Tony Cyriax.

Among Italian peasants online

. (page 9 of 17)
Online LibraryTony CyriaxAmong Italian peasants → online text (page 9 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


a cast in her eye, wore a fawn dress in tolerably good taste, but the
younger, dark and slim, had on a pink hobble skirt and a cheap lace
blouse. They whispered together during the service, grinned at each



THE FESTIVAL OF THE MADONNA 125

other, and spent very little time on their knees. It was just affecta-
tion of manner, for I am sure they reckoned themselves to be pious.
If you wear a hat you must behave like a lady, and once having
exchanged the village for the town, they did not feel they could come
back and behave like they used to. What a pity it was that they
were unable to discriminate between ladies, and took as a model
upstarts like themselves.

Before the end of the service, several women hurried out to
attend to their respective dinners. No sooner had they left the
building than the bandsmen hurried after them, so that when mass
was over and we all came out into the sunlight, the band was in the
piazza and welcomed us with a sentimental waltz, even before the
last strains of the organ had died away.

Girolomo was a person of importance, he had the responsibility
of all the arrangements. He walked about overflowing with goodwill,
in his hand a piece of paper covered with notes in a large hand. He
was responsible for the band amongst other things, and had to see
that it was supplied with plenty of wine. He had ready a storeroom
for the instruments when not in use, and in order that the bandsmen
should be properly provided with dinner, he had billeted them out
on various families. Just now he stood hi the piazza, a large tray in
his hands. On the tray were tumblers filled with wine which he was
offering the bandsmen, and coaxing them to take. A table had been
brought out, and Gioan stood by it filling up more glasses. Then he
collected the tumblers and carried them indoors to be rinsed. None
of the women took any part in the matter.

Those who had no dinner cares strolled about in the heat, looking
for friends. I saw Gheco with his mother and Appollonia, and with



126 AMONG ITALIAN PEASANTS

them were Apollonio's mother, sister, and brother. It was significant
that they should be together it pointed to an engagement, or at
least to the first preliminaries between the parents of Apollonio and
Gheco.

All at once the piazza emptied. It was dinner time.

I found Bortolo giving the final stir to the polenta. Even on
this great day every one ate polenta. Every housewife spread a
clean white cloth on the dinner table. Rosina had prepared a tame
rabbit with herbs and fat, butter, and oil, and fried onions, which
was delicious.

No sooner had we finished the meal than a deputation came in
to ask whether the room might be used for a dance. Rosina made
no objection and the room was cleared. A fat man in velvet trousers,
carrying an accordion, came in and began to play. The company
were all strangers to me, so I did not remain. Instead I strolled up
the street, which was still empty. Sounds of talking and laughter
came from all the houses.

After paying a visit to Giacomina I went on to the inn. It was
crowded. Teresina was bustling about with glasses, taking orders.
Nino and his old father were busy bringing bottles up from the cellar,
and carrying empty ones away. People came in, drank, and went
out, and there was seldom a vacant chair. Every one asked for
beer, and when the supply ran out they ordered lemonade, until every
bottle was sold. Wine was the last thing they desired.

I sat down close to the door. Teresina at the other end of the
room caught my eye, and raised her eyebrows as much as to say
'lemon squash?' I nodded in answer.

Close by three men were playing murra, quite unconcerned at



THE FESTIVAL OF THE MADONNA 127

the noise they made. They were Cristofolo's 'two sons-in-law, and a
third man who was a stranger. I guessed him to be the rich grocer
from Florence, Dominica's husband. He could not speak the dialect
but played murra in Italian, and probably, out of consideration for
their guest, the other two did so as well. Instead of the familiar
'ii, du, tre, quater, sich, sei, set, ot, neuf,' big Giuseppe, in a chastened
way, was calling 'uno, due, tre, quattro, cinque/ etc. It worried him
so much that he lost.

As I was finishing my lemon squash, Nino came and spoke to me.

'Signora, forgive me,' he said, 'I have so little time to talk to
you to-day you see how busy I am. We never expected such a
crush, so many people have never been to the festival before. If
only I had another hundred bottles of beer. . . . You were at
mass?'

'Yes,' I answered, 'and I am wondering why the priest hadn't
troubled to shave.'

