By Nicola Piccone
Notwithstanding the shortage of paper, there were many manifestoes stuck on the walls everywhere, especially in places that were most in the view of the built up areas, on the walls, where the categorical imperatives of fascist ethics, faded with time, stood out with terse writings: "We shall pull straight", "It is the plough which traces the furrow, but the sword that defends it". These manifestoes were obsessive, "lividi", funereal, milk white with writings and decorations in vivid, tar-like black; they seemed like announcements of death]. They were in truth announcements of a future death menacing those citizens who disobeyed the iron arrangements of the curfew, who did not return to their district of origin, who looked after and hid allied prisoners or who had not given up their arms to the Germans. They called them proclamations, and as such they defined themselves, with the emphasized writing at the centre in letters of high relief. They were signed at first by Marshall Badoglio and then by Marshall Kesserling. You felt uncomfortable and impotent on reading them, like one who finds himself the protagonist of a tragedy with no way out of it: some forced you to do something and some obliged you not to do something else, on penalty of execution by firing-squad. Many of us lived in this atmosphere, terrified by the raids by the S.S. who took men for forced labour. Many fled at first to the woods and later, after the English troops had arrived there, sought refuge at Casoli. Casoli was full to the brim with people who had been evacuated from all the mountain villages that had been invaded by the Germans and by an exceptionally heavy snowfall, so the town also communicated with its new population by means of "proclamations"; the traditional type, of course, spoken aloud by a little blind man, sprightly and always available, with a three-quarter length ex-military camp-blanket made into an overcoat, ski-type beret with a floppy peak and the white-painted stick of a blind person. He did not have a guide dog because, as he would say, a dog has the "vice" of eating and because he maintained he knew the roads of Casoli like the creases in his own sheets. His announcements were followed and listened to with respectful silence because in that situation he was the microphone of both the civil and military authorities. That Town Crier controlled the destiny of the evacuees, shunting them towards the Molise and Puglia, with messages for their departure announced only the day beforehand, just enough time to allow them to prepare spiritually for leaving their own land and to pack what few clothes and furnishings they had. Preceded by a long, harsh, acute and grating blast on his burnished brass trumpet, in syllables given professional accents and repeated every 30 or 40 metres, with the cadences used in occasions of emergency, this was his recurrent warning: "All the evacuees who have to depart for Termoli, Foggia and Bari, must go tomorrow at 9 o’clock to Piazza S. Rocco". The following day, at the appointed time, even the Town Cryer, pleased and moved at the same time, would witness that compulsory emigration, waving his blind man’s stick almost as if giving a blessing to his unfortunate brothers. And then, almost as if to console or invigorate himself, he would go into a bar in the vicinity of the stop-over of the poor people and he would sit in front of a quarter-litre of rosé wine, fluid and frothy, eating a blackish triangle of pizza from the oven in small frequent mouthfuls. We Torricellans, a group of evacuees with equal needs for our stomachs, would meet Casoli’s official Town Cryer in that refreshment place (now no longer in existence, being deemed unseemly in a civilization full of youths who only eat junk-food and drink Coca-Cola). Immediately we felt attracted by his private life, lived like ours with the nagging stimulus of a hunger not systematically satisfied. When we were intent on eating our own "stozza" (a little piece of black bread and a small piece of very strong "take-your-breath-away" cheese) we heard the dry sound of fists thumping on the table and an expression not exactly praising the honesty of the butcher. We turned around to see a long thread of whitish meat hanging from the Town Cryer’s mouth, all gristle, visibly not edible and it was not difficult, hearing the curses pronounced through clenched teeth, to reconstruct the cause of the fists: "The head of that idiot butcher must have ended up in this panino!" Pizza and meat had become separated at the moment of being eaten because they had different resistance factors. We all declared full support for the Town Cryer, advising him to leave that gristly type of meat for a mongrel dog that used to go hopefully around the tables of that "cantina". We began a friendly conversation, arranging ourselves around the unfortunate man’s table, upholding his idea of punishing that cheating butcher with an exemplary punishment. We even talked about reporting the butcher to the War Tribunal because the fraud had been carried out against a blind man. Then many litres of rosé wine were drunk until the proposal for a vendetta disappeared. When we realised that the Town Cryer considered us to be his friends, we told him our personal confidences, amongst which was the unease of all the evacuees at