"Who Would Have Clear Water"
It was summer when Fiorenza
went to the market in Fermo
and found the water there
running cloudy instead of clear,
the merchants arguing about
whether or not it was safe to drink.
"You are a wisewoman," they said,
"so come here and tell us the truth."
Fiorenza drew up a bit of the water
in a clear glass, and looked at it in the sun.
She smelled it very carefully, and then
even more carefully, she tasted it.
Then she set the glass down and
watched the water for several minutes.
"It is fine," she told the worried merchants.
"The water is only silty, not foul." She pointed
to the bottom of the glass. "Here, you can see
where it is already beginning to settle out.
If you would have it clear immediately, then
filter it through a few layers of cloth
and perhaps some charcoal."
"That is all very well for now," said the merchants,
"but what is to be done about the problem?"
The weather was warm enough
that people would need much water.
"Who would have clear water
should go to the fountain head.
I shall go up to the convent and speak
with the nuns who attend to the cisterns,"
said Fiorenza, and off she went.
The Mother Superior was all very sympathetic
but no use whatsoever. "We have prayed
over the cisterns, and now it must be
as God wills," she declared.
So Fiorenza spoke with the other women,
asking if anyone had noticed odd things
happening, or the water changing,
or aught else that might be helpful.
Sister Teresa, the youngest of the nuns,
fluttered her hand at her hip to suggest
a discreet meeting on the topic.
"Let us go up to the cisterns
and see what may be seen,"
Fiorenza said, and Sister Teresa
promptly volunteered as her guide.
"They aren't demons," Sister Teresa whispered.
"I don't care what the Mother Superior says,
and I know that's wrong, but so is she.
They may be a nuisance but they
are definitely not evil."
"Who or what are not evil?" asked Fiorenza.
"The little clear creatures who live
inside the cisterns," said Sister Teresa.
They were naiads, Fiorenza saw,
and they were agitated, which caused
the water to stir about more than it should,
so that the silt remained suspended
instead of settling out as it should.
"Something is wrong," she said
as she watched them swirl around.
"I think they are trying to tell us something."
"I thought so too," said Sister Teresa.
"What do you think it means?"
"They are like bees," said Fiorenza,
"who point with their tails to show
the direction of the flowering fields.
We should try following them."
So the two women followed the naiads,
and there in the middle of absolutely nowhere --
an obscure little corner where nobody would notice
the problem for ages -- they found a leak.
The naiads poked their transparent fingers
into the crack and milled around on the surface,
making the cool water seem to boil.
"There we have it," said the wisewoman.
"This would have been hard to find otherwise,
so the naiads swam upstream to attract attention."
"Thus stirring up the silt so that everyone
could see something was amiss," said Sister Teresa.
"I will ask the monks to help patch up the crack."
"I'm glad that I could clear up the issue,"
Fiorenza said with a smile.
Sister Teresa winked at her.
"There is no need to hurry right back,
though. I know where the sacramental wine
is stored," she confided.
The wisewoman was amenable to that,
for the cool cisterns provided
a welcome relief from
the summer heat.
"That is good," said Fiorenza.
"A small libation will help
to settle the naiads and
thank them for their work."
And if the two women took
a few sips themselves, well,
it was all in celebration
of a job well done.
* * *
"He who would have clear water should go to the fountain head."
-- Italian Proverb
The cisterns of Fermo have become a famous attraction.
Water filtration purifies gritty or contaminated water in various ways. A simple and fairly effective filter can be made from cloth, charcoal, and other common materials.
Naiads are a type of nymph found in fresh water.
The honeybee waggle dance communicates the direction and distance of a food source. Watch a video of it. The naiads are doing something similar to indicate the leak.