'You are not the only one to say that,' said Nino, and then,
leaning across the table, he whispered, 'perhaps he was too drunk
to hold a razor ! '

'Nino don't' ... I protested. 'When every one else is so tidy
I was surprised to see his face with a six days' stubble. No doubt
he means to grow a beard.'

'Oh, yes likely,' he answered sarcastically, going off to serve
a customer. Presently he was back again.

'Did you hear what my father-in-law said to him? ... He met
him in the street and said : " I suppose you are going to shave for
the afternoon service? " They all listened for a reply, but the priest
never answered him at all.'



128 AMONG ITALIAN PEASANTS

'Can you tell me who those two girls are/ I asked, 'one in a pink
skirt the other fat, with a cast in her eye ? '

'Ah Negretti's two girls ' I .could see by his face that he

did not care for them. I waited for further information. 'They are

back for a holiday,' he went on, 'they work as milliners in B .

They pretend to be ladies.'

'So I see '

' They come and put on airs and hardly any one is good enough
for them to look at. They are not a bit like you.'

'No,' I answered, 'they are much more elegant.'

'Signora,' said Nino, resting his arms on the table, 'you may wear
an old dress, but you have money in your pocket. It is that which
counts. Their elegance is scarcely skin deep, and their pockets don't
contain a palanca. . . . Those girls have to starve themselves in
order to satify their vanity.'

'One of them looks quite fat,' I remarked.

'Perhaps but they lead a dog's life in order to dress like ladies.
They think then they are better than we are. . . . There is nobody
I should like to kick more ! You, signora, you talk to us all, it makes
no difference to you whether we are poor or not, you treat every one
the same. But those girls, who were born here, walk through the
village not deigning even to notice some of their neighbours ! '

The church bells rang and I hurried back to Cominelli's house.
The dancers were crowding down the passage into the street. Rosina
was putting the finishing touches to the two little girls. They were
to take part in the procession. Both wore white dresses with wreaths
on their heads and flowing ribbons.

The church was even more crowded than hi the morning, many



THE FESTIVAL OF THE MADONNA 129

more people having come to the village during the afternoon. Several
pews were set apart for the girls taking special part in the procession.
They were in white, and two whole benches were filled with children
dressed up to look 'like angels.'

The service, which was conducted at the special altar in the body
of the church, was very short. It was followed by a -sermon. Our
priest sat listening to the preacher with the most benign expression
on his face, nodding his head from time to time. It was a pity he
hadn't shaved.

At the close of the service Ghita sang a solo. Too shy to stand
up by the organist where she could be seen, she crouched down behind
the barricade. She had a nice voice and sang with such simple
devotion that it touched everybody.

The large doors at the back of the church were then thrown open
and the sunshine streamed in. The female part of the congregation
stood up and walked out, and formed into two lines of single file
with a space in between. At intervals in this space walked girls and
youths carrying banners and other emblems.

Ghita headed the procession, dressed in white with a white veil
and carrying a big bouquet of flowers. Pina walked on one side of
her and my little girl on the other, both clutching her skirts.

The procession walked slowly across the piazza and into the
shady street, chanting the same disnyil Litany that I had heard when
the fields were blessed. Girolomo was busy putting every one in
their places, and he came running past us in order to ask Ghita not
to walk so fast. He was very hot.

When all the women had come into line, the band formed up
three abreast, trumpeting a martial tune which more than half



i 3 o AMONG ITALIAN PEASANTS

drowned the Litany, and was in quite a different key, not even a
minor one. No one, however, paid any attention to that.

After the band came little children hand in hand, carrying nose-
gays, and behind them, under a large canopy, walked the three
priests in gorgeous vestments, and the little boys carrying censers.

Then came the image of the Madonna. It was carried on a
stretcher supported by four youths. Nino was right, the Madonna
was heavy- She was topply too, and had to be supported on either
side by a man, tall enough to reach the brass rod of her canopy.

The rear of the procession was brought up by two single files
of hatless men.

We walked, chanting, down the street, past Giacomina's house
and the red and yellow bedspread, past Toni's and Cominelli's, right
into the sunlight, where the new road branched off along the edge
of the cliff back to the church. The new road was very wide and
under a large green archway stood a common table. We passed it
by, but when the priests reached that point they stopped, and the
image, swaying as the youths staggered along, was carefully placed
on the table. The band stopped playing.

The priests recited prayers, and we knelt where we stood, and
prayed and beseeched the Madonna to keep off the hail.

