repairs they had discussed previously. He said that would be no problem once the rain stopped. He also said that the city had forced him to give up some land for the construction of the apartment buildings across the street. They actually entered the property, removed the existing wall, moved it back and then replaced it. Then they realized they had made a mistake and re-did part of the wall leaving a triangular space between the two walls. At any rate, we certainly didn’t need the extra land. I think the thing that concerned us the most was that a third party could gain access to the property and change the boundaries without our consent. Had I been here then, I would probably be as concerned as everyone else. But since I see the land as it is, not as it was, and it is very nice from my point of view, I probably am not as concerned as those who were here to witness the actual events.

I told him about our concern with the stairs. I said I had been thinking of possible solutions and wondered if an elevator could be installed. There is no room for an elevator to go inside the building, but I have searched the Internet for some alternatives and I found some “mini-ascensori” (small elevators) which are a self-contained unit which are designed to go about 15 meters in height and hold a couple of people. They only cost around 10,000 to 15,000 euros. (I know I get a bit too creative at times…) I asked him what he thought of this idea. He actually liked it. It turns out that he is an architect and he immediately understood my idea. (What number of surprise are we on?) His brother was in an automobile accident and is now crippled and he had been looking for a similar solution for his brother. So, we agreed to meet again when our facilities people come next week and talk to them.
I then asked about two more problems I have been trying to resolve. First the wall in front of our building has a bunch of graffiti on it. I asked what it would take to get it cleaned up – maybe paint over it. He is still not sure if the wall belongs to the city or to him, but he said that he didn’t think the city would mind if we just cleaned it up. He offered to contact the city and see what would be required. Problem number two is that the church’s trash isn’t picked up. The missionaries just take it home and include it with their trash. This works fine when there isn’t much, but when events like Flavia’s baptism occur, or when we weed the flowers, there is too much trash to combine it with our personal trash. The other people in our apartment building get upset if we bring a bunch of trash there. So, I had been talking to the city about this problem. He said he would take care of that too. In fact, he said, the mayor lives about three doors down from the church. He knows him personally, and will talk to him personally if necessary. Wow! 
We looked at the ground floor of this building as an alternative
Meeeting House - nice but quite expensive.
Here I was too afraid to call the monster landlord after hearing all the past tales. Now, we are nearly friends. We plan to invite him and his finance over for dinner in the near future. I am amazed how much can be accomplished with just a little courage and a phone call. I feel so blessed.  I hope we can get everything resolved so we can stay in this building. One of our members is getting married this summer and she would love to be married on the church lawn before she leaves to be sealed in the temple. With a little more luck, I think we can make her dream come true.

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