having to use the town’s public toilet, which every day was becoming more and more indecent. Our speaker promised to intervene authoritatively with the constituted authorities in order to make them aware of the problem; we bade each other farewell with that cordiality of spirit provoked by a series of aperitifs not followed by an adequate intake of food. The Town Cryer, visibly euphoric, walked away with little steps making his way between the passers-by with his blind man’s stick as if he were in an urgent hurry to reach some goal, repeating the word "scirapp" almost like an order for them to move out of his way. Not more than a quarter of an hour later, we heard this textual order, preceded this time by a trumpet blast even louder and longer than usual, coming from the little square at the entrance to the town: "Warning to all evacuees – when they go to the toilet they must strike the hole!" Many evacuees looked at each other in utmost surprise at the reprimand of this singular message, because most of them had not had any problems with their aim in the cubicles where previously they had poured out their needs. Others commented on the arrogance of the authorities, aiming to humiliate them with such a public reprimand. No-one suspected the true provenance of that "proclamation" which did not prohibit the doing of something but rather advised how it should be done. The exhortation was repeated again in the afternoon and the following day, in an exclusive edition and with an ever more paternalistic tone, almost seeking approval or sympathy. According to those who frequented the incriminated place, the effects of that advice were not long in coming, because from then on they found it to be more and more hygienic; which supports the principle that one can obtain more with logical reasoning than with threats and this rule is also valid for "proclamations". We understood that that this type of reprimand could not have been drawn up by the authorities because, amongst other reasons, they had not even had the time to meet let alone to deliberate on the matter, between the last litre of wine and the first blast of the trumpet; and taking for granted his personal intervention, we heartily congratulated the Town Cryer. The little man visibly showing how proud he felt, smiled both with pleasure and satisfaction. Speaking with the expression of one who wishes both to see and to be seen, he repeatedly beat his blind-man’s stick upon the ground, almost as if putting a rhythm to the syllables of his discourse and repeated: "I’ve said this many times and I’ll repeat it yet again, a tug on the bridle is worth far more than a crack of the whip." The little blind man’s proclamation was the first proclamation to usher in a radical change of direction, away from the tendency to terror of the execution squads, which had always been on the alert to regulate how people lived together civilly. This is so true that in fact that proclamation about "target shooting" was neither contested nor censured by the authorities, who were all set to guide the town democratically, even if the text appeared to them be somewhat disconcerting due to its crude realism and the way it was expressed. Everyone agreed with us, however, that our friend the Town Cryer, could benefit from at least two extenuating circumstances; the first, objectively, about the target, which was a "Turkish" platform and not the sort of toilet that you could sit on; the second, subjectively, that he had not attended a University course on rhetoric.
lividi = meaning leaden, dark or bruised
announcements of death – when somebody dies in Italy it is still customary to place a large poster-like
notice of the fact, together with the time, date and place of the funeral on the walls of buildings in the locality
Town Crier or Town Cryer – The Banditore, Town Cryer, was employed by the Town Hall to spread the announcements to the people in the town. He had a brass trumpet that he blew to get people’s attention and then he would make the public announcement in a very loud voice. He didn’t need to be able to read, they would tell him what he had to shout. There was a Town Cryer at Torricella until the 1970’s.
The blind Town Cryer was trying to say that the in the middle of the snack he was eating he had come across something hard. And ironically, he called that hard something the butcher’s head:-
Dialect: La coccia di lu macellare aveda capità aecchemm'ezze.
Italian: La testa del macellaio doveva capitare qua in mezzo al panino
English: The butcher’s head had to turn up in the middle of this roll
cantina – a wine cellar or wine bar, a locale where you can buy a drink, a pub or a bar
"scirapp" – it is a strange variation on "shut-up" and means "be quiet"! Probably derived from the English soldiers who commanded the Allies around Casoli – the blind Town Crier used it to make people get out of his way.
strike the hole – in those days toilets were of the hole-in-the-ground variety, with two footplates on which to stand on either side of a funnel-shaped central hole, and as this hole led directly to the drain, with no u-bend, the toilet was always very smelly, whether clean or not. This is what they mean by a "Turkish" platform
© Amici di Torricella
Translation courtesy of Dr. Marion Apley Porreca
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