Then we rose to our feet and walked slowly on, chanting again.
The band struck up another martial tune. Pina, forgetting the
occasion and hearing only the band, tripped along with light steps,
still clutching Ghita's skirts. On nearing the church, we could hear
the organ pealing forth yet another tune. It was a strange medley
of sounds.

We crowded in, and the Madonna was put back on the altar.



THE FESTIVAL OF THE MADONNA 131

Ghita's two youngest sisters stood before the image and recited.
Afterwards every one filed past the priest, and kissing the
Relic he held in his hand, followed one another out of the
church.

The band was playing in the piazza. It was a little cooler. The
sun was hidden behind the crags, and would not be seen again to-day.
The sky was pale and clear. We strolled about, speaking to friends
and listening to the music. Several women were hanging out of
upstairs windows talking to friends below. From the inn came the
sounds of murra.

Every one was and looked happy. It had been a successful day,
una bella festa. The villagers were flattered by the number of
strangers who had come, the strangers were more than satisfied with
the hospitality and goodwill of the people of Campia. The bandsmen
considered that they had been so well treated that they even offered,
to come and play at an autumn festival for no remuneration !

The two policemen, who had paid a formal visit to the village
during the afternoon, went back to the town whilst it was broad
daylight. It was not thought necessary that they should remain
in the village during the evening.

Toni sought me out in the piazza., he wanted to hear me speak
English with a relation of his, who had been to America. It thrilled
Toni to listen, understanding not a word. Perhaps he would have
been surprised if he had understood what we were so seriously dis-
cussing. After a few preliminary sentences we spoke as follows :

'Any bugs in England?' asked the relation.

'Bugs? ... oh, yes, of course, there are bugs in England,' I
answered.



132 AMONG ITALIAN PEASANTS

'Also in America,' he informed me, 'plenty bugs everywhere,
but in Italia, no.'

' There are no bugs here at all ? ' I asked.

'No, nowhere in dese parts but plenty fleas,' he went on.

'Yes,' I answered, 'and papatas,' referring to the little midges
which infested my room at night.

Our conversation, perhaps fortunately, was broken off by
Giacomina. She wanted me to come to Cristofolo's house and make
the acquaintance of his daughter Dominica from Florence. We
started off, but remained to loiter, because the band was playing its
last tune. The bandsmen came from a village eight miles away,
they had walked over in the morning, and were walking all the way
back now. They were given a very cordial farewell.

Some of the visitors from more distant villages had already left
others were leaving. A good many were spending the night in
the village, and some of the people from the town stayed until quite
late, and went home together in a party. The street was still crowded
and every one was strolling there or looking out of the windows
overlooking it. A few careful housewives were taking in their bed-
spreads.

Giacomina took my arm and we walked up the street with a word
for nearly every one we met. Rosina called out that she was just
going to get supper at Cominelli's, would I come in half an hour,
and continued an animated discussion with Stefen.

I was stopped by a stranger, who told me that he knew me quite
well, but was quite sure I'd never seen him. He laughed at my
puzzled expression, and then explained that he was the expert who
had helped Toni burn the lime he had watched me put in the



THE FESTIVAL OF THE MADONNA 133

faggots. A friend called him and he passed on. We turned up the
mountain road and the crowd thinned. Outside Cristofolo's green
gate the road was empty.

A large party was assembled in Cristofolo's kitchen, most of them
relations. They sat on chairs round the walls. In a corner Bigi
was playing the mandoline to Tona's strummed accompaniment.

I was introduced to Dominica and her husband, and to a friend
of hers from London, an Italian lady whose husband kept a laundry
in Soho.

I liked Dominica. I had expected her to be a little pretentious
and overdressed perhaps, like the two girls I had seen in church,
but Dominica was not like them. It is true her clothes were costly
and fashionable, but they were in good taste and she knew how to
wear them. She was not beautiful, nor a bit like Bigi or her sisters,
but very tall, pale, and reserved. The thing which most struck me
about her, was the admiration her husband showered upon her. He
was sitting by her now, holding her hand, and looking unutterably
docile. It was evident that she lived in the sunshine of his unconcealed
admiration, and to keep it from becoming embarrassing she was a
little haughty with him just to keep him in his place.

There was another stranger in the room, Teschini, a friend of
Dominica's husband, who also kept a store in Florence.

I sat down by the lady from Soho. She was very beautiful, wore
big pearl ear-rings and a scarlet overall over her dress. I spoke English
to her and Dominica, and we made pleasant remarks, and drank
vermouth.

'Ah/ sighed the lady from Soho, thankful to be amongst her

own countrymen again, 'Italians are jolly arn't dey? Never dull.'
I.P. K



134 AMONG ITALIAN PEASANTS

'No,' I answered, thinking of the hail, 'nothing seems to damp
their spirits.'

Then turning to Dominica she said loudly, ' De signora is a person
of education a lady I can 'ear dat by de way she talk English.'

Bigi struck up a tune, the table was put on one side and we had
a few dances. Then thinking of Rosina's soup, and that Annetta
might be waiting for me to go before she began her preparations for
supper, I took my leave and found Rosina looking up the road for
me. She had already ladled the soup into plates which stood steaming
on the table. Bortolo had gone home to milk the cow, the boys were
somewhere in the village, she said she didn't know where.

'I suppose,' said Rosina, blowing her soup, 'that you have heard
that there will be dancing to-night in the house opposite.'

' But isn't it empty ? ' I asked, half expecting to hear that it was
inhabited. Several desolate looking houses in the village, which I
had taken to be empty turned out, on investigation, to be occupied.
I could never tell from the outside.

'Yes it is empty,' she said, trying to sip the hot soup from her
spoon, which she held with an elbow on the table. 'It belongs to
Gheco, but he prefers to live in the house down by his lands.'

'The accordion won't play, I hope,' I remarked.

'No, signora, it will be our own players. . . . Here,' she went
on, stretching out the bottle 'have some wine.' ... I held out
my glass which she filled. 'Why don't the boys come to supper?
It is strange that they never can do as they are told. . . .'

'You would find life very dull,' I answered, 'if Riccardo was a
good and obedient boy.'

Rosina laughed.



THE FESTIVAL OF THE MADONNA 135

'Ecco/ she went on presently, 'I hear the mandoline. . . .
Signora you will burn yourself if you eat so quickly ! '

It was not long before I ran up the outside stairway, and stood
in the kitchen of Gheco's house. The players were sitting in a corner,
but not many dancers had come yet. La Macuccia sat on a chair
fanning herself, and I sat down beside her. She was full of a letter
received from her youngest son, who had been three months in
America. 'He is doing well,' she told me proudly, 'he has sent money
this time, four hundred francs there is money in America have
you seen my other son, the policeman? he is home for a few days
on leave.'

I had not met her son.

'No doubt you have seen him,' she said, continually fanning
herself and me by turns, 'he wears a white suit.'

I knew whom she meant, and it was not long before I danced
with him. Introductions are not necessary at Campia, you dance
with whomever asks you to, but of course you can always
refuse.

Apollonia scandalised some people by dancing. They said it
was much too soon after her father's death, but she had her own
opinion on the subject. She wanted to learn, and Gheco had been
teaching her the steps. . . .

Sometimes when we were too hot and out of breath, some one
would stand up and sing, and those not too exhausted would join in
the chorus. Of course 'Tripoli' was sung twice over. At other
times we sat out on the balustrade or the stairs, where it was a little
cooler than indoors. It was a calm evening, the sky was cloudless
and the stars shone bright. The moon was just rising.



i 3 6 AMONG ITALIAN PEASANTS

Some of the younger men had been pulling down the triumphal
arches and carrying them away to the new road. Here they had made
a glorious bonfire, and all the village children had thoroughly enjoyed
themselves.

Most people were indoors now. The two inns were crowded, and
I could hear the sounds of murra from more than one house, other-
wise the streets were very quiet. The young men came back from the
bonfire and sat down by the fountain to sing. They sang in parts
and it was a pleasure to listen. As each song was finished, clapping
was heard, and from dark doorways unseen listeners cried 'bravi.'
Now and then some one came clattering down the mountain road
and passed down the street into the shadows. The moon rose higher
and began to shine on one side of the street.

Punctually at ten o'clock the inns closed, and the men came out
and dispersed. This was Rosina's golden hour. Some of the thirstier
souls found their way into Cominelli's kitchen, and Rosina fetched
out her wine bottles. Gioan was amongst the number, and was as
voluble as wine could make such a reticent man. Bertoldi was drunk
and broke a glass. Wine did not make him the less good-natured,
he was perfectly aware of the condition he was in, and deplored it.
He was so drunk he couldn't walk home, and slept all night on some-
body's doorstep. Rosina- who had been selling him wine said it
was disgraceful.

It was very late when we stopped dancing. As usual it was the
players who first left the room. They walked down the steps and
played a farewell tune down in the road.

The village was hushed, the murra players had gone to bed, and
the full moon, high in the heavens, shed its clear light into the narrow



THE FESTIVAL OF THE MADONNA 137

street. The white houses stood luminous among mysterious dark
shadows.

The players walked up the street, but at the fountain they stopped,
and standing in the magic light in the middle of the crossing, they
began to play again . . . one tune after the other.

We stood listening by the wall. No one spoke a word. It was
indescribably beautiful, the string instruments, the moon and the
phantom musicians whose black clothes were indistinguishable against
the shadows behind.

They stood playing for a long time.

At last Giacomi stopped and said, 'It is enough/

'Bravi, bravi/ we called; 'bravi, bravi/ came from the dark
shadows round about, which suddenly became alive with people.

'Good-night/ we called out to each other, although it was too
dark to distinguish any one. 'Good-night,' they called back, 'good-
night/ and we went home.



CHAPTER XI

THE MOUNTAIN

IT was Rosina's idea that I should stay in one of the mountain huts.
The sun was getting very hot and up on the mountain it would be
cool and fresh, even in August. Many of the peasants had huts up
there which were used in haytime, and I hoped to stay in one of
these.

At first Rosina suggested the hut rented by Bortolo, but it had
only one room and he would be wanting to use it. Most of the huts
had only one room. There was, however, one said to contain four
rooms, which belonged to Di Marchesi Filip, who drove the oxen
wagon. So I went to ask Filip if he would agree to my staying there.

I found him stretched at full length on a wagon in the shed,
asleep. The shed opened on to the street, nearly opposite to the tunnel
leading to Nino's house. Filip's front door was always locked, so
that to get into the house one had to pass through the dark shed to
a gallery, which ran round two sides of a courtyard reeking of manure.
The kitchen door and window opened on to the gallery, and a door
at the corner led into the big house where the bedrooms were. Filip
and Gioan each occupied a separate bedroom, whilst Marget and her
daughter shared a third. The rooms in use were large and airy, with
windows opening on to the piazza., but the rest of the house was in

a tumbledown condition. Filip never mended anything. His married

138



THE MOUNTAIN 139

sons, however, had more energy. At Christmas, Stefen had put new
panes in the broken windows to please his mother, and at Easter,
Giacom had whitewashed the big fireplace. Gioan, who was still
unmarried, was like his father, and dozed when not at his regular
work.

I looked into the kitchen, but finding no one at home, I returned
to the shed, where Filip was watching me with wide-open eyes.

I told him of my plan, but Filip, a man of few words, would not
say much. He was, however, immensely tickled at the idea, which
he thought crazy. Not that he said so. What he said was that he'd
think about it, and that he'd talk it over with his sons, and his sleepy
eyes twinkled. Having uttered that much, he settled down for
another forty winks, and I went out into the sunny street.

By the door I met Nino, his hat covered with the sulphur he had
been dusting on the vines.

'Filip says he is going to talk it over with his sons,' I informed
him, not feeling very hopeful of the result.

'That will be all right,' Nino seemed to think. 'I will talk to
Giacom myself he's my wife's brother-in-law, and Gioan is a man
with a kind heart. And I hardly think Stefen will mind,' he went
on reassuringly. Then pulling a post card from his trouser pocket
he said : ' From Gaetano. Raimondo has arrived. He had a stormy
passage just think, instead of fifteen days he was twenty-three
days on the water ! Gaetano, who thought he could not have sailed
by that boat, had given up all hope of seeing him. Then quite
unexpectedly Raimondo walked into the room. They were so
delighted to have him back again that they could not leave off hugging
him for joy.'



140 AMONG ITALIAN PEASANTS

' Then I suppose Angelina has a letter ? '

'She has not, signora, and she is very angry. But it won't hurt
her to suffer a little she ill-used Raimondo now it is her turn.'
He was very stern, then softening a little, he added : ' I told her
that post cards always come quicker than letters, and no doubt she
will hear to-morrow or the next day. . . . What upset her was


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Online LibraryTony CyriaxAmong Italian peasants → online text (page 9 of